Fourth Unofficial Consultation
Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theologians
Summary of Conclusions
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
January 22-23, 1971
The following conclusions and questions have arisen out of our informal discussions in Addis Ababa about the lifting of anathemas and the recognition of Saints:
- We agree that the lifting of the anathemas pronounced by one side against those regarded as Saints and teachers by the other side seems to be an indispensable step on the way to unity between our two traditions.
- We are also agreed that the lifting of the anathemas would be with a view to restoring Communion between our two traditions, and therefore that it presupposes essential unity in the faith between our two traditions. The official announcement by both sides that there is in fact such essential unity in faith, a basis for which is already provided by the reports of our earlier conversations at Aarhus, Bristol and Geneva, would thus appear to be essential for the lifting of anathemas.
- We agree further that once the anathemas against certain persons cease to be effective, there is no need to require their recognition as Saints by those who previously anathematized them. Different autocephalous Churches have differing liturgical calendars and lists of Saints. There is no need to impose uniformity in this matter. The place of these persons in the future united Church can be discussed and decided after the union.
- Should there be a formal declaration or ceremony in which the anathemas are lifted? Many of us felt that it is much simpler gradually to drop these anathemas in a quiet way as some churches have already begun to do. Each church should choose the way most suited to its situation. The fact that these anathemas have been lifted can then be formally announced at the time of union.
- Who has the authority to lift these anathemas? We are agreed that the Church has been given authority by her Lord both to bind and to loose. The Church, which imposed the anathemas for pastoral or other reasons of that time, has also the power to lift them for the same pastoral or other reasons of our time. This is part of the stewardship or Oikonomia of the Church.
- Does the lifting of an anathema imposed by an ecumenical council call in question the infallibility of the Church? Are we by such actions implying that a council was essentially mistaken and therefore fallible? What are the specific limits within which the infallibility of the Church with her divine-human nature operates? We are agreed that the lifting of the anathemas is fully within the authority of the Church and does not compromise her infallibility in essential matters of the faith. There was some question as to whether only another ecumenical council could lift the anathema imposed by an ecumenical council. There was general agreement that a council is but one of the principal elements expressing the authority of the Church, and that the Church has always the authority to clarify the decisions of a council in accordance with its true intention. No decision of a council can be separated from the total tradition of the Church. Each Council brings forth or emphasizes some special aspect of the one truth, and should therefore be seen as stages on the way to a fuller articulation of the truth. The dogmatic definitions of each Council are to be understood and made more explicit in terms of subsequent conciliar decisions and definitions.
- The lifting of anathemas should be prepared for by careful study of the teaching of these men, the accusations leveled against them, the circumstances under which they were anathematized, and the true intention of their teaching. Such study should be sympathetic and motivated by the desire to understand and therefore to overlook minor errors. An accurate and complete list of the persons on both sides to be so studied should also be prepared. The study should also make a survey of how anathemas have been lifted in the past. It would appear that in many instances in the past, anathemas have been lifted without any formal action beyond the mere reception of each other by the estranged parties on the basis of their common faith. Such a study would bring out the variety of ways in which anathemas were imposed and lifted.
- There has also to be a process of education in the churches both before and after the lifting of the anathemas, especially where anathemas and condemnations are written into the liturgical texts and hymnody of the Church. The worshipping people have to be prepared to accept the revised texts and hymns purged of the condemnations. Each Church should make use of its ecclesiastical journals and other media for the pastoral preparation of the people.
- Another important element of such education is the rewriting of Church history, textbooks, theological manuals and catechetical materials. Especially in Church history, there has been a temptation on both sides to interpret the sources on a partisan basis. Common study of the sources with fresh objectivity and an irenic attitude can produce common texts for use in both our families. Since this is a difficult and time-consuming project, we need not await its completion for the lifting of anathemas or even for the restoration of Communion.
- The editing of liturgical texts and hymns to eliminate the condemnations is but part of the task of liturgical renewal. We need also to make use of the infinite variety and richness of our liturgical traditions, so that each Church can be enriched by the heritage of others.
- There seems to exist some need for a deeper study of the question: “Who is a saint?” Neither the criteria for sainthood nor the processes for declaring a person as a saint are the same in the Eastern and Western traditions. A study of the distinctions between universal, national and local saints, as well as of the processes by which they came to be acknowledged as such, could be undertaken by Church historians and theologians. The lifting of anathemas need not await the results of such a study, but may merely provide the occasion for a necessary clarification of the tradition in relation to the concept of sainthood.
- Perhaps we should conclude this statement with the observation that this is now the fourth of these unofficial conversations in a period of seven years. It is our hope that the work done at an informal level can soon be taken up officially by the Churches, so that the work of the Spirit in bringing us together can now find full ecclesiastical response. In that hope we submit this fourth report to the Churches.
(Minutes of the Unofficial Consultation 1970 Geneva and 1971 Addis Ababa) see pdf