Oriental Theology

Oriental Theology

Dr Thomas Pallippurathukunnel

Fr Thomas Pallippurathukunnel        

   Originally the denotation “Oriental” was a geographical description of Churches outside Roman Patriarchate. Now it is used as a technical term to describe all the Churches, which are not Latin in origin. They spread all over the world.

            Approaching from the perspective of faith or communion the Oriental Churches are divided into four communions:

  1. The Assyrian Church of the East< which is in communion with no other church.

2. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, which are in communion with, but completely independent of one another.

  1. The Orthodox Churches (The Eastern Orthodox Churches), which is a communion of Churches, all of which recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as a point of unity with certain rights and privileges.
  2. The Eastern (Oriental) Catholic Churches, which recognize the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church.

Besides there are a few Orthodox Churches of irregular status. They are of orthodox origin, but their present status is at least uncanonical, if not fully schismatic.

            Some of these churches (non-catholic) are called autocephalous, because they do not subject to any outside jurisdiction. There are also a few Autonomous Churches, which though self-sufficient, are still under the limited authority of a Patriarch or Hierarch outside itself.

            The Eastern Catholic Churches hold in communion with Latin Church all the elements of Christian faith. They recognize the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church and accept the Roman primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility the Pope. But the other Oriental Churches, which are not in communion with Rome, do not believe in a visible single head of the Church. They recognize the primacy of honor of the Bishop of Rome, but do not his primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility.

            There are certain elements of Christian faith, which these churches hold in communion with Catholic Church. They are the following:

-Holy Trinity

-Fall of Adam and original sin.

-Sanctifying grace was given to Adam. Adam lost it and Christ restored it.

-Incarnation, passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ

-The divinity of Christ. Christ has two natures against Monophysistism Christ has one person- against Nostorianism

-Perpetual virginity of Bl.Virgin Mary

Real presence of Christ in Bl. Sacrament

The Church is the universal and common ark of salvation

-Seven Sacraments

-Absolute need of Divine Grace

-Resurrection of body, eternal life, heaven, hell.

-The Eucharistic sacrifice

Veneration of Mary and Saints

Membership of the Church is necessary for salvation.

Obligation of Moral law  and  Infallibility of the Church

The Characteristics of Oriental Theology

  1. Liturgical: For the Orientals Sacred Liturgy is not only a source of piety, but also a teacher of dogma. They believe that the apostolic tradition has been handed down in a mystery and is preserved in Church’s worship. “Lex orandi lex credendi” man’s faith is expressed in their prayers. The dogma is contained in the prayers and hymns used at liturgical services; Not only the words but the various gestures and actions have a special meaning and they express symbolically the truths of faith.
  2. Faithfulness to the Fathers of the Church. Fidelity to the sacred tradition does not signify fidelity to the past, but it consists rather in the living with the full Christian experience. For Orientals the age of Fathers did not come to an end in the 7th of the 8th centuries. Many later Fathers are considered as Fathers of the Church, e.g. St. Maximus, Gregory Palamas etc.
  3. Dynamic: The Oriental theology admits organic evolution of the dogma. While speaking of the evolution of the dogma, they make a distinction between substance or nucleus of dogma and the forma or appearance of dogma. They say that evolution of dogma is only in the forma. It is described as progress, evolution and explanation. There were discussions about theological subjects, e.g. the procession of the Holy Spirit, nature and person of Christ, icons.
  4. Free from legalism: The Orientals believe in the divinely instituted hierarchy and its authority in the Church, but they are against the abuses of authority and law – law becomes the principle of unity in the church. For them unity is to be found in the common life of Christ’s Mystical Body, confessing the same faith, sharing the same sacraments.
  5. Speculative. Orientals also apply philosophical reasons to the sacred theology.
  6. Not Scholastic. They deny the scholastic method, that is, much concerned with precise definitions and deductions etc.
  7. Mystical and contemplative. In the eastern thought and traditions there is no sharp distinction between mysticism and theology, between experience of divine mysteries and the dogma
  8. Biblical. Their theology is biblically founded.
  9. Social. This is an external characteristic. There is a lay participation in the theological evolution. There are many distinguished lay theologians, e.g. Solovgen (1853-1900) Khomyakov (1804-1860) theology was not the monopoly of the professionals.

The Sources of Oriental Theology

            There are two sources, Bible and Tradition. According to the Orthodox Church the Bible also included in Tradition. Therefore the source of the faith is Holy tradition. Tradition means: the books of Bible, the Creed, the Decrees of ecumenical councils, writings of the Fathers, the Canons, the Service books, the Holy Icons etc.

1. The Bible

 According to the Eastern thought the Church is a scriptural Church. The Bible is the supreme expression of God’s revelation to men. The Christians therefore, must always be “people of the Book” and the Bible is the “Book of the People”. This book should be lived and understood within the Church. Only the Church has the authority to interpret the Bible. The Bible is used widely at Oriental Liturgical services and is venerated in a special way.

With regard to the text of the Bible

  1. The Assyrian Church of the East  uses Pesita version – a Syriac translation, date is not clear, the oldest manuscript is of 446.
  2. The Oriental Orthodox Churches also use the Pesita version.]
  3. The Orthodox Churches use LXX Septuagint.

With regard to the canon of Book

  1. The Assyrian Church of the East though admits all the books of Vulgate canonical, some of their theologians cancelled certain books from the canon, e.g. Theodore of Mopsuetia cancelled Proverb, Ecclessiasticus and Job.
  2. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, though they admit all books canonical there are some defections on account of excess, e.g. The Coptic Church included III Maccabees in OT and two epistles of Clement and 8th book of Apostolic Constitution in NT.
  3. The Orthodox Churches agree to the Catholic church about the canons of the books.
  4. The Niceao- Constantinopolitan creed formulated in the council of Niceae I in 325. All the Oriental accept it, but without the addition of Filioque.
  5. Symbolum Athanasianum or Quicumque. It was considered as rule of faith both in East and West. The authorship is disputed. Some attribute to St. Ambrose
  6. Symbol of Apostles. Some accept it as a symbol of faith; some others consider it as a private profession of faith.

2.  The Creed and Symbols of Faith

 3.. Ecumenical Councils

            The Orientals accept only those councils which were convoked before their separation.

            The Assyrian church of the East – Nicea I (325) Constantinople. 1 381.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches – plus Ephesus (481).

The Orthodox Churches- plus Chalcedon (451), Costantinople. II (553), Constantinople  III. ( 680-81), Nicea II  (787)..

All these Churches ascribe supreme and infallible authority to the ecumenical councils.

The Canonical collection of the Orthodox Church is called Nomocanon in 14 titles. It contains:

-The apostolic canons  -a collection of 85 disciplinary rules served in the first half of 4thc.

–         The canons of seven ecumenical   councils .

–         The canons of local councils

–         The canons of Holy Fathers.

The most important collection of canons of the Orthodox Church was of council of Trullo (692).

Eastern Catholic Theology

Cf. Robert F. Taft S. J., Eastern Catholic Theology, Slow rebirth After A Long Difficult Gestation,  in Eastern Church Journel,Vol.8, No.2, Summer2001, pp51-80.

It is not possible to define in any definitive form what eastern catholic theology is or might be except to say what it is not.

1. It is not Eastern/Oriental Orthodox theology. This does not mean that it stands in opposition to Orthodox theology. On the contrary both claim to derive from the patristic and liturgical sources of a common tradition. Besides Eastern Catholics have been strongly influenced by modern orthodox writers.

2. It is not western catholic theology, though it has obviously undergone strong  western catholic influence.

Is Eastern Catholic theology any theology done by theologians who happen to be Eastern Catholics? No. There are eastern catholic writers who just parrot Latin manual theology of the pre-World War II – this is not eastern catholic theology. Eastern catholic theology means a style of catholic theological thinking in which ‘Eastern’ is not an ecclesial or ethnic attribute of those doing this theology, but an epithet specifying the nature and quality of theology itself.

It is difficult to define Eastern catholic theology. It has similarities with eastern catholic theology and with orthodox theology from both of which far older, fuller and richer theological traditions it obviously derives so much. Yet eastern catholic theology does exist despite problems in defining its distinctiveness.

It is the theology of catholic practitioners with a knowledge and love for the traditions of the Christians of East, a catholic theology that seeks to breathe with both lungs, nourishing a sometimes anemic catholic thought with oxygen from both sides of the East- West Christian division.


I Vatican – least ‘Eastern’ of all ecumenical councils.

                = Its lack of understanding or respect for the distinctiveness of catholic East, its traditions, dignity of hierarchs

                = Their patriarchs were assimilated to the titular Latin patriarchs and ranked with them.

–         Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and bishops protested. Patriarch .Joseph Audo insisted  that the particular discipline of the Christian East be respected.

–         Patriarch. Gregory II Youssef Sayyous (Melkite) defended the patriarchal system of government traditional in the Christian East..

–         There were Eastern Catholic Churches which wanted to recover their heritage and others that are so Latinized they do not understand the nature of the problems.

Pope Leo XIII and the Eucharistic Congress of Jerusalem.

            Leo XIII is called the Pope of the Christian East. His pontificate marked the beginning of the emancipation of the Eastern Catholic .Churches. Report of Card. Vanutelli, Apostolic.Delegate at Constantinople, on 11 April 1883, outlined Latin failures in dealing adequately with the East, and insisted on the teaching in Catholic. Seminaries of special courses in Oriental Theology, Liturgy and History.

            Cardinal.Langenieux, archbishop.of Rheims,Pope Leo’s delegate for the Eucharistic. Congress of Jerusalem reported on 2 July 1893 about the problems caused by the Latin assault on the East, and of the need for a radically new policy. Pope Leo took swift and decisive step On 20 June 1894 he published the encyclical “Pareclara Gratulationis”. The Catholic Oriental Patriarchs were invited to express their opinion freely.

            On 30 Nov. 1984 the pope published “Orientalium Dignitas” on St. Nicholas Day. It is the Magna Carta of Eastern Catholicism.

Further intellectual and institutional developments.

–         Foundation of Review “Oriens Christianus”.

–         Celebration of the 15th C. of the death of St. John Chrysostom in 1907 and a commemorative volume.was published.

–         Foundation of S. Congregation for Oriental Churches on 1 May 1917 and  of Pontifical Oriental Institute on 15 Oct. 1917.

Characteristics of Catholic Oriental Theology

 1. Eastern Catholic theology is not just Byzantine Catholic theology. There has been a remarkable renewal in the non-Byzantine Catholic Eastern Traditions. By and large today, the only Orthodox Theology worth the name is Byzantine Orthodox Theology. The other churches have been reduced by persecution and by Islamic, Russian and Soviet domination. They have their age-old traditional theology rooted in their liturgy, their synods, their Fathers, their monasticism and their spirituality. In the case of Syrians and Armenians this theology is rich, but they struggle for physical survival.

 2. It is a theology in reaction.

      Karl Bath says: ‘the theologian must have the Bible in one hand and the daily         newspaper in the other’. It means that any true existential theology exists at the intersection of God’s eternal revelation and the evolving day to day realities of human history. So like any other theology Eastern Catholic theology is a theology in reaction to the world-situation in which it finds itself. Traditionally, that situation has been one of enemies right and left on one side the praestantia ritus Latini of Benedict XIV’s constitution Etsi Pastoralis of 26 May 1742, on the other side the Orthodox rejection and systematic calumniation of Uniatism. Crusades and Uniatism have rendered impossible for the Orthodox any objective history of their relation to the West.

 3. It is not made but in the making. It is a theology in via, in the process of recuperating and repossessing. It is largely without pretence. It keeps one eye over its shoulder and the other over the Orthodox.

 4. It is self-conscious. Like Orthodox Theology, it is self-conscious in ways the west, complacent in its size and strength, never needs to be. But it is not xenophobic (fear of foreigners & strangers) or paranoid (mental dilution), unlike much in modern orthodox theology. On the contrary it is open to the modern West and embraces its objectivity and fairness.

 5.  It is open and unashamedly eclectic (choosing best out of things). It may be an abomination to the most orthodox writers – subjection to Western influence – the popular Russian catholic spiritual writer Catherine de Hueck Doherty is a representative of this spirit. This is often dangerous and also had some positive effects.

 6. It rejects the pseudo-antithesis between Eastern and Western thought and the false polarization consequent to it. The Imitation of Christ of St. Thomas a Kempis, a typically western spirituality inimical to the spirit of the Christian East, has fifteen editions in Russia. How is it, asks Louis Bouyer. The Eastern spiritual classic “The unseen warfare of Nikodemus the Hagiorite (1748-1809), also author of Philkalia and Pedalion was published in 1796 in Venice.

 7.  It is a theology rooted in the Fathers of the Church and especially in the lived experience of the Church’s liturgy and spirituality that flows from it. This distinguishes it sharply from typically western theology.

 8. It forms an integrated whole. It is an integrated world in which liturgy, spirituality, art and architecture comprise an integrated harmonious whole in a way unthinkable in the West, with its clash of competing methodologies and philosophies.

      There is a  difference between a Gothic cathedral and a small fully decorated                   Byzantine church. Eastern catholic theology is an enclosed world.

As a result of this integral nature, Eastern catholic theology has not just a different liturgy and liturgical iconography and monasticism. It also has a different pneumatology, a different liturgical and spiritual theology, a different theological anthropology, a different Mariology and a different feminism.

Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches

On 21 November 1964 Vatican II approved the decree and it became a law on 22 January 1965. Like other decrees this also underwent several transformations before its final approval. In the middle of 1959 the commission under cardinal Tardini sent an invitation to all bishops asking them to submit proposals and resolutions for the council. In the light of this pope John XXIII nominated an Oriental commission in I960 to work out the following points: 1.Changes in the rite, 2.Communicatio in sacris 3. Reconciliation with the Orthodox Orientals, and 4. The most important disciplinary questions. The work was divided into seven sections and was accomplished in 1960-61 in 56 plenary sessions. The result was the schema -De Ecclesiae unitate (52 articles) and 14 short schemata.

The council started on 11 October 1962. Now the task was entrusted to the newly formed Council Commission. It prepared a schema and sent it to all council Fathers in May 1963. In the light of the suggestions a third schema was prepared on 27 April 1964. Pope Paul VI sanctioned it for the submission to the fathers. At the final voting 2110 Fathers approved the decree and 39 voted against it.

The title of the Decree

Originally the title was “Decree on the Eastern Churches”. The word catholic was added because this decree is not directly intended to the Eastern Churches that are not in communion with Rome. The Catholic Church cannot oblige the non-Catholics to follow the rules and prescriptions of the Catholic Church. According to Patriarch Maximos such a decree is necessary because first the, Eastern Catholic Churches are confronted today with special problems which are not urgent for the Latin Church to the same degree. Secondly the decree can under the authority of the council, repeal certain inopportune and incompatible enactments. He says that the decree arouses hope that a post conciliar commission will carry on the work on its lines.


The first sentence is a disturbing one. There is a contrast between Eastern and Catholic. Here “catholic” is more or less as synonymous with Latin. Patriarch Maximos asks: How the Latins would react if a decree on the Latin church were to say that the catholic church holds in high esteem the institutions of the Latin Church.

Individual Churches or Rites  (art.2-4)

The word ‘rite’ in a narrow sense means liturgical rite, but in a wider sense it means constitution, law, discipline, spirituality, theology, liturgy etc. In the decree it is mostly used in the wider sense.

Art. 2 portrays the historic and theologically founded structure of the Church – a structure made up of individual Churches. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and there is only one baptism, one faith and one government. All baptized are united in the Holy Spirit. The faithful are formed into particular Churches under the bishop. These individual churches are related. Each church developed its own liturgy, discipline and spirituality adopting the customs and traditions of the place. So the»e is a diversity in the Church. Each individual church is bound to safeguard its traditions and spiritual heritage and should grow through adaptation.

Art. 3 emphasizes the fundamental equality of the individual churches in dignity, rights and obligations.

1. The Pope as the visible head of the Church is the head of the universal Church.

2. All these Churches are equally entrusted to pastoral guidance and have the right to preach gospel and to engage in missionary activity.

Art. 4 In order to safeguard the equality of the individual churches and to preserve their growth various provisions have been made.

1. Special parishes, even special hierarchies should be organized for each rite. This was objected on the ground that if the combination of several jurisdictions in the same territory may cause many difficulties.

2. In order to solve the problem there should be a large measure of broad-mindedness and willingness to make adaptations and cooperation in all spheres of ecclesiastical administration at interdiocesan and supra-diocesan levels.

3. Every form of rivalry and attempts to win over members of other individual churches should be avoided.

4. Baptized converts received into the Catholic Church are to be bound to their rite not only within, but also outside the area of their rite.

5. Knowledge of the rite: Priests and seminarians should study about the liturgical rites and inter-ritual questions.  They should instruct the laity.

6. Change of rite is not permitted. Only Rome has the power to give permission to change rite. Now permission to administer the sacraments is given


The Preservation of the Spiritual Heritage of the Eastern Churches (Art.5,6)

1. The eastern Churches are very particular to preserve the spiritual heritage and tradition of the early Church, Their liturgy is ‘centered on Christ. Both Bible and Tradition are precious.  The teachings of the fathers of the Church had great influence on their liturgy. Their spirituality is centered on the Sacraments. Their calendar is Christ-centered. So the Council warns the Eastern Churches not to lose their heritage. The Council praises the heritage of these Churches.

2. The administration of the Church: It is different from that of the Western Church. The head of the Eastern Church is Patriarch who has special powers. So there is diversity in the government. They enjoy the right to rule themselves according to its proper and individual procedure and customs,

3.. The Orientals should preserve their rites and their established way of life. For this they have to study the customs and traditions of the Eastern Churches.

4.. The growth of the rite should be organic. In this growth the identity of each church should be preserved. The mere imitation of other rites is not recommended,

5. The Eastern Churches which were subjected to alterations and which went astray from the observance of their traditions have to restore them.

6. Those who are engaged in missionary work among the Orientals or in Oriental region should study the history, liturgy, discipline and the special characteristics of the Oriental churches.

7. Latin Congregations working in Eastern countries or among Eastern faithful should establish special provinces and houses for the Orientals. In those houses oriental liturgy should be practiced.

Eastern Patriarchs  ( Art.7-11)

According to Patriarch Maximos IV this chapter on the Patriarchs is weakest of the entire Decree because of the rejection of the suggestion to treat the question in the light of the first councils. Actually this question is the central problem of the Eastern churches and indeed generally of the whole structure of the Church. Therefore according to many it should not have been treated as a special problem of the Eastern churches, but as a problem pertaining to the structure of the universal Church.

In the original schema this article had an introduction which was prone rather to weaken than to revalorize the position of the patriarchs both in relation to the Pope and the bishops. Here the rights of the patriarchs were considered as papal concessions. This introduction was replaced by the simple statement that patriarchal structure is an institution of the universal Church which goes back to the earliest epochs of the Church and was already found and recognised (not instituted) as such by the first general Councils.

So the Council says:

1. Patriarchates existed m the early Church and was recognized by the first ecumenical Councils.

2. The patriarch is a bishop who has jurisdiction over all bishops (including metropolitans), clergy and people (of God) of his own territory or rite, in accordance with the norms of the law and without prejudice to the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.

The last paragraph “whenever an ordinary of any rite is appointed outside the territorial bounds of its patriarchate, he remains attached to the hierarchy of the patriarchate of that rite, in accordance with the norm of law” was not in the original text. It was inserted in order to pave the way for a corresponding regulation for the new situation created by large emigration.

3. A bishop of any rite appointed outside the territory of the patriarch, remains attached to the hierarchy of the patriarchate of that rite, in accordance with the norm of the law. It follows that the patriarchs are not entitled to nominate bishops for the faithful of their rite established in America or Canada without the approval of the Holy See,

Art. 8 says:

All patriarchs are equal in dignity. Some o£ them are of later origin.  With regard to precedence the decision of the ecumenical councils is to be considered.

The order of the ancient Patriarchates:

Rome                Rome

Antioch           Constantinople

Alexandria        Antioch



Precedence of the present Catholic Patriarchates:


Alexandria (Coptic)






Ukranian (Major Archbishop)

Syro-Malabar (Major Archbishop)

Syro-Malankara (Major  Archbishop)

Romanian Catholic Church (Major Archbishop)


 The authority of the Patriarchs  (Art.9)

1. Patriarch is the father and the head of the rite.

2. The rights and privileges of the Patriarch should be reestablished in accord with the ancient traditions of each Church and the decrees of the ecumenical councils.

3. These rights and privileges are those existed in the united church before the division.

  1. The patriarchs and patriarchal synod is the high authority in the patriarchal church. It has the power to establish new dioceses and nominate bishops in their territory.
  2. This kind of administration in a particular church is not against the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, who has the right to intervene in the administration of a particular church whenever it is necessary


The  Major Archbishops  (Art.10)

Besides the patriarchal churches there are a number of other individual catholic churches which have no patriarch as their head, but a major archbishop who has the same rights, but not the same privileges. They can be raised to the status of patriarchal church. The preparatory commission had already expressly proposed this for Syro-Malabar, Ukranian and Etheopean churches. Because of certain difficulties only a general recommendation was made. The establishment of Patriarchate is reserved to an ecumenical synod or Pope.

Though the council recommended the institution of patriarchates in certain churches some regarded the patriarchal structure as outdated and antiquated and hence called for its complete abolition. To others it even appeared incompatible with the rediscovered collegiality of bishops.

Questions: Is it wise to create Patriarchate for the small churches?  What would have happened if the patriarchs had not been created?

A rejection of Patriarchal structure of the church on principle would not only mean abandonment of the Uniate churches but also a definitive and irrevocable identification of the Catholic Church with the Latin Church, thus crushing for ever all hopes of a reunion of with the Orthodox Churches. As regards the collegiality, it may be observed that it was in fact in the patriarchally constituted churches that it had been maintained and it is in them that it is still practiced in an exemplary manner


Rules concerning the Sacraments (Art.12-18)

The points considered here are almost exclusively interritual questions for which synods of the various individual churches were not competent at all.

Art. l2: A general statement about the discipline of the sacraments in the Oriental churches, which is very ancient and the council recognizes them and the traditional way of their celebration. The council also wishes that these churches restore them in accordance with the traditions of each church.

There exists .difference with regard to the administration of the sacraments. For eg. In the Latin Church the bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament of confirmation, but in the Oriental churches the priest administers it. The Latins use unleavened bread and the Orientals use leavened bread

Art 13.On Confirmation

Confirmation should be administered in accordance with the Oriental traditions. It can be administered only through the chrism blessed by the patriarch or bishop. In Malabar church synod of Diamper changed the practice, in Oriental churches except the Maronites confirmation has been administered by the ordinary priest.

:Art.14. The priest can in future administer it even apart from baptism which had so far not been the customs in some of eastern churches.

It is no longer confined to the rite. In future Eastern priest can administer it validly not only to all Easterners but also to the Latins, which had so far at least not been permissible under Latin ecclesiastical law. Latin priests can also do the same.  In this, the discipline of the each church should be considered.

Art.15 The Eucharist

The decree expressly stresses the competence of the various individual churches with regard to the liturgy. It deals with the obligation of the faithful to participate in the Holy  Mass on Sundays and feast days.

In the Eastern churches Holy Mass was celebrated solemnly and with active participation from the part of the faithful. It was preceded by divine office. There was only one Mass in a church. The liturgical day begins with the Vaspers of the preceding day. Therefore the evening mass is included in the Sunday obligation.  In the Eastern churches Sunday obligation is not under mortal sin.  For the Latins it is the moral sin (Lateran IV 1215).


Art. 16: The faculty for hearing confession to a priest of any rite by his-proper bishop is applicable to the entire territory of the grantor.  The extension of jurisdiction for confession to the priests is dealt here. The eastern priest can in future grant absolution in the region for which he has received the faculty for hearing confessions from his bishop and not only to the faithful of his rite. The hierarchs of other rites have been left with certain possibilities of imposing restrictions.  Here it concerns about the interiritual extension in the territory and this is of considerable pastoral significance because of the widespread mixture of the rites. A bishop can revoke the faculty from a priest with reasons.                                         ;

Diaconate and subdiconate:

Art. I7 – In many of the Eastern churches the diaconate has remained in existence till today as an independent rank in holy orders. The decree calls for its restoration even in places where it had as such ceased to be in practice. Deacons are normally married before their ordination.

Subdiaconate though a minor order is identified with the higher orders in its obligations (Divine office, distinguishing marriage obstacle) it has been left to the discretion of the individual churches to return to the ancient practice.

Mixed Marriages

Art. 18 – The extension of the Latin canonical form to the Eastern churches made invalid all the marriages contracted between Catholics and the non-Catholics. The norm was this: “All marriages not contracted before the competent catholic pastor had been declared invalid (Crebrae allatae c.85 1949).

The motu proprio of Pope Paul VI of 31 March 1970: A marriage between two baptised of whom one is a catholic, the other a non-catholic, may not licitly be contracted without the previous dispensation of the local ordinary, since such marriage is by its very nature an obstacle to full spiritual communion of the married parties.

Since 1949 such marriages resulted in excommunication. Among the Orientals there were many mixed marriages especially where Catholics are minority. Therefore the obligation with regard to the canonical form of marriage was lifted in the sense that it was no longer to be considered as a condition for the validity of a mixed marriage, but only for its lawfulness.

The council says: When Eastern Catholics marry baptized Eastern non-Catholics, the canonical form for the celebration of such marriages obliges only for the lawfulness, for their validity the presence of a sacred minister suffices, as long as the other requirements of the law are observed,

It should be registered as soon as possible. The priests of non-Catholics are requested to cooperate to register in the books of the catholic party (1967 Feb. 22).

The catholic party has the duty to preserve his/her faith, children be baptized, brought up in the same faith.

Marriage between two catholic .orientals – catholic canonical form is necessary.

Marriage between catholic .oriental and Latin – catholic canonical form is necessary

Divine Worship (Art.19-23)

            Art.19. It will be the exclusive right of an ecumenical synod or Apostolic See to establish, transfer or suppress feast days common to all the Eastern churches. The only novelty in it is that in future the patriarch can with his synod, institute or abolish feasts for his church – only in individual cases,

Art. 20 – There is no unanimous agreement among the Easterners on the date of Easter. It is therefore recommended to celebrate Easter on the same day.

Art. 21: The Easterners who live outside their dioceses – ritual diaspora – have been permitted to follow the given local customs with regard to the sacred seasons (feasts , days of fasting etc.). Faithful of different rites in a same family or in a hostel fellow one rite.

Art. 22 – Divine office

Regarding the obligation of divine office it pertains to the community, not to the individual. It should be recited according to the discipline and traditions of each church. The faithful are exhorted to participate in it.

Art. 23 – Use of liturgical language.

Regarding the use of language in sacred liturgy the patriarch with his synod has the power to regulate the use of the language with the approval of the texts by the Holy See. Here the permission is given only for translation which should be faithful to the original text.

Art 24. Relations with the Brethren of the separated churches.

Catholics should show that unity of churches can be achieved without  losing their individual characteristics.

To promote the unity  the council suggests the following:

– Prayer

-Exemplary life

-Religious fidelity to ancient eastern traditions

– Mutual knowledge


– Brotherly regard for objects (icon etc) and attitudes (feeling)

Art.25 – about individual conversion

1. Only a simple profession of catholic faith is demanded.

2. Clerics united are permitted to exercise the orders they possess.

Catholic faith: authority of pope, infallibility, assumption and Immaculate Conception of Bl.Virgin Mary.

They are not bound to follow all the private devotions in the Catholic Church.

Art. 26 common worship

Any common worship (communicatio in sacris) which would damage the unity of the church or involve formal acceptance of falsehood or danger of deviation in the faith, of scandal or of indifferentism, is forbidden by divine law.  Considering the pastoral experience and circumstances the council lays the following with regard the common worship.

Separated Eastern Christians in good faith may be granted the sacrament of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick if they ask of their own accord and have right disposition.  The Catholics may also ask them from the non-Catholics who possess valid sacraments.  This should be in the case of necessity and when it is impossible to have access to catholic priest. Common worship is not possible when there is no Eucharistic unity.

Participation in the extra-sacramental worship

Art.28. participation in marriage, burials and similar functions is permitted.

Art. 29 – Common worship should be under the watchful care of the bishop, because it has not only its positive side but also its undeniable dangers. Bishops are asked to show due consideration for each other on this point, so that different practices in the same region or even in the same place might not cause confusion among the faithful.


She council expresses its joy in the fruitful and zealous collaboration between the Eastern and Western catholic churches. All Christians are asked to pray for unity to God the Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit and Blessed Virgin Mary


Trinity according to the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church considers the doctrine of trinity as something that has a living, practical importance for every christian. Man is made in the image of God, and to christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that man can understand who he is and what God intends him to be. The basic elements in the doctrine of Trinity are the following:

1. God is absolutely transcendent. The absolute trascendence of God is safeguarded by the use of the way of negation of apophatic theology, which speaks of God in negative terms. God cannot be properly apprehended by man’s mind, human language when applied to Him, is always inexact. It is therefore less misleading to use negative language about God rather than positive to say what He is not.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (+394) says: “the true knowledge and vision of God consist in this – in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility. St. john of Damscus (675- 749) says: “God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility…God does not belong to the class of existing things, not that He has no existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself”.

The emphasis on God’s transcendence would seem at first sight to exclude any direct experience of God. But in fact many who made use of negative theology like Gregory of Nyssa, Dionisius, Maximus, also believed in the possibility of a true mystical union with God. They combined the way of negation with the way of union, with the tradition of the mystics or hesychasts. Hesychast comes from the Greek word Hesychia which means quiet. Hesychast is the one who in silence devotes himself to inner recollection and private prayer.

For the Orthodox the positive or Cataphatic theology or the way of affirmation must always be balanced and corrected by the employment of negative language

2.God, although absolutely transcendent, is not cut off from the world, which He has made.God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. “Thou art everywhere and fillest all things”(a prayer). The Orthodox makes a distinction between God’s essence and energies. His Essence remains unapproachable but His Energies come down to us. We experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light. Our God is a God who hides himself yet He is also a God who acts -God of history- intervening directly in concrete situations.

3.God is personal, that is to say Trinitarian.  When man participates in the divine energies he is brought face to face with a person. God is a trinity of three persons, each of whom dwells in the other two, by virtue of a perpetual movement of love.

4. God is an Incarnate God. God has come down in His own person. The second person of Trinity became man. This shows the closer union between God and His creation.

Question of Filioque.

The Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and of diversity in unity. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are one in essence (homoousios) yet each is distinguished from the other two by personal characteristics. St. Gregory of Nazianz says, “The Divine is indivisible in its divisions” for the persons are united yet no confused, distinct yet not divided (John of Damascus), both the distinction and union alike are paradoxical (Gregory of Nazianz).

If each of the persons is distinct, what holds the Holy Trinity together? There is one God because there is one Father. Father is the source of Godhead, the principle of unity among the three, born of none and proceeding from none. Son is born of the Father from all eternity; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father from all eternity. This is the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.

According to Western (Latin) theology the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. For them the principle of unity in the Trinity is the Divine Essence, which all the three share. The synod Toledo (589) for the first time officially inserted “filioque” in the Nicean Creed. Then it spread throughout the whole Latin Church, Frankfert (794) Rome (1014). The west retained their formula “a patre filioque” and later this insertion of filioque caused the division between the East and the West.

The Orthodox Church makes a distinction between the eternal procession of Spirit from the father and a temporal mission from the Son- sending of the Holy Spirit to the world. The one concerns the relation existing from all eternity within the Godhead; the other concerns the relation God to creation. As the son has two births, an eternal birth from the Father and a birth at particular point of time, so the Holy Spirit has an eternal procession from the Father and a temporal mission from the Son. The Orthodox Church claims that their teaching is based on Jn. 15,26. “I will send the Spirit to you from the Father”. The 13th and 14th centuries the. theologians speak of an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit by the Son, e.g. Gregory Palamas.

The orthodox theologians say that filioque leads either to ditheism or to semisabellianism- Father, Son and Hoy Spirit are three modes or ways of action. Ditheism is a belief in two gods. If Father and Son are two principles then there are two Gods. Lyons and Florence declared that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle (tamquam ex uno principio). Therefore, according to the Orthodox Church filioque is dangerous and heretical. It confuses the persons and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead. Besides the Holy Spirit has become subordinated to the Son.



Creation of Man

Creation of the man is act of all the three persons of the Trinity. Gen. 1,26 says: “Let us make man according to our image and likeness”. Here image and likeness is Trinitarian.

Image and likeness do not mean exactly the same thing. John of Damascus says: Image indicates rationality and freedom. Likeness indicates assimilation to God through virtues. The image signifies man’s free will, his reason, his sense of moral responsibility in everything, in short, the distinguishing mark of man from the animal and makes him a person. It also means that we are God’s offspring, His kin. It means that between God and us there is a point of contact, an essential similarity. For because we are in God’s image we can know God and have communion with him. And if a man makes use of this faculty for communion with God, then he will become like God, he will acquire the divine likeness and he will be assimilated to God through virtues.. (John Damascus)

Grace and free will

Because man is the image of God, he is the son, he possesses a free will. To describe the relation between the grace of God and free will of man, Orthodoxy uses the term cooperation or synergy  (synergeia). St.Paul says: “we are fellow workers (synergoi) with God (1.Cor.3, 9). To achieve full fellowship with God, man as well as God must make his contribution to the common work. Of course God’s work has immeasurably greater importance. So God’s grace and human free will are equally important. The supreme example of synergy is the Mother of God.

The West accused the Orthodox Church of giving more importance to man’s free will. But the Orthodox Church claims that their church’s teaching is very straightforward. They quote, Rev.3, 20: “Behold, I stand at the door,and knock; If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in”. God knocks but waits for men to open the door. He does not break the door. The grace of the God invites all but compels none. St.John Chrysostom says: “God never draws anyone to himself by force or violence. He wishes all men to be saved, but forces no one”. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) says: “It is for God to grant his grace, your task is to accept that grace and to guard it”. God’s gifts are free gifts, man cannot claim for it, but he must work for it, since faith without good works is dead (James. 2,17).

Fall and Original Sin

Adam was given free will- the power to choose between good and evil. It rested with him either to accept the vocation set before him or to refuse it. Adam refused it. His fall consisted essentially in his disobedience of the will of God; he set his own will against the divine will and so by his own act he separated himself from God. As a result a new form of existence appeared on earth- that of disease and death. By turning away from God who is immortality and life, man put himself in a state that was contrary to nature, and his unnatural condition led to an inevitable disintegration of his being and eventually to physical death. The consequences of Adam’s disobedience extended to all his descendants. We are members one of another (St. Paul) and if one member suffers, the whole body suffers. In virtue of this mysterious unity of human race, not only Adam, but also all mankind became subject to mortality. Cut off from God, Adam and his descendants passed under the domination of sin and of the devil. Man’s will is weakened and enfeebled. The Greeks call it desire; the Latins call it concupiscence.

The Orthodoxy holds a less exalted idea of man’s state before the fall, and also less severe than the west in its view of the consequences of the fall. Adam’s fall is not from a great height of knowledge and perfection but from a state of undeveloped simplicity. Hence he is not to be judged too harshly for his error. His mind became darkened, his will power was impaired, so he could not hope to attain to the likeness of God. But he was not deprived entirely of God’s grace. The image of God is distorted, but never destroyed.

Most orthodox theologians reject the idea of original guilt, man automatically inherit Adam’s corruption and mortality but not his guilt. They are only guilty in so far as by their own free choice they imitate Adam. The orthodoxy never held that unbaptized babies are consigned to hell. Greek Fathers were not much interested in the doctrine of original sin


Incarnation is an act of God’s philanthropia of his loving kindness towards mankind. Many Eastern writers argue that if man had never fallen, God in His love for humanity would still have become man. Incarnation must be seen as part of the eternal purpose of God and not simply as an answer to the fall. Because of the fall of man, incarnation is not only an act of love but an act of salvation (cf. Maximus the Confessor +662; Issac the Syrian 7thc). Christ united man and God in his person, opened man the path to union with God. Christ showed the true likeness of God.

Christ is true God and true man, one person in two natures without separation and without confusion, a single person endowed with two wills and two energies.

A striking feature of the orthodox approach to the Incarnate Christ is the overwhelming sense of his divine glory behind the veil of Christ’s flesh, Christians behold the Triune God. The two moments in Christ’s life when his divine glory was made manifest are Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and the Resurrection. Both are great feasts. The Orthodox do not overlook humanity of Christ. Veneration of the cross, reverence to the Holy Land etc. show this.

God knows different possible worlds:

  1. A world without sin
  2. A world without sin and with Christ as its head.

3. A world with sin but without Christ.

           4 A world with sin but also with Christ as its redeemer in whom God’s merciful love and goodness is best revealed and in whom the world is redeemed and in whom the whole world is sanctified and perfected. Among these possible worlds God by an absolute decree elected the present  world


Holy Sprit.

The works of Christ and the Holy Sprit are complementary and reciprocal. Christ’s work of redemption cannot be considered apart from the Holy Sprit’s work of sanctification. St. Athanacius says: “The Word took flesh, that we might receive the Sprit”. So the aim of incarnation is the sending of Holy Sprit at Pentecost.


Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. So it can be defined in terms of deification. The final goal of every christian is to become God, to attain theosis /deification/divinization. For the Orthodox Church man’s salvation and redemption means his deification.

Behind the doctrine of deification there is the idea of image and likeness. Man is made in the image of Trinity and is called to dwell in the Trinitarian God. Christ prayed that we might share in the life of God the Trinity. Cf. Jo. 17, 2. God dwelling in us and we in Him.

The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s energies and His essence. Union with God means union with the divine energies.

The mystical union between God and man is a true union, yet in this union creator and creature do not become fused into a single being. Man retains his full personal integrity, when deified, remains distinct from God. The saints do not lose their free will but voluntarily and in love conform their will to the will of God, nor cease to be human. “We remain creatures while becoming God by grace as Christ remained God when becoming man by the Incarnation. Man does not become God by nature, but by grace (St. Basil).

Man’s body is also deified. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” I Cor. 6,19. The full deification of the body must wait, however, until the last day, for in this present life the glory of the saints is as a rule an inward splendour, a splenndour of the soul alone, then it will be outwardly manifest like Christ’s body on Mount Tabor.

The Orthodox Church has an immense reverence for the relics of the saints because they are convinced that the body is sanctified and transfigured toget6her with the soul. They believe God’s grace is present in them and God uses them as a channel of divine power and an instrument of healing.

The Orthodox Church holds that the whole of material creation will eventually be transfigured (Cosmic redemption). Teilhard de Chardin also speaks of comic redemption. Jesus died on the cross to raise up the world, to move it upward and forward, closer to God and closer to its final point of maturation. Christ descends sacramentally not only into the host (bread) but into the whole universe itself which gradually being transformed by the Incarnation. The world evolves towards the Parousia and the final fullness of all things in Christ will be accomplished at the Parousia.


1. Deification is for all, the full deification is only at the last day, but the process of divinization must be started here and now in this present life.

2. Deification doesn’t mean that one ceases to be conscious of sin. It always presupposes a continued act of repentance.

3. Deification demands observance of the commandments.

4. Deification is a social process. Love of God and of neighbor as himself is important. So there is nothing selfish about deification. St. Antony of Egypt says: “From our neighbor is life and from our neighbor is death. If we win our neighbor we win God, but if we cause our neighbor to stumble we sin against God”.

5. Love of God and love of neighbor must be practical.

6. Deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments, common life within the fellowship of the Church.


The Church of God: The community aspect of the church is very much stressed in the Oriental Churches. “One falls alone, but no one is saved alone”. The Orthodox Church insists on and agrees with the Catholic Church, the hierarchical structure of the church, the apostolic succession, the episcopacy, priesthood, intercession of the saints, prayer for the dead. But it disagrees about the supremacy and the universal jurisdiction of the pope and papal infallibility. The Orthodox Church treats the church in relation to God. So the idea of the church is spiritual. Three phrases are used to describe the relation of the church with God:

  1. The church is the image of the holy trinity. The church reproduces on the earth the mystery of unity in diversity. She is an icon of God the Trinity. In the trinity the three are one God, yet each is fully personal, in the church a multitude of persons are united in one, yet each preserves his personal diversity unimpaired.

The conception of the church as an icon of trinity has many further applications. Just as each person of the trinity is autonomous, so the church is made up of several autocephalous and autonomous churches, and just as in the Trinity the three persons are equal, so in the church no one bishop can claim to wield an absolute power over all the rest.

 The council is also an expression of the Trinitarian nature of the church. Many bishops assembled in the council freely reach a common mind under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  1. The church is the Body of Christ. We, who are many, are one body in Christ (Rom.12: 5). Between Christ and the church there is the closest possible bond. St.Ignatius says: “where Christ is, there is the catholic church”. The church is the extension of Incarnation. The Church is the Christ with us.
  2. The church is a continued Pentecost. The role of the Holy Spirit is important in the Church. St.Ireneus says:”Where the church is there is the Holy Spirit and where is the Spirit is there is the church”.

The unity and infallibility of the Church.

The unity of the church follows of necessarily from the unity of God. The church is one as God is one. There is only one Christ and so there can be only one Body of Christ.

There is visible unity in the Church. For the Catholic Church, the unifying principle in the church is the Pope, who has universal jurisdiction. For the Orthodox Church the act of communion is in the sacraments. Each local church is constituted by the congregation of the faithful (St.Ignatius), gathered around their bishop and celebrating the Eucharist. The church universal is constituted by the communion of the heads of the local churches, the bishops, with one another. Unity is not maintained from without by the authority of a supreme pontiff, but created from within by the celebration of the Eucharist. The church is not monarchical in structure, centered around a single hierarch. It is a collegial formed by the communion of many hierarchs with one another, and of each hierarch with members of his folk. The act of communion forms the criterion for membership of the church. One ceases to be a member of the church if he severs the communion with his fellow bishops.

The Orthodox Church believes that their church is the true church by the grace of God, because they have received a precious and unique gift from God. The orthodox theologians reject the branch theory, i.e. the church is divided into several branches, mainly three – the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church.

The Orthodox Church also teaches that outside the church there is no salvation. This follows from the close relation between God and His Church. St.Cyprian says: “A man cannot have God as his Father, if he does not have the church as his mother”. Outside the church  there is no salvation because salvation is the church. This does not mean that everyone who is visibly within the church is necessarily saved and not visibly within the church is necessarily damned. St.Augustine says: “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within”. There may be members whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must be saved in some sense be a member of the church, in what sense, we cannot always say.

The church is infallible.

This also follows from the relation between God and the church. The church is Christ’s Body and a continued Pentecost, so it is infallible. It is the pillar and the ground of truth (1Tim.3: 15). Christ promised His continued assistance and Holy Spirit.

The great Orthodox theologian, Staniloe said to Cardinal Thomas Spidlik: “I cannot understand the infallibility of the pope”. Card. Spidlik replied: “You and I are also infallible. When I say during the Mass ‘this is my body…this is my blood’ or when ‘I absolve you of your sins’ these are infallible words and this is pope’s infallibility, nothing else. Staniloe said, “If infallibility is understood in this way, then it is easier to comprehend. The priests are infallible in the sacraments and the pope is also infallible when he speaks in the name of the great sacrament, of the whole church.

Bishops and Councils.

The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical church. It believes in the apostolic succession of the bishops. The dignity of the bishop is necessarily in the church, that without him neither the church nor the name christian could exist or even be spoken of at all. He is the living image of God upon the earth and a fountain of all sacraments through which we obtain salvation (Dositheus). “If any one is not with the bishop, he is not in the church”(St.Cyprian). At the election and the consecration a bishop is endowed with the threefold power of ruling, teaching and celebrating the sacraments.

The authority of the bishop is fundamentally the authority of the church. The bishop is not someone set up over the church, but holder of an office in the church. The bishop and the people are joined in an organic unity and neither can be properly thought of apart from the other. Without bishop, there cannot be orthodox people, and without orthodox people, there can be no true bishop. “ The church is the people united to the bishop, the flock clinging to its shepherd. The bishop in the church and the church in the bishop.” (St.Cyprian).

The relation between the bishop and his flock is a mutual one. The bishop is the divinely appointed teacher and the guardian of the faith. It is the bishop’s particular office to proclaim the truth. The Orthodox Church considers the first seven councils as ecumenical. It is not so clear precisely what it is that makes a council ecumenical. For them a council cannot be considered as ecumenical unless its decrees are accepted by the whole church


                             Christology according to the Eastern Church


In the Eastern thought, the role of Christ is described in different ways.

1. Christ as the saviour of the world

Jesus asks his disciples a question about their belief concerning his personal identity “who do you say that I am”. Peter answered declaring that Jesus was “the Messiah”, the Son of the living God”(Mt. 16,16). The whole life and activities of Jesus depend on his identity.

In the East there were debates on the identity of Christ. St. Athanatious and St.Cyril were two eminent champions of orthodoxy in these debates. Athanasius was the champion in the council of Nicea I during the Arian controversy. Nicea firmly proclaimed the divinity of Christ. The Nicean victory was not only doctrinal, but also spiritual. The message of Athanasius was that only God Himself could properly be seen and adored as saviour. Thus the divine identity of Jesus, equal to the Father, was not a matter of abstract or purely theological truth, but it indicated the misery of the fallen, mortal humanity- which could neither save itself nor be saved by another creature. It also indicated the true nature of God, who being love, performed Himself the salvation of the world rather than act indirectly through created intermediaries or through an all – powerful but mechanic fiat. It indicates that man cannot be saved by himself or by any other creatures, but only by God.

2. Christ as Immanuel

The central inspiration of Sts.. Athanasius and Cyril was this: only God can save us. St. Cyril says: it is not an elder, nor an angel but the Lord Himself who saved us, not by an alien death, or by the mediation of an ordinary man, but by His very own blood”.

The reconciliation of God as the agent of salvation is shown also in the repeated use of the title Emmanuel – God with us for Christ (letter of Cyril to Nestorius). Both Athanasius and Cyril could not conceive of the divine love manifested in the Incarnation to be really perfect unless it was an act of self giving of God – God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jn. 3, 16). This implied the personal presence of God in the human reality of Jesus of Nazareth.

Cyril’s argument against Nestorius was centered on two most human moments in the gospel story of Jesus:

His birth from Mary and   His death on the cross

 Cyril recognized that these moments belong to the divine economy in the flesh – that is, the eternal God by nature could neither be born in history nor die. But he considered that the salvation of the world would not have occurred unless it was perfectly the Son of God who was  born of the virgin and also personally suffered on the cross according to the flesh.

The whole spiritual experiences reflected in Cyril’s Christology implies two central intuitions:

1. God, in search for fallen humanity (lost sheep), does not stop half way, but goes where fallen humanity is – in death itself.

2 It is not an ideal, perfect humanity that the Son of God assumes, but that humanity which bears all the consequences of sin, particularly mortality and corruptibility. Except for sin itself he assumed all the limitations of falleness including suffering and death.

The Christology of Cyril was challenged from two sides:

1. School of Theodore of Mopsuetia (Antiochean). How could the eternal Son be born? How could the passionless God suffer and die?

2. Appollinarian school – Appollinarius, bishop of Laodicea, saw Jesus as God with a human body but without a human soul. Why there need in Jesus for another spiritual center besides the divine Logos? But then was He truly a man? This means that Jesus had a sinless humanity, which could not be affected by corruptibility and mortality – consequently his humanity is perfect, incorruptible not like ours, and therefore his death was not like our death.

There was ambiguous terminology in Cyril – one nature incarnate of God the word, but his rejection of Nestorianism was motivated by the conviction that human destiny lies in communion with God. According to the Antiochean school the human nature of Christ kept not only its identity but also its autonomy. Christ’s birth and death were human only; Mary was mother of Jesus not of God. Jesus the son of man died not the Son of God. It was this duality, which Cyril rejected.

Against Appollinarism, Cyril says that Christ accepted complete humanity – in a fallen state from which it needed to be saved – that the divine Logos had to assume suffering and death. In order to lead the humanity to incorruptibility through resurrection. He first came down where fallen humanity truly was – in the depth of the pit (Ps. 88,6) and then cried before dying “my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Mt. 27,46).

It was the moment of the death of God – the assumption by God Himself in an ultimate act of love, of humanity in its state of separation from its natural communion with God. Christ’s humanity was, therefore, neither diminished nor limited. It was humanity in its very concrete falleness.

The council of Chalcedon affirmed the doctrine of two natures of Christ in their distinctiveness and the doctrine of hypostatic union. The Orthodox Church at the fourth council (553) reaffirmed it.

According to Cyrillian Christology, the humanity of Christ was deified through the cross and resurrection. Christ was the new Adam in whom humanity and divinity were reunited again.

The Christological definitions of Ephesus and Chalcedon, Constantinople II and Constantinople III entered the common tradition of the Eastern and Western Christendom. But the West remained somewhat reluctant in the face of doctrine of deification. For them, redemption –salvation tended to be understood as reconciliation with God rather than a restoration of communion with God. eg.: the Anselmian theory of redemption as satisfaction.

3. Christ as perfect God and perfect Man

St. Athanasius defended the divinity of Christ. St Cyril defended the unity of His being. But their messages remained controversial after their deaths.

In Nicea, ‘Homoousios’ was used to affirm the common divine essence or substance of the Father and the Son. Sabellians or modelists used the same term. For them, Father and the Son are of one essence meant that God was not three persons, but a unique essence with only three aspects or modes of manifestation. Therefore it needed further elaboration. The Cappadocean fathers elaborated it with their doctrine of three hypostasis or really distinct persons.

In Alexandria, after Cyril, Eutychus interpreted the unity of divinity and humanity of Christ to mean the humanity was so totally deified that it ceased to be our humanity. Christ was certainly consubstantial with the father but not with us. His humanity was absorbed by God.

The Chalcedonian definition of Christ tried to satisfy the different existing terminological traditions of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. It kept the Cyrillian terminology stressing the unity of Christ (repeating the same word  and excluding the duality) and also insisted on the integrity of each nature, each keeping its respective properties within the union by favoring the Antiochean and Latin side. So it can be called a committee document or a catholic, charitable and ecumenical document. Chalcedon solved certain problems but created new ones.  A large Eastern Christian community opposed Chalcedon.

4. Church: the Body of Christ

Christ, the eternal Logos and the new Adam restored the unity of the whole humanity with himself. This restoration could not be automatic or magical; it required free human response to the spirit and the cooperation (synergia) of each human person and a “gathering” of free believers within the assembly of the church. So the restoration requires: –

i. A free human response to the Spirit.

ii. Cooperation of each person

iii. Gathering of free believers in the assembly of the church

The whole Christ (St.Augustine) was manifested where two or three were gathered in His name (Mt. 18,20) where the Pauline image of body could be concretely present. And that body is the church realized most fully in the Eucharist. Participation in the Eucharist in Christological terms was a participation in the resurrected and glorified humanity assumed in the hypostasis of the Son of God and in virtue of the “communication of idioms” between the two natures – penetrated with divine life or energies or grace (John of Damascus).

When we partake in the Body of Christ- being in Christ – we are not identified with the Logos, because person is always unique. It involves a sharing through the power of the spirit, in its glorified humanity- a humanity that remains fully human even after its glorification. The Iconoclasts claimed that Christ, deified in his resurrection, had become indescribable and therefore denounced the possibility of making images of Him.

            Iconoclasts, especially, Emperor Constantine V affirmed the Eucharist to be the only legitimate and biblically established image of God. But the orthodox say that Eucharist was a true and real identification of the faithful with the risen lord – not simply a vision of his image (Theodore of Studites). For them, the Eucharist was never the object of a vision: only the icons were to be seen. It is this general conception that justified the development of Iconostasis. It is the system of icons covering the screen, which separates the sanctuary from the nave of a Byzantine church. The Eucharistic mystery performed behind it is not an object of visual contemplation but a meal eventually distributed to the faithful who otherwise communicate with God by contemplating and venerating icons.

Christ and Bl. Virgin Mary

In Ephesus (431) Mary was designated as bearer of God (Theotokos ) or Mother of God (meter Theou). It affirmed the personal identity of Christ as the preexisting and eternal Son of God assuming the human nature. This decision added a decisive new emphasis to the christian spirituality- a renewed veneration of fMary – She made possible the union of divinity and humanity.

Theotokos was the first doctrinal decision of the church concerning Mary. In NT she was extolled –all generations will call me blessed (Lk. 1, 48.)

Ireneus and Justin called her as the New Eve. Many others glorified her as the earth unsown, burning bush, bridge leading to heaven, ladder which Jacob saw etc.

The Marian piety expresses a spiritual discovery of the human side of the Incarnation mystery. The role of that simple women who conceived the new life, was a reminder of the humanity of Jesus Himself and it gave in a new form the message that free fellowship and communion with God were true expression of authentic human nature.

This shows that the veneration of Mary was never separated from its christological context. This was the only doctrinal definition about Mary. Her exaltation. after Ephesus, did not mean that her belonging to fallen humanity was forgotten. Commenting Mt. 12,46-49-“who is mother, who are my brothers,” John Chrysostom frankly recognized Mary’s human failings and imperfections. The mother of Jesus was seen within the mystery of salvation, as the representative of humanity in need of salvation. But within the mankind, she was the closest to the Saviour and the worthiest receptacle of the new life.

St. Augustine says of Mary’s Immaculate Conception as the object of special grace of God that made her in advance worthy of divine motherhood.

In the West original sin was understood as inherited guilt. And it made it inevitable that Mary be approached in terms of an ‘Immaculate Conception’, as the object of a special grace of God that made her in advance worthy of divine motherhood. The East did not follow that trend, because the consequences of the sin of Adam were seen as inherited mortality rater than as guilt, so that there was no need to see Mary in isolation from the common lot of the fallen humanity


            Sacramental Theology according to the Eastern Churches


            Being in Christ, participating in divine life, is essentially manifested in the sacraments. So sacraments are the acts in which God shares divine life with humanity.

1.Sacraments according to the Assyrian Church of the East.

            According to Abdisho (963-968) the sacraments are the means of divine life in us and as in the natural life there is birth, growth etc. so in the divine life in us. He gives a list of the sacraments:

1. The priesthood which is the ministry of all other sacraments.

2. .Holy Baptism.

3..The  oil of Unction.

4. Oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ.


6..The Holy Leaven.

7..The sign of Life-giving cross.

He also speaks of marriage as a sacred rite.

            About Baptism he says: “In order for a man to be, and to exist in the world, he must be born of a carnal mother through a carnal father….In like manner, in order to belong to the world of immortality it is necessary to be born of the spiritual womb of baptism. (cf.Abdisho of Soba or Nisibis, The Book of the Jewel, tr.G.P. Badger, The Nestorians and their rituals 1-11, London, 1852, pp.404-405.

Baptism as a sharing of Christ’s life and death, is given at the night of resurrection or Easter.

            By anointing with the sacred oil one participates Christ’s ministry and becomes temple of God. St.Ephrem says:

“In it a symbol of your bodies, by chrism they are sealed as holy and becomes temples  of God,where He shall  be served by your  sacrifices”.

Cf.St..Ephrem, Hymn of Epiphany, tr. Edward Johnson.

Rite of absolution fundamentally is a reconciliation with God and the Church. Marriage is not merely a marital relationship between husband and wife, but a realization of the link, spousal and everlasting, between Christ and the Church. It is not that Christ and the Church are the symbol of the Christian marriage, but on the contrary, marriage between Christians is an image of that of Christ and the Church (P.Yousif). According to St.Eprem Virginity is receiving Christ. She reserves herself to Christ as her spouse and carries Him in  her being also her child. Mary is the image. Holy Leaven and Sign of the cross. The former is used for the Eucharist and the latter keeps christains and realized the sacraments. Abdisho says: “The holy leaven is used as the spiritual food of the body of Christ. The sign of the Cross is that by which christains are ever kept, and by it the other sacraments are sealed and perfected.

The sacred orders. The consecration in the sacred orders is a spiritual habilitation to exercise a service. There is a variety of consecrations because of the variety of services.

And they are performed in the Church and for the Church.

The following are the different services and consecrations

Lectors-servants of the word

Subdeacons-servants of the house of God.

Deacons-sevants of the sacraments in the Church of God.

Priests-dispensers of the mysteries of sacraments

Bishops-pastor, father, guide

Patriarch-head of the shepherds.

From this it is clear that priestly ministry is constituted for three services which are correlated: altar, gospel, the people. The ministry in the church is for the benefit  of the members of the church. An ecclesiastical service has no meaning outside the communion of the church.

The basis of the ministry is the respective consecration or ordination. Jurisdiction is a consequence of  sacramental ordination and in some cases it may be revoked. No honorary or titular bishop exist.

Patriarch Timoty II (1318-1360) gave as seven sacraments:

i.Holy orders

ii.The consecration of a Church and Altar.

iii.Baptism and Holy oil (confirmation)

iv.The blessing of monks.

v.The office for the dead.

vi.The holy sacrament of the Body and Blood. Of Christ


Then he adds a supplenment: Indulgence or penance and the forgiving of sins. Mr.Badger says that they now generally allow 1.Orders 2.Baptism 3.The oil of unction, 4.the Oblation of the body and blood of Christ, 5.Absolution, 6.the Holy Leaven and 7.the sign of the cross. Putting these two lists together they have all seven sacraments.

The modern Nestorian does not confess his sins, because the clergy can not keep the seal. Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated only on Sundays and feast days and in the evening before Christmas Epiphany and Easter.

            The Nestorians emphasize the continuity of the Eucharist by the unity of bread used. Each time it is baked, it is leavened not only with some dough from the last baking but with a small portion of the holy leaven which has been handed on form age to age in each church. The baseless legend is that our Lord at the last supper gave an extra consecrated loaf to St.John who later mixed it with water that had fallen from Christ’s body at his baptism, and blood and water that flowed from his side at the crucifixion, The resulting dough was divided among the apostles and has been handed on by a process of leavening ever since. This leaven is renewed in every church by the addition of dough, salt and olive oil by a priest and deacon on every Holy Thursday. No liturgy may be celebrated without it and it is sometimes numbered among the sacraments. An embroidery of the legend is that the West anathematized  Nestorius because when fled from Constantionple he took all the holy leaven with him and left the rest of the world without it.

The Holy Apostles anaphora of the Nestorians misses the words of institution. It is said the omission in the manuscripts was made out of  respect for the holy words.

Nestorians receive Holy communion (only rarely) in both kinds separately, the celebrant ministering the Host, the deacon the chalice. As the Bl. Sacrament is not reserved  there is no provision for communion of the sick outside the liturgy.

            Confirmation was first confused with the baptismal rite followed immediately, and was then dropped altogether. Penance has gone out of use, except in the reconciliation of an apostate. Anointing of the sick does not exist. They have penitential seasons .In addition to seven weeks of lent there are other long and severe


Sacraments according to the Orthodox Church

Sacraments are sacred rites through which the grace of God is imparted in a hidden way. Here the mysterious character is emphasized. No ecumenical Council has determined the number of the sacraments. St. John the Demascus (675-749) recognized two sacraments only, Baptism with confirmation and the Eucharist.

Theodore of Studies (9-thc.) gives the list of six sacraments,

  1. The Holy Illumination
  2. The synaxis (Eucharist)
  3. The holy Chrism
  4. Ordination.
  5. Monastic tonsure.
  6. Service of Burial.

 The number seven appears for the first time in the profession of faith by emperor Michael Paleologus in 1267. It was prepared by the Latin theologians.

 After the Second Council of Lyons (1274) at which Orthodox  renewed its acquiantence with the West , the western usage of seven sacraments was normally adopted.

The Monk  Job  (13th c.) includes the tonsure of the monk, but combines penance and anointing of the sick.

Symeon of Thessalonica (5th c) also admits tonsure of the monk and classifies it together with penance. He considers anointing as a separate sacrament.

Josphat of Ephesus (5th c.) says: I believe that the sacraments of the church are not seven , but more , He gives a list of ten including the consecration of the church, the funeral service and monastic tonsure.

Obviously the Byzentine Church never committed itself formally to any specific list. Many authors accept the list of seven, while others give a longer list , still others emphasize only two, Baptism and Eucharist. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) proclaims that  “in these two our whole salvation is rooted, since the entire economy of true God –Man is recapitulated in them.

Baptism and Confirmation – are normally administerd  together.. Immediately the Eucharist is given.

Symeon of Thesselonica says  ‘If one does not receive the chrism he is not  perfectly baptised’.

Nicholas Cabsilas says ‘Baptism is nothing else but to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature ‘. The salutary day of baptism becomes a name day to christians, because then they are formed and shaped and our shapeless and undefined life receives shape and definition’. Births, new birth , refashioning and seal, as well as baptism cloth and anointing gift enlightening and washing –all signify this one thing that the rite is the beginning of existence for those who are and live in accordance with God.

  1. Baptism is a gift of God. It is not depending on the human choice, consent or even consciousness. “Just as in the case of physical birth, we do not even contribute willingness to all the blessings Derived from baptism”. So they do not have any doubt about the legitimacy of  infant baptism.
  2. Through bapism one becomes  theocentric. One recovers the original destiny which is eschatological and mysterious because it partakes the very mystery of God .
  3. Baptism is a beginning and a promise of a new life. It implies a free self- determination and growth. It does not suppress human freedom, but restores it to its original and natural form. In the case of infant baptism this restoraton is potential, but the sacrament always implies a call to freedom.
  4. Baptism is a liberation from the bonds of satan. It is signified by the exorcism before baptism.

There are numerous rites in Baptism.

1 Exorcism. The priest breathes thrice on the candidate and signs him with the sign of the cross. The devil is exorcized , partly through direct evocations;“satan, the Lord exorcizes thee get out hence ” and  partly through prayers that God  would drive out the evil spirit.

2 Renunciation. The candidate turns to the west, thrice exclaims: “I renounce thee ” and spits in token of his  aversion to the devil. Turning to the east , he  confesses Christ and ejaculates three times  “I surrender myself to Christ”.

3. The recitation of the Nicean Creed. In the case of an infant one of the godparents makes it.

4. The consecration of the baptismal water. The water is consecrated by the prayers of the priest who touches it  with the flat of his hand, and breathes upon it.

5. The anointing of the candidate with sacred oil.

  1. The baptism by three Immersions/sprinkling

                            Ways of prayer and contemplation in the East


.          Russian bishop Theophan of Recluse (1815-1864) says: “The principal thing is to stand before God with the intellect in the heart, and go on standing before him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life”. This reflects the understanding of prayer in Greek and Syrian writers of the first eleven centuries . It indicates three things:

  1. To pray is to stand before God. It is a meeting to face to face and one enters into a personal relationship with God. Here one needs not ask anything or speak in words, but silence is enough.
  2. To stand with the intellect in the heart. It means that the two faculties are to be united. Heart is the center where the created humanity is directly open to uncreated love.
  3. The attitude or relationship of standing before God is to be continued, i.e. unceasingly day and night until the end of life. St. Paul says: “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5,17). Prayer is not merely one activity among others, but the activity of our entire existence, a dimension present in everything else that we undertake.

Prayer is a direct encounter between living persons- God and man. So it cannot be restricted within precise rules, it should be free, spontaneous and unpredictable.  The Eastern writers do not offer any abstract theories or definitions about prayer and contemplation.

The two basic stages on the spiritual journey are the active life (praxis, praktike) and the contemplative life (theoria). Martha is treated as the symbol of active and Mary of the contemplative life (cf. Clement of Alexandria, Origen). In the Western thought the active life normally denotes members of religious orders engaged in teaching, preaching or social work, whereas the contemplative life refers to religious who live in enclosure. But in the East the terms apply to inner development, not to external situation: the active life means ascetic effort to acquire virtue and to master the passions, whereas the contemplative life signifies the vision of God. Thus according to this most hermits and enclosed religious are still struggling at the active stage, whereas a doctor or social worker may yet at the same time be pursuing the contemplative life, if he is practicing inner prayer and has attained silence of heart.

The contemplative life may be subdivided into contemplative life of mature and that of God. Thus there are three stages on the spiritual journey:

  1. The active life –parktike
  2. Contemplation of nature or natural contemplation (physike)
  3. Contemplation of God or vision of God (theoria, theologia –theology or gnosis –spiritual knowledge).

Origen speaks of these as ethics, physics and enoptics or mystical theology and he associates each stage with a particular book of Bible:

Ethics with Proverbs

Physics with Ecclesastes

Mystical theology with Song of Songs.

Evagrius of Pontus (346-399) gives an explanation of these three stages. The active life praktike begins with repentance which is understood not merely as sorrow for sin but as a change of mind (metanoia), a radical conversion, the re-centering of our entire  life upon God. With the help of God we should strive to overcome the deep-rooted passions. For Evagrius passion (pathos) signifies a disordered impulse, such as jealousy, lust, uncontrolled anger etc. that violently dominates the soul. So passions are seen as unnatural, intrinsically evil, a “disease” and thus it is not true part of our human personhood. But Theodret of Cyrus (393-466) regarded passion including sexual instinct, as impulses originally placed in humanity by God, essential to our survival and capable of being turned to good purposes. It is not passion as such, but its misuse that is sinful. Gregory of Palamas (1296-1359) adapted a similar view. He insisted that our aim is redirection of the passions and not their suppression or mortification, He even speaks of “divine and blessed passions”.

Evagrius gives the list of eight evil thoughts: gluttony, lust, avarice, dejection, anger, despondency (listlessness), vainglory, and pride. The christian is called to struggle not only against the passions but also against these thoughts (logismoi). Keeping watch over his heart and growing in self-awareness, one acquires nepsis (sobriety or watchfulness) and diakrisis (discernment or discrimination – the power to distinguish between good and evil thoughts). These qualities should be accompanied by penthos (inward “grief”), and katanyxis (compunction) together with the gift of tears. But tears are not only penitential. What begins as “bitter” tears of sorrow are gradually changed into “sweet” tears of gratitude and love. John Climacus (7th c.) speaks of this as “joy – creating sorrow”.

            For Evagrius  the final aim of the active life is to achieve apatheia (dispassion, freedom from passion). It is a state of reintegration and spiritual freedom. In the West it is rendered as puritas cordis – purity of  heart  (John Cassian)

The second stage is Physike, natural contemplation. It is to see God in all things and all things in God. It is to treat each thing as a sacrament, to view the whole of nature as God’s book: St. Antony’s words: ‘My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and it is ready at hand whenever I wish to read the words of God”. (Evagrius).

Evagrius divides physike into 1.first natural contemplation which is directed toward things non-material, toward the angelic realm of spiritual reality. An important aspect of physike is meditation on the inner meaning of Holy Scripture. 2. Second natural contemplation, its object is the physical world perceived by the bodily senses.

The third stage is “theoria” – contemplation of God. Here man no longer approaches the creator through the works of creation, but meets God directly, face to face, in an unmediated union of love. Since the deity is a mystery beyond words and understanding, it follows that in such contemplation the human mind has to rise above concepts, words and images- above the level of discursive thinking – so as to apprehend God intuitively through simple gazing or touching. The mind is to become “naked” passing beyond multiplicity to unity. Its goal is “pure prayer” prayer that is not only morally pure and  free from sinful thoughts but also intellectually pure and free from all thoughts.

 “Whenever you are praying, do not shape within yourself any image of the            Deity, and do not let your mind be stamped with the impress of any form: but approach the immaterial in an immaterial manner …Prayer means the shedding of thoughts … Blessed is the intellect that has acquired complete freedom from sensations during  prayer.  (Evagrius).

At the higher levels of contemplation, then awareness of the subject –object differentiation recedes, and in its place there is only a sense of all-embracing unity. “A monk’s prayer is not perfect if in the course of it he is aware of himself or of the fact that he is praying (words of St. Antony of Egypt in Conferences 9,31 by Cassian). “You are the music while the music lasts”(T.S. Eliot).

In this way the apophatic attitude is to be applied not only to theology but also to prayer. In the realm of prayer it means that the mind is to be stripped of all images and concepts, so as that our abstract concepts about God are replaced by the sense of God’s immediate presence. Accordingly St. Gregory of Nyssa gave a symbolical interpretation of the first commandment. He says that not only images of stone but also conceptual images that must be shattered. “Every concept grasped by the mind becomes an obstacle in their quest to those who search. Our aim is to attain, beyond all words and concepts, a certain sense of presence. The Bridegroom is present, but he is not seen”. This kind of presence of God is designated in Greek sources by the term hesychia, meaning tranquility and inner stillness (hence hesychasm and hesychast). Hesychia means   silence, not negatively in the sense of absence of speech, a pause between words, but positively in the sense of an  attitude of listening. It signifies plenitude, not emptiness; presence, not a void.

The Eastern writers do not exclude the imaginative meditation and many writers also recommended a detailed imaginative meditation upon the life of Christ and more especially, on the passion. E.g. Mark the Monk, Nicolas Cabasilas(14th c.) Peter of Damascus (11-12 c.). So imageless prayer and imaginative meditation are not mutually exclusive but complementary.

With regard to the faculty of the human person that apprehends God in contemplative prayer the Eastern writers are divided. Evagrius defined prayer “as the highest intellection of the intellect”. So the faculty for him is nous or intellect which is not the discursive reason but the direct understanding of spiritual truth through  intuition or inner sight. Other Greek Fathers regarded prayer as a function not so much of the nous as of the kardia or heart. Thus there two are schools: “intellectualists and affective”.

The Veneration of Mary in the Oriental Church

In the Oriental Church Mary is venerated in a very special way. The people  love her icons. In Russia before the revolution the liturgical calendar listed about 1000 Marian icons that were venerated under  diverse  titles, such as: “Our Consolation and Providence (Jan. 21), The Weeping (Feb. 1), Softening of hard hearts (Feb.2), Spiritual banner (Mar.3), Tenderness (Mar. 19), Fertile Mountain (Mar.24), Portress (June 23), Econom (July 5) New Heaven (Sept. 9) Giver of God (Oct .11) etc.

      Marian devotion was cultivated especially in monasteries among monks and woman religious, because they see in the most Pure the full realization of what is sought in monastic life. When we study Mariology of the Orient we have to consider three aspects which the monastic literature of the Orient has strongly emphasized : The ideal of the divinisation of the Christian , “ontological” sanctity, and liturgical piety .

1.The divinization of the Christian

    The Orientals concentrate their attention on the exemplarism by meditating on the signified in facts and things, for example they concentrate their attention not only on the fact that man was created, but rather on what follows in the biblical text: “in His image; in the divine image He created him (Gen. 1: 26- 27 ). The Occidentals look for the cause of events. They begin with the fundamental affirmation that man was created by God and from this they draw consequences . (Spiritual exercise of St. Ignatius Loyola).

     Origen and others (Oriental Tradition) distinguish the two terms: image and likeness. The image is nothing less than an initial divinization: the scope is to become as like to God as possible. This ascent from image to likeness will be completed in the glory of the resurrected bodies (Jn. 3:2) and in conformity with the prayer of Christ (Jn. 17:21), in unity.

Mariology in the Orient is based on this patristic teaching: Image and Likeness.  Demetrio de Rostov, Ukranian Bishop, venerated as a saint, (1651-1709), in his treaties Sull’imagine di Dio e sulla somiglianza con l’ uomo says: “image and likeness do not exist in the body but in the soul and this admits degrees just as perfection does”. In the Slavic language a monk considered as a saint was called very similar to God; and the mother of God was venerated as the most similar. Three degrees, therefore, may be established: the christian is like God (podoben), the monk is more like (prepodebnyj) and Mary is most like to God (prepodebnejsaja). According to this, teaching of Orientals on Mary is not an independent dogma but it remains inherent in the same entire christian teaching as an anthropological leitmotiv (V.Lossky). Therefore Mary is venerated based on the doctrine of divinization. Mary is glorified because God divinizes her. The divinization of man corresponds to the interior logic of the humanization of God. It is a mysterious exchange in which “ each made his own the properties of the other”. The Russian icons teach this doctrine. The red color is the symbol of divine and blue, the human. As a consequence Christ is clothed in red and with a blue mantle. The inner dress of Mary is blue but covered with a red mantle. God became man in order that man might become divine. The mantle almost covers Mary in as much as she is entirely divinized, full of Grace.

2. Mary an Example of Ontological Sanctity

One of the important characteristics of Oriental spirituality is ontological sanctity. It is the consequence of the first aspect, of divinization. Man is adjudged spiritual not only according to his moral actions, since these are only exterior manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christian life is a transformation of the soul and of the body, their introduction into the sphere of the spirit, in other words this spiritualization of the soul and of the body (Teofane il Recluso, Russian author, (+1894).

In Mary- full of Grace- the ontological presence and the effects of the Spirit manifest themselves in a very particular manner. This Spirit is the sanctifier. “Mary, the All- Holy has summed up the sanctity of the Church, all the sanctity possible for a creature” ( V. Lossky ).

Between the spiritual man and the Holy Spirit there must be a most intimate union so that they form a “mixture”. St. Basil calls the Spirit our “form”. According to Teofane il Recluse the Spirit is the “ soul of our soul”. The Orientals do not speak of “sanctifying grace” but of the Holy Spirit in person. How then can the two persons, even though on such a different level the one a divine person, the other human , become “only one thing”? (Jn.17: 21). This is the reply: the three Divine Persons are united in one “nature”. Nature is the principle of operation. Men “made to participate in the divine nature” (2Pet.1:4 ) , unite with the Holy Spirit in one common operation : Synergeia

The best example of synergeia with the Holy Spirit is the divine maternity. Evdokimov says:To be born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin signifies for the Fathers the mystery of the second birth of every one of the faithful ex fide et Spiritu Sancto. The faith of the each of the faithful is rooted in the act of the Virgin, which has universal value, in her fiat. The annunciation, defined as the “feast of the root’’(St. John Crysostom) inaugurates a new age: the economy of salvation traces back to its Mariological roots and Mariology appears as an organic part of Christology. To the fiat of the Creator corresponds the fiat of the creature.

Ontologically the divine-human synergy is certain with the certitude of faith. Holy Spirit is the enlightener. Mary. Full of the Spirit. must therefore, have an entirely special enlightenment. In the West, Mary is presented as an example of external works whereas in the orient she is the sublime example of contemplation.

Contemplation is essentially the search of the mystery hidden either in the scriptures or in the created world, to discover Christ in the text of the Law and of the prophets and in the visible flesh of His humanity. This aspect is applied to Mary (Origen). The theme of contemplation recurs frequently in the texts for the Marian feasts celebrated in the monasteries with great splendor. Eg. Feast of the presentation of Mary in the temple. According to a legend, Mary dedicated herself in the temple to the weaving of the tabernacle veil. This texture recalls the “veil of the humanity of Christ” which reveals and conceals the Logos, symbol used already by Origen. The temple dwelling of God, refers to mystical steps to arrive at the “place of God” in the highest contemplation. There is a difference between Latin and Oriental spirituality. The adorations of holy hour propose to console the suffering Christ. The iconographical motive is different in the Orient: here we see Christ directing to his mother the words of consolation: “do not weep for me, Mother”. He helps her to overcome the temptation to see pain with purely human eyes and to ascend to the height of contemplation and enlightenment; to see the divine significance of the Cross.

In contemplation, on one aspect man contemplates God. But there is another aspect: man is created also to make God resplendent, so that God may be contemplated in him, in the likeness of the Son Who is both Contemplator and Revealer. In this sense Mary, the one most similar to God is most resplendent and the ideal of beauty. The Syrian poet James Sarug (+521) says: Love moves me to speak of her, who is beautiful / the sublimity of the discourse about her is greater than I, what shall I do? Only love when it speaks, does not fail, because lovable is her excellence/ and to me who listens she grants riches.

According to the Fathers man contemplates God according to the degree of his own purity. From ancient times Mary is called “the most pure”. In fact the Holy Spirit gives man perfect purity. This is realized in Mary Lossky says She represents the peak of sanctity She is without sin under the universal dominion of sin … sin could never have existed in Her”.

The activity of the Holy Spirit is vivifying, who gives life. It follows that participation in eternal life corresponds to the degree of participation in the Holy Spirit. The Mariological conclusion in this sense is twofold: 1. The Mother of God receives eternal life in fullness, the final perfection of creation, therefore assumed into heaven, 2. She receives fertility that she too might be a giver of life, mother of all the christians, of the Church. Mary receives the Holy Spirit together with the apostles gathered together in the cenacle the day of Pentecost at the foundation of the Church. From that moment her maternity becomes perfect, developed in the ecclesiastical dimension, as spiritual maternity, which in the Assumption becomes heavenly alongside the celestial paternity of the Father of all goodness.

3. Mary in the Oriental Liturgical cult.

In Orient liturgy is a solemn common prayer. Teofane ill Recluso says: ‘The church celebrates the rites, and when we assist, we unite ourselves with the church and participate in her grace. Whoever stays away from the exterior ceremonies stays away from the prayer of the church, deprives himself of the great promise of the Saviour,: where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst (Mt. 18,20)

The Oriental liturgy reviews mysteriously the work of salvation. The center of the mystery of salvation is the encounter of the Son of the eternal God with humanity. On the feast of Christmas the Byzantine liturgy affirms: He comes forth from the Father and the Immaculate Virgin offers Him humanity as a new paradise for a new Adam. “What shall we offer You, O Christ, since You are born on earth as a man? Every creature, which is Your work, in fact testifies its gratitude: the angels their song, the heavens the stars, the magi their gifts, the shepherds their admiration, the earth the grotto, the deserted place the crib, but we men, we offer You a Virgin Mother. This shows that the Marian aspect is contained in the feasts, which commemorate the life of Jesus, especially the feast of Christmas. But from the 4th century certain specifically Marian feasts began to appear. The Nestorians celebrated three days in her honor The Syrian monophysites venerate Mother of God on the fifteenth, the Copts on the twenty-first day of each month. In the Ethiopian church the Aganoma Miriam (the harp of Mary )is a panegyric of the Mother of God for every day of the week in the form of scriptural paraphrases. There are beatitudes: “blessed is he who at dawn turns toward you and knocks at the door of your palace. Blessed is he who is touched by your power of your love and always sings the praises of your glory. Blessed is he who always has on his tongue the mention of your name and never ceases to celebrate your majesty.

In the Byzantine liturgy there is a famous hymn, Akathistos which is sung standing because out of reverence (no title, no author of 4th 5th Century) It consists of 24 strophes, one for each letter of the Greek alphabet. The uneven strophes are to praise Virgin Mother and even strophes are like pauses for contemplation of the mystery of Incarnation.

Hail, O Tabernacle of the word of God,

Hail, greater than the Holy of Holies,

Hail, beloved ark of the spirit,

Hail, inexhaustible treasure of Life,

Hail, precious diadem of the holy sovereigns,

Hail, Thou noble bost of devout priests,

Hail, Thou art for the Church a powerful tower,

Hail, Thou art for the Empire a fortress wall”. In the central apse of the Byzantine church there is the icon of Theotokos (Mother of God) either as praying or as an indestructible wall. She is the earthly church which guides all men to unite them in the body of Christ.

Oriental Lumen

Apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II on 2 May 1995 on the occasion of the centenary of Orientalium Dignitas of Leo XII. The pope says that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Churches. The Eastern Christians should aware of their tradition. The Latin’s should have a passionate longing for them. All should know that catholicity of the Church is not expressed in a single tradition.

Jerusalem was the center from which Gospel was preached to all nations. Saints Cyril and Methodius are the apostles of the unity of the East and West.

Pope says that now there is a cry for unity of the churches. We cannot come before Christ as divided. The divisions must give way to rapproachement and harmony: the wounds on the path of Christian unity must be healed.

Knowing the Christian East , experience of faith.

The East and the West used different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing divine things. It is possible that one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of mystery of revelation than the other or has expressed them better. So they are complementary than conflicting.

The Christian East has a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the church was born. The Christian tradition of the East implies a way of accepting, understanding and living faith in Jesus. In this sense it is extremely close to the Christian tradition of the West, which is born of and nourished by the same faith. Yet it is legitimately and admirably distinguished from the latter, since Eastern Churches have their own way of perceiving and understanding and thus an original way of living their relationship with the Saviour.

From the beginning the Christian East assumed the characteristics and features of each particular community. So there is a variety of traditions and features of the spiritual and theological traditions. These features describe the Eastern outlook of the Christian. His/her goal is the participation in the divine nature through communion with the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Eastern Eucharistic Theology


The Eucharist is the means by which one affirmed his membership in the Church and experienced it For, the experience of the liturgy is precisely the experience of Christianity and then it becomes the very possibility and source for the knowledge of God and participation in divine life itself. This is the meaning of Easter concept of theosis or divinization and liturgy was perceived as its most perfect expression and realization. This is also why theology Himself y and liturgy remain so closely linked in the East, for one is not considered possible without the other.

            The process of divinization fulfils itself in the Eucharist which is a real participation in the glorified body of Christ. The Fathers of the Church see the Eucharistic elements in very realistic terms. Communion is the source of both immortality and unity and it is essential for christian life.

            St. Basil exhorts to partake of the body and blood of Christ. He communicated four times a week Lord’s Day, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and on other days if there was Mass.

            In the course of time there came change in the Eucharistic theology and practice. The preachers stressed the elements of fear and awe with regard to the Eucharist. The faithful then responded by abandoning communion.  The community was split into a communicating elite and the majority of others. Thus the reception of communion became an act of personal devotion.  The traditional notion of Eucharist as a meal, as fellowship, was replaced by a different understanding without active participation.

            New approaches to the Eucharist were taken due to the social changes and theological debates. The Orthodox gave a new emphasis on the preexisting divinity of Christ against Arianism. They also leveled the doxological formula (to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit), and stressed the two natures formula against Subordinationism and Adoptionism. The Alexandrian and Anthiochean schools had different approaches. The Alexandrian school stressed the analogical or spiritual sense of the scripture. The Antiochean School stressed the literal and historical sense. For the Antiocheans, Eucharist is an imitation (mimesis) or memorial (anamnesis) of the saving acts of Christ’s life and the anticipation of the heavenly liturgy. ( Cf. Theodore of Mopusuetia, Catechetical Homily, 15,20.)

            On this point (Eucharist piety) there is a contrast between East and West. The Latin practice of the veneration of the Host is an expression, on the level of spirituality, of the doctrine of transubstantiation. In the East Eucharistic mystery was not considered in isolation from the Christological facts. The transfiguration of the body of Christ, the change which occurred in it after the resurrection, and which,, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is also at work in the entire body of the baptized faithful that is the total Christ.

            To designate Eucharist the theologians used these terms:

  1. metabole =change
  2. metastoicheiosis = transelementation
  3. metarrythmesis = change of order
  4. metamorphosis= transfiguration

These reflect salvation in Christ of the entire people of God.

            The Eucharistic prayers or canons of the East and the West have several common features and show the ecclesial and Christological dimension.

  1. They are prayers of the community formulated in the first person plural. It shows that communion with Christ is not a matter of individual piety, but of joining together within his single body.
  2. They are addressed to the Father, by an assembly of the baptized persons, who, in virtue of their baptism are already “in Christ”. The catechumens, excommunicated penitents are excluded. Prayers are answered because Christ offers to the Father through and in the assembly and the community as “royal priesthood” and adopted children in Christ participate. Christ is the one who offers and is offered, who receives and is received (Liturgy .of Basil and Chrysostom) but they are inseparable from Him. (cf.Gal.3.27;4.6).
  3. In the Eastern Eucharistic canons, the invocation of the Spirit  (epiclesis) is not an invocation on the bread and wine only, but also on the assembly and the elements. Because bread and wine are not the elements to be transformed independently of the gathered community.

In Christological terms the Eucharistic action implies that (i) the Son of God brings the assumed human nature to His Father in a sacrifice offered once for all.

(ii) Those who have received the same glorified nature by adoption (thesei) or by grace (chariti) are jointing that one High Priest through the power of the Spirit who anointed him as Christ. The same Spirit anoints all the faithful within the communion of the Body of Christ.

Different views on the sacrifice of Eucharist

  1. West- Atonement. The sacrifice on the cross, because He was God, was sufficient before God to atone for the sins of all. In this view, God and creation remain naturally external to one another and the work of Christ is seen as a satisfaction of an abstract notion of divine justice.
  2. East- Restoration.  as an act of divine forgiveness. Redemption was conceived not as an exchange but as a reconciliation and an act of divine forgiveness (Nicholas of Methone). God did not receive something form us … we did not go to him (to make an offering ) but he condescended toward us and assumed our nature, no as a condition of reconciliation, but in order to meet us openly in the flesh.

Golgotha is not simply the price, but only the ultimate point of God’s identification with the fallen humanity, which is followed by the resurrection and is part of entire economy or plan of salvation. The Byzantine Synodikon of Orthodoxy (a solemn annual doctrinal declaration ) affirms that Christ reconciled us to Himself by means of the whole mystery of the economy and by Himself and in Himself reconciled us to His  Father and to the most Holy and life giving Spirit. Christ’s  sacrifice is unique because it is not an isolated action but the culminating point of an economy that includes the OT preparation, the incarnation, the death, resurrection and presence of the Holy Christ in the Church.

            The new life brought by Christ is offered freely, but it must be freely received through personal conversion and appropriated through personal ascetical effort. Eastern monasticism insisted on this personal dimension of christian experience. In this sense we have to understand the doctrine of deification.

 Eastern Liturgical Theology


In 988 when the ambassadors of Prince Vladimir of Kiev attended the liturgy at Hagia Sophia, said that they did not know whether they were “still on earth or in heaven”. This is an apt illustration of the influence of liturgy in the Eastern Churches.  For the experience of the liturgy was precisely the experience of the Christianity and thus it became the very possibility and source for the knowledge of God and for participation in divine life itself. This is the meaning of Eastern concept of theosis, or divinization, and liturgy was perceived as its most perfect expression and realization. This is also why liturgy and theology remain so closely linked in the East, for one is not considered possible without the other. Baptism and Eucharist are the source and summit of the Christian life. Baptism is the  means by which one is made a member of the Church. The Eucharist is the means by which one affirms  this membership and experiences it.


In the East the unitive aspect of the sacrament is stressed. The rites of initiation comprising Baptism, Chrismation (confirmation) and Eucharist are seen as one continuous action. Initiation marks the entrance of the Body of Christ and its culmination is the sharing of Eucharistic banquet which is open to all the baptized including the infants. In the East these actions remain inseparable.

During the first centuries East and West followed divergent practices in the rite itself. The Early Western practice consisted of water baptism, anointing with oil, and the laying on of hands. In the East, the order was reversed and anointing often preceded baptism: (cf. Acts of Judas Thomas – 3c, Didaschalia – 3c The Syriac acts of John – early 4c.) There is reference to the prebaptismal anointing in the  Acts of the Apostles, 10,44-48; 9, 17-18.

So there was divergence in practice, but it did not create any difficulty, for as long as the unity of the rite was maintained it mattered little how the various elements were distributed through the actual rites.

In the East before 4th c. baptism was seen primarily as a reenactment of Christ’s baptism in Jordan. The font is called the womb out of which a new  person emerges, the son of God. (cf. Didaschalia Apostolorum p.352). “Through the bishop the Lord gives the Holy spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we know God and are sealed and  becomes sons of light. Through baptism and by imposition of hand of the bishop the Lord says; Thou art my son, this day I have begotten you”.Baptism bringers forth of the new man and establisher of the new man in the Trinity {Acts of Thomas}.Theodore of Mopsuetia speaks of baptismal font the womb which introduces the Christian in the new life.

After the victory of the church (313) there was a massive influx of new members into the church and there were several theological disputes. These exercised significant influence both on the rites and especially on the theology behind them. The church had to adapt to these new conditions, to provide her new members with proper teaching and to develop adequate rites and explanations.

The process of the historicization of the Liturgy was felt most strongly in Jerusalem. Churches were built in Holy places. And they became centres of the pilgrimage. The liturgies especially of the Holy Week became largely a reenactment of the Gospel events with colorful procession. This type of stational liturgy had a powerful effect on witnesses and the liturgies of Rome and Constantinople soon patterned after it. The calendar, particularly the cycle of fixed feasts, owes much of its development to this phenomenon of historicization. This also marks a shift from a primarily eschatological emphasis in feasts to a more historical one.

The historicizing trend strongly influenced the understanding of baptism. The baptismal rite with its procession to the font, triple immersion and emersion, began to be interpreted as the reenactment of the death and resurrection of Christ basing on  Rom, 6. St.Cyril of Jerusalem applied this theology to the liturgical ceremony in Jerusalem:

          Movement to the font – Procession bearing the body of Christ to the tomb.

           Triple immersion – three days sojourn in then grave.

           The emerging from the pool –sign of resurrection.

Thus our baptism is an imitation (mimesis) of Christ’s suffering in figure. This historicizing trend is also seen in Ambrose, Chrysostom and  Theodore of Mopsuetia.

This was also part of the response by the Church to the massive influx of new members, to whom the mystery of Christ had to be explained in an attractive and  dramatic fashion. It was also to stress the historical basis of Christianity. This approach was pastoral rather than systematic accordjing to the need of the people

               . These factors led in the 4th century to the development of a new type of literature – catechetical literature. This was made necessary by the large number of converts who had to go through a period of preparation. The final stage of this period   (catechumanate ) took place during Lent. This consisted of fasting, exorcisms, reading of scripture and instruction. At the Easter vigil baptism took place. Then neophytes participated the Eucharist at the Constantine – Bascilica. During the Octave of Easter they had to assemble everyday to hear the explanations of the mysteries.

Several conclusions  can be drawn from this:

  1. the message of Christianity was revealed in a liturgical context – a characteristic of  Eastern Churches also today.
  2. scripture was read and explained in a liturgical context.
  3. the experience of liturgy, of baptism, of Eucharist, preceded any explanation of them. The liturgical rites existed before their explanations. They are secondary, and can be changed to accommodate the pastoral and polemical needs of each age.

The great catechists applied the method of scriptural exegesis to the liturgy especially to the visible actions of the rite. From the time of Origen the two types/senses of Scripture were referred  to : 1.literal or historical

                                            2.spiritual, mystical or allegorical

Later spiritual sense was subdivided into three aspects :

                                            1. allegorical – dogmatic aspect

                                            2. tropological – moral and spiritual aspect.

                                            3. anagogical – eschatological aspect.

From 4th century this became the traditional method in the East. In Cyril’s description of the stripping of candidate before baptism we can see how this method is applied to the baptismal rite – putting off of the old man with his deeds – it provides the tropological or moral level. Nakedness of Christ on the cross – allegorical or dogmatic sense.

This method was useful and attractive but also has dangers particularly when the individual elements of a rite begin to be seen in isolation from the rites as a whole, which does happen later.

After 4th C. we find little literature on Baptism because of child baptism. Hence the need for baptismal catechism declined and the catechumanate disappeared. The result, in both East and West, was that baptism began to be taken for granted and thus began to use its prominent position in the theology of the church. In this period there began the difference in approach to the rites of initiation between East and West.

Under St. Augustine’s influence the West began to understand baptism chiefly as the remission of sins. Thus the theology of baptism became primarily negative. The child was considered guilty and need palliative baptism. When confirmation was reserved to the bishop, the rite of initiation was split into distant elements. This, in turn, led to the withholding of the Eucharist from children until after t hey completed the process of initiation.

The East saw the consequences of original sin not as guilt but as mortality. Guilt is only acquired through the personal exercise of a free will through personal sin. So for the East baptism is not a remission from the guilt, but liberation from mortality and incorporation into the life of the Church. This is eminently positive theology. St John. Chrysostom  ( Baptismal catechesis 3,5-6.) says: “The baptized is free person, citizen of the church; saint, just, son, heir, brother of Christ, and coheir of Christ, member, temple, and instrument of the Holy Spirit”. The baptized person is called to theosis – deification – participation in the divine life itself.

The Apostolic Constitution (380) makes no mention of original sin, but places strong emphasis on good christian education and formation. Baptism is a free gift, a promise of a new life, and does not depend on human choice. So the baptismal formula in the East is in deprecatory form  – the servant of God…. This indicates that baptism comes from divine initiative to which the christian is in turn called to respond.

The East sees baptism as a Trinitarian act. It is the gift of the Son, by the Father, made effective by the Holy Spirit. .eg. Trinitarian formula. The prayers for consecration of water and chrism are strongly epicletic – asking Father to send down the Holy Spirit. The baptized like Christ in the Jordan, are anointed by and with the Holy Spirit. Joined to Christ and filled with the Spirit, the christian begins the process of human divinization.


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