The challenge of modern inter-Orthodox rapprochement and reconciliation

Kenneth F Yossa, Marquette University


From its remote beginnings to the present, Christianity has sought to understand and proclaim the truth of revelation entrusted to it by the Lord, and to express this authentically for each successive generation of believers. For the first millennium Church, this process was characteristically embodied in the written and spoken reflection upon various theological issues of moment, and enunciated frequently through local or general synods. The manner in which these crucial questions were answered, not merely the answers themselves, determined not only the disposition of dogma but the manner in which ecclesial communion or koinonia would exist within the constituent families of churches within the una sancta. Among the most significant of these were the third century disputes regarding the nature of unity and diversity in the Godhead as three equally divine and eternal Hypostases or Persons. In the following century, controversies arose concerning Christ's equality and relationship to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. By the fifth century further controversies ensued which concerned how and to what degree the divine Hypostasis was united to the humanity of Christ. This last series of Christological disputes significantly represented the theological divergencies between the Alexandrine or "Cyrillian" school of thought and that of Cappadocia. The former understood the reality of Christ's coexistent humanity and divinity within the unity of one nature; the latter held that two natures existed in the hypostatic union. (Such controversy itself originated in response to the earlier so-called Nestorian controversy, in which Christ's unity was understood to be that of two Persons. ) To clarify the orthodox teaching, the general council of Chalcedon in 451 decreed that the "one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son must be confessed to be in two natures, without mixture, without change, indivisibly, inseparably [united] ... each nature being preserved and united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten." (From the Symbol of Chalcedon) Rather than uniting the Church and harmonizing its kerygmatic base, the linguistic usages employed at the council and the philosophies upon which they were based brought differing paradigms of theological discourse into even greater relief---and into a collision course. The pro "Alexandrine" rejection of the conciliar decrees, along with the council's anathematization of leading dissenters and their supporters, sowed the seeds for a separation in juridical and sacramental communion between the Byzantine church (along with the Latin church) and the Alexandrine-Cyrillian churches of Alexandria and Antioch. Within decades, neither side (with some significant exceptions) accepted the other as orthodox---whether as part of the una sancta or in matters of Christology. In time, these differences in Christological expression led to the identification of those holding Cyrillian-based Christology as Monophysite or "one-natured" by the Byzantine and Latin churches, wrongly assuming that the latter believed that Christ possessed a single (divine) nature. (The term Dyophysite or "two-natured" was also sometimes used by Cyrillian churches, with the equally wrong assumption that Byzantine and Latins faithful believed that Christ possessed two natures, i.e. two persons, in the extreme Antiochene theological sense.) Thanks in great measure to ecumenical dialogue, by the latter half of the twentieth-century, more objective and critical understandings were gained with regard to the circumstances surrounding the schism, leading also to the conclusion that the mutual Orthodox charges of "Dyophysitism" or "Monophysitism" are no longer valid. Indeed, since the 1990s it has become the avowed position of some "Chalcedonian" or Eastern Orthodox churches and all "Cyrilline" or Oriental Orthodox churches that both communions teach authentically the reality of Christ's dual and co-existent humanity and divinity in the unity of the divine Person. (It should also be noted that the Church of Rome and other Western confessions have similarly recognized this development.) Despite numerous examples of amicable and fruitful cooperation at times between the two communions in recent decades, however, the respective communions have made almost no progress toward establishment of a unified communion, permitted unrestricted mutual sacramental, pastoral and canonical parity. Official commissions by both groups have been established, and earnest, mutual sharing of a dual-evolved Orthodox tradition has been warmly received by one-another in a number of places. In the meantime, however, separate altars, separate missions and, ultimately, "separate Orthodoxies" remain. In the course of this work, I will outline more specifically various issues and circumstances which brought about this separation and the attempts to heal it---most particularly those of the latter 20th century. I will also devote particular attention to the numerous sociological, cultural and theological issues of our time which present obstacles, despite the acceptance of the "Chalcedonian Definition" by the Oriental churches and provide a justification why a new koinonia between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox should be sought. Finally, it is my intention to investigate the arguments produced against integral union between the bodies and propose systemic solutions, along with possible implications for a future union.

Recommended Citation

Yossa, Kenneth F, "The challenge of modern inter-Orthodox rapprochement and reconciliation" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3244570.