Monday, November 06, 2006

Super-Orthodox vs. the Copts

Our friend Julio Gurrea submitted this comment, and I found it worth a post of its own. Nikolai Stanosheck from the "Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church" (ROAC) -- who is also webmaster of The Saint Euphrosynos Cafe -- had written in response to this post about the Malankara church, "You do realize the Monophysites (Oriental orthodox in PC-Eccumenistic talk) are anathema and have been for 1,500 years, right?" Julio responded:

Do you realize that anathemas are not self-enforcing "curses" that, once they are pronounced, just run away from the Church's control and function on their own without the bishops who govern the Church.

The anathemas of Chalcedon against Eutyches and his doctrine don't really matter to the Copts and other Oriental Orthodox. They also anathemize Eutyches and consider him a heretic. That is why the Copts have been insisting until they have no breath left that we can anthemzie Eutyches all we want- **HE IS NOT A SAINT IN THEIR CHURCH**. This fact is purposely overlooked. Sometimes even reliable sites (like keep repeating the lie that the Copts venerate Eutyches as a saint.

Dioscorus was anathemized for not coming to the Council.

The non-Chalcedonians categorically reject the false doctrine of monophysitism as Eutyches taught it (i.e. that the humanity of Christ was swallowed up in His divinity like a drop of vinegar in the ocean). Countless Coptic liturgical texts (such as the "Tasbeha" or midnight praises) speak of Christ as "consubstantial with the Father in His divinity and consubstantial with us in His humanity" or that after the hypostatic union his human and divine natures became as one "without seperation, confusion, comingling, and without alteration."

This indicates that according to the Copts (and other churches in communion with them), the human nature which the Logos took from the Theotokos has not been mixed or blended into the divine nature as some sort of third human/divine "supernature" which is seperate from both human nature and divine nature.

You don't get a chance to find out what the bishops of this church are teaching their flock and what they believe and pray in their liturgies unless you sit down with them and actually *TALK*. When Eastern Orthodox Christians (which I am one) act like pharisees that can't talk with those of other communions, or when we always insist that other groups are lying to us when they tell us that they DON'T believe something, then we are strictly dependent on the polemics of schismatic bishops for our information.

As you may well know, these old, bitter schismatic "bishops" are usually interested in keeping their equally bitter and pharisaical flock/cult from talking with other Christians. This ensures that they keep a "fortress mentality" against the rest of the universe and always look to their pedophile pseudodox "hierarchs" for guidance. It doesn't do much for the growth of said cult, but at least it keeps the members sufficiently frightened and keeps them from leaving.


P.S. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the weekly Monday night Bible study held by the Coptic youth group at my school. This month we are working through Nehemiah. We only interrupted the Nehemiah lectures for one week so that my Antiochian priest could give a "guest lecture" on the Orthodox view of personhood. I'm soooo glad I'm not in the "True One Holy Traditional Orthodox Church of S. Florida" or some other similar group. Those are some depressing "churches" to be a member of.

I would only add two points: first, for a full view of the relations between OO and EO, see this site. Secondly, is a mixed bag, IMHO. Otherwise, thanks for this much-needed injection of reality.



Blogger christopher3rd said...

I hope and pray that the mutual anathemas between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox can be found to have been a big mistake. I hope and pray that the Copts can accept the 4th to 7th Ecumenical Councils as right doctrine - even if we both need some clarifications as to what "we really mean" when we accept them.

However, until such time as the bishops of our churches can agree and in some official way state and demonstrate that we share the same faith, then we are not in communion with each other this side of heaven. As it stands, we have more doctrine in common with the Roman Catholic Church than we do with the Copts since we agree on Christology. (Though, of course, I believe they hold to the unaltered Nicene Creed, so we have our Triadology more in common with the Copts than the RCC and Protestants). I just don't like the fact that individual bishops, priests, professors, etc. take it upon themselves to correct the finding of an Ecumenical Council and 1600 years of precedent and begin communing Copts and Armenians. This is a matter of church discipline as much as theology - we cannot solve the one by ignoring the other.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Death Bredon said...

Excellent post. BTW, the Copts are miaphysites anyhow, not monophysites. And S. Cyril the Great, Father of Orthodox (both Byzantine and Oriental) Christilogy was a miaphysite too. Indeed, the "hypostatic union" pronouced at Chelcedon and clarified in the 5th Council is equivalent to miaphysitism. Thus, the Byzantine and Oriental schism always had more to do with historical imperial-vs.- nativist politics and the blood fueding than anything else.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Visibilium said...

Great post on all points.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Interesting comments all!

K, thank you.

Death, an important insight. So many, right or wrong, track the "real" separation to ethnic tensions.

Christopher, we are not currently in communion with the OO this side of Heaven. (I always use a capital-H, because it's a place.)

However, the leadership of the Byzantine Orthodox Church believes it is clear that neither are they Eutychian Monophysites in the sense condemned by the ecumenical councils. Thus, our leaders are working toward full reunion -- and may God speedily grant it.

God bless,

8:28 PM  
Blogger JGurrea said...


I don't think that the mutual anathemas should be considered a "mistake", unless you mean the personal anathemas (our anathemas of Dioscorus and Severus and their anathemas of Pope St. Leo and St. Flavian). The anathemas of Chalcedon against monophysitism *still stand*. The issue is not that the Church erred in matters of doctrine- Heaven forbid! The issue is whether the anathemas against monophysitism should unjustly keep us from communion with an ecclesiastical body that does not hold to a monophysite christology. Am I making any sense?

Also, we may have more in common with Roman Catholics in terms of christology just because on its face, we seem to both accept Chalcedonian formulas. However, in terms of spirituality, devotional practice, ecclesiology, and triadology, the orientals are closer to us than any other christian body on the planet. for example, the type of primacy that the Copts give to their pope is an excellent example of what real primacy of honor should be since it is more robust than the weak lip service we pay to the Ecumenical Patriarch and it is not as extreme as the exaggerated primacy of the Roman Pontiff.


You hit the nail on the head. "Mia physis tou theou logou sesarkōmenē" and "union according to the hypostasis" are Cyril's formulas, and we have no reason to think of them as anything less than Orthodox. If saying, "one nature out of the two" seems to sound monophysite, we must understand that "two natures without seperation" can often sound Nestorian.


While I was still an evangelical, my first experience with (o)rthodox Christianity was being invited to a Coptic Bible study. This is the same Monday night Bible study I still go to. I eventually found the OCA church that I got baptized at because they owned the building that was being used by this Coptic community while they built their own church. If there had been no other Chalcedonian churches in the area, I might have ended up Oriental. I have attended quite a few Coptic and Syriac services, and my first prayerbook before I bought the Jordanville prayerbook was a Coptic Agpeya (book of the hours). In fact, when I went to the Coptic college conference in Destin a couple of years ago, I went to liturgy every day celebrated by four bishops and a dozen priests. I'm especially fond on the Tasbeha, my favorite Coptic service. I've yet to witness an Indian, Armenian, or Ethiopian service in person (I've seen videos), but I plan to in the future.

I'm very fond of the Egyptian Church and its clergy (especially Abouna Timotheus Soliman, the priest of the church here in S. Florida), and I never hesitate to defend Her when She is slandered by those who have never witnessed Her services or heard Her christology explained by the hierarchs.

7:33 AM  
Blogger christopher3rd said...

What of the fact that the Copts, et al, refuse to accept the 4th through 7th Ecumenical Councils? This is what gives many Orthodox pause in reagrd to reunification and communion. If they are unwilling to accept these "Orthodox" decrees and doctrines, are they in fact Orthodox - or are we simply looking for what we want to see?

There is a danger of the Orthodox treating the Copts as the Roman Catholics treat we Orthodox. The RCC basically says that we are already Catholic, we just don't know it yet or see the nuances of papal infallibility and supremacy - or refuse to accept it because of the "Super-Orthodox".

8:57 AM  
Blogger JGurrea said...


Yes, there is the issue of the subsequent councils. These are real issues and must be dealt with, BUT they must be dealt with in honest, open talks. If the monks from Athos threaten to stop commemorating the EP every time we sit down at the dialogue table with the Copts, we will never hear *why* they won't accept those councils. At least we won't hear it from their mouths.

I would also suggest that there is a difference between the way that Rome treats us and the way that we treat the Orientals. With the Orientals, they consider themselves Orthodox and frequently use our literature. If you read Matta el-Masken's (Matthew the Poor's) "Orthodox Prayer Life" (I think that is what it is called), he cites St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Seraphim of Sarov as much as he cites Coptic saints.

The non-Chalcedonians can take a long honest look at our spirituality and our devotional practices and say, "Yup, that is what we practice also." When catholics try to do the same thing, it sounds very... forced. The overly imagination-based systems and visualization techniques for "centering prayer" that you get from Roman sources seem *MUCH* further away from the classic Orthodox Catholic spirituality that is common to both Chalcedonian Orthodox and non-Chalcedonian christians. If I sit with my Coptic friends and read about the Ignatian method, we can both look at each other with looks of bewilderment and ask, "What the hell was that?" However, we can both read "The Arena" or a treatise containing advice on prayer from a contemporary Coptic bishop and we would both be in familiar territory. Lest I be accused of being an orientalist, it isn't just the Orientals and Easterners that agree on this. I find that traditional, patristically minded Anglo Catholics who just **read the prayers** and who practice what the Young Fogey calls "Mass and Office Catholicism" are also out of step with the freakish, exaggerated, and emotional piety of extra-liturgical Counter Reformed Roman practice. "Hide me in your wounds Jesus!" *shudder*

But back to the topic at hand...

The dialogue between the miaphysites and the Eastern Orthodox is also more two-sided. There is no element of condescension like you see in a lot of the Roman/Orthodox dialogue. It isn't as if we Eastern Orthodox look at them (the non-Chalcedonians) and say, "Oh, the little non-Chalcedonians think they are the Church. Isn't that cute! Well, you guys are certainly a part of OUR Church even if you don't recognize it." We have no Coptic or Syriac Unia.

In short, the situation with the Romans and us is worlds apart from the situation between the Orientals and us.


1:20 PM  
Blogger Eric John said...

And now for a historical dicussion....

Has anyone hear read Fr. John Meyendorff's "Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions?" It covers Eastern, Western, and Oriental Church history from Chalcedon to Iconoclasm. I'd recommend it.

Fr. John writes a lot on how the divisions of Chalcedon really didn't have much to do with ethnic tensions or politics. At the time of Chalcedon and afterward, Oriental and Byzantine were both devoted to the idea of Empire. It was only later, after the Islamic conquest and Byzantine persecution, that these political and ethnic divisions hardened. This we can see in the death of dialogue between Byzantine and Oriental Churches. From Chalcedon into the seventh century, there were still strong efforts for reunion. This is the period that gave us Monotheletism, the Typos of Heraclius, and several other wonderful documents produced by imperial commissions with aid from bishops of both sides which got a lot of people into trouble.

As for going about having a reunion of churches, I think it would be an excellent idea to study in further depth the unions which were already accomplished at various and sundry times. Special study should be made of the reception of thousands of Assyrian Orthodox into the Russian Orthodox Church (Holy Synod, MP, and ROCOR). Also, the historical relations between the Antiochian Patriarchate and the Oriental and Assyrian churches also bears close examination. That way any future reunion will follow along more organic lines than the outcome of "table talks."

As a liturgical maximalist, I think we should also implement the Oriental rites into our boring Byzantine liturgical existence.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

"As a liturgical maximalist, I think we should also implement the Oriental rites into our boring Byzantine liturgical existence."

Eric, you raise an interesting question. I often note in no discussion of reunion with the Copts (or other OO) have I ever encountered a demand for them to give up their practices and adopt the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It seems liturgical diversity would not trouble them in that case.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Death Bredon said...

Indeed -- Oh, to have the original Liturgy of St. James back in the fold at full force . . . !

1:26 AM  
Blogger JGurrea said...

Ah, St. James' liturgy... I suppose you mean the Syriac version with the numerous anaphoras that is used by the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Church. I hear that it is not really the original version. In fact, it has just as much variation from the original as the Greek St. James, only the variants introduced are later Syrian additions rather than Byzantine additions. And neither one has the original *LONG* commemoration of the saints that took about 40 minutes all by itself.

We have a Syriac church that uses our (Chalcedonian) Antiochian Church building on the one Saturday of every month. I am going to their next liturgy. It will all be in Syriac and Arabic, but hopefully I can find a booklet with translations.


7:47 AM  

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