Relationships with the Eastern (Chalcedonian) Orthodox Churches
Among all Christian Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches are closer to the Oriental Churches in spirituality, doctrine, and in historical experience. Dialogue with this family of Churches has the potential to be the most fruitful.
Unofficial consultations were held in Aarhus (Denmark) in 1964 and in Bristol (England) in 1967, attended by leading theologians from the two sides; there were further meetings in Geneva (1970) and Addis Abbaba (1971). The results were unexpectedly positive. As Bishop Timothy Kallistos Ware of Dioklea states in his book, The Orthodox Church (1993), it became clear that on the basic question which had led historically to the division—the doctrine of the person of Christ—there is in fact no real disagreement. The divergence, it was stated in Aarhus, lies only on the level of phraseology. The delegates concluded, 'We recognize in each other the one Orthodox faith of the Church... On the essence of the Christological dogma we found ourselves in full agreement.' In the words of the Bristol consultation, 'Some of us affirm two natures, wills and energies hypostatically united in the one Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us affirm one united divine-human nature, will and energy in the same Christ. But both sides speak of a union without confusion, without change, without divisions, without separation.' The four adverbs belong to our common tradition. Both affirm the dynamic permanence of the Godhead and the Manhood, with all their natural properties and faculties, in the one Christ.'
These four unofficial conversations during 1964-1971 were followed up by the convening of an official Joint Commission representing the two Church families: this met in Geneva in 1985, at Amba Bishoy monastery in Egypt in 1989, in Geneva in 1990, and for a fourth time in 1993. On the matter of the different christological formulations, which had been a stumbling block in the past, there was agreement that the underlying understanding of the Incarnation was the same, even though each side had its own preferred formula, when speaking of one or two "natures". The doctrinal agreements reached at the unofficial consultations were reaffirmed, and at the end of the third meeting in 1990, it was recommended that each side should now revoke all anathemas and condemnations issues in the past against the other. The fourth meeting (1993) discussed how in practice this might be done, and the proposal reached was that the anathemas and condemnations should be lifted "unanimously and simultaneously by the Heads of all the Churches of both sides, through signing of an appropriate ecclesiastical Act, the content of which will include acknowledgement from each side that the other one is Orthodox in all respects". In the view of the participants, once the anathemas have been lifted, this "should imply that restoration of full communion for both sides is to be immediately implemented" (Brock et al, 2001).
Difficulties still remain, for not everyone on the two sides is equally positive about the dialogue: there are some in Greece, for example, who continue to regard the Oriental Orthodox as 'Monophysite heretics', just as there are some Non-Chalcedonians who continue to regard Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo as 'Nestorian'. But the official view of both families of Churches was clearly expressed at the 1989 meeting: 'As two families of Orthodox Churches long out of communion with each other, we now pray and trust in God to restore that communion on the basis of the apostolic faith of the undivided Church of the first centuries which we confess in our common creed.' (Ware, 1993).
Other meetings aimed at bringing the two families of Churches closer together have also taken place, such as that between the two Youth Movements in May 1991, and the meeting of different Patriarchs of the Middle East in 1987 and 1991 (the specified aim of the second of these was "to give concrete expression of the close fellowship between the two Churches"). As a result of the second meeting, on 22nd July 1991, between Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I and Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim a number of important decisions were published in a statement (http://sor.cua.edu/Ecumenism/19911112SOCRumOrthStmt.html
). (Brock et al, 2001).