Recently, the posting of an article on the first Armenian Orthodox churches in America was the occasion for some controversy on the SOCHA Facebook page. Why are SOCHA resources being spent on this, etc.?
If you have a Facebook account and read the responses to these comments, you will see some very good reasons. Foremost among them is that this website is a private, cooperative endeavor between those who happen to be spending their own time on it. We don’t receive funding from anywhere other than our own pockets, so there’s no reason why anyone should fear that official funds are being used in some objectionable way.
Yet one must ask why this is supposedly objectionable in the first place. Ironically, we’ve covered a number of apostates and outright non-Orthodox in the past without much protest, yet there are folks who object to Non-Chalcedonians being covered. How they’re okay with the former but not the latter is frankly a bit beyond me.
To be sure, there are some among the Chalcedonian (“Eastern”) Orthodox who look upon the Non-Chalcedonian (“Oriental”) Orthodox as heretics and therefore utterly irrelevant to such a site as this. Readers are left to determine for themselves what they think about this theological issue. At the same time, the official dialogues between the two church bodies have pretty much determined that we have the same Orthodox faith. Whichever may be the case, it is an unmistakable fact that of all the church bodies in the world, the Oriental Orthodox are the closest to the Eastern Orthodox. Although we share the same literal language of Christology as the Roman Catholic Church, anyone who’s ever spent time with both the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox church families will find much more in common there than between Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome. As such, it only makes sense that we would spend time together. How or if the theological problems will be solved is another matter, to be sure (and an important one), but that is not the point of this website, nor of SOCHA in general.
SOCHA consists of people who like history, both reading it and often writing it. If we happen to like writing about Non-Chalcedonians (something we’ve largely not done as yet because most of us are unqualified), or if we want to invite someone to write about them for the site, then that is simply for furthering our mutual interest in history. If readers want to read it, great! If not, then they can simply skip it. No one’s losing anything by virtue of there being such articles on OrthodoxHistory.org.
At the same time, even if we were to receive funding from a church or foundation or the like, we would still have no problem publishing material about the Non-Chalcedonians. After all, there are print publications that do the same thing—even from Chalcedonian seminaries. And who is harmed by this? I would argue that we are all actually benefited by getting to know each other better. There actually is some real possibility for reunion between the two church bodies in the future—whether readers happen to think this is a good idea or not, it is nonetheless actually a possibility, and it’s being discussed at the official level by both bodies in a way more serious than they treat any other church body.
In any event, I myself am not interested only in Orthodox Christian history (whether one defines that only as Chalcedonian Orthodoxy or to include Non-Chalcedonian), but Christian history in general and even non-Christian religious history. If you’ve ever listened to any of my podcasts comparing Orthodoxy and heterodoxy, you know I’m not particularly “ecumenical” (I like to practice what I call “Ecumenism with a Gun“). So believe me when I say that I think it’s worthwhile for us to include material from the Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Indian, Ethiopian and Eritrean churches on this site. And if you don’t believe me, well, then don’t read it! You’re most likely not paying for it, anyway.
This article was written by Fr. Andrew S. Damick.