A Non-Chalcedonian Bishop Converts to Orthodoxy in 1912

Entrance to Forty Holy Martyrs Cathedral in Homs (Wikimedia Commons)

The following is a translation from Asad Rustum’s History, vol. 3 pp. 357-362. It is not only interesting in terms of the description of the ceremony, but also because the conversion seems to have occurred through the Syriac bishop’s contact with Russian pilgrims. Recalling this moment of hope for Christian unity in Syria– just 112 years ago– can only bring sadness, as Christians have now been virtually eliminated in Homs. The catastrophe that brought Bishop Boutros’ Syriac community to the brink of extinction is now being completed.

A Syriac Bishop Joins the Orthodox Church in Homs (1912)

As Beirut was rejoicing over [a letter from] the Patriarch, Shepherd of Shepherds, the Thirteenth Apostle, Homs rejoiced at the reception of Cyril Boutros, bishop of Sadad, and his flock into the Orthodox Catholic Church. On March 4, 1912 all the Orthodox people of Homs gathered in the Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs. After the chanting of “Pasa Pnoi”, Athanasius, Metropolitan of Homs, went from the bishop’s throne to the royal doors, vested in the epitrachelion and omphorion, then walked to the western door of the church to receive Boutros, Jacobite bishop of Sadad, accompanied by two priests. Boutros made the sign of the cross and waited for the metropolitan to approach as the choir chanted the troparion for the Forty Martyrs.

When the troparion ended, Athanasius asked Boutros, “Do you desire to unite to the Orthodox Church, renouncing that which is incorrect in the teaching of the Jacobites?” Boutros responded, “Yes, I desire this.” Then Athanasius blessed him, saying, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God, amen.” He then placed his hand on Boutros’ head and read the following prayer:

“O Lord of Truth, look upon Your servant the bishop who is coming to take refuge in your holy Orthodox Church to kept in her care. Return him from his initial error to the true faith in You. Grant him grace to walk in the path of Your commandments. May You continually look upon him in Your mercy and may You hear the sound of his supplication. May he be numbered among Your chosen flock, for all the powers of heaven praise and glorify You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unto ages of ages.”

Then the deacon made the petition, “Let us pray to the Lord” and the choir responded, “Lord have mercy.” After the prayer and the end of the petition, Athanasius addressed the following words to Boulos, “Do you reject the teaching of Eutyches, Theodore, Dioscorus, and all those who believe as they do?” Athanasius responded, “Yes, I reject this.” Then Athanasius asked, “Do you reject the false teaching that says that our Lord Jesus Christ has only one nature?” Boutros responded, “Yes, I reject this.” Athanasius asked, “So do you desire to unite to the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church and do you promise to be obedient to her?” Boutros responded, “I desire and I promise this from the bottom of my heart.” Athanasius asked, “Do you believe in one God glorified in Trinity? How do you believe and how do you worship Him?” Boutros responded, “I believe in one God glorified in Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I worship Him.” He then made a prostration on the ground and read the following confession of faith:

“The confession of faith of the bishop Boutros: In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I the wretched Boutros, by the grace of God bishop of Sadad and its dependencies, ask the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church by the love of God to accept me into her fold as one of her faithful children.

We [that is, he and the people following him] accept her universal teaching and promise the Orthodox Church our canonical obedience. We abandon our previous rebelliousness and cast aside every heresy, especially the heresy of Eutyches, because he taught a false teaching by saying “Christ our God has one nature.” As for us, we believe, confess, and affirm that our Lord begotten of the Father before the ages according to divinity and begotten in the latter times of the Holy Virgin Mary according to humanity is one in his essence, in two natures, one prosopon, one hypostasis, one Christ, one Lord, God and man, one. We also say:

We believe, confess, and affirm that He is of one essence with the Father according to divinity. He Himself is of one essence with us according to humanity. He is one of the Most Holy Trinity, God the Word who took on human nature from the Holy Virgin Mary. That is, a rational soul, a body, human attributes, a human activity, and a human will. When God the Word was united in His hypostasis perfect human nature and  perfect divine nature, He became a man and did not cease to be God, since the attributes of the two natures are not eliminated or weakened in the union. Rather, each of the natures preserves its attributes. Thus, in Jesus Christ our Lord there are two natures, properties, activities, and wills which remain within Him without confusion, change, division, or separation. Thus the theologians make no distinction between them in the statements about Christ our Lord that are written in the Gospel and the Epistles of the Apostles. The Church truly proclaims that Christ Himself is perfect God and is Himself perfect man, preserving the attributes of each of the two natures. We believe and confess that our God Jesus Christ who exists as God by nature and becomes man according to nature is the Only-begotten Son, dual in nature and not in hypostasis.

As for Our Lady the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary, we confess that she is Mother of God because she truly gave birth to Christ our God.

We also accept those Ecumenical Councils that previously had been rejected by us, namely: the fourth Council of Chalcedon, held in the time of Marcian, which rejected the teaching of Eutyches and those who taught with him one nature in Christ our Lord after the union; the fifth council, the Second Council of Constantinople, held in the time of Justinian, which anathmatized Theodore and his teaching; the sixth council, the Third Council of Constantinople, held in the time of Constantine IV, which taught that in Christ our God there are two natures, two activities, and two wills, even though these two wills do not contradict each other and His human will did not contradict His divine will, but rather was in agreement and submission to it; the seventh council, the Second Council of Niceaea, held in the time of Constantine and Irene, which taught the righteousness of giving icons, that is the holy images, veneration of honor and it anathamatized those who blasphemed against the Holy Church by saying that she worships icons in the manner of the pagans who worship their idols. We children of the Church venerate them not with the veneration of worship, as a creature must worship his Creator, but rather only with the veneration of honor, as we venerate the cross of Christ and the Gospel. We also accept the canons of the seven holy ecumenical councils and the canons of the local councils, looking to them as the model of good order in the holy churches of God.

We promise to commune only with those with whom the Holy Orthodox Church communes. All those whom she considers to be outside communion, we also consider to be outside communion. We explained in our letter what was summarized here. Now I confirm this also with my lips before you and before this holy altar. We believe that the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ blesses this action of ours, to Him be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

After reading this declaration, Boutros signed it and handed it to Athanasius to keep in the church archives as long as God desires. Athanasius took it and said, “Blessed be God who enlightens every person who comes into the world.” He then addressed the following questions to Boulos: “Do you accept all seven ecumenical councils? Do you accept the dogmas and canons that these councils defined?” Boutros responded, “Yes, I accept them and agree with them.” Athanasius asked, “Do you promise that you honor the holy icons that are accepted in the Orthodox Church according to the belief of this Church that returns the honor offered to them to the prototype depicted on them?” Boutros responded, “I promise to honor them as the Orthodox Church commands.” Athanasius asked, “Do you accept the Apostolic Canons and all the other canons that were defined at the seven ecumenical councils and the nine local councils, as well as all traditions and teachings in the Orthodox Church?” Boutros replied, “Yes, I accept them.”

Then Metropolitan Athanasius gave Bishop Boutros the corner of his omphorion and said to him in a solemn voice, “Enter the Orthodox Church. Reject everything she rejects. Honor the Father, the Master of All, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, Trinity one in essence and undivided.” They then walked together to the royal doors, as the  the choir chanted Psalm Sixty-Six [LXX], “May God be merciful to us.” When they reached the royal doors, they stood before a table upon which was the Holy Gospel and the Venerable Cross. Bishop Boutros knelt before the table with the Gospel and the cross, made two prostrations, saying, “You send Your spirit and they are created. You renew the face of the earth. Save O Lord Your servant who relies on You. Be, O Lord, a pillar of strength for him against the enemy. O Lord, listen to my prayer and may my cry reach you.” Then the deacon said, “Let us pray to the Lord” and the choir chanted, “Lord have mercy.” Boutros confessed to a canonical priest as Athanasius read the prayer:

“O Lord God, Master of All, who puts before sinners the ways of repentance and leads those astray to the right path that none of them might perish but that all might accept salvation, we thank You for enlightening Your servant the bishop Boutros with the light of the knowledge of Your truth and making him worthy of taking refuge in Your Holy Catholic Orthodox Church. Grant him to be united to her with sincerity and steadfastness of purpose. Number him with Your chosen flock. Make him a pure vessel and dwelling-place of Your Holy Spirit, so that he may be enlightened and guided by Him, keeping Your saving commandments without the stain of sin, so that he may thus be worthy of Your heavenly good things, for You are a God of mercy, compassion, and love for mankind and You desire that all may be saved. To You we send glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

Then Athanasius said, “Stand aright, stand with fear,” and he placed the contract he had been given before the Gospel and the cross. Then Boutros said, “I promise, relying on God, to keep firm the Orthodox Catholic faith in which I now believe, with complete conviction and without stain until the last breath of my life. By fulfilling the commandments willingly and with joy I will guard my heart free from impurity, as much as I am able. In support of my promise, I kiss all the words of my Savior and His cross.” Then he kissed the Gospel and the cross. Athanasius said, “Blessed be God who desires that all people be saved and approach knowledge of the truth. Blessed is He unto the ages,” and the choir responded, “amen.” He then addressed Boutros, “Bow before the Lord God whom you have confessed and you shall receive forgiveness of your sins.” Boutros bowed his head and Athanasius read over him the following:

“May the Lord Jesus Christ our God who entrusted the Apostles with the keys of the heavenly kingdom and gave them and their successors after them the authority to bind and loosen people’s sins forgive you my brother, Bishop Boulos, through me, the unworthy bishop, and may He release you from all your sins. I, by the authority given to me by Him, unite you to the Orthodox Church, and bring you to partake in the Holy Mysteries of the Church. I bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Then the choir started to chant “Ton Despotin” and the two bishops walked up together and entered the altar. Athanasius sprinkled Boutros with holy water from a vessel containing relics of the Forty Martyrs, and afterwards they embraced, put on bishops’ vestments, and served the holy mysteries together and Boutros assisted Athanasius in some of the exclamations. After the transformation [of the bread and wine], the bishop declared his recognition of the headship of Patriarch Gregory IV.

After partaking, Athanasius congratulated Boutros with a speech filled with love and encouragement. Boutros responded with a long speech, the most important part of which was that the reasons for the estrangement between the eastern churches were not on account of faith and that the time has come for the union of these groups under the banner of Orthodoxy, and that ever sense he saw true piety in the souls of the Russian pilgrims he had not ceased thinking about returning to the bosom of the Mother Church and this inclination continued to grow in him until he had the good fortune to meet Athanasius, who added to correct belief good works.

6 Replies to “A Non-Chalcedonian Bishop Converts to Orthodoxy in 1912”

  1. “Boutros responded with a long speech, the most important part of which was that “the reasons for the estrangement between the eastern churches were not on account of faith ………”

    Two questions:

    1. If the reasons for the estrangement is not on account of faith, then what are those reasons? Social? Political? Economic? If so, then those latter reasons are not sufficient for Boutros to trouble himself to seek the bosom of the true Church.

    2. If the reasons for the estrangement is not on account of faith, then why did Boutros bother to take this step? According to his thinking, Boutros was already in the bosom of the Orthodox Church ( upright worship /upright believes) !!! And why did Athanasius agree to go through the trouble of reading all those long prayers and admonitions against Boutros presumed ‘non-existent’ errors?

    This whole scene is more worthy of contempt than it is worthy of admiration !

    Is there more to the episode than what the history books had preserved for us?

    1. I feel that you’re presuming too much. The bulk of the currently existing Jacobite church probably doesn’t substantially believe differently than the Orthodox, and certainly don’t worship or practice their faith in ways that are substantially different, and are divided due to what is from their perspective, an accident of history. To say that this account is worthy of contempt borders on blasphemous–the point is that the bishop converted, not the context you are presuming for his comments.

      1. I am expressing no personal opinion(s) on the nature of disagreement during the counsel of Chalcedon (circa 450) between Orthodox Syrians and and the Oriental Syrians . All I know is that the non -Chalcedonians are specifically mentioned ( by names) in the Synodicon read on the First Sunday, Sunday of Orthodoxy, during Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. Please refer to the section : “Against Eustractius and Leo of Chalcedon” mentioned in the aforementioned Synodicon.

        Does Athanasius sincerely believe in the Synodicon of Orthodoxy recited by bishops on the First Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church?

        Similarly, does Boutros, like other Oriental, non-Macedonians, believe in the animus against Leo shared by all Orientals ?

        If neither one nor the other of the bishops believe in their respective church teachings, then why bother with the ceremony? Why not have an amicable hand shake , and a ‘welcome to a brother after a long absence’ and be done with the whole thing?

  2. Related to this post, this quote from the 17th C by the Antiochian Patriarch Macarius, made me very happy. During his journey around Holy Russia, he was shocked and pleasantly surprised at what he saw. The word “baptized” seems to also mean “sign of the cross.”

    “As for their sign of the cross, it is enough to call it Moscow, it is performed by striking the fingers on the forehead and shoulders.

    Their boys and girls do the same, for they are nourished with the milk of faith and piety. How can they, being small, create such a sign of the cross ?!

    How can they bow to those present ?!

    And we do not know how to be baptized like them, for which they mocked us, saying:
    “Why do you draw scribbles on the chest, and do not strike your fingers on the forehead and shoulders, as we do?”

    We were happy with them. What a blessed country it is, purely Orthodox!”

    “The journey of Patriarch Macarius of Antioch to Russia in the half of the 17th century, described by his son Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo.” Available online.

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