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Anglican and Oriental Orthodox Ecumenism

Anglican - Oriental Orthodox International Commission
Members of the Anglican – Oriental Orthodox International Commission outside St Asaph Cathedral, Wales.
Photo Credit: Nathaniel Ramanaden

The agreement from a recent meeting of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC), Christology – Agreed Statement by the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission, heals the centuries-old split between the Anglican churches within the family of Chalcedonian Churches and the non-Chalcedonian churches over the incarnation of Christ. I highly recommend that you read it.

Both families of churches accept the first three church councils: The First Council of Nicaea (325), The First Council of Constantinople (381), The Council of Ephesus (431). The fourth council, The Council of Chalcedon (451), is in dispute. Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Malankara Syrian (Indian Orthodox Church) and Armenian Apostolic churches do not accept it.

The Council of Chalcedon debated subtle distinctions about the divinity and humanity of Jesus. And how these relate. As often happens, the issues are confused by language and different understanding of words and terms.

The Commission will meet again next year to continue dialogue about the Holy Spirit.

Anglicans encouraged to drop filioque from Creed

At this recent meeting of AOOIC, yet once again Anglicans were encouraged to drop filioque (“and the Son”) which was not in the original but added later, unecumenically, to the The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (usually referred to as the Nicene Creed). Over and over again, Anglicans have been urging ourselves (including several times at Lambeth Conferences) to go back to the original creed (without the filioque addition). Some Anglican provinces (Canada springs immediately to mind) have restored the creed as it was originally agreed (as recited here together by Benedict XVI, Patriarch of the West, and Bartholemew I, Ecumencial Patriarch of Constantinople).

NZ Anglicanism is in a very peculiar position (surprise!). There is no requirement in our Prayer Book (other than at ordinations) to recite the Nicene Creed. If, at the Eucharist, a community wishes to put a creedal statement before or after the sermon, there is no indication what that creed must be. Several are provided in the Prayer Book. I regularly encounter home-grown “creeds” or ones drawn from other sources. (This often happens in communities that use overhead projection, and it is exhilarating not knowing what the community is about to loudly declare their faith in on the next slide…) There is no reason, if a creed is being used by a community, why it would not be the original Nicene Creed (ie. without the filioque “and the Son”).

But wait! There’s more!

I was present, as an interested observer, at the General Synod that decided (line by line) on the Prayer Book’s content. I had no speaking or voting rights. The Prayer Book Commission had presented a text of the Eucharist with, at the point of the creed, a discussion draft of the Nicene Creed by the International Consultation on English Texts. This “discussion creed” was accepted by General Synod. When, in a break in proceedings, I pointed out to Commission members that this was only at discussion stage and there should be some mechanism to ensure the ecumenically-agreed final English text be in our Prayer Book, I was assured they knew what they were doing. The text before General Synod, they said, was only a place holder. They were convinced that when the Prayer Book came out it in print it would have the ecumenically agreed final text. Well – no prizes for who was correct: NZ Anglicans recite an English-language creed not used by anyone else!

More on the filioque:
And the Son
Filioque
Churches in communion with Rome which leave out the filioque

I am in favour of not using the creed in worship and, if it is used, of leaving out the filioque:
Don’t use the creed in worship
Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)
Don’t use the creed in worship (part 3)

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17 Responses to Anglican and Oriental Orthodox Ecumenism

  1. Is the upshot that we westerners can go on firmly believing that filioque is true and in principle should be there, but we agree not to make that belief a barrier to fellowship with those from the east?

    • If I understand you correctly, Trevor, I think we are on the same page. I think the Nicene Creed is an historic document we should not tinker with. Those who hold to “and the Son” are still included in the original. Just like saying “Jim and Mary were at the concert” is not contradicted by “Jim was at the concert”. However it doesn’t work the other way. Blessings.

  2. We recite the creed often in my church without any discussion whatsoever of its tenets, merits, or necessity.

    Unfortunately, there are number of things in the creed that make me feel personally uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I enjoy the corporate nature of reciting a memorized and beloved (if theologically fuzzy) prayer. So my personal solution is to insert an unspoken quotation mark at the beginning and again at the end. So as I speak the words of the creed along with others in group worship situations, I feel I am merely reciting a poem, or a psalm, or a chant.

    I don’t mean this to be disrespectful. To the contrary, I just want to enjoy the experience despite any personal interpretations I might have that differ with the views of others.

    • All that makes sense to me, thanks, Jonathan. Except I don’t think it is a prayer. I understand it can be said prayerfully. And I suppose one could be telling God what we believe – if God needs clarifying of this 😉 Blessings.

    • Agreed. For me, “We believe . . .” means something like, “We belong to a community that has historically affirmed that. . . .”

  3. I don’t understand the whole post. What words are we not saying, why not, and who has the power to dictate what we may and may not say? I’d like to know what is so great about Neo-Platonic virginity, the Virgin Birth, the Roman doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the alleged perpetual virginity of Jesus. I do not like the incursions that Neo-Platonism made on the early Church. If you look at the theology of St. Paul, you will find that it fell by the wayside and was eclipsed by the Greco-Roman theology of Constantine’s time.

    • Thanks, Margot. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is a statement from the First Council of Constantinople (381). It does not include the words “and the Son”. I am in favour of not using the Creed at worship – but if you do use it, let’s use it as it was originally composed rather than adding words that the Eastern half of Christianity has not agreed to. I don’t know what in the post meant that you did not understand the whole of it. I added links for anyone, like you, who wants to explore further. Does that help? Blessings.

  4. Bosco, you might be interested in a one-day symposium we recently had here in Toronto on “Healing Chalcedon,” with Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Anglican speakers (including me, at the very end, spouting my usual reactionary nonsense). The talks (unfortunately with very scratchy audio) are all online here:

    http://www.trinityorthodox.ca/event/trinity-college-symposium-healing-chalcedon

    I myself pray the Nicene Creed the same way the pope does: with whatever (authorized) text is in front of me. In Latin, with filioque. In Greek, without. In the classical BCP, with. In modern Canadian revisions, without.

    From a Roman perspective, the filioque has ecumenical standing: it was approved at the Council of Florence in 1439, with the concurrence of the Eastern delegates in attendance. (Yes, they couldn’t sell it back in Constantinople. But that wasn’t Rome’s fault — if you don’t count the Fourth Crusade.)

    Our symposium actually made me think that the debate over the filioque is an unnecessary distraction. If Eastern/Oriental reunion will be possible without the Easterns having to disavow Chalcedon (or all the other councils that followed), I don’t see why the filioque shouldn’t get a similar exemption. Anglicans have professed the double-procession of the Spirit sinceat least the Council of Hatfield in 679, which was presided over by a Greek-speaking Archbishop of Canterbury.

    • You and I, both, Claudia! This is one of the first divisions in Christian history. And we can learn from the healing that the division was more about not listening to each other deeply, respectfully, carefully. So not only is that particular rift healing but, if we are willing to pay attention, we may have a model for reconciling other divisions – even ones coming into existence in our own day. Blessings.

  5. Hi Bosco,
    A few points from an Anglican in the Diocese of Egypt & North Africa, which is home to the Coptic Orthodox church.
    – The Anglican Church here uses the version of the creed without the filioque already.
    – If I go to a Coptic Orthodox service, there is almost nothing familiar to me. The things that are familiar are the Bible readings, the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed. Reciting the Nicene Creed brings a real sense of unity with the Orthodox, the majority denomination in this region.
    – As important as ecumenical statements are to promote unity, the reality here is that most disagreements relate to church buildings, accusations of stealing each other’s members, recognition of marriages and baptisms, etc. It’s important to agree on theology but we need on the ground fellowship and love.
    – In terms of theological disagreements, the filioque is a speck in our eyes when we should be focusing on the logs of salvation, discipleship, evangelism, authority and prayer. Maybe it’s better to take small steps first but it seems strange to change the filioque when there are so many fundamentals we understand differently. I note the Orthodox have not taken any similar steps to accomodate Anglican beliefs, e.g. recognise our bishops, priests and deacons as validly ordained, share in communion with us.

    Best wishes,
    Andrew

    • Thanks, Andrew. I think you are saying similar things to what Jesse said and helpfully putting the filioque into a wider picture. From your description might we Anglicans be treating others the way we would wish to be treated? Blessings.

  6. Hi,
    The Church of Ceylon dropped the Filioque from its Liturgy and included the corporate ‘We’ since 1988, on a Resolution of the Lambeth Conference ( I think in 1978 ). Although the currently authorized 2013 Eucharistic Liturgy has an Affirmation of Faith , many parishes continue to use the 381 AD N-C Creed in the ELLC version.
    The Malabar Orthodox were the first Christians in Sri Lanka in the 6th Century though they do not exist here anymore except for a few Indian residents. This historical precedent has influenced our Anglican liturgy since 1938 with a complete Eucharistic Prayer including the Epiclesis. Recently a Bishop and Presbyters from the Malabar Syrian Orthodox Church of India visited Sri Lanka and celebrated the Holy Qurbana in an Anglican Church, something they have done since the 1930s.The reformed Mar Thoma Church sends its Bishops for all Anglican Episcopal Ordinations in Sri Lanka.
    Let’s stick to the original credal statement of the 381 AD Council.
    Francis Wickremesinghe
    Lay Chair of the Church of Ceylon Liturgical Committee

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