Ecumenism Awareness: Monophysites (Non-Chalcedonians)

Monophysites, or Non-Chalcedonians—Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians (Abyssinians), and Syrian and Malabarese Jacobites—have, since the conclusion of the Fourth Oecumenical Synod, been viewed by the Orthodox Church as heretical groups [1]. That is, until this century due to the influence of ecumenism. This page is offered as a corrective.

Despite all the "scholarly discussion" trying to show that we are in fact "of the same Faith and Family as the Monophysites," the fact remains that these groups have not unreservedly accepted the Fourth through Seventh Oecumenical Synods (something which was required of them by the Orthodox participants in all prior reunion attempts throughout church history), nor have they decisively and conclusively renounced the teachings of Dioscoros, Severos, Eutyches, et. al. When those events occur (at the very least), union is imminent.

A Note to Coptic Christians: I occasionally receive emails expressing your frustation with being labeled as monophysite on this Web site. You are especially troubled by the article listed below entitled "Copts and Orthodoxy". You claim that you are "miaphysite", not monophysite. Your Christology is therefore supposedly Orthodox even though you do not accept the formulation agreed upon at the Council of Chalcedon (i.e., the Fourth Oecumenical Synod). In other words, "it is supposedly evident that nothing separates us in Faith, that the differences hitherto observed are due to a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the theological terminology, which the special theological experts now understand better than the holy Fathers, and that the original separation of the Non-Chalcedonians from the Church was due not to theological but to political reasons." [2] Thus you frequently demand that I remove these claims from my site.

To this I can only respond that, from the traditional perspective of the Orthodox Church, you are monophysite. This is how the Orthodox Church has always viewed the Coptic Church. In other words, to us your "miaphysitism" is essentially "monophysitism". Moreover, you have been wrongly led to believe—whether by your own teachers or by Orthodox ecumenists [3]—that the Orthodox Church has been mistaken, and that there's no reason for Coptic Christians to leave their church and be reconciled with Orthodox. Some Orthodox clergy and teachers will agree with you, but I am persuaded by the Saints and teachers whose writings are listed below. I believe they represent the true teaching of the Orthodox Church. Thus, it would seem we are at an impasse regarding your request.

I hasten to remind you, however, what the "Copts and Orthodoxy" article states in all sincerity: "We deeply respect and admire Coptic piety. Many Copts far exceed Orthodox in their dedication to God and fidelity to their faith. But our respect must not impede us from telling them the truth, bringing them into the Church properly, and offering them bread, rather than the stone of cheap ecumenical politics." Dear Coptic Christians, you are very close to us! Unity is a desirable thing! But such unity can only come about with your full acceptance of all seven Oecumenical Synods.

Are you really willing to come to terms with the traditional position of the Orthodox Church? If so, you should read Father John McGuckin's masterful study St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy : Its History, Theology, and Texts. As Daniel Larison noted in his blog (no longer online as of 2013):

The most significant consequence of Fr. McGuckin's book, from the perspective of the Orthodox Church and all Chalcedonian Christians, is that it should demonstrate once and for all in a convincing and largely non-polemical way that the post-451 extreme Cyrilline (i.e., monophysite) reading of Cyril and reaction against Chalcedon were theologically misguided and wrong on their own Cyrilline terms. As much as some modern Orthodox and other scholars attempt to sidestep or massage this truth, either with recourse to excusing error on the grounds of confused terminology or by catering to anti-Chalcedonian sentiments with the use of euphemistic names such as Oriental Orthodox or 'miaphysite' rather than monophysite, it seems inescapable that to reject Chalcedon is to turn against the true meaning of Cyril's Christology and no amount of monophysites' invoking Cyril or repeating his sayings formulaically is going to change that.

This need not be taken principally as ridicule or as an attack, but as a call to all those who honour the memory and theology of St. Cyril to recognise his true meaning and grant that Chalcedon is not only compatible with Cyrilline confession but, in a sense, necessary for the defense of St. Cyril's doctrine. Accepting Chalcedon and the Councils that affirm its decrees does honour to St. Cyril, and persisting in schism out of a misunderstanding of his teachings is senseless. Perhaps by elucidating the matter clearly and plainly, Fr. McGuckin's study will help facilitate an understanding of the imperative for the non-Chalcedonian churches to return to Orthodoxy, if perhaps for no other reason than their commitment to the tradition of St. Cyril.

Please do not place your trust in the writings of "Orthodox" ecumenists, whose views will only confirm you in your errors. Find out for yourself what the Orthodox position truly is. And if you personally hold a Chalcedonian Christology, leave the Coptic Church—which has been in heresy and separated from the one, true Church of Christ for over 1500 years—and bring your beliefs to fulfillment by being united to Christ, in the Church which has always believed and professed rightly concerning Him. Forgive my bluntness, but I am only trying to speak the truth in love, for "...[h]e who speaks the truth has love, even if he causes distress at the outset and creates a reaction, not he who misleads and conceals the truth, taking account of temporary human relations and not of eternal realities." [4] —Patrick Barnes


  1. Although many persons, at least in the aftermath of the Fourth Oecumenical Synod, were received into the Church as schismatics.
  2. "St. John of Damascus and the 'Orthodoxy' of the Non-Chalcedonians": by Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis. This is one of the most important articles on this topic.
  3. "In reality there is not a Father and Saint of the Church throughout the age-long Tradition of the fifteen centuries, from the Fourth Oecumenical Synod until today, who would believe and teach that we do not have differences in faith with the Non-Chalcedonians and that they are essentially Orthodox as we are.... [T]he preparation of the members of the Orthodox delegation [involved in ecumenical dialogue with non-Chalcedonians] was not corporate and systematic, based on the sources of the Orthodox Faith, the texts of the Synods and Fathers, but personal, according to the theological preferences and proclivities of each member, based primarily on the contemporary bibliography that has been adulterated by the ecumenist spirit." (Ibid, pp. 3, 5.)
  4. Ibid, p. 2.

Short Readable Introductions

The Non-Chalcedonian Heretics: Publisher's Forward and excerpt from the Introduction to this excellent monograph by the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory, Mount Athos (published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies). This is the work to read on the Orthodox position viz-a-viz the Monophysites. A related monograph is Christological Methods and Their Influence on Alexandrian and Antiochian Eucharistic Theology, by Bishop Auxentios of Photiki (also by the Center).

Chalcedonians and Monophysites—Do We Share the Same Beliefs?: this is a very helpful introduction to, and overview of, the history and terms of the Christological controversies. The author also expertly critiques the current Orthodox "dialogue" with the Non-Chalcedonians, exposing its largely dubious nature.

Eastern Orthodoxy and "Oriental Orthodoxy": an excellent summary of the issues from an Orthodox Tradition, Q & A.

Copts and Orthodoxy, an Orthodox Tradition Q & A.

A Humorous and Instructive Reply to a Question Concerning the Monophysites, by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

Key Historical Documents

Documents of the Third Oecumenical Synod (431 A.D.): St. Cyril's battle with Nestorius forms the backdrop to the Monophysite controversy.

The History of the Fourth Oecumenical Synod: On the Monophysite Controversy.

Documents of the Fourth Oecumenical Synod (451 A.D.): the first decisive victory over Monophysitism and the condemnation of Nestorius, Eutyches, and Dioscorus. Contains all of the key documents and Synodal Resolutions.

The Definition of Chalcedon was supplemented by two later councils, both held at Constantinople:

Documents of the Fifth Oecumenical Synod (553 A.D.): "reinterpreted the decrees of Chalcedon from an Alexandrian point of view, and sought to explain, in more constructive terms than Chalcedon had used, how the two natures of Christ unite to form a single person." (Bishop Kallistos [Ware]), The Orthodox Church, p. 29)

Documents of the Sixth Oecumenical Synod (680-81 A.D.): This Synod is inseparable from the two prior, especially the Fourth, as it clarifies and interprets it. This Synod "condemned the heresy of the Monothelites, who argued that although Christ has two natures, yet since He is a single person, He has only one will. The Council replied that if He has two natures, then He must also have two wills. The Monothelites, it was felt, impaired the fullness of Christ's humanity, since human nature without a human will would be incomplete, a mere abstraction. Since Christ is true man as well as true God, He must have a human as well as a divine will." (Ware, ibid., p. 29)

The History of the Persistant Monophysite Rejection of St. Cyril of Alexandria's Teaching, on the two natures of Christ. From the monograph The Non-Chalcedonian Heretics.

Commentaries on Ecumenical Endeavors

The History and Development of the Orthodox-Oriental Dialogue, a multi-part series by Minas Monir, a convert to Orthodoxy from Coptic Christianity.

"St. John of Damascus and the 'Orthodoxy' of the Non-Chalcedonians": by Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, Professor at the University of Thessaloniki. Translated by Hieromonk Patapios, Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery, Etna, CA. This is a must-read article!

Commentary on the "The Second Joint Declaration and Recommendations to the Churches": a document concerning the Monophysites drafted by the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox or Monophysite Churches, which took place at the Ecumenical Patriarchate Center, Chambesy (Geneva) Switzerland from 23 to 28 September 1990.

Union with the Monophysites: What Comes Next?, by Michael Woerl.

Concerning the Approaching Orthodox-Monophysite Union: an in-depth commentary on the series of "informal" talks between the Orthodox and the Monophysites, the minutes of which were recorded in the Spring-Fall 1971 issue of the Greek Orthodox Theological Review. This commentary originally appeared in Sept. 1971 issue of the Orthodox Christian Witness.

Memorandum of the Sacred Community of Mount Athos Concerning the Dialogue Between the Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonian Churches.

Suggestions of a Committee from the Sacred Community of the Holy Mountain Athos: Concerning the Dialogue of the Orthodox with the Non-Chalcedonians. Includes comments from Bishop Auxentios of Photiki.

Heretical Saints?, excerpts from a letter by Archbishop Chrysostomos on Peter the Iberian, ecumenical dialogue, and the relation of heretics to the Church.

A Second Sorrowful Epistle: written two years after "A Sorrowful Epistle." Expands upon the first epistle to include critiques of modernism, ecumenism as a syncretistic heresy involving world religions, and the monophysites.

Miscellaneous Articles

A Critical Commentary on the book On the Nature of Christ by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, by Seminarian Nicholas Vester, St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Autumn 2005.

Becoming Orthodox. The conversion story of former Coptic Orthodox Minas Monir.

"Precisely because we have learned that in some countries, in the hymn called the Trisagion, by way of addition after the words 'Holy and Immortal' there are inserted the words, 'who was crucified for our sake, have mercy upon us,' but this addition was excluded from that hymn by the Holy Fathers of old on the ground that it is alien to piety, considering that such an utterance must be due to some innovating and disloyal heretic, we too, hereby confirming and ratifying the decisions piously made in the way of legislation by our Holy Fathers heretofore, do anathematize those who still persist after this definition in allowing this utterance to be voiced in the Church, or to be joined to the Trisagion hymn in any other manner. Accordingly, if the transgressor of the rules laid down here be a member of the clergy, we command that he be shorn of his sacredotal standing, but if he be a laymen, that he be excommunicated."

—Canon LXXXI of the 6th Ecumenical Council. Read St. John of Damascus on this Monophysite liturgical innovation.
[Book III, Chapter X: "Concerning the Trisagium ('the Thrice Holy')"]

"We deeply respect and admire Coptic piety. Many Copts far exceed Orthodox in their dedication to God and fidelity to their faith. But our respect must not impede us from telling them the truth, bringing them into the Church properly, and offering them bread, rather than the stone of cheap ecumenical politics."

Orthodox Tradition, Vol. IX, No. 1, p. 9

At the very least, it would be naive for anyone to believe that the enormous subject of Christology could be exhausted in such a brief report. But it is not impossible to summarize the central points, which one absolutely must confess if his Faith is to be Orthodox. From an historical perspective, it should be said that the Holy Fathers knew well with whom they were conversing, and there is no possibility that they misconstrued and condemned the Non-Chalcedonians on account of a misinterpretation. It is neither theological terminology nor racial and cultural factors that played a decisive role in the separation of the Non-Chalcedonians from the communion of the Catholic [i.e., Orthodox] Church, but chiefly their erroneous conception, and consequently their formulation, of the manner of the union of the two Natures in Christ.

The dogmatic differences between the two sides are so great that, if they were forgotten, salvation itself would be put at risk. If, that is, the eternal Hypostasis of God the Word is not also the Hypostasis of the assumed flesh, the deification of the compound make-up of man is not possible, in which case the salvation of men through partaking of the Deified and life-giving flesh of the Lord is also impossible.

A great ecclesiological chasm exists between us and the Non-Chalcedonians, which only the explicit confession of the holiness and ecumenicity of the Fourth and the following three Holy Ecumenical Synods on the part of the Non-Chalcedonians can bridge. Any manifest or hidden deviation whatsoever from Orthodox dogma, for the sake of some union contrary to the truth, will occasion only harm to immortal souls and suffering for the Church.

It is our wish and prayer that the Non-Chalcedonians, who are dear to us in all other ways, be made aware that their union with the Church entails that they take up their cross, rejecting and forgetting the house of their fathers, as it is said in the Psalm (44:9-10); then will the King desire the beauty of their union.

—From the conclusion to The Non-Chalcedonian Heretics: A Contribution to the Dialogue Concerning the "Orthodoxy" of the Non-Chalcedonians
(43-page monograph by the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory, Mount Athos. Published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies)