Dear Dr. Nicholas Marinides,

Thank you for giving us yet another repeat of the same-ol-same-ol that Patrick Barnes loves to publish.  Considering that this is not at all a comprehensive account, I will try to reply in kind.  I appreciate that you differentiate between the devotion the Oriental Orthodox Church (OO) has for Christ, along with a common monastic, sacramental, and ascetic practice the OO shares with the Chalcedonian Orthodox traditions (EO).  As such, we appreciate the common brotherhood we share.  Nevertheless, I wonder what exactly is the doctrinal deviation you speak of?  You caution the reader, presumably a message for your own church, about the fact that the EO fathers had accused the OO of doctrinal deviations, of their "monophysitism" if you will.  

You begin with the ecclesiological issues.  One is left in a quandary over two traditions, split for over 1500 years, that today seem to confess similar theological principles despite the historical record of the vehement disagreements.  You then conclude that there is no other way to solve this than either to confess a "branch theory" ecclesiology or that one Church is the One True Church and the other is "false".  Furthermore, you also confess seven "ecumenical" councils as a central part of your ecclesiology.  Any deviation of which seems to fall outside the Church.  It is very clear therefore that you are a man who wants to uphold a tradition upon which you search for those things that affirm your beliefs and presuppositions.  However, is that really honest?  Are we in a contest of sorts to see if "my fathers and councils" are more correct than "your fathers and councils"?  May I suggest a different approach?  How about we take from our traditions the theology we teach, see where the essential theological disagreements lie and where they do not.  Then see if the councils and fathers on both sides of the issue (Chalcedonian vs. anti-Chalcedonian) affirmed those basic theological principles.

It seems to me this is the approach that many of those who you accuse of "WCC ecumenism" take.  This approach would be more honest in my opinion because you have nothing to worry about.  If your councils and fathers were infallible doctrinally, they would not come out as wrong.  At this point, one can then compare those ancient patristic resources to see if in fact we do hold a similar theology or not.  One will find that in fact, these dialogues, of which Fr. Georges Florovsky had no scant participation in, showed that the men representing both sides agreed doctrinally on all issues, but had different interpretations of the historical and semantical perspectives.  This represents a new challenge upon which one has to understand ecclesiology with a bit more nuance.  If in fact we do share the same theology with different traditions, then how does one describe this "schism”?  Is it the first time when huge bodies were in schism to reunite?  I think the historical evidence shows that there were plenty of schisms in Church history, and this did not hinder the idea that the fullness of the Church existed in both schismatic bodies over time.  Ecclesiology based on a Eucharistic model, such as the one given to us by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerk’s “His Broken Body”, based on the theology of Metropolitan John Zizioulas' profound works may solve this problem for us, where we neither uphold a "branch theory" of Protestantism nor a static conciliar fundamentalist position akin to Papal fundamentalism of the Roman Catholics.

In your next section, you discussed the theological record.  You discussed how Monotheletism was perhaps a logical outcome of Monophysitism, even though Nestorianism upholds Monotheletism even more clearly.  But is it merely calling the wills and energies of Christ "one" that is heresy, or the explanation thereof?  Once again history is wrought with much nuance that this discussion Monotheletism still needs a lot of research.  Just recently, Fr. Richard Price even questioned if "Monotheletism" was any different doctrinally than Diotheletism.  Additionally, "Monotheletism" was a Chalcedonian controversy.  It is true that it was used by these "Chalcedonian heretics" as a bargaining chip to unite with the OO.  However, it would also be interesting to note that the Coptic Orthodox Church and Maximus the Confessor share the same persecutor, the Monothelite Cyrus of Alexandria, also known as "Al Muqawqas" (The Caucasian) by our tradition.  He sent an army to find Pope St. Benjamin of Alexandria (the anti-Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria) and was able to find his brother the bishop and heiromartyr St. Menas, who would not confess the whereabouts of his brother the Pope even after much torture.  He also would not succumb to accept the council of Chalcedon either, and was eventually killed by the Roman Christian soldiers lead by "Al Muqawqas".  

One has to contemplate that with much bloodshed, can there be a possibility to unite even if one may allegedly agree theologically?  Those who study the aftermath of Chalcedon will find that much bloodshed indeed has occurred, especially on those Egyptian laity who rejected Chalcedon, let alone clergy (it puts to perspective why the common people repaid with violence those complicit to the crimes of killing those who rejected Chalcedon).  It is no mistake therefore that the Coptic Orthodox Church slowly moved away from Greek to adopt the Coptic language as the official theological language.  Furthermore, can anyone be surprised as to the ease of the Persian and Islamic empires that slowly took over lands that were strongholds of persecuted anti-Chalcedonians?

Nevertheless, if one wants to wet the beaks of the EO regarding theology, they can investigate the theology of St. Severus of Antioch, who is considered a pillar of faith in the Coptic and Syriac Orthodox Churches.  Fr. Peter Farrington in his blog wrote a preliminary discussion on the issue of wills (this can also be found in his book “Orthodox Christology).  Dr. Roberta Chesnut (Three Monophysite Christologies), Fr. VC Samuel (Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined), and Fr. Cyril Hovorun (Will, Action, Freedom) have also written some works with quotations from St. Severus as well.  Consider this quote, where St. Severus had natural human fear in the garden of Gethsamane:

But [Christ's soul] was not without intelligence and imperfect, according to the statement of the proverbs of Apollinaris, but was in fact intelligent, as indeed the very term 'boy' and the fact that he was named 'man' is enough to show this same thing: for a boy's soul is not without reason, but it is reasonable because it is human. However this very same thing is also clearly shown even by the sacred writings of the gospel; for it said of him, “Then he began to be distressed and grieved, and to say, 'My soul is sorrowful, even unto death'”. But it is plain to everyone that distress and grief happen to a rational and intellectual soul. But, if they say that the Godhead of the Only one took the place of intellect, this is in truth a thing without intellect, for us to assign the passion of distress to the impassible nature of God. (Letter LXV, second question)

And this quote where St. Severus confesses that human free choice is naturally evident in Christ's humanity:

The words 'he scorned', and 'he did not obey', and this other, 'he chose', show us that the Word of God is united hypostatically not only to flesh, but still to a soul endowed with will and reason, for the purpose of making our souls, bent towards sinfulness, incline toward the choice of good and the aversion to evil. (Homily LXXXIII, Chesnut 26)

And again:

God the Word who brought us into being, through whom the Father made all things, when by his grace alone he willed to restore him who had fallen to the original order to give back to him who had fallen to the original order the grace of immortality, did not exercise force by using divine power.  On the contrary, in accordance with the word of justice, he made him who had fallen to fight again the battle. ... It was necessary for man to obtain the crown of victory over satan who had formerly deceived and defeated him. (La Polemique p. 36F, from Samuel 339)

And St. Severus is also caught teaching about the human will and operation of Christ:

The Lord suffered the vehement feeling of hunger, which arouses the yearning for food.  Therefore, the voluntary passions permitted by the Word were not without any operation; but there was in him the stirring up of operations.  These were, however, subjected to the power of the invincible God. (La Polemique p. 134, Samuel 341)

And very clearly again:

Even less is Christ divided into two natures. He is indeed one from two, from divinity and humanity, one person and hypostasis, the one nature of the Logos, become flesh and perfect human being. For this reason he also displays two wills in salvific suffering, the one which requests, the other which is prepared, the one human, the other divine. As he voluntarily took upon himself death in the flesh, which was able to take over suffering and dissolved the domination of death by killing it through immortality—which the resurrection had shown clearly to all—so in the flesh, whose fruit he could take over—it was indeed rationally animated—he voluntarily took upon himself the passio of fear and weakness and uttered words of request, in order through the divine courage to destroy the power of that fear and to give courage to the whole of humanity, for he became after the first Adam the second beginning of our race. (Contra Grammarian III.33, Hovorun 26)

I will let the reader decide whether this is Orthodox for them or not.  The reader should rest assured that these are by St. Severus of Antioch himself.  One book one should consider reading is Iain Torrance’s translations of St. Severus' discussions (Christology after Chalcedon) with Sergius the Grammarian, an anti-Chalcedonian who condemns Apollinarianism and Eutychianism, but also confesses a form of Monophysitism that St. Severus refuted.  Perhaps one can call Sergius a "moderate Monophysite", but if Severus condemns him, does that make Severus a "liberal Monophysite"?  If the reader is not clear, I was being facetious with the spectrum of “Monophysitism” scholars like to label.  At this point, one wonders who exactly is engaging in "mental acrobatics"?  One who knows post-Chalcedonian history and theology very well will not easily accuse the OO of "mental acrobatics", but see a valid point in the anti-Chalcedonian tradition for holding on to "Miaphysis".  Given that St. Cyril used this term, one has to ask the sarcastic question, "Is St. Cyril an Orthodox Monophysite?"  Given the common fidelity to St. Cyril, I do not think the Chalcedonians have issues with the "one nature" terminology (as Dr. Marinides even admits).  I wonder therefore if they can also accuse St. Cyril of Monotheletism when he writes something like this:

While giving life as God by his all-powerful command, he also gives life by the touch of his holy flesh, demonstrating through both that the operation (Gk: energeia) was a single and cognate one. On another occasion as he approached a city called Nain, ‘a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother’ (Lk. 7:12). Again he ‘touched the bier’ and said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise’ (Lk. 7:14). He does not simply leave it to the word to effect the raising of the dead, but in order to show that his own body was life-giving, as we have already said, he touches the corpses, and by this act puts life into those who had already decayed. And if by the touch alone of his holy flesh he gives life to that which has decayed, how shall we not profit more richly from the life-giving Eucharist when we taste it? For it will certainly transform those who partake of it and endow them with its own proper good, that is, immortality. (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Book IV, Chapter II)

I have read Maximus the Confessor's disputation with Pyrrhus.  Essentially, I find that he is ironically very Severian in thought, despite his condemnations of what he thought St. Severus believed.  The above quotes I provided were proof enough.  Nevertheless, the argument can be made that Maximus rejects any idea of “composite will”.  He curiously gives one exception to the "theandric will" terminology of pseudo-Dionysius by arguing that "theandric" is not the same as "composite".  I agree with Fr. Peter Farrington as I find this an unfair criticism and splitting hairs.  I will not delve any further, but this is just a taste of the problems one finds in the inconsistency of Chalcedonian polemics.  Eventually, the point should be clearly made that any accusation against St. Severus of denying the full humanity of Christ, including will and operation, is an unfair and dishonest accusation, at best only a hearsay second-hand accusation due to the piety of one who wants his own Chalcedonian fathers to be correct about all things.

I will postpone my discussion of the doctrine of deification for a later time.  Needless to say, the issue of deification does not stem from "Monophysitism", but from Western and Arabo-Islamic scholasticism, something that Pope Shenouda suffered from[1].  The monks of "Abu Maqar" did not teach deification because of a Chalcedonian influence, but because of a rediscovery and revival of the full Greek and Coptic writings of Sts. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, something the Copto-Arabic Church lost between the 13th and 17th centuries, under the most severe persecution of any Church in history (no different than the Chalcedonian revival of Palamism and hesychasm in recent centuries).  This same theological hiatus can also be seen in any other Arab Church, whether Chalcedonian or non-Chalcedonian.  Nevertheless, the OO, particularly the Copts, Syriacs, and Armenians, have all various liturgical and anti-Chalcedonian patristic traditions of theosis.  It can be even argued that it is because of protecting the doctrine of theosis that the OO rejected the council of Chalcedon.  

Iconoclasm is a moot point as well.  If iconoclasm is proof of "monophysitism", then you will be out of luck trying to find a Coptic Church without icons.

Concerning Fr. VC Samuel, I do not recall anywhere in his book attacking the doctrine of deification.  In fact, one should give credit to the Malankara Orthodox Church for being pioneers in a neo-Patristic period for the OO, rediscovering Orthodoxy's anti-Chalcedonian fathers.  Fr. VC Samuel was particularly an expert in ancient Syriac sources.  Alongside him was Metropolitan Paulose Mar Gregorios, known in the unofficial dialogues as Fr. Paul Varghese.  The writings of this latter Malankara theologian do not shy away from the doctrine of theosis.  

So Dr. Marinides, what are you talking about with regard to Fr. VC Samuel?  Interestingly enough, Fr. VC Samuel's criticism of John of Damascus has nothing to do with deification, but an allegedly incomplete Christology.  Based on Fr. Samuel's definition of "hypostasis" and its nuanced difference from prosopon, he quoted from John of Damascus that the human nature is not hypostatic, but the only the divinity is hypostatic.  Leaving aside the fact that John of Damascus may have defined hypostasis as equal to prosopon, from the OO’s perspective, if "hypostasis" was the concrete individuation of an "ousia", to say that the human nature is "not hypostatic" sounds like saying that the human nature of Christ does not really exist.  This is not what St. Severus believed.  He believed that although the "hypostatic-ness", that is the "concrete-ness" of the human nature is not "self-subsistent" (or does not have an independent existence of its own like any other man), it is nonetheless "hypostatic" dependent on the divine hypostasis, with the result being "one incarnate hypostasis" or "one incarnate unit of concrete existence" synthesized by an unconfused hypostatic union of humanity and divinity.  In other words, humanity really exists and divinity really exists, and there is one unit of existence of both natures without confusion.  The unit of existence, i.e. hypostasis, is no longer simple as before the incarnation, but compound.  (If the regular reader’s head is spinning already because of the meaning of “hypostasis”, you can imagine how easily confusing this whole discussion is, and one can wonder if theology should be this “confusing”)

John of Damascus confuses the situation even further by claiming that the "one nature" St. Cyril talks about is "the divine nature", while the word "incarnate" is the "second nature", the humanity.  However, scholars like Fr. Anthony McGuckin disagree with this interpretation (even Van Loon’s “Diophysite Christology of Cyril of Alexandria”, which I have disagreements with regarding its conclusions, nevertheless admits the phrase “incarnate” does not pertain to “nature”, but to the Word Himself).  St. Cyril was very clear in using the analogy of the soul and body of a "one human nature" to explain his theology of "one incarnate nature" of humanity and divinity.  It is this issue Fr. VC Samuel has problems with because it directly contradicts St. Cyril's own explanations of his own theology as well as could be problematic in that the Damascene may sound like he is the one who denies the "full reality and concreteness of Christ's human nature", the same thing that I have shown St. Severus defended by no ambiguous terms.  Dr. Marinides, did you even read Fr. VC Samuel’s book?

Finally, a word on Fr. Georges Florovsky's participation in the Joint Commissions.  Unfortunately, Dr. Marinides, you made a small mistake (as seems to be usual in this paper you wrote repeatedly) regarding the participation of Fr. Florovsky.  You said he only participated in the first consultation (assuming you meant Aarhus 1964), when in fact, he participated in the first three (Aarhus, Bristol 1967, and Geneva 1970).  There was one more small consultation in Addis Ababa in 1971.  Fr. Florosky was not present then.  Eight years later, he departed from this world.  

Furthermore, Dr. Marinides, you made the even more interesting mistake of implying his participation in Aarhus was scant.  But was it?  And what did he say in this discussions?  Looking at GOTR X.2, when Fr. Meyendorff presented his opening paper, Fr. Florovsky was very active in the discussion, even agreeing with the OO theologians that Fr. Meyendorff omitted a key anti-Chalcedonian objection of the Tome of Leo.  He even admitted that if the Tome of Leo is taken by itself, it could be considered quasi-Nestorian.  He later on gave a lengthy contribution on his defense of the Christology of Chalcedon as an "assymmetric Christology", as opposed to the symmetric Christology of Nestorius.  Fr. Florovsky also commented briefly after the second paper by Fr. VC Samuel, saying that it is not enough to say Christ was "sinless", but we must also say He was "without Original Sin".  There was barely a discussion after the third contentious paper of Prof. Konidaris.  There was a lively discussion for Prof. Karmiris' more eirenic paper, and Fr. Florovsky played "devil's advocate" and offered lots of questions on ecumenical unity that are very important and raised important questions of ecclesiology and coming in to terms with terminology of Western and Eastern traditions, including traditions of later councils that Chalcedonians confess.  He seemed silent in the lively debate after Fr. Romanides' paper, whereas Fr. Florovsky had a brief participation in the brief discussion after Bishop Sarkissian's paper.  Fr. Florovsky also briefly commented positively on Archbishop Nersoyan's paper for its theology.  There was no discussion after Fr. Borovoy's paper, but there was a brief discussion after Dr. Khella's paper, for which Fr. Florovsky was silent, and that was the last discussion we have in the minutes before one more evening session, and then the drafting of the Agreed Statement.

In the second consultation at Bristol (GOTR XIII.2), not only did Fr. Florovsky was even more active in the minutes shown, but even presented a paper that was discussed on Thursday July 27th.  Fr. Florovsky was also active in the third consultation at Geneva (GOTR XVI.1).  Now, Fr. Florovsky was a principled man who desired that the seven councils be accepted.  Fr. John Romanides felt the same way in no unambiguous terms.  Even will quote this.  However, Fr. Florovsky did not live to see the day of the first official consultation in 1985.  He departed in 1979.  On the other hand, Fr. John Romanides lived to see the day to be an active participant in the 1989 in Wadi el Natroun and 1990 in Geneva.  One would be remiss not to read the Agree Statements of the 1990 Geneva consultation to find that Fr. Romanides evolved in his conciliar views.  Even earlier he was perplexed to find that the sharing of seven ecumenical councils with the Roman Catholic Church does not necessarily equate theological unity (this was expressed in the unofficial consultations repeatedly).  He found the OO to be more in line theologically with the EO than the Roman Catholics.  One wonders what would Fr. Florovksy have said by then?  I am curious to find out if Fr. Florovsky wrote anything, including private letters, concerning this matter that may have showed an evolution of his thought between 1970 and 1979.  This is something I would expect you, Dr. Marinides, a PhD to do to confirm your belief in Fr. Florovsky's stringent conciliarism of the last four councils.

However, there is one quote I enjoy on page 142 from the Bristol consultation:

The Aarhus Consultation was informal. But the word "informal” does not mean irresponsible. The people who met at Aarhus were competent and capable of informing the lawful decision-making authorities of their respective Churches about the con­tent of that consultation. The authorities need to be constantly re­minded by the theologians of the pressing concerns of the time and these were made explicit at Aarhus and should be made so at Bristol.

That does not sound like a person who thought these consultations were a result of WCC-style ecumenism of unity at all costs.  It sounds like Fr. Florosky (and yes, he did say this) would have wanted future generations of his church to take these consultations, even the unofficial ones, very seriously.  It sounds like Fr. Florosky thought Aarhus (and perhaps subsequent consultations) to be "intellectually rigorous and theologically honest".  It is a shame Fr. Florovsky is taken out of context.  Even the quote you produced from his book,  "The Byzantine Fathers" is taken out of context, where Fr. Florovksy cautions the reader that the "so-called Monophysites" were not called heretics, but schismatics, and that people like St. Severus of Antioch was "much closer to St. Cyril than it usually seemed to the ancient polemicists".  

Maybe Fr. Florosky is not perfect.  He probably made mistakes.  I think Dr. Marinides, you did not include the quote in context because you think he made a mistake in interpreting John of Damascus, where in fact instead of "schismatics", he called the OO, "schematics", and did imply that the OO was heretical.  However, if Fr. Florovsky can make that mistake, I wonder what other mistakes he made in that book you quoted from so approvingly.

In conclusion, thank you for your kind words about our Church’s piety and devotion.  However, Dr. Marinides, if you are worried about the political correctness of "WCC ecumenism", there is no need to butter our Orthodox Church up.  There is no doubt you have good intentions, but the tone comes off condescending from your end.  If you want anyone to take your qualifications seriously, you should not make simple mistakes, you should not use second-hand hearsay sources to comment on our theology, and you should not start with a personal presupposition and quote mine comments that support your presupposition.  This is basic research 101, and the simple minds you have influenced today continue to be lead astray by your simplistic approach.  What you have written is not the "intellectually rigorous and theologically honest kind that had been pioneered by Florovsky" you praise.

May the Lord have mercy on us all and lead His Church in all truth and divine uncreated grace.


Mina Soliman

A Lector of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America

[1] Good resources include “Coptic Christology in Practice” by Stephen Davis; Alexander Treiger’s excellent article “The Church Fathers in Arabic”, where the first instance of a loss of deification doctrine was from a Arab Chalcedonian translator.  Also check out Bishop Hilarion’s “The Patristic Heritage and Modernity”, explaining the Russian Church’s rejection of Palamism and Hesychasm for some time until a 19th century revival