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Concerning the Dialogue Between the Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonian Churches

A Memorandum of the Sacred Community of Mount Athos

The article of the co-president of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonian Churches, the Most Reverend Damascene, Bishop of Switzerland, which was entitled "The Theological Dialogue of the Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches: Thoughts and Perspectives" [Episkepsis #516 / March 31, 1995] gave impetus to more disquiet on the part of the Holy Mountain regarding the development of this Theological Dialogue.

It is well known that a hurried union is being forced upon the Orthodox and the Non-Chalcedonians in spite of the yet existing dogmatic differences and of unsettled ecclesiological problems, such as, for example, the unconditional acceptance of the Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and of their sacredness and universality by the Non-Chalcedonians.

The Administrative Council of the Sacred Community, in its report concerning the Dialogue of Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonians, dated February 1, 1994, expresses its reservations about the course taken by this theological dialogue; in short, it is not guiding to a union in the Truth, one acceptable from the orthodox viewpoint. Such reservations have also been expressed by eminent professors of the Theological Schools and by other churchmen in special studies on this specific issue.

On such important matters, wide discussion is mandated within the fold of the church body, for its information, so that the consciousness of the Church may function freely, without hindrance.

Such a discussion, however, is described by the Bishop of Switzerland in his aforementioned article as "criticism expressed by certain religious circles to arouse doubts over issues which are completely covered by the theology expressed in the two 'Joint Statements'" [p. 15]. From this description it appears that His Grace understands the theological Dialogue as a subject only for certain theologians, experts of dogmatics, who are quite indifferent to the disquiet of the pious. If indeed the people of God is upset by the theology of the Joint Declarations, is it not obligatory that a synodical decision by the Church be made about their orthodoxy? And such a decision should be made in a very short time, lest the disquieting development of this theological dialogue based on a possibly false theology proceed further.

Having become aware of such a danger, i.e., union with the Non-Chalcedonians founded upon un-Orthodox presuppositions, we are in constant unease and sacred indignation. The Faith is in danger, and we cannot trifle with things which cannot be trifled with. We are aware of our responsibility for the protection and preservation without innovations of the doctrine and ecclesiology of the holy Church as we have received them from the holy Fathers.

Therefore we denounce the Joint Commission of this Dialogue for all the aberrations which we have noted hereafter and verified to:

—His All-holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch and his holy and sacred Synod.

—The Most Blessed Primates of the ancient and other Patriarchates and the holy and sacred Synods of their hierarchs.

—The Most Blessed Primates of the Holy Autocephalous Orthodox Churches and their holy and sacred synods of hierarchs.

—All the sacred Orthodox clergy and pious people in all the world.

Doing this, we confess that we are only moved by a feeling of responsibility.

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I) For the bringing into question by the Joint Commission of the continual consciousness of our Church that it constitutes the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, when the Commission accepted the statement: "Both families have always preserved faithfully the same authentic Orthodox Christological Faith and the uninterrupted continuity of the apostolic tradition." [II Joint Statement, paragraph 9]

II) For the attack upon the validity and authority of the Holy Ecumenical Councils by the decision of the Joint Commission that the Anti-Chalcedon heresiarchs Dioscorus, Jacob, Severus, etc. be considered not heretical but Orthodox in their thinking. The consciousness of the Orthodox Church recognizes that infallibility and authority in the Holy Spirit is in the Ecumenical Councils and refuses to accept the possibility of revising the decisions of an Ecumenical Council by another Ecumenical Council without the latter Council being considered as an heretical conventicle, such as the Latrocinium of Ephesus.

III) For the decision of the Joint Commission concerning the possibility of lifting an anathema placed by an Ecumenical Council. This is an unacceptable decision, alien to the sound mind of the Church, which offends the fundamental consciousness of the Church concerning the authority of the Ecumenical Councils.

IV) For the radical disagreement of the Joint Commission with the teachings of the Holy Fathers as regards the Christology of the Non-Chalcedonians. The Fathers (Maximus the Confessor, Sophronius of Jerusalem, Anastasius of Sinai, John Damascene, Photius the Great, Theodore the Studite, Theodosius the Cenobiarch, etc.) term their Christology heretical, but the Joint Commission considers it to be Orthodox and a continuation of the ancient apostolic Faith of the Church.

V) For the acceptance by the Joint Commission that the contemporary Non-Chalcedonians believe the same Christology as we do. However, this is not apparent in the Joint Statement (1989, 1990) in which there are many expressions susceptible to a monophysitic interpretation similar to the teaching of Severus, "The one unified theanthropic nature" [I Joint Statement] and "the natures are distinguished only in thought" [II Joint (Common) Declaration]. It was requested that the Non- Chalcedonians elucidate these terms in order to dispel any uncertainty so that we could be certain they understood them in an Orthodox sense. Unfortunately no answer was given.

VI) For the limiting by the Joint Commission of requiring only the condemnation of the extreme Monophysitism of Eutyches by the Non-Chalcedonians. According to the teachings of the Holy Fathers and the conscience of the worshipping Church, even the moderate Monophysitism of Dioscorus and Severus is a heresy. The comparison of certain formulations in the Joint Statements with corresponding expressions of contemporary Non-Chalcedonian Patriarchs and theologians proves their adherence to moderate Monophysitism.

VII) For the misleading declaration of the Bishop of Switzerland that the Non-Chalcedonians accept the teachings of our Ecumenical Councils [Episkepsis #5 / 16, March 31, 1995, p. 13] in spite of their refusal to accept the Orthodox interpretation of the Definitions of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils as their own interpretation also. We will give word for word the text of the Joint Statement which supposedly supports their acceptance of the teachings of these Ecumenical Councils. "As for the four succeeding Councils of the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox declare that for them, the above points one through seven are also the teachings of the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, while at the same time the Oriental Orthodox consider this declaration of the Orthodox as their interpretation. With this mutual understanding, the Orientals responded to it positively." We ask: Can it be concluded from this declaration that the Non-Chalcedonians accept without reservation the teachings of our Ecumenical Councils?

VIII) For the novel theory of the Join Commission that "the formal proclamation of their ecumenicity [i.e., of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils by the Non- Chalcedonians] was considered generally that it would be a natural consequence of the restoration of full communion or that it could be evaluated in the future." [Episkepsis #516 / March 31, 1995, p. 15]. In other words, the union will take place without their recognizing the Ecumenical Councils; but after the union they probably will be accepted or the matter will be put up for their evaluation. We ask: Which Orthodox bishop, who gave an oath to defend the Ecumenical and Local Councils, will accept intercommunion with bishops who will discuss if the Ecumenical Councils are Ecumenical?

The doubtfulness of their acceptance by the Non-Chalcedonians is proved in the declaration of the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III before the Inter-Orthodox Commission in Chambesy: "As for the Ecumenical Councils, we accept the first three ... . . We reject the Council of Chalcedon... . I can say very frankly that all the Oriental cannot accept the Council of Chalcedon. . . . You have Seven Ecumenical Councils. If you should lose one, it should be no great loss to you" [from Metropolitan Chrysostom (Constantinides) of Myra, Dialogue of the Orthodox Church with the Ancient Oriental Churches, in the periodical Theologia, Athens 1980, Vol. 51, Issue 1, page 229-230].

IX) For the tendency of concealing events and giving misleading information to the body of the Church by the Joint Commission—actions extremely provocative to church sensibilities—as proved in the following:

A) The Minutes of the official meetings of the Joint Commission for Dialogue have yet to be published so that the hierarchy of the Church, the sacred clergy and the pious people be informed and aware.

B) By orders of the local Churches, the Joint Commission assembled in its Fourth Meeting, and on the ground of what was accepted and agreed upon in the Joint Statements, it reached the decision of the possibility for lifting the anathemas. [Announcement of the Fourth Meeting, Episkepsis 498, November 30, 1993, p. 4, 6]. We ask: Which local Synod gave such an order or on the grounds of which Synodical decisions did the Primates of the Churches approve the texts of the Joint Statements and bless the decision concerning the lifting of the anathemas, based upon the theology of the Joint Statements as though upon a firm Orthodox foundation? Let such decisions of the Sacred Synods be published. Otherwise it will be understood that the Joint Commission proceeds to take successive decisions without first securing Synodical approval for its prior enactments and decisions.

C) The Most Reverend Bishop of Switzerland affirms: "all the above mentioned local Orthodox and Oriental churches welcomed with enthusiasm not only the positive results of the Theological Dialogue but also the prospect for restoration of ecclesiastical communion after a separation of fifteen centuries; they described the complete agreement on Christological doctrine as an historical event. . ." [Episkepsis #516 / March 31, 1955, p. 14]. This affirmation is in resounding contradiction to concrete actions by the churches which testify the opposite. Specifically we refer to:

1) The February 2, 1994 recommendation to the Sacred Synod of the Synodical Committee on Dogmatic and Canonical Issues of the Church of Greece, in which "The Committee proposes that the Church of Greece not hasten to accept these 'Statements' and considers the following as essential dogmatic conditions for the union of the Non-Chalcedonians with the Orthodox Catholic Church:

a) The acceptance by the Non-Chalcedonians of the Defini- nition of the Fourth Ecumenical Council...

b) the recognition of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils as being Ecumenical as well as their dogmatic definitions without interpretive statements...

c) the discouragement of "concelebrations" or other "manifestations (demonstrations) of common (joint) worship"...

If these conditions are not met, the Non-Chalcedonians ... . remain ... heterodox [Ecclesia, January 1-15, 1995, issue 1, p. 31]

2) the December, 1994 submitted report of the Synodical Theological committee of the Church of Russia to the Sacred Synod of that Church's hierarchy, in which "The Synod of of Hierarchs ... decided the following:

1) to approve the report of the Synodical Theological committee;
2) to assess that the "Second Joint Statement and its proposals to the Churches" cannot be considered a final text...
3) the Synodical Theological Committee should undertake a further study of the records of former meetings of the theologians of both sides... After this, the Orthodox Church of Russia will inform the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue of its opinion...
4) having in mind the necessity for the participation of the people of God in this matter of firmly establishing the union, which people, according to the words of the Encyclical of the Patriarchs of the East, "is the guardian of ancient piety", the Synod considers the time appropriate for the organization of a discussion by the whole Church upon this specific issue" [Episkepsis, 516, March 31, 1995, p. 16].

Has there not been a scandalous deception in the information given to the people of God?

D) Bishops of Orthodox Churches have declared to us that they had never been informed about events in this theological dialogue and that they will never accept a union unless the Non-Chalcedonians accept the Ecumenical Councils.

We ask: Can such an omission of informing the Bishops of the Church who have a direct concern be justified, especially since conciliar approval is an indispensable condition when dealing with such serious issues?

X) For the decision of the Sacred Synod of the Church of Romania as being alien to the mind of the Church, because this decision:

A) considers that the anathemas were laid upon the heretics by the Ecumenical Councils in a spirit lacking love, while today, since love now exists, union can be accomplished. Such a way of thinking directs a profound blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, through Whose inspiration these decisions were made, and against the sacred memory of the Holy Fathers, whom the Church calls God-bearers, Mouths of the Word, Harps of the Spirit, etc.

B) proposes the substitution of the authority of an Ecumenical Council by the unanimity of the local Sacred Synods—a new first in the history of the Church.

C) approves the organizing of programs which will disseminate amidst the people the decisions of the Joint Commission without there having previously been a unanimous, pan-orthodox decision. These present conditions are certainly grievous and harmful for the pious Romanian people.

For this reason, our hearts are filled with unspeakable sorrow for the Church of Romania.

XI) For the extremely disturbing decision of the Joint Commission to purge the liturgical books of texts which refer to the Non-Chalcedonians as heretical. The sacred services of many holy confessors of the Faith, of many righteous Fathers, and especially the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Council in Chalcedon will be mutilated. The Synodicon of Orthodoxy will practically be silenced. The Synaxaria (Lives) of many Saints will cease to be read by the people of God.

We ask: Are all the texts referred to above simply ornamental elements in Orthodox hymnology so that they can be painlessly and harmlessly removed, or are they basic elements of Orthodoxy, whose removal will cause the eradication of what we understand as Orthodoxy?

As far as we are concerned, it would be an unacceptable innovation with consequences for the very identity of the Orthodox Church.

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All of the above, by denouncing them to the Venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Venerable Hierarchies of the Orthodox Churches, the sacred clergy, and the pious people, we seek the swiftest possible reestablishment of the Theological Dialogue upon the right principles, so that the Orthodox will preserve for themselves the Orthodox Faith unspoiled but also for the Non-Chalcedonians, so that they will have the possibility of return to the true Church of Christ, from which they have been cut off for fifteen centuries.

We believe that with the Grace of Christ, the unremitting endeavors of all the members of the Church will bring positive results.

In the event, however, that the union will come about outside of the only Truth—God forbid—we declare expressly and categorically that the Holy Mountain will not accept such a false union.