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Oriental and Eastern Orthodox: questions
30-04-2007, 01:01 PM
Post: #46
In the EO use of the term 'Ecumenical' I am reminded of a certain nation in the world today that names its local sporting events 'World Series'. Its a similar mentality. I wonder, though, why the years under Islam have seemed to have softened the approach of the Oriental churches, but the years under Communism, and the Monarchy before that, have hardened the EO? Is it that the EO are too entwined with their national cultures, too supremacist, whereas the Orientals, existing, AFAIK all in Islamic countries, and in the minority - apart from Lebanon? - have learned to take the lesser place? The same triumphalism of the EO's is found in American Evangelical churches.

[b]Fides Qu?rens Intellectum[/b]
30-04-2007, 02:49 PM
Post: #47
Dear Antony

Those are interesting questions.

I am sure that a further 1000 years of being the Imperial Church has had some effect on the culture of Eastern Orthodoxy. It could well be considered a blessing (in disguise perhaps) that the Oriental Orthodoxy have by and large suffered hundreds of years of persecution.

The Oriental Orthodox are also very rooted in local cultures, and anyone present at the Oriental Orthodox Festival on Saturday would have rejoiced in some many cultures coming together with such open-heartedness, but I believe that because the Oriental Orthodox have a unity of faith with a diversity of expression it is harder (though not impossible of course) for Oriental Orthodox to dismiss those who do not look the same or worship in exactly the same way.

We do not all use the same liturgy, so we cannot condemn those who worship differently. whereas in the Middle Ages, as previously in the Roman West, there had been a centralisation of liturgical rites in the Eastern Orthodox community and all of the local traditions were rejected for a standardisation on the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Of course there are benefits from having such a standardisation, but there are also dangers, and one is perhaps a loss of that diversity of expression which persists in Oriental Orthodoxy.

Indeed here I am in the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate - one of the most conservative of Orthodox Churches and yet also able to be very imaginative and outward looking because it is confident in its own life. The British Orthodox Church does not use the same calendar of feasts as our Mother Church, we venerate British saints as well as Coptic and universal ones, we use English, we don't even use the same liturgy. But because Oriental Orthodox are generally aware of diversity of expression within unity of faith this has not been the problem that it could have been, and has been in Eastern Orthodox contexts.

There are, for instance, at least three Russian Orthodox groups in the UK. And the issue which has caused them much grief is to a great extent that of culture. Should they be Russians in the UK, or British in the Russian Church, or British in a British Church. So we have seen the Moscow Patriarchate split a few months ago and a new Russian group emerge under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and there was already ROCOR, the hardline Russian group which was not in communion with either of the other two. And now some even of ROCOR, including their well known monastery at Brookwood, have left ROCOR and joined a more hardline group. To a great extent this is due to it being harder for Eastern Orthodox to cope with diversity.

Even on other forums where some of us post I remember one earnest Eastern Orthodox being very distressed by the thought that there could be two (or more) equally Orthodox traditions of fasting. As far as he was concerned if it was Orthodox then there must be just one rule, one spiritual law which must be obeyed.

You must not think that Oriental Orthodoxy is not also strict on many matters. It is not a liberal community. But it does seem rather less anxious, and so can afford to be more open-hearted and generous towards others.

This is, I am sure, why it can synodically describe the Eastern Orthodox as Orthodox even while many Eastern Orthodox Churches have not responded in a similar manner. And it is why the Oriental Orthodox are not afraid to engage in discussion with any other Christian communities, because they do not believe that our own Faith is diminished by talking to others. On the contrary, whenever an Eastern Orthodox bishop talks to another Christian group he is likely to be castigated as a heretic and even apostate.

I have found a special spirit among Oriental Orthodox, even though I am well aware of the trials and deficiencies which it faces in modern times. But I believe that the expression of unity in diversity which was manifested at Stevenage on Saturday, though just a small event in worldly terms, shows that something good is going on. The Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox have tension between them, not least because of the ongoing war, but they sang and danced together and worshipped together. The Indian and Syrian Churches have some tensions, but they also worshipped together. And we are together and talked together afterwards.

You are right that the years of Islamic oppression could have made the Churches very inward looking, and in some regards they are, but it seems to me, as a newcomer, that God is at work and the Churches are alive with the Holy Spirit, and having something of value to share in the West, they are, within their limitations, seeking to do that.

30-04-2007, 07:52 PM
Post: #48
Eastern and Oriental
Dear Solly, Dear Peter,

An interesting discussion.

I do suspect that many years of being 'imperial' have left their mark. The imperialism was, in many ways, the defining part of being 'Greek' or 'Russian' - indeed, Orthodoxy and nationalism were indistinguishable. Both the Byzantines and the Russians had the usual imperialist attitude to what Kipling (in another context) called 'less breeds without the law'.

Most of those in the OO Churches were the recipients of just those attitudes, as well as the victims of other imperialists; whatever problems that may have created, an arrogance of exclusivity is not one of them.

The ecclesiology of the EO's is also part of the problem. As has been observed, they do tend to define themselves in terms of what is excluded by their ecclesiology - which is, of course, everything that their Church doesn't accept. This same rule allows them to claim other peoples' Saints - such as St. Isaac the Syrian, without asking what that might say about the boundaries of the Church; it is simple; their Church recognises him as a Saint, so he is one and is Orthodox - except for any parts they may decided aren't. Their rules, their boundaries.

How that goes along with the Holy Spirit being everywhere is not a matter of concern - since they know where He is. Of course, they acknowledge that only God decides who will be saved, so they have to acknowledge that those outside their Church can be saved; but they clearly think it unlikely.

The OO view on that is less clear to me. As Peter says, we are not liberal in an Anglican way (if we were I wouldn't be here), but we do seem more charitable. Perhaps that is convertitis?

All I know is that on Saturday at the Festival I felt enormously happy to be part of that large extended family.

In Christ,


In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
02-05-2007, 09:15 AM
Post: #49
oriental and eastern orthodox:questions
Dear All!
I've just read through all four pages (!) and, apart from being slightly cross-eyes at the moment (!), it occurs to me to slip in the following.
Steven Runciman wrote an interesting book called 'The Great Church in Captivity', about the Byzantine Church after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It's a fascinating read, though has to be read with caution - Runciman barely mentions the non-Chalcedonian Churches, calling them merely "the heretical churches", something he continually repeats in his 3-volume History of the Crusades, and his adulation of the Greek crowd
(ie mob) is romantic in the extreme - but it does give a vivid background that can help us understand the Eastern Orthodox mindset.
Apart from the usual shenanigans of plots and intrigues against various Patriarchs, the Church had to deal with slick intervention on what was its own territory by the Jesuits, prompting further tortured 'dialogue' with Rome and even more tortured internal wrangling. In an effort to break out of its isolation the Church, particularly those opposed to any rapprochement with Rome, had -yes, you guessed it!- tortured dialogues and intrigues with Lutherans, Calvinists, and the 'delightfully' impossible to pin down Church of England.
In a couple of days I'll post a resume of what happened, particularly the doctrinal conclusions that were drawn from it by various Byzantine clerics.
Suffice it so for the moment that it seems more than likely that the Eastern Orthodox have had intrigue, schisms and bloody-mindedness pumped into their veins over centuries and a great deal of patience and prayer is required to overcome something that, not meaning to be flippant, I could call 'genetic.'
See you soon,
Kirk Yacoub
02-05-2007, 07:45 PM
Post: #50
Eastern and Oriental
Dear Kirk,

Indeed, Runciman's book (which is excellent - his ignorance of the OO set aside) does give a real insight into the evolving nature of the EO communities. What he doesn't, of course, do is deal with the Russians - where I gather there is no real word for 'development' - which if true, is interesting.

Runciman's romanticism about the Greeks is typical of an Englishman of his generation and class - just as his views on Egyptians and other 'Levantines' are; this is a shame, since we badly need a real history of the OO traditions.

I'll be interested, Kirk, is reading your conclusions about the book.

In Christ,


In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
04-05-2007, 10:11 PM
Post: #51
Eastern and Oriental
Dear Kirk,

Very many thanks for this - which certainly helps explain the Greeks - but the Russians had no such experience - at least before 1918. Mind you, the MP had 600 years of being the centre of an Empire which rolled ruthlessly over those who opposed it; it may explain the evident desire in some Russian quarters to do this to those who disagree with them today!

In Christ,


In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
05-05-2007, 08:26 AM
Post: #52
oriental and eastern orthodox:questions
Dear John,
Yes, the Russians are different. Studying Russian history will show a very definite tug-of-war between "westernizers" and those preferring to remain
"asiatic". This is even shown in the history of Russia after 1917. Stalin most definitely based himself on the anti-western attitudes that could be summed up as "asiatic", whereas Lenin and his co-thinkers were very pro-western in terms of economics and science.
The tensions in Orthodoxy in Russia can also be divided between the two poles of east and west, with the addition that Russian history of wars, invasions, internal betrayals and the attempt to import ideas has sharpened all this. Also, the problem of how to deal with the Soviet state
led to bitter and deep-seated problems. What seems to be true for both Greek and Russian Orthodoxy is that turbulent history has bred suspicion on top of a sense of rightness, a complex concoction.
Internal dissensions never help, and Russian Orthodoxy has had plenty of those. I'm thinking now of the monastic dispute between those who favoured total poverty and hesychastic prayer, and the advocates of following a western model of owning estates etc.
A vast subject! But at least we have the spiritual writings of many Greek and Russian saints to remind us that, at its heart, Eastern Orthodoxy is about Christ and our relationship with Him.
With prayers,
Kirk Yacoub

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