His Holiness Pope Shenouda III
His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I
The Oriental Orthodox Churches
Those of the Alexandrian Christological Tradition
In 451 Pope St. Leo of Rome sent legates into the city of Chalcedon with orders to issue his Tome and allow no compromise regarding
its complete acceptance.  The Pope knew the Emperor would accept nothing short of a united Church and an end to the controversy
plaguing the empire.  The council of bishops assembled there had an ultimatum:  accept the
Tome without debate or face the prospects of
a divided Church.  This Council was called in reaction to a previous Council of Ephesus (449) which had one-sidedly denounced the
adherents of the Antiochian Christological tradition.  Thus the bishops at Chalcedon welcomed Rome's ultimatum and support.  Yet a third
of the Church did not yield under Roman and Imperial pressure.
These Churches were committed to the Alexandrian Christological tradition which was affirmed at the Council of Ephesus (431), the
Third Ecumenical Council.  The
Tome of Pope Leo sought to re-affirm the Antiochian Christological tradition which had been brought into
question because of Nestorianism.  Whereas the Antiochian school of Christology emphasized a distinction between Christ's divinity and
humanity, the Alexandrian school emphasized the complete and perfect unity of divinity and humanity in one composite nature (physis)
and person (hypostasis) of God the Word.  
Pope Leo's support of the new theological formula of "two natures" was considered a novelty by these Oriental Churches and an offence
to the Church's Christology as taught by St. Cyril of Alexandria and affirmed by the Council at Ephesus (431).  Questions also arose due
to the fact that Nestorians were claiming victory as a result of Leo's
Tome and the Chalcedonian definition.  Although the next two
Councils (Constantinople II and III) sought to establish a balance between Ephesus and Chalcedon, agreement could not be reached with
these Oriental Churches.  The ensuing political intrigues which followed, including regrettable actions by both sides, solidified divisions
between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches, consisting today of the Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, Indian, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Churches, did not
accept the Cousncil of Chalcedon but upheld the first three Ecumenical Councils.  They, in turn, were accused of following the heresy of
Monophysitism.  Monophysites taught that Christ is solely Divine and His humanity was "swallowed up" by His Divinity.  Oriental
Orthodox are instead
Miaphysites following St. Cyril of Alexandria (and St. Athanasius the Great before him) who taught the "one nature
mia physis) of God the Word incarnate."  While the prefix "mono" can be understood as connoting numerical oneness, "mia" can convey
the idea of
composite or unified oneness.  The Byzantine and Latin Churches accepted the Chalcedonian definition and the three Councils
which followed.  
Because the word "nature," is understood differently in these respective traditions, Orthodox teach that Christ is "in two natures."  
Oriental Orthodox teach that Christ has one composite nature (Divine & human) "
from two natures."  Through this great above-mentioned
controversy a
Christology of Synthesis arose in Constantinople and became known as Neo-Chalcedonian Christology.  These insights in
Christology were confirmed by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553), accepted by all Orthodox and did much to bridge the gap in
Christology between the Eastern Churches (for more info see my Master's Thesis:
 The Neo-Chalcedonian Christology of the Fifth
Ecumenical Council and It's Importance for the Church Today
).  The Fifth Ecumenical Council, among other things, affirmed that the
"one nature" formula of St. Cyril of Alexandria remained Orthodox if understood correctly (Constantinople II, Canon VIII).
Today, the culmination of 1500 years of theological dialogue and exchange between these ancient Churches has manifested that the two
respective Christologies, if properly understood, can be recognized as equally Orthodox and compatible.  Both Christological schools have
always agreed that our Lord's true Divinity and real humanity are united fully "without confusion, change, separation or division."  This
1500 year old schism between these Churches has been recognized as theologically settled by theologians of our day in the landmark
Agreed Statement on Christology where Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches stated together:

"We have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological
faith, and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they have used Christological terms in different ways.  It is this
common faith and continuous loyalty to the Apostolic Tradition that should be the basis for our unity and communion."

There have also been significant joint Christological Statements between the Latin Church and many of the Oriental Orthodox Churches
(see below) as they have also worked towards restoration of unity.  This rediscovered unanimity in faith was recognized long ago by the
12th century Armenian Catholicos-Patriarch,
St. Nersess the Grace-filled, who wrote in his Pontifical Letter, "If one says 'one nature' in
the sense of the indissoluble and indivisible union and not in the sense of confusion, and if one says 't
wo natures' as being without
confusion, alteration or signifying division, then both positions are within the orbit of Orthodoxy."

                                                                                                          -Sub-Deacon Lazarus W. Der-Ghazarian, M.Th.

For more background on Orthodox Christology see my Master's Thesis:  
The Neo-Chalcedonian Christology of the Fifth Ecumenical
Council & Its Importance for the Church Today
(2014) available at:  Antiochian Village Heritage Library (Ligonier, PA);
St. Nersess Armenian Seminary (Armonk, NY), Sacred Heart Major Seminary's Cardinal Szoka Library (Detroit, MI),
Sts. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Seminary Library (Pittsburgh, PA), and the Alex & Marie Manoogian Library (Southfield, MI).

Helpful Links on Christology and the Council of Chalcedon

1.  Documents and Websites related to Orthodox Christology:
- Common Declaration on Christology -by H.H. John Paul II and H.H. Karekin I
The Christological Schools of Alexandrian & Antioch -Sub-Dn. Der-Ghazarian  
The Monophysite Heresy -by Ms. Veronica Der-Ghazarian -Byzantine Armenian
The Oriental Orthodox Churches -by Rev. Fr. Ronald Roberson, Latin Catholic
Problems of Consensus in Christology & the Function of Councils by Most Rev. Abp Tiran Nersoyan, Armenian Orthodox
Monophysitism Reconsidered -by Rev. Fr. Matthias F. Wahba, Coptic Orthodox
The Council of Chalcedon:  Re-Examined -by Fr. V.C. Samuel, Indian Orthodox
A detailed historical account of the proceedings of the Chalcedonian Council.

2.  Important Documents relating to Orthodox & Oriental Orthodox Christology (available on the www):
- The Formula of Reunion to John of Antioch -by St. Cyril of Alexandria
- The Third Epistle to Nestorious and Twelve Anathemas - St. Cyril of Alexandria
- St. Cyril of Alexandria -Background on this Great Father
- The Christological Controversy and other areas of Patristic Themes - Resources

- Return to St. Gregory the Enlightener Institute Home Page    

(c) Copyright: 2001-2020, Lazarus Der-Ghazarian, looys.net, All Rights Reserved      
Understanding Oriental
Orthodox Christology
The Coptic Patriach of Alexandria
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III
The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch:
His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I
The Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos
of all Armenians:  His Holiness Karekin II
"Holy God, holy mighty, holy and immortal,
Who was crucified for us, have mercy on us."

"Soorp Asdvadz, soorp yev huzor, soorp yev anmah,
vor khachetsar vasun mer, voghormya mez."

-The traditional Trisagion of the Armenian Church,
which is sung to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity
Hymn of the Only-Begotten, (Monogenes, Gk. / Meeyadzeen, Arm)

"Only-begotten Son and Word of God and Being immortal, Who deigned
to take body through the holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin.
You, the unchangeable One, became man and you were crucified,
O Christ our God, and you trampled down death by death.
You, one of the Holy Trinity, are equal in glory with
the Father and the Holy Spirit; save us."

-A liturgical credal formula by St. Justinian the Great (6th c.) to heal the schism
over Chalcedon, accepted by all Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
St. Athanasius and Cyril
Holy Fathers of the Alexandrian
Christological Tradition