Editorial: Non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy on OH.org

A Meeting of Hierarchs of both Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian churches

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.

6 thoughts on “Editorial: Non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy on OH.org

  1. I’ve had “discussions” with at least one of those who caused the controversy there on Facebook. He’s a member of one of the Old Calendarist (neo-Donatist) schismatic groups. I wouldn’t worry too much about his opinion. You all are doing a great job here, Father, and I look forward to seeing more posts, including future ones about the Oriental Churches. And I pray, as all true (not “True” — if you catch my meaning) Orthodox should for a reunion between the Oriental Orthodox and the Orthodox Church that is in faith, in love, in truth, and in God’s time.

  2. I for one would love to see more about the Orthodox Churches that do not accept Chalcedon on this site!

  3. My experience is that most Chalcedonian Orthodox who have problems such as which prompted this post stem from a) the Oriental Orthodox even more than the Eastern Orthodox are ethnically defined: the Coptic Liturgy is not the same as the Syriac Liturgy, which is fine: the EO in Egypt used the same as the Copts and the EO in Syria used the same as the Syriacs until the Patriarch of Antioch in Constantinople, Balsamon, suppressed them in favor of the Constantinopolitan. And so b) most EO, not being in a country where a OO reside, have the luxury of not having to deal with OO, and many exploit that.

    As an example, I’ve had too many arguments with EO about the OO canonization of Eutyches, or rather the lack thereof: the OO anathematized Eutyches. But many EO, particularly those who have insularity problems of their own with “world Orthodoxy” prefer the OO of polemics, rather the actual OO believers and what they believe.

    On this, a history of Orthodoxy in America will play a large role, as, unlike most of the “Mother Churches,” both EO and OO, herein the “diaspora”both EO and OO are in the same boat as far as American society is concerned, and live side by side.

  4. Hi Fr. Andrew,
    Bless! I saw you at the Florovsky Symposium but didn’t get a chance to introduce myself.

    I am of the opinion that the Christology of the Non-Chaledonians is not Orthodox, but agree with you on the usefulness of including information about them on this blog.
    One problem I still have, though, is the use of the term “Oriental Orthodox” to designate them. It is a euphemism, so to speak, since “Eastern” and “Oriental” mean precisely the same thing (just from Germanic and Latin roots, respectively). It also basically accepts the results of the theological dialogue thus far, i.e. that our Christologies are the same. As mentioned already, I think this conclusion to be in error, and in any case to be premature. If one is to leave the question open, at least for the sake of discussion and inquiry, as you seem to be trying to do in your article here, it makes more sense to consistently use a neutral term, such as Non-Chalcedonian. It is, of course, a vague term (technically the Church of the East, i.e. Nestorians, is also non-Chalcedonian!) but is less offensive than the more precise “Monophysite.”

    (I personally prefer the latter term, because it precisely points out the problem with their Christology that should not be swept under the rug, but I’m willing to avoid it in certain scholarly contexts such as this blog.)

    In Christ,
    Nick Marinides

    • I don’t think there really is one absolutely precise term. The believers in question themselves reject Monophysite, associating it as they do with the heretic Eutyches, whom they also anathematize. The ones I’ve spoken to and read prefer Miaphysite, but of course that could mean various things, too.

      In any event, terminology is mainly (though not exclusively) a function of convention. Yes, Eastern and Oriental have the same literal meaning, though even outside ecclesiastical settings, their senses in English differ. (No one would say I live in “Oriental Pennsylvania,” for instance.) Likewise, the church whom we conventionally refer to as Roman Catholic should by Orthodox standards yield up its name for our own exclusive use. (Indeed, in the Middle East, Orthodox Christians are referred to in Arabic and Turkish as “Romans.”)

      But in the end, one must communicate, and one often fails to do so by ideologically avoiding the common terminology, even if its literal meanings are imprecise or even controversial. Believe you me, I love precision in language—I got my undergraduate degree in English literature. But the beauty of our language also requires that we not walk around saying “those churches which are in communion following the Council of Chalcedon and are generally found among the Copts, Armenians, Syriac, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Indian peoples” too often, lest one inspire the eyes of one’s listeners gently (or perhaps none too gently) to roll back into their heads as we teeter over the precipice of soporific irrelevance, something public speakers do alarmingly often.

  5. You have a point with regard to conventions. But there’s a difference between old conventions, sanctioned by time and usage, if wrongly (such as Catholic or Roman Catholic for the papal church) and new conventions such as the one in question. As far as I know, the term “Oriental Orthodox” is only about fifty years old, going back to the first unofficial dialogue between the two sides in the early ’60s. The continuing dialogue has based its conclusions on extremely questionable theological and ecclesiological presuppositions, one of which is precisely the use of this term. It is still premature to accept this convention, especially when perfectly serviceable and relatively unoffensive terms, such as “Non-Chalcedonian” or “Anti-Chalcedonian” are available. When does something become a convention by which everyone has to abide? When some of the interested parties decide so, without consulting anybody else?

    (We could, of course, just continue to use the terminology sanctioned by the tradition of the Fathers, and just call them “Monophysites.” The Fathers probably knew better what they were talking about than our contemporary theologians and dialogians.)

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