Christine Chaillot is a writer specialised in Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, on their history, life and spirituality as well as on their bilateral dialogue. She is Swiss (Geneva) and Orthodox (Patriarchate of Constantinople). Among her books: Vie et spiritualité des Eglises orthodoxes orientales (Le Cerf, Paris, 2011), The Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (Peter Lang, Oxford, 2011), The Dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches (Volos, 2016), The Role of Images in the Oriental Orthodox Churches (LIT Verlag, 2018). Her books have been published in eleven languages.
In 1970, at the beginning of the non-official theological dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, in Geneva, it was already said that: “Through study of each other (tradition) there is mutual agreement in all important matters such as liturgy, spirituality, doctrine and canonical practice, on the Church as the communion of the saints with its ministry and sacraments and on the life of the world to come…” (C. Chaillot, Towards Unity p. 51). Then it was also said that: “But the long period of separation has brought about certain differences in the formal expression of that tradition, with three basic ecclesiological issues: (1) the meaning and place of certain Councils in the life of the Church (cf. as the Chalcedonians acknowledge seven ecumenical councils and the non-Chalcedonians only three); (2) the anathematization or acclamation and veneration of certain saints as some saints are controversial teachers of the Church; and (3) the jurisdictional questions related to manifestation of unity of the Church at local, regional and world levels.” We must underline that jurisdiction is not to be regarded only as an administrative matter but it also touches the question of ecclesiology in some aspects (for example with the question of one bishop united in one eucharist in one city) (Towards Unity p. 51). These are some of the questions debated in my lecture.
Now I shall speak of a topic which has been one of my main points of study for the last thirty years: The dialogue today between the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. These names were given officially to the two families of Churches at the first meeting of the official Dialogue in Chambésy (in Geneva, Switzerland) in 1985 (and used even before) where the questions about the schism following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 were discussed.
As a reminder, the name ‘Oriental Orthodox’ was given to the non-Chalcedonian family. These Churches include the Armenian Church, the Coptic Church in Egypt (and consequently her ‘daughter’ Church in Ethiopia which became autocephalous in 1959), as well as the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch (with branches in India since the 17th century), which all recognize only the three first Ecumenical Councils, namely the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Council of Ephesus in 431, but have rejected the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon in 451 (and thus the following councils of the Eastern Orthodox Churches).
The name ‘Eastern’ Orthodox was given to the Chalcedonian Churches, that is the four most ancient Patriarchates (of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), as well as the Patriarchates of Russia, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria, and the autocephalous Churches such as Cyprus, Greece, Poland, which recognize the seven Ecumenical Councils, including the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, the Third Council of Constantinople from 680–681 and finally, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Today these two families of Churches are present all around the world and not only in their places of origin, mostly in the Middle East.
THE THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE TODAY BETWEEN THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX AND THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES
In fact, the modern theological dialogue began with four unofficial meetings held from 1964 to 1971 in Aarhus (in Denmark), Bristol, Geneva and Addis Ababa; they were followed by a series of official meetings/consultations constituted by Church-appointed delegates, from 1985 to 1993 at Chambésy (in Geneva, Switzerland), at the monastery of Saint Bishoy (in Egypt) and with again two meetings at Chambésy in 1990 and 1993; and again at Chambésy in 2005. A Joint Commission met in Athens in 2014.
The aim of the dialogue was to study how to solve the question of Chalcedon and the schism which very unfortunately followed. The main question was christological: can we speak of ‘one’ or ‘two’ natures’ (that is, in Greek, of one physis or two physeis) when we speak of Christ being fully God and fully Man? Until 451, the main christological trend was that of St. Cyril of Alexandria (375-444) whose formula was: “one incarnate nature of God the Word” (in Greek, mia physis tou Theou logou sesarkomene), which expresses the divinity as well as the humanity of Christ.
As for the Chalcedonians (that is the “Byzantines”, the subjects of the Byzantine emperor), they accepted this new formula presented by Pope Leo I of Rome (c. 400-461) which speaks of Christ having two natures (in Greek physeis), with the safeguards added by the Council in the form of the four adverbs used to qualify the mystery of the hypostatic union (and which belong to the common tradition of the Chalcedonians and Non-Chalcedonians): without commingling (or confusion) (asyngchytos), without change (atreptos), without separation (achoristos) and without division (adiairetos). This expression was refused by the Non-Chalcedonians as they felt that this would imply the separation of the divinity and humanity of Christ, and they rejected the Definition (Horos) of Chalcedon. In fact, at Chalcedon, it was not only said that Christ has ‘two natures’ but also that Christ is one person, which creates a theological balance and avoids the heresy (so-called ‘Nestorian’) which would consist of a division of the divinity and humanity in Christ. Anyway, one can easily understand that, the reason for those who refused the new formulation of Chalcedon was because they wanted to remain faithful to the Cyrillian formula (and to strictly follow the faith of the three first ecumenical Councils), without rewriting a new faith definition.
When the official dialogue began in 1985 (and even before, since 1964, with the non official dialogue), these were the first questions to be discussed and agreed upon: christology and the two formulas of Cyril and of Chalcedon. In fact, the theologians of very high standard then envoys of the respective Patriarchates (and Churches) of the two families of Churches, after studying and discussing the matter, agreed that the two formulas were correct/‘orthodox’ and both could be used, as both speak of the divinity and humanity in Christ, without mingling and without separation. These expressions are found in the text of Chalcedon as well as in several texts of the Eastern Orthodox and of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (liturgical and others). During these meetings, both sides have acknowledged a common understanding of Christology and have shown that the schism is based on misrepresentations and misunderstandings, including in the area of terminology.
Already in 1964, the Statement made by the Commission of the dialogue insisted on this fact: “In our common study of the Council of Chalcedon, the well-known phrase used by our common father in Christ, St. Cyril of Alexandria (mia physis (or mia hypostasis) tou Theou Logou sesarkomene (the one physis or hypostasis of God’s Word Incarnate) with its implications, was at the centre of our conversations. On the essence of the Christological dogma, we found ourselves in full agreement. Through the different terminologies used by each side, we saw the same truth expressed… Both sides found themselves fundamentally following the Christological teaching of the one undivided Church as expressed by St. Cyril” (Aarhus, 1964, par. 1; Towards Unity p. 48).
The Statements issued by the theologians of the two families profess not only that they follow the christological teachings of the one undivided Church as expressed by Saint Cyril and the historic Orthodox faith, but also that different formulas may be acceptable. This means that the Eastern Orthodox agreed that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional Cyrillian terminology (‘one nature of the Incarnate Word of God’), which is also accepted and used by the Eastern Orthodox. Here we must underline the fact that Saint Cyril, the theological master at the Council of Ephesus in 431, is a very important Church Father common to the two families of Churches; and, according to me and some other people, just this point should solve the christological problem and misunderstandings of the past.
Speaking again of names, for centuries, the Chalcedonians called the Non-Chalcedonians ‘monophysites’ as if they were thought to believe only in ‘one nature’, the divine one (the human one being absorbed by the divine, which was the trend of the heretic Eutyches); but this name (monophysite) is rejected by the Non-Chalcedonian Churches themselves. In fact, we should not confuse the meaning of the words ‘monophysite’ and ‘miaphysite’. After the recent theological dialogues (which took place also with several Churches after 1985), as christological misunderstanding was clarified, specialist theologians and scholars have decided that the Non-Chalcedonian Churches should now be called ‘miaphysite’ (in accordance with the terminology of St. Cyril), and not any longer ‘monophysite’ considered as negative, wrong and offensive, and thus must be avoided. Nevertheless, we remark that the term monophysite is still used by certain people and also some scholars in their academic writings.
The two main pending questions to be solved
Today, in the dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox, the two main pending questions to be solved are: 1) the lifting of reciprocal anathemas; and 2) the recognition by the Non-Chalcedonians of the councils after Chalcedon. On the first question, in 1990 (point 10), in Chambésy (Geneva), the representative theologians of the two families of Churches accepted that all anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide them should be lifted by the Churches so that the last obstacle for full unity and communion may be removed. Also in 1990, the Second Common Declaration affirms that this lifting of anathemas is possible as the historic anathemas were not imposed because of heretical teaching. In fact, Dioscorus of Alexandria (d. 454) was anathematized because of disciplinary and not dogmatic reasons; and the christology of Severus of Antioch (465-538) just follows that of St. Cyril.
In the Orthodox tradition, at the canonical level, in order to re-establish ecclesial communion, there should be a procedure on both sides to lift the anathemas. The anathemas mean that some saints are considered as doctors and saints of the Church by some but not by others (and thus belonging or not to the ecclesiastical corpus), in particular Severus of Antioch and Dioscorus of Alexandria (in fact both followers of the ‘miaphysite’ christology of St. Cyril). This question is about the veneration of saints who are recognized or not by both families of Churches. These anathemas also involve liturgical depreciations and hagiology.
Now, what about the recognition by the non-Chalcedonians of the councils after Chalcedon, and the non-acceptance of some Church Councils after that of Chalcedon by the Oriental Orthodox? This is a canonical problem. In 1990, in Chambésy (Geneva), and among other things, the theologians spoke about the four Councils of the Eastern Orthodox after that of Chalcedon in 451 (point 8), and about their recognition by the Oriental Orthodox. For some, the matters discussed were completely clarified by the common declarations already made, for others not. For example, because the Non-Chalcedonians may accept the Orthodox interpretation of the dogmatic resolutions made at the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Ecumenical Councils, but not the councils as such.
For some people, very conservative Eastern Orthodox and critical of the dialogue, the Oriental Orthodox must recognize in particular the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Ecumenical Councils, as, for them, without this and the lifting of the anathemas, the restoration of ecclesial communion is not possible. Some experts in canon law and ecclesiology, such as Professor Phidas of Athens and Professor Father Erickson of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York, answered these questions and also gave some explanations of how to implement this procedure, and who has the necessary authority to do so.
These issues have been raised already in 1993, in Chambésy (Geneva).
In 2014, in Athens, a work group of the Joint Commission pointed out the very high priority of this dialogue as well as calling for a systematic evaluation of all the theological critiques on the proposals of the Joint Commission and for a theological defense against all prejudices and polemical arguments.
At the beginning the dialogue was very active, but since 2005 and 2014 we can notice a stagnation. Today, the dialogue statements have yet to be fully received or acted upon among the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches in the wider sense and some steps need to be fulfilled towards full unity, mostly on two main questions we just discussed: a) the mutual lifting of anathemas, b) the common enumeration of the seven ecumenical councils.
Other questions to be solved
Other agreements and assurances are necessary before formal restoration of communion. In fact, the union between the two families of Churches also implies solving other questions which are very important in the Orthodox tradition, not only at the canonical but also at other levels such as the following ones.
On the canonical level, let us mention, for example, a twofold problem which surrounds the future of the common jurisdictional organisation: a) claims on the same traditional and historical territory – which is particularly the case with the patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria – and b) the simultaneous presence of these Churches in the diaspora. In the mid-term, however, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches could find themselves in a conciliar framework which could enable them to find the conditions of a territorial ecclesiology of communion.
On liturgical questions, agreement must be found, for example, a solution should be found about a list of diptychs of the Primates of the two families of Churches. It is also important to recognize the legitimacy of the diverse liturgical practices, and how rich they are, also at the theological and spiritual levels, and to maintain them.
On mariology, this is common to the two families of Churches. In 1987, it was recognized that both families of Churches confess/and venerate the Holy Virgin as Theotokos (that is “The one who gives birth to God”). This name Theotokos is also found in the Coptic Church tradition which to this day uses many Greek words. In the Armenian tradition it is translated as Astvatsatsin; and in the Syrian Orthodox tradition as Yoldath Aloho (“The one who gives birth to God”).
On hagiology, there are many saints and martyrs venerated together, from the time before Chalcedon, and also others.
The studies on patristic, liturgical, canonical and monastic and other fields do show that there are so many similarities between the two families of Churches. But we have no time to detail them here.
The use and veneration of icons
Now, I would like to speak about a point which seems important (for me) in the frame of the dialogue, and in the context of the Matenadaran which has so many manuscripts with illuminations, which is the use and veneration of pictures and icons. In the Oriental Orthodox Churches, as Christ is represented on icons/wall paintings/illuminations as real Man, it clearly shows that the Oriental Orthodox are not monophysite, and this is a strong Christological argument.
On the use and veneration of icons/pictures, in 1990, the theologians who gathered for the dialogue agreed that the theology and practice of the veneration of the icons since ancient times and recognised as a teaching at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church of Nicea II in 787 is common in the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches. This is what I tried to demonstrate in my book The Role of Images and Veneration of Icons in the Oriental Orthodox Churches (first published in French in 1993, and later in English in 2016).
The Armenians tend to honour the cross more than images, but without rejecting the latter. In fact, we hear of very ancient examples, such as the miraculous icon of the Mother of God, ‘a wooden icon’ painted by the apostle John, an icon that is a ‘doctor for the wounded, a relic for the faithful’, on which is ‘imprinted the power of the Trinity’. It would have been brought by the apostle Bartholomew to the Armenian monastery of Hogeac’ Vank where it remained for many centuries before being taken away; and it enjoyed immense popularity, according to John/Yovhannes Sarkawag in the 12th century.
According to Vrt’anes, patriarch of Greater Armenia (333-341), the Armenians did not know how to make images, but they were brought from the Greeks, and the Armenian kings had images painted in their churches. In the 6th-7th century, the treatise of Vrt’anes K’ert’ogh already expresses a theology of the icon which emphasizes that Christians adore not matters (colours), but Him who is represented in the image. Between the 9th and 12th centuries, it is known that there were icons in Armenia, including those of the Mother of God at the Monastery of Varag (972), the church of Anazarbe (1104), the cathedral of Tarsus (1197), and elsewhere. In the 8th century, Catholicos John of Odzun (717-28) persecuted the iconoclast Paulicians. Other great Armenian fathers defended the images and their veneration such as Grigor Magistros (10-11th c.), John Sarkawag (beg. of 12th century/1047–1129), and Nerses Shnorhali (12th cent.).
This topic has been studied by several Armenian scholars, in the past and today. For example, in 1973, Father Daniel Kochakian wrote a bachelor in divinity dissertation at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary at Crestwood (New York) entitled Religious Art in Armenian Theology. In 1987, Fr Yeznik Petrosian (now Archbishop) presented a thesis at the Faculty of Theology in Athens entitled The Position of the Armenian Church Concerning the Holy Icons, in which he shows that the Armenian Church is not iconoclast and in which he discusses about the holy images in the Armenian Church, the theology of icons in the tradition of the Armenian Church and their veneration in the past and today.
If the examples of ancient Armenian icons are few, this is not the case with illuminations (among the oldest, from the 7th century, see Chaillot 2018, note 88 p 55). On the topic of Armenian icons and icon painters, much has yet to be written. In an article published in 1999, Ioanna Rapti mentions the work done on our topic by Thomas Mathews.
In my book, I also included the prayers to consecrate/bless the icons and wall paintings (thus showing a liturgical blessing), in the four Oriental Orthodox traditions, including the Armenian prayer which is found in the Book of Rites or Great Mashtotz, (also) translated into English.
The existence of this prayer and of historical, hagiographical and other texts shows that, if such texts exist, they are testimonies of the presence of images and icons since the beginning of Christianity in all the Oriental Orthodox Churches which are far from iconoclastic, and no contestation can be made about this fact. In fact, if indeed the venerable Non-Chalcedonian Churches had been truly monophysite, if they believed that the humanity of Christ had been absorbed by His divinity (as Eutyches did), they would not have been concerned to represent His humanity on icons. As Leonid Ouspensky (1902-1987), the great Russian iconographer in Paris, wrote: iconology appears as a summit of Christological reflection.
Other reasons of the schism which are not theological: how to heal them today?
Now, there are also other reasons of the schism which are not theological: how to heal them today? The schism of 451 can be explained not only by theological and Christological disputes but also other factors such as the following ones. About the issue of historical and political factors, the main one is that of the Byzantine emperors who imposed their political dominion also in the eastern regions of the empire, for many centuries (330-1453), including Armenian territory.
Today again, in the context of the dialogue, we have to face political realities, also very recently since the beginning of the war of Russia invading Ukraine in February 2022. We now see that some Patriarchates/Churches take side either for the Moscow patriarchate or for the patriarchate of Constantinople, in both families of Churches (even in Egypt and Ethiopia), because of their own ecclesiastical politics and interests. About sociological and cultural factors, in 1964, in Aarhus, it was declared that: “The significant role of (not only) political, (but also) sociological and cultural factors in the past should not, however, continue to divide us” (Towards Unity, p. 48).
I would add to that the question of the use and understanding of languages. In that field, the work of scholars like you (here in the Matenadaran) is so very important, in order to make very precise translations and interpretations in your translations, in order to avoid new misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
As Father John Meyendorff writes, if we want to experience the historic conversion (metanoia) without which unity will not become possible, more in-depth information is needed. This dialogue cannot be studied only at the theological and historic levels, but also at the patristic, linguistic, liturgical, canonical, monastic, iconological, musical levels as well as cultural and political levels.
To these issues, I would also like to add the need to study and overcome misunderstandings at the sociological and even psychological levels, for example by understanding how to overcome our prejudices, the lowering of suspicion and our narrow mindness, with humility and repentance; or just how to be able to listen to each other and understand others, thus also by understanding how much we can be mutually enriched, at all levels.
The need for practical dialogue
Then comes the next question, as theological studies are one domain and ecclesiology is another connected one and very important in Orthodoxy/Orthodox tradition and life: how to find again in practice the lost union between the two families of ancient Churches which split at the Council of Chalcedon in 451? How to implement what is written down in the texts of the Theological Agreements? How to have an active and brotherly dialogue?
Already in 1970, in Geneva, and also later, a series of practical steps to be taken was proposed (Towards Unity, pp. 52, 53). Who will now prepare the people to explain that Oriental Orthodox are not heretic/monophysite, in a practical, serious and dedicated way? This is the important role of the patriarchs, bishops and clergy who themselves must be well informed and educated about the dialogue, in order to be able to push forward and to implement the dialogue.
In the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Churches’ tradition, it is important and necessary to implement the theological dialogue through a practical dialogue, and also to inform and prepare the people for the restoration of the two families of Churches. With this aim, the Commission of the Official Dialogue has encouraged greater understanding and cooperation as well as exchanges of different types between the two families of Churches.
In fact, the practical dialogue requires and recommends: exchange of visits at all levels (from the patriarchs to the lay people), (Chambésy, Geneva, on 23-28 September 1990). The steps to come must be taken into consideration: regular meetings between the different primates of our Churches, exchanges at theological institutions between teachers and also between students, meetings between monks and nuns, the strengthening of cooperative relations between the clerics of the different Churches (also in common chaplaincy in social work, hospital or jail, etc.). Locally, bishops should have regular meetings, such as those organized by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the USA. Or now by the new Permanent Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches of the European Union (The Standing Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in Europe) established in February 2023, with a seat in Vienna (in Austria), whose President is Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe. Also members of both families of Churches, clergy and faithful, are encouraged to visit each others’ parishes and learn to appreciate the liturgical tradition of the others.
And also, in order to know each other better and to promote a better mutual understanding, it is important and necessary to produce publications with explanations of the dialogue and about the different Churches, in several languages (Towards Unity, p. 65).
Of course when we speak of practical dialogue, we have to mention people who have been active in theological and practical dialogue already in the past, such as famous Armenian Catholicos Nerses Shnorali in the 12th century. He was the head of the Armenian Church from 1166 to 1173 and also a great and diplomatic theologian. In his Letters and in his Profession of Faith and Definition of Faith, Nerses was careful not to criticize the Chalcedonian definition overtly. He aimed to provide a new, broader perspective embracing both anti- and pro-Chalcedonian christological positions. He intended, firstly, to clarify the prevailing misinterpretations and, secondly, to find common christological ground on which to accommodate the two opposing views. He also anathemized heresies such as Eutychianism. He re-interpreted the formula of ‘one nature’ in the context of Cyrillian christology. On the other hand, by frequently mentioning the terminology of ‘two natures’, he intended to show that the Armenian Church did not reject the existence of two natures in Christ and that she was not monophysite. His correspondence with the Byzantine Emperor Manuel (1143-80) and the ensuing negotiations for church unity constitute a significant chapter in the history of the relations between the Armenian and Greek Churches sharing common teachings, traditions and values.
Another man who was very active for the dialogue was the Russian Orthodox Bishop Porfir Uspensky (1804-85), who was the founder and head of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem where he arrived in 1843. He studied the Ancient Oriental Non-Chalcedonian Churches including their doctrine and liturgical life; he wrote texts and made translations of history, liturgy, religious literature and canon law of these Oriental Churches. He travelled much through Palestine, Syria, and Egypt. He formed many friendships, including with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Cyril IV (1854-61), and also met the Armenian Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople in 1848. While serving as the Rector of the Theological Seminary in Odessa, he had met Armenians, including Bishop Nerses, the future Catholicos of All Armenians (1843-1857) with whom he talked about the union of the two Churches. He did not consider the Orientals heretics: “They should not be called monophysites in the sense of the coalescence or change of the two natures of Christ into one” as they confess the same Faith. He wrote: “My book, in which this is stated and proven, has been approved by our Holy Synod. After this the entire Russian Church has recognized you as our elder brothers in the Lord and is ready to stretch her hand to you.” Today the writings of Bishop Uspensky should be read by Russian prelates, clergy and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church in order to open their minds and understand our dialogue in depth, through study.
Both Catholicos Nerses and Bishop Uspensky had travelled, they met people, they studied the matter of dialogue in different fields not only in theology, but also liturgy and other fields. Their writings are guidelines for Church unity even today. Their way is the way to conduct dialogue.
As Catholicos Aram of Cilicia writes: “Two crucial questions now face the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches: not only how can they deepen, broaden and solidify their common ground in christology and ecclesiology; but also how can they take the spirit and vision of this dialogue from the conceptual level to the reality of life, namely to the people at the grass roots, in order to reach visible unity.” In order to reach this goal, a frank practical dialogue should take place at the local, regional and global levels.
And as Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland wrote in 1998 (Towards Unity, p. 34): “The ministry of the Unity of the Church is a witness to Faith, as it is constantly confessed in the Creed. Any quarrelsome theological disposition or diminished sensitivity at the prospect of restoration of ecclesial Unity, when there is an official declaration of full agreement on the right Faith, should be regarded as unthinkable and certainly as reflecting a false understanding of the operation of the mystery of the Church in the history of Salvation.”
In his time, Catholicos Karekin I (1932-1999) was active in the bilateral dialogue and wrote about it, especially in his book The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church, published in 1965 in London.
Today, we can say that the latent questions and specific objections made by some people have been answered by scholars who are recognized theologians, also in some articles. There is now a need for the reception of all the Statements agreed by the theologians of the Dialogue, by the all Churches of the two families, as reception is the final and crucial step towards reconciliation and unity.
At the practical pastoral level, let us note that some positive issues have been dealt with in a positive way in local pastoral agreements, for example, between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch in 1991; and between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria in 2001.
In conclusion, it is extremely important that no differences in historical, cultural and national traditions should affect the rapprochement of the two families of Churches. According to Catholicos Nerses Shnorali, arrogance of power must have no place in unity. It is mutual love that is the basis of Unity, that is with a true spirit of fellowship, in frank dialogue and closer cooperation, as dialogue promotes greater understanding, and collaboration deepens mutual trust, as mentioned by Catholicos Aram in his book on Nerses. In fact, according to Father Thomas FitzGerald, there is a danger that ignorance, pride and complacency will prevent this process of reconciliation from moving to fruition. If education is certainly needed, even more importantly, there is also a need for a certain ‘change of heart’.
Unity in the faith does not mean the absorption of one Church by the other. The unity in the faith recognizes a diversity of customs and traditions that are part of the life of all the Churches we mentioned. Unity can also treasure the distinctive liturgical traditions and cultural inheritance of the various Churches (FitzGerald 2009, 7), as Unity in the Apostolic Faith does not mean the destruction of legitimate diversity in liturgical practices, customs, art and languages, etc. In fact, communion is compatible with ‘otherness’, as mentioned by Bishop John Zizioulas in Communion and Otherness.
I am, and I hope that you too, are waiting for a practical form of dialogue as well as unity, as soon as possible, through common work/efforts both today and in the future.
All the official texts (called ‘Statements’) produced by the theologians appointed by their respective Churches were transmitted to the different Patriarchates and Churches of the two families in order to be discussed and agreed by the respective Holy Synods. Some have made criticisms such as the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, after the Agreements of 1990 and 1993.
Unfortunately, we have no official text of comments/with answers by the Armenian Catholicosates and Patriarchates, which would be important as many Armenians live alongside Eastern Orthodox not only in the Middle East but also in the diaspora. As the Armenian bishop in Greece, Kegham Khatcherian (under the Catholicosate of Cilicia) commented to me in January 2023: “This dialogue, at the pastoral level, is our daily thorny issue. It affects our life, especially in Greece. We must start a pilgrimage of peace; we must begin by gathering positive people for the sake of the dialogue,” that is in Greece, and also elsewhere.
This official dialogue was made by church-appointed delegates, all very scholarly and distinguished theologians including bishops, priests and laymen. The work of dialogue must be continued not only at the theological level but also at the historical, canonical, liturgical and monastic levels.
Some systematic studies and publications have already been made and many others should follow in order to show the many aspects which do or can link the traditions and people of the two Church families, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, in the past and today. For pedagogical purposes, more scholarly and spiritual studies on our topic are still needed, including comparative studies. Much remains to be studied and written about what is similar between the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches. This is also the work for future theses of theological students and other students with new studies to be made by you as well as by other Armenian scholars. And this is also what I try to do, humbly, with my articles and books, including the book which I am preparing now, which will include different articles about the positive relations in history and in different fields between Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox.
Much more could be said about the dialogue, but I shall stop here my remarks. I am now ready to listen to all your comments and questions.
Finally, I would like to assure you of my support and solidarity (together with my prayers) with regard to the difficult times which you are now facing in Armenia and Artsakh.
Books by Christine Chaillot
1. The Malankara Orthodox Church, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue. Geneva, 1996.
2. Towards Unity. Geneva, 1998.
3. The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue. Geneva, 1998.
4. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Tradition. A Brief Introduction to Its Life and Spirituality, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue. Paris, 2002.
5. The Coptic Orthodox Church. A brief introduction to its life and spirituality, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue. Paris, 2005.
6. The Role of Pictures and Veneration of Icons in the Oriental Orthodox Churches. LIT Verlag, 2018.
7. Histoire de l’Église orthodoxe en Europe occidentale au xxe siècle. Dialogue entre orthodoxes, 2005. In English see, History of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Western Europe in the 20th Century. Dialogue entre orthodoxes, 2006.
“The Ancient Oriental Churches,” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Eds. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen Westerfield Tucker. Oxford University Press, New-York/Oxford, 2006.
8. Histoire de l’Église orthodoxe en Europe orientale au XXe siècle. Paris: Le Cerf, 2009. In English see History of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe in the 20th Century. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2011. In Russian see Православная Церковь в Восточной Европе — XX век. Киев: Дух i Лiтера.
9. Les coptes d’Égypte. Discriminations et persécutions (1970-2011). Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013.
10. The Theological Dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Orienal Orthodox Churches. With a preface by patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Volos. 2016.
11. A Short History of the Orthodox Church in Australia. Lit Verlag, 2021.
12. The Assyrian Church of the East. History and Geography. Oxford:Peter Lang, 2021 (in French in Paris, 2020; in Arabic in Beirut: An Nour, 2022; ebook in Russian, 2023.
13. L’enseignement traditionnelle de l’Eglise éthiopienne täwahedo. Foi et spiritualité. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2022. In English, see The Traditional Teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahedo Church: Faith and Spirituality. Lit Verlag, 2023.
In 1993, in Chambésy (Geneva), papers were prepared by theologians of the subcommisions and discussed in plenary sessions about themes such as: What is the competent ecclesiastical authority for the lifting of the anathemas? What is the canonical procedure from each side for the lifting of the anathemas and the restoration of ecclesiastical communion? What are the canonical and liturgical consequences of full communion? It was then underlined (point 5) that the dialogue must be founded on Church tradition and ecclesiastic praxis, a very fundamental Orthodox requirement. See C. Chaillot, Towards Unity, Geneva, 1998, 60-61; https://archive.org/details/christine-chaillot-towards-unity-the-theological-dialogue-1998-rabo-2022.
 In 2014, in Athens, a work group of the Joint Commission pointed out the very high priority of this dialogue as well as calling for a systematic evaluation of all the theological critiques on the proposals of the Joint Commission and for a theological defense against all prejudices and polemical arguments.
 C. Chaillot, Towards Unity, 60-61.
Indeed, several very serious modern studies have demonstrated that this ‘Nestorian’ condemnation was unjustified, as the Roman Catholic Church acknowledged in the Declaration signed in 1994.
In 1985, in Chambésy (Geneva), the (main) following four themes with sub-themes were agreed upon to be discussed in the next meetings: Interpretation of Christological dogmas today; Problems of terminology; Conciliar formulations and historic factors.
See the articles by Behr, Louth and Kesmiris, in C. Chaillot (ed.), The Theological Dialogue between the eastern Orthodox and orienal Orthodox Churches, Volos, 2016, with a preface by patriarch bartholomew of constantinople= Chaillot 2016 https://www.imdlibrary.gr/publications/the-dialogue-between-the-eastern-orthodox-and-oriental-orthodox-churches/
One can read some of their articles in my book published at Volos, in 2016: https://www.imdlibrary.gr/publications/the-dialogue-between-the-eastern-orthodox-and-oriental-orthodox-churches/
In 2005, again in Chambésy, the participants spoke of the future work of the Theological Commission and the questions not answered yet. The Inter-Orthodox commission of the dialogue then emphasised the necessity to highlight, through special studies: a) the Cyrillian basis of the dogmatic definition issued from the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th ecumenical councils; b) the ecclesiological importance which dons the recognition of all these ecumenical councils and their official numbering among the ecumenical councils and c) the importance which takes on the lifting of anathemas for the re-establishment of ecclesiastical communion (Episkepsis N° 647, 30 April 2005).
The Commission of dialogue has come up with a solution which could be acceptable.
The Commission recommends maintaining the liturgical practices of the different Churches because they form ‘a rich and plural reality’. It is important to recognize the legitimacy of the diverse liturgical practices. At the same time, the detailed study of all these liturgies will show a Christology which is acceptable and received by all. See articles in Chaillot, Volos, 2016, https://www.imdlibrary.gr/publications/the-dialogue-between-the-eastern-orthodox-and-oriental-orthodox-churches/
In 1971, in Addis-Ababa, the theologians of the dialogue discussed accepting that different autocephalous Churches may have differing lists of saints (including local saints), and also liturgical calendars.
Chalcedonians and Non-Chalcedonians venerate icons in a similar manner, without adoring them and the veneration addressed to the images passes to the prototype.
On the use and veneration of icons/images, the text of the dialogue (at Chambésy (Geneva, 1990) expressed very clearly that: ‘Concerning the Seventh Ecumenical Council, namely, that ‘in relation to the teaching of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox accept that the theology and practice of the veneration of the icons taught by this council is in fundamental agreement with the teaching and practice of the Oriental Orthodox since ancient times, well before the convocation of the council, and that in this respect there is no disagreement between us.’
Chaillot, Christine, The Role of Images and the Veneration of Icons in the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Syrian Orthodox. Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian Traditions), Lit Verlag, 2018. = Chaillot The Role, 2018. For the chapter on the Armenian of Images and icons, see pp. 41-56.
See the letter of Moses of Khorene (5th c.) to Prince Sahak Ardzrouni in ‘L’histoire de l’icône de Hogeac’ Vank’, une attribution à Moïse Kert’oh’ by Thamar Dasnabedian, Handes Amsorya, Vienne, 1993. Should we understand an allusion to chrismation in these words: where the ‘power of the Trinity is imprinted’?
On this subject, see Der Nersessian, Etudes, vol. 1’Apologie des images’, p. 393.
See Chaillot, 2018, 49-51.
Rapti, I., ‘Le statut des images dans l’art et le culte arménien’ in Matteo Campagnolo et al. (eds.), L’aniconisme dans l’art religieux byzantin (Actes du colloque à Genève, 1-3 octobre 2009) 59-74.
Mathews, T., Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts (Catalogue of Exhibition), Princeton-New York, 1994; ‘The Genius of the Armenian Painter’, in T. Mathews and R. Wiek (eds.), Treasures in Heaven, Armenian Art, Religion and Society, New York 1998, 163-176; ‘Vrt’anes Kertoch and the Early Theology of Images ‘, Revue des Etudes arméniennes 31, 2008-9, 101-126; ‘Icons and Early Armenia and the Triptych of Dvin’, in Falko Daimand Nelishan Effenberger (eds.), Philopation. Byzantium and the Neighbouring Cultures, Mayence, 2012, 207-216.
 By Father Mesrob Semerjian and published in New York in 1953 (p. 104 to 112); and also published by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in New York in 1971. It is called ‘The Order of Consecration of Painted Pictures in an Armenian Church’. (my book pp. 109-119).
As concluded in my book, The Role of Pictures (2018), pp. 121-125.
Meyendorff, John, Imperial Unity and Christian Division, New York, 1988.
On 23 February 2023, the Oriental Orthodox bishops in Europe founded the Permanent Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches of the European Union (la « Conférence permanente des Églises orthodoxes orientales de l’Union européenne » (CEO).
This will help these Churches to have deeper/better relations with other Churches as well as to coordinate practical questions (social, pastoral cooperation, education and formation). In the European context, it will also help for the integration of the oriental Christians in Europe.
For pedagogical purpose, my books have been translated into eleven languages, but not into Armenian: The Malankara Orthodox Church, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Geneva, 1996 (Christine Chaillot, The Malankara Orthodox Church ( Rabo), Christine Chaillot, The Malankara Orthodox Church ( Rabo): Christine Chaillot : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive) : Christine Chaillot : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive); The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Geneva, 1998 (https://archive.org/details/chailot-christine-syrian-orthodox-church-of-antioch-1998-2022-07-26-rabo); The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Tradition. A Brief Introduction to Its Life and Spirituality, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Paris, 2002 (https://archive.org/details/christine-chaillot-the-ethiopian-orthodox-tewahedo-church-tradition-paris-2002-rabo); The Coptic Orthodox Church. A Brief Introduction to Its Life and Spirituality, Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Paris, 2005 (https://archive.org/details/christine-chaillot-the-coptic-orthodox-church-paris-2005-rabo); as well as History of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Western Europe in the 20th Century, in French in 2005 and in English in 2006 (https://fraternite-orthodoxe.eu/bis/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Book-Chaillot-History-Orthodox-Church-Western-Europe-27-Jan-2021.pdf).
Catholicos Aram, St. Nerses the Gracious and Church Unity, Antelias, 2010.
See article by Archimandrite Avgustin Nikitin (1986) in Chaillot 2016, The Dialogue, https://www.imdlibrary.gr/publications/the-dialogue-between-the-eastern-orthodox-and-oriental-orthodox-churches/.
After my lecture at the Matenadaran, Dr Anna Ohanjanyan mentioned two Armenians whose writings are important for this dialogue, vardapet Gēorg Mkhlayim Ōghlu (17th-18th c.), who wrote a peace-making interpretation of the universal Church and was in correspondence with the Greek theologian Eustratios Argenti on baptismal similarities between Armenians and Greeks; and Gēorg’s colleague, Melk’iset’ Banaser (18th c.), who translated into Armenian Argenti’s works, as well as a Greek catechism and other ecclesiastical literature.
See article by Catholicos Aram, in Chaillot 2016, The Dialogue, https://www.imdlibrary.gr/publications/the-dialogue-between-the-eastern-orthodox-and-oriental-orthodox-churches/.
In June 1989, at the Official Joint Commission in St. Bishoy Monastery in Egypt, Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland also appealed in his response to Pope Shenouda’s speech to overcome difficulties caused by differences of formulation as words should serve and express the essence, which is our common search for restauration of full communion. “This division is an anomaly, a bleeding wound in the Body of Christ, a wound which according to His will that we humbly serve, must be healed.” (Towards Unity, p. 59).
See some of the latest ones in the book published by Chaillot, 2016, https://www.imdlibrary.gr/publications/the-dialogue-between-the-eastern-orthodox-and-oriental-orthodox-churches/.
In 1991, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (both with seat in Damascus and with many faithful in Syria and in the region) came to an agreement on the joint participation of clergy at baptisms and marriages and on the communion of their faithful (Chaillot, Volos 2016, 454-5). In 2001, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria reached an agreement/recognition on the sacraments of baptism and marriage (Volos, 459). But nothing was done (at the pastoral level) with the Armenian Catholicosates/Patriarchates/Churches.
Professor emeritus at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Boston, USA), he has published an interesting book about our dialogue, Restoring the Unity in Faith: The Orthodox–Oriental Orthodox Theological Dialogue, 2009.
The concept of ‘conciliarity’ should also be studied better within the two families of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Some of these books have been scanned by Gabriel Rabo and can be read for free on Internet.
These 3 last books have been compiled in one book, with a supplement on the Armenian Church in French, see Vie et spiritualité des Églises orthodoxes orientales des traditions syriaque, arménienne, copte et éthiopienne. Le Cerf. Paris, 2011.