With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Oriental Orthodox in Ecumenical Dialogue 3

III-2 Agreed Statements, East and West

The Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches have had four official dialogues. They were at Chambesy, Switzerland in 1985; the Anaba Bishoi Monastery in Egypt in 1989; and then two in Chambesy during 1990 and 1993. These dialogues and the official pronouncements made at them reflect upon and develop further the agreements made at the unofficial meetings. At the meeting in 1985, five different commonly held misunderstandings were engaged, because they were the basis by which members of both churches dealt with each other. The most important ones were Christological: that Dioscorus had been condemned by Chalcedon and that Chalcedon had repudiated the teachings of St Cyril of Alexandria.[1]

The meeting in 1989 was monumental because an official Christological declaration had been made at it. Their agreement states that both traditions have held to the one true apostolic faith: “We have inherited from our fathers in Christ the one apostolic tradition, though as churches we have been separated from each other for centuries.”[2] As to Christology, they said that both share a belief in the Logos who is consubstantial with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and that in the incarnation, the Logos had become human and consubstantial with us.[3] As to the hypostasis or person being discussed, “When we speak of one composite (synthetos) hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ, we do not say that in Him a divine hypostasis and a human hypostasis came together.”[4] The union is real, but the different natures must not be confused, mingled, or seen to be changed by the process of the incarnation.[5] It was suggested that this agreement could be used by both traditions, so that both could use different terminology to explain the one truth they share in common: “Those among us who speak of two natures in Christ do not thereby deny their inseparable, indivisible union; those among us who speak of one united divine-human nature in Christ do not thereby deny the continuing dynamic presence in Christ of the divine and human, without change or confusion.”[6]

After achieving a Christological definition at Bishoi, the remaining dialogues sought out to understand what this agreement meant in practicality. First it was seen that the anathemas and condemnations against each other should be lifted.[7] But this was not the only concern. For example, they had to determine how were they going to educate the laity about the meaning of their agreement. Moreover, they had to figure out the relationships between the churches, and what it meant, for example, to mixed-marriages. Last, and not least, was the question of full union – how would they go about it if doctrinal disputes were truly at an end? Two different methodologies were suggested, and both are still in the process of being examined: should they be united through a council or through local, bi-lateral dialogues that result in different churches being integrated together?[8] Current discussions, as for example between the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria and the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, have been based more upon the latter model than the former.[9]

With the West, the Oriental Orthodox have had several bi-lateral dialogues between particular Oriental Churches and Rome. As with the Orthodox, there is a general inclination to see that there is no real basis for the Christological division. But it has, to date, been established primarily by bi-lateral declarations. For example, such a declaration between Pope John Paul II and Holy Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church stated, “Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad division and schism that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of the incarnation.”[10] Between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church there arose a small, simple statement of Christology in 1988. Representing the fruit of 17 years of dialogue, it reads:

We believe that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the Incarnate-Logos is perfect in His Divinity and perfect in His Humanity. He made His Humanity One with His Divinity without Mixture, nor Mingling, nor Confusion. His Divinity was not separated from His Humanity even for a moment or twinkling of an eye.

At the same time, we anathematize the Doctrines of both Nestorius and Eutyches.[11]

There are, to be sure, several differences in the dialogues between Rome and the Orthodox Churches by the non-Chalcedonians. Of course, this is to be expected, in part because they have far more concerns to work out between their traditions than the Eastern Orthodox have with the Oriental Orthodox, such as, for example, the question of the filioque.[12] There has been progress and the scope of the dialogue has changed, so that in January of 2003 there was a Preparatory Committee established to help create a Joint Commission between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches,[13] and the first meeting of that commission took place in January 2004.[14]

Interestingly enough, the Oriental Orthodox churches have also begun to engage in Christological dialogue with the Anglican and Reformed Churches.[15] Jeffrey Gros points out that although there has been substantial dialogue within the World Council of Churches between the World Alliance of Reformed churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches, it was in 1991 that we find the willingness to enter into bi-lateral dialogue between the two.[16] In 1994 this resulted in an agreed Christological statement, similar in kind and substance as with the ones with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches. However, there are others issues they felt they need to address with these traditions, such as the role of Mary. Interestingly enough, they were able to come to an agreement where Mary was to be called Theotokos, “because God the Word became incarnate and was made human, and he very conception united to himself the temple taken from her.”[17] They also agreed to the need for four areas of theological dialogue, where it was believed they needed to clarify each other’s understanding: 1) concept of history and revelation, 2) ways to interpret scripture 3) how does history affect scriptural interpretation and 4) the question of canonical books in differing traditions.[18]

[1] Theodore Pulcini, 43.
[2] “Damascus Papandreou, “Communique of the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Anba Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, 20 – 24 June, 1989)” Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 34, no.4 (Winter 1989), 394.
[3] Ibid., 395.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 396.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Theodore Pulcini, 44.
[8] John Meyendorff reflected upon both of these options. “The ideal solution would, of course, be the tenure of a joint Great Council, at which unity would be proclaimed and sealed in a joint Divine Liturgy. [...] The history of the Church has also known precedents for initiatives taken regionally. Indeed, some regional circumstances may, in fact, favor unions which cannot by initiated elsewhere.” John Meyenedorff, “Chalcedonians and Non-Chalcedonians: The Last Steps to Unity” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, vol. 33, no.4 (1989), 327-8.
[9] See Patriarch Petros VII and Pope Shenouda III, “Official Statement of the Pastoral Agreement Between the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria” (2001). Available online http://www.orthodoxunity.org/state05.html. Accessed September 8, 2003.
[10] John Paul II and Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, “Common Declaration” chap. in Growth in Agreement II: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level 1982 – 1998. ed. by Jeffrey Gros, Harding Meyer, Wililam G. Rusch, Faith and Order Paper No. 187 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 691.
[11] Pope Shenouda III, The Nature of Christ. (Ottawa: N.p., 1985; Cairo: Dar El-Tabaa El Kawimia, 1991), 47.
[12]See, for example, the discussion on the filioque in the International Joint Coptic-Catholic Commission’s “Report of the International Joint Commission for Dialogue between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church” chap. in Growth in Agreement II: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level 1982 – 1998. ed. by Jeffrey Gros, Harding Meyer, Wililam G. Rusch, Faith and Order Paper No. 187 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 695.
[13] John Paul II, “Address of John Paul II To the Members of the Preparatory Committee Charged with Preparing the Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.” (January 28, 2003). Available on-line http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2003/january/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20030128_catholic-orthodox_en.html. Accessed September 8, 2003.
[14] Middle East Council of Churches, “Catholics, Oriental Orthodox Open Official Dialogue,” MECC News Report, vol.14, no.3-4 (Winter 2003). Journal on-line. Available online http://www.mecchurches.org/newsreport/vol14_34/dialogue.asp. Accessed September 9, 2003.
[15] The Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission’s Agreed Statement on Christology was released in November 1992. An interesting section of it reads, “We agree that God the Word became incarnate by uniting to His divine uncreated nature with its natural will and energy, created human nature with its natural will and energy. The union of natures is natural, hypostatic, real and perfect. The natures are distinguished in our mind in thought alone. He who wills and acts is always the one hypostasis of the Logos incarnate with one personal will.” Joint Anglican-Orthodox International Commission, “Agreed Statement on Christology” (November 5 – 10, 2002), paragraph 7. Available online: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ecumenical/oriental/200211christology.html. Accessed September 21, 2003. With this, we can see how some other ways of reading the Christological issue have been resolved: the distinctions in Christ are logical (mental) constructions, and not real.
[16] Jeffrey Gros, “Reformed-Oriental Orthodox Dialogue: Historical Introduction” chap. in Growth in Agreement II: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level 1982 – 1998. ed. by Jeffrey Gros, Harding Meyer, Wililam G. Rusch, Faith and Order Paper No. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 291.
[17] “Agreed Statement on Christology,” (September 13, 1994) chap. in Growth in Agreement II: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level 1982 – 1998. ed. by Jeffrey Gros, Harding Meyer, Wililam G. Rusch, Faith and Order Paper No. 187 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 292.
[18] Ibid., 293.


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