Two Families of Orthodox
The following is excerpted from the website of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii (http://lacopts.org/orthodoxy/orthodox-life/two-families-of-orthodox/)
“For over fifteen hundred years the Eastern (Byzantine) Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches have remained separated. Only thirty years ago they came together for the first of four unofficial theological consultations : Aarhus (1964), Bristol (1967), Geneva (1970) and Addis Ababa (1971).
These were followed by the establishment of a Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which has held four meetings : Chambesy, Geneva (December 1985), Anba Bishoy monastery, Egypt (June 1989), Chambesy II (September 1990) and Chambesy III (November 1993). Ignorance of the remarkable advance towards the eventual reunion of the “two families” is still widespread and it is a sad reflection on the lack of understanding of what has been agreed already that some journals, commenting on the recent reception of the British Orthodox Church by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, are still impugning the Orthodoxy of the Oriental Orthodox churches with accusations of the Monophysite heresy.
There is, of course, always the zealot fringe, which has rather foolishly and improbably attempted to stigmatise the deep and careful deliberations of the Joint Commission as just another step in the liberal, ecumenist sell-out, preferring – for its own reasons – to re-open old wounds rather than pour out the healing balm of charity and truth. In accordance with the Bulletin’s declared policy of explaining our common understanding of the Orthodox faith, we published in this issue the key texts issued by the Joint Commission.
Members of the Joint Commission included official representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, the Supreme Catholicosate of All Armenians at Etchmiadzin, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the East and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the Oriental Orthodox family; the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the Russian Patriarchate, the Romanian Patriarchate, the Serbian Patriarchate, the Bulgarian Patriarchate, the Georgian Patriarchate, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Albania, the Czechoslovakian Orthodox Church, the Polish Orthodox Church and the Finnish Orthodox Church from the Byzantine Orthodox family.
First Agreed Statement (1989)
We have inherited from our fathers in Christ the one apostolic faith and tradition, though as Churches we have been separated from each other for centuries. As two families of Orthodox Churches long out of communion with each other we now pray and trust in God to restore that communion on the basis of the common apostolic faith of the undivided church of the first centuries which we confess in our common creed. What follows is a simple reverent statement of what we do believe on our way to restore communion between our two families of Orthodox Churches.
Throughout our discussions we have found our common ground in the formula of our common father, St. Cyril of Alexandria : mia physis hypostasis (he mia hypostasis) tou Theou Logou sesarkomene, and in the dictum that “it is sufficient for the confession of our true and irreproachable faith to say and to confess that the Holy Virgin is Theotokos” (Hom : 15, cf. Ep. 39).
Great indeed is the wonderful mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one True God, one ousia in three hypostases or three prosopa. Blessed be the Name of the Lord our God, for ever and ever.
Great indeed is also the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation.
The Logos, eternally consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His Divinity, has in these last days, become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos, and thus became man, consubstantial with us in His humanity but without sin. He is true God and true Man at the same time, perfect in His Divinity, perfect in His humanity. Because the one she bore in her womb was at the same time fully God as well as fully human we call the Blessed Virgin Theotokos.
When we speak of the 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. It is that the one eternal hypostasis of the Second Person of the Trinity has assumed our created human nature in that act uniting it with His own uncreated divine nature, to form an inseparably and unconfusedly united real divine-human being, the natures being distinguished from each other in contemplation (theoria) only.
The hypostasis of the Logos before the incarnation, even with His divine nature, is of course not composite. The same hypostasis, as distinct from nature, of the Incarnate Logos, is not composite either. The unique theandric person (prosopon) of Jesus Christ is one eternal hypostasis Who has assumed human nature by the Incarnation. So we call that hypostasis composite, on account of the natures which are united to form one composite unity. It is not the case that our Fathers used physis and hypostasis always interchangeably and confused the one with the other. The term hypostasis can be used to denote both the person as distinct from nature, and also the person with the nature, for a hypostasis never in fact exists without a nature.
It is the same hypostasis of the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally begotten from the Father Who in these last days became a human being and was born of the Blessed Virgin. This is the mystery of the hypostatic union we confess in humble adoration – the real union of the divine with the human, with all the properties and functions of the uncreated divine nature, including natural will and natural energy, inseparably and unconfusedly united with the created human nature with all its properties and functions, including natural will and natural energy. It is the Logos Incarnate Who is the subject of all the willing and acting of Jesus Christ.
We agree in condemning the Nestorian and the Eutychian heresies. We neither separate nor divide the human nature in Christ from His divine nature, nor do we think that the former was absorbed in the latter and thus ceased to exist.
The four adverbs used to qualify the mystery of the hypostatic union belong to our common tradition – without commingling (or confusion)
(asyngchytos), without change (atreptos), without separation (achoristos) and without division (adiairetos). 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 the human, without change, without confusion.
Our mutual agreement is not limited to Christology, but encompasses the whole faith of the one undivided church of the early centuries. We are agreed also in our understanding of the Person and Work of God the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father alone, and is always adored with the Father and the Son. 
Second Agreed Statement (1990)
The first Agreed Statement on Christology adopted by the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, at our historic meeting at the Anba Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, from 20th to 24th June 1989 forms the basis of this Second Agreed Statement on the following affirmations of our common faith and understanding, and recommendations on steps to be taken for the communion of our two families of Churches in Jesus Christ our Lord, Who prayed “that they all may be one”.
1. Both families agree in condemning the Eutychian heresy. Both families confess that the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, only begotten of the Father before the ages and consubstantial with Him, was incarnate and was born from the Virgin Mary Theotokos; fully consubstantial with us, perfect man with soul, body and mind (nous); He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to the Heavenly Father, where He sits on the right hand of the Father as Lord of all Creation. At Pentecost, by the coming of the Holy Spirit He manifested the Church as His Body. We look forward to His coming again in the fullness of His glory, according to the Scriptures.
2. Both families condemn the Nestorian heresy and the crypto-Nestorianism of Theodoret of Cyrus. They agree that it is not sufficient merely to say that Christ is consubstantial both with His Father and with us, by nature God and by nature man; it is necessary to affirm also that the Logos, Who is by nature God, became by nature Man, by His Incarnation in the fullness of time.
3. Both families agree that the Hypostasis of the Logos became composite (sunqetoj) by uniting to His divine uncreated nature with its natural will and energy, which He has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created human nature, which He assumed at the Incarnation and made His own, with its natural will and energy.
4. Both families agree that the natures with their proper energies and wills are united hypostatically and naturally without confusion, without change, without division and without separation, and that they are distinguished in thought alone (th qewria monh). 20
5. Both families agree that He Who wills and acts is always the one Hypostasis of the Logos incarnate.
6. Both families agree in rejecting interpretations of Councils which do not fully agree with the Horos of the Third Ecumenical Council and the letter (433) of Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch.
7. The Orthodox agree that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional Cyrillian terminology of “one nature of the incarnate Logos” (“mia fusij tou qeou Logou sesarkwmenh”), since they acknowledge the double consubstantiality of the Logos which Eutyches denied. The Orthodox also use this terminology. The Oriental Orthodox agree that the Orthodox are justified in their use of the two-natures formula, since they acknowledge that the distinction is “in thought alone” (th qewria monh). Cyril interpreted correctly this use in his letter to John of Antioch and his letters to Acacius of Melitene (PG 77, 184-201), to Eulogius (PG 77, 224-228) and to Succensus (PG 77, 228-245).
8. Both families accept the first three Ecumenical Councils, which form our common heritage. In relation to the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox state that for them the above points 1-7 are the teachings also of the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, while the Oriental Orthodox consider this statement of the Orthodox as their interpretation. With this understanding, the Oriental Orthodox respond to it positively.
In relation to the teaching of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox agree that the theology and practice of the veneration of icons taught by that Council are in basic agreement with the teaching and practice of the Oriental Orthodox from ancient times, long before the convening of the Council, and that we have no disagreement in this regard.
9. In the light of our Agreed Statement on Christology as well as of the above common affirmations, we have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith, and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they have used Christological terms in different ways. It is this common faith and continuous loyalty to the Apostolic Tradition that should be the basis for our unity and communion.
10. Both families agree that all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God. Both families agree that the lifting of anathemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the Councils and Fathers previously anathematized or condemned are not heretical.”
Fr. Richard Rohr – is a Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, and teacher of Ancient Christian Contemplative Prayer. He is the founding Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.
“In the early medieval period, two Christian philosophers offered names for three different ways of seeing, and these names had a great influence on scholars and seekers in the Western tradition. Hugh of St. Victor (1078-1141) and Richard of St. Victor (1123-1173) wrote that humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third was the intuitive eye of true understanding (contemplation).
I describe this third eye as knowing something simply by being calmly present to it (no processing needed!). This image of “third eye” thinking, beyond our dualistic vision, is also found in most Eastern religions. We are onto something archetypal here, I think!
The loss of the “third eye” is at the basis of much of the shortsightedness and religious crises of the Western world, about which even secular scholars like Albert Einstein and Iain McGilchrist have written. Lacking such wisdom, it is hard for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into dualistic oppositions like liberal vs. conservative, with vested interests pulling against one another. Truth is no longer possible at this level of conversation. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.
One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world. It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society.
We need all three sets of eyes in both a healthy culture and a healthy religion. Without them, we only deepen and perpetuate our problems.”
Evagrius Ponticus (c. 346-399) – was originally from Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea in what is modern-day Turkey. He served as a Lector under St. Basil the Great and was made Deacon and Archdeacon under St. Gregory of Nazianzus. He was also greatly influenced by Origen of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Nyssa. In about 383, Evagrius left Constantinople, eventually retreating to the Egyptian desert and joining a cenobitic community of Desert Fathers. As a classically trained scholar, Evagrius recorded the sayings of the desert monks and developed his own theological writings.
“If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian.”
from “The 153 Chapters on Prayer”, Chap. 60.
Note: This chapter is one of the key passages for the full understanding of the Evagrian identification of contemplation with prayer. It is also important to understand what Evagrius meant by the term “theologian”. According to David W. Fagerberg, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, to Evagrius, a “theologian is someone who has been shaped by the cooperative exercise of grace and ascetical submission, whose eyes can see after their light has been restored, whose heart wills only one thing, whose mind has changed, whose life has been reconnected to the source of life. This does not require a PhD, it requires a conversion of life.”
St. Saint Gregory of Sinai (1260s – November 27, 1346) – was a well traveled Orthodox monk and was a contemporary of St. Gregory Palamas. He was instrumental in the emergence of Athonite Hesychasm on Mt. Athos in the early 14th century. Note his requirement for theoria (illumination) as a prerequisite for any Christian ministry.
“According to St. Paul (cf. Rom. 15:16), you “minister” the Gospel only when, having yourself participated in the light of Christ, you can pass it on actively to others. Then you sow the Logos like a divine seed in the fields of your listeners’ souls. ‘Let your speech be always filled with grace’, says St Paul (Col. 4:6), ‘seasoned’ with divine goodness. Then it will impart grace to those who listen to you with faith. Elsewhere St. Paul, calling the teachers tillers and their pupils the field they till (cf. II Tim. 2:6), wisely presents the former as ploughers and sowers of the divine Logos and the latter as the fertile soil, yielding a rich crop of virtues. True ministry is not simply a celebration of sacred rites; it also involves participation in divine blessings and the communication of these blessings to others.”
Saint Gregory of Sinai
St. Cyril of Alexandria (376 – 444) – was Patriarch of Alexandria 412-444 and articulated the highest Christology of the undivided Church.
“Godhead and manhood are one thing and another, according to the mode [of being] existing in each, yet in Christ have they come together, in unwonted wise and passing understanding, unto union, without confusion and turning [τροπῆς] . But wholly incomprehensible is the mode of the Union.”
– From “On the Unity of Christ“
Cyril of Alexandria: “The Lord of the universe took the form of a servant and brought the good news to the poor”
St. Cyril of Alexandria (376 – 444) – was Patriarch of Alexandria 412-444 and articulated the highest Christology of the undivided Church.
Desiring to win over the whole world and bring its inhabitants to God the Father, raising all things to a higher condition and, in a sense, renewing the face of the earth, the Lord of the universe took the form of a servant and brought the good news to the poor. This, he said, was why he had been sent. Now by the poor we may understand those who were then deprived of all spiritual blessings and who lived in the world without hope and without God, as scripture says. He came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of retribution. They are those among the Gentiles who, enriched by faith in Christ, have gained the divine, the heavenly treasure, which is the saving proclamation of the gospel. Through this they have become sharers in the kingdom of heaven and companions of the saints. They have inherited blessings impossible…
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Olivier-Maurice Clément (1921 – 2009) – was an Orthodox Christian theologian, who taught at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, France. There he became one of the most highly regarded witnesses to early Christianity, as well as one of the most prolific.
“Thus will come about the completion of all things, when the Spirit of life, through the communion of saints, will manifest the whole universe as the glorified Body of Christ. Then each person, in giving his face to the transfigured universe, will rediscover his flesh; flesh vibrant with all its natural sensitivity, our earthly flesh, but bathed in the life and fullness of God, who will be ‘all in all’, abolishing the separations of time and space, making possible among the risen a communion beyond anything we can now imagine…
Nevertheless, although the hell of our fallen state has been secretly abolished in Christ, and although God must be revealed at the Last Day as ‘all in all’, there remains the heartrending mystery of the ‘second death’ of the Revelation, the final death of the human being without love plunged into the divine love. For God will never reject anybody, his love is offered to all. But the fire of that love, as St Isaac the Syrian says, is eternal joy for those who welcome it and infernal torment for those who refuse it. Generic hell, as we might call it, may have been destroyed by Christ, but for each free individual there remains the terrible possibility of personal hell. But does this not amount to a fatal obstruction to the divine plan for that universal communion which is the only hope for the fulfilment of the person?” ~ Olivier Clément, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology
Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) (23 September 1896 – 11 July 1993) – also referred to as Elder Sophrony, was best known as the disciple and biographer of St Silouan the Athonite and compiler of St Silouan’s works, and as the founder of the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Maldon, Essex, England.
These excerpts are taken from Elder Sophrony’s book, We Shall See Him as He Is, written late in his life.
“Pride is the dark abyss into which man plunged when he fell. Heeding his own will, he became spiritually blind and unable to discern the presence of pride in the impulses of his heart and mind. It is only when the uncreated Light descends on us through our belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ that we can perceive the metaphysical essence of pride. The grace of the Holy Spirit enlightens man’s heart and discloses the malignant, fatal tumor within him. He who has experienced divine love finds himself revolted by the poisonous fumes emanating from the passion of pride. Pride separates man from God and shuts him up in himself.
The manifestations of pride are innumerable but they all distort the divine image in man. Outside Christ, without Christ, there is no resolving the tragedy of the earthly history of mankind. The atmosphere reeks with the smell of blood. Day after day the universe is fed with news of the slaying or torture of the vanquished in fratricidal conflicts. Black clouds of hate screen the heavenly Light from our eyes. People make their own hell for themselves. Unless and until we allow repentance to change us totally there will be no deliverance for the world – deliverance from the most terrible of all curses, war. Better be killed than kill is the attitude of the humble man of love [cf. Matt. 10.28; 5:21-22].” (p. 30 -31)
Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) – was tonsured as an Orthodox monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia. He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov)’s Ecclesiology. He is currently obeying God’s calling to found the Monastery of all Celtic Saints on the Scottish Isle of Mull. This will be the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in over a millennium (See http://www.mullmonastery.com).
“The great thing about having this theology is that then it must be reflected in your practical life. And if you look at humanity the way Father Sophrony looked at humanity, very hot contemporary issues are instantly solved.
Questions concerning immigration, questions concerning war, or how to behave in times of war, questions concerning the use of guns and the right to kill other people in any context: all these extremely controversial issues suddenly become perfectly boring because it’s so clear, everything is so clear. Once you have his mind, his theology all these issues are perfectly clear.
You cannot be a Christian in his sense and allow for war or use of guns against other human beings at the same time. That can only mean two things. Either you have a wrong theology and that is reflected in your practical life, or you have a correct theology but you don’t allow that to affect your practical life.
…He used to say that somebody who has correct theology but that correct theology is not reflected in his life is like a bird with one wing. Forever looking up and thinking it will get there not knowing he is already condemned to forever be on Earth. If you don’t allow your theology to inform your life, your values, your choices, then you’ve missed the point and you’ll never fly.”
~ From a lecture delivered in 2016 reflecting on the theology of Elder Sophrony of Essex
Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) (1965 – ) – was tonsured as an Orthodox monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia. He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov)’s Ecclesiology. He is currently obeying God’s calling to found the Monastery of all Celtic Saints on the Scottish Isle of Mull. This will be the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in over a millennium (See http://www.mullmonastery.com).
“Prayer in the most early stages is something you have to do. You do it because your spiritual father says so, because the Holy Fathers say so, and because Christ Himself says so. Although this is not really prayer, by following someone else – the way the Apostles did – you lay the foundation for real prayer; this foundation is obedience. You do something not out of your own will, but because someone else tells you to. You may not be aware of it, but in doing this, you have declared war on your own nature, because it is deeply un-natural in our fallen world to oppose your own will, to reject your own logic and to let go of self-control. It is against reason, against instinct, against all the things we have become in order to survive.
When you start praying, you have in fact started your wandering through the desert. It may last less than forty years; it may last until the day you die. You may see the Promised Land while still in this life; you may die in the desert, and only enter the Kingdom after you have departed this life.
The one thing that matters is that you start; as long as you keep going, you will be all right. The advice you will find in all the Fathers is to keep praying, keep yourself on the path; although you may feel it has no effect and that it leads to nowhere, in reality the fruits of this cross are already present in you. The roots of the prayer are already growing in your flesh and soul, and that is a painful process; that is why you are in pain.
During these long years, you will not be levitating, you will not be swallowed in light, but you will become more humble, more aware of how weak and limited you are, and less inclined to judge other people. These fruits are the foundation upon which real prayer will be built at the right time. If you do not go through this process of transformation, if your faith does not survive this desert, if you do not conquer this hell by patience and humility, you will not reach the Resurrection of true prayer.”
~ Excerpt from the booklet, “On Prayer”, published by The Orthodox Monastery of All Celtic Saints