Posted by: oldbelieving | March 1, 2009

What about the Oriental Orthodox?

The topic of relations between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox has been covered a million times I’m sure, but I would set forth my understanding of the issue here, since this question came up at the OCF retreat at William and Mary this past weekend.  Someone asked what the difference was between us and the Coptics which lead to the question of can we both be right? Do we both still hold fast to the Apostolic faith? My answer is that this is impossible. Only one Church can be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Without even getting into all the mirky details of the actual theological disagreement between our communities (of which I am not too well read anyways), I will try to explain why my answer is no. Essentially, it boils down to: because we are not united and functioning as one body there simply must be a theological difference — one must be wrong.  We cannot say that two true communions have been separated for 1500 years solely over a language issue, because it is the Holy Spirit’s role to ensure unity in the Church, and thus if the true Church is split over language, rather than doctrine, then the Holy Spirit is a failure. How is He God if He can’t even overcome a language barrier?! However, if the split is actually theological, then the Orientals have fallen away from the fullness of truth, leaving one, undivided, true Church, and thus the Holy Spirit has fulfilled His role. We confess in the Nicene Creed in the section regarding the Holy Spirit that we believe “in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” For the Orthodox this has always meant one visible Church. If we say there are actually two visible Churches that make up the one, true Church then we have fallen into the Protestant heresy of the Branch Theory and are denying the existence of a true, visible Church. To accept this theory would be to completely destroy the witness of Orthodoxy.

Some pertinent Scriptural quotes:

John 16:13
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Matthew 16:18
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

Philippians 2:2
Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

We do not share sacramental communion with the Oriental Orthodox, and this is an obvious indication that we do not in fact share the same faith, as can be seen from the Fathers testimony regarding the Eucharist:

St. Ignatius of Antioch

 

Do not err, my brethren,: if anyone follow a schismatic he will not inherit the kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion. Take care then to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons. Letter to the Philadelphians 3:3-4

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institutionof God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a properEucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. Letter to the Smyrneans 8

In St. Ignatius’s theology, the true Church is inextricably bound up with the the Episcopacy and the Eucharist they celebrate. If the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox are not obedient to the same bishops and cannot partake of the same Eucharist then we are not the same Church, visible or invisible. This division can only be over theology.

But our opinion [doctrine] is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion [doctrine]. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.18.5

The Eucharist is the centerpiece of Christian worship, and Christian unity, as St. Irenaeus here points out, and the entire authentic Christian life, in fact. As the centerpiece of our life, our theology must be in accord with what the Eucharist tells us about Christ and God. For instance, if we believe that Christ is both man and God, then we must believe that the Eucharist is both earthly and heavenly. So if the Eucharist is the visible manifestation of unity in the Church and establishes our doctrine then a breakdown in unity is a breakdown in theology, not a mere language problem.

Because in Orthodox theology, from the earliest days, the Eucharist, theology, and unity are understood together as an inseparable unit, it is impossible for me to believe that the split between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox has endured because of mere language problems, rather than as a demonstration of our actually differing beliefs.

I wrote this post on 2 separate days about a week apart. When I first started it I had many more ideas of what to put in it, but they have escaped me, but I hope my point is clear.

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Responses

  1. Hey I love this blog. I can see the time and effort put into this.. Thanks!

  2. So, what bearing does this reasoning have on the conflict between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Orthodox Church in America?

    If, as you say, “the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox are not obedient to the same bishops and cannot partake of the same Eucharist,” and you seem in effect to be saying that these two criteria are required for both groups to be in the same Church, in what way is the situation between the ROCA and the OCA different?

  3. well i would say there really is no situation between ROCA and OCA anymore now that ROCA and the MP are reunited. Perhaps “obedient to the same bishops” was not the best way I could have put it — since I am not directly under ROCA bishops, or GOA, or AOAA, etc either. But the difference here is that I am in communion with those bishops — I could receive the Eucharist from their hands, and if a bishop from another Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction were to tell/ask me to do something I would do it (unless it directly contradicts my own bishop or Orthodoxy or something …), whereas I absolutely cannot receive communion from an Oriental bishop and they have no authority over me, although I would still respect them as servants of God.

  4. Is it possible we have divided ourselves, against the wishes of the Holy Spirit?

  5. No I dont believe that’s possible. While the Spirit will not take away any single person’s free will, we have the promise that the through the entirety of the Church the Spirit will ensure infallibility and unity. St. Paul tells us to speak as with one mouth and one mind — unfortunately we cannot confess the same beliefs as the Oriental Orthodox, and thus we cannot claim to be of one mind even though divided.

    “But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.” — St. Ignatius to the Smyrneans, 7.

    Now I don’t take this quote to mean that the Oriental Orthodox are evil, but rather that Satan is working in this division. But God is more powerful than Satan, so if the division were not truly one of substance, surely the Spirit would prevail and we would have union!

  6. As far as I know the only difference concerns the natures of Christ (a very major thing to disagree on!). We confess Christ in two natures, they confess Christ from two natures … now being in one nature — the Incarnate Logos.

    I was aware that the EO, OO, and Catholics all profess belief in the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, but we obviously all mean different things by that. We are 3 different churches all claiming to be the one Church — obviously that can’t be.

  7. Sorry I accidentally deleted the comment right before my last one, it read:

    Oldbelieving, what different beliefs do the Orientals have from the Eastern Orthodox?

    Did you know that the all the Oriental Churches in their liturgy confess in the Nicene Creed in the section regarding the Holy Spirit that they believe “in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?”

    Even the Catholics do the same.

  8. Apparently you have not come across the Agreed Theological statements by the Joint Theological Commission of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. They are short but basically state both families hold to the same Christology and doctrine overall and all that is left to return to full communion is the lifting of the anathemas.

    First Agreed Statement

    Second Agreed Statement

    Proposal for the Lifting of Anathemas (most interesting in my opinion)

    Unfortunately in the lifting of the anathemas there is a political dimension that has arisen that is proving more difficult to overcome than the theological misunderstanding.

    This notwithstanding, you give sound advice.

  9. Apparently you have not come across the Agreed Theological statements by the Joint Theological Commission of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. They are short but basically state both families hold to the same Christology and doctrine overall and all that is left to return to full communion is the lifting of the anathemas.
    -First Agreed Statement
    -Second Agreed Statement
    -Proposal for the Lifting of Anathemas (most interesting in my opinion)
    (all of which can be found on the Orthodox Unity website)

    Unfortunately in the lifting of the anathemas there is a political dimension that has arisen that is proving more difficult to overcome than the theological misunderstanding.

    This notwithstanding, you give sound advice.

  10. To be true to Orthodox ecclesiology, to be true to the Fathers and Saints who confronted and deposed monophysitic bishops and clerics and considered them schismatics devoid of the sacramental grace, we must agree with them. If the Orthodox Church is true, if Chalcedon an Ecumenical Council, then all others outside of her are not true.

    Those who are confused by outward similarities should listen to our teachers, Ss. Maximus the Confessor, John Damascene, and Pope Martin. Monophysitism is heresy, but it is true that perhaps not all within those assemblies do not actually hold to the heresy that was condemned. Nevertheless, they follow teachers like Dioscoros and Severus and Jacob Baradeus, from whom their “bishops” received “orders”– but the Church had deposed these people and expelled them.

    We do no kindness to them by glossing over and equivocating truth with error. They are of course invited to full Communion. All that is required is the acceptance of the Ecumenical Councils. This is not acceptable to them, and so we know of what manner of spirit they are. The Saints and Elders have unanimously spoken on this issue, and a betrayal of this teaching is heresy.

    • you are absolutely correct!


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