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Voices from the East
Documents on the Present State and Working of the Oriental Church

By the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.

London: Joseph Masters, 1859.

Chapter VIII. The Expositions of Faith employed by the Holy Eastern Church

IF the Orthodox Church only merits this name, because she has in all points remained faithful to the doctrine of the ancient Oecumenical Church, it follows that her expositions of faith, be they longer or shorter, must, properly speaking, be divided into two classes--1. Those which she derives from the ancient Oecumenical and infallible Church, which have an intrinsic merit of their own. 2. Her own expositions, of later origin, and which derive all their merit from their conformity with those of which I have just spoken, as the Orthodox Church herself derives her importance from her perfect unanimity with the ancient Oecumenical Church. [This is a very clear expression of the feeling, all but universal in Russia, that, notwithstanding the errors of the West, the Eastern is not the Oecumenical Church, but merely the purest--or rather the only pure--branch of it.--TRANSL.]

To the expositions of the first class belong--

1. On the one hand, the professions of faith comprised in the Oecumenical Councils: to wit:

a. The Symbols: that of the 318 Holy Fathers of the First Oecumenical Council; of the 150 in the Second; the dogma of the 630 in the Third touching the Two Natures contained in the One Hypostasis of our LORD JESUS CHRIST; the dogma of the 170 in the Sixth touching His Twofold Will and Operation; that of the 377 in the Seventh regarding the adoration of images.

6. And, in general, the decisions, in matters of faith, contained in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, in the decrees of Oecumenical and Provincial Councils, and in the Rules of the Holy Fathers, referred to by the Council in Trullo. All these have been printed in the Nomo-Canon, recently published by the Holy Governing Synod.

In the Patriarchate of Constantinople a similar work is the Phdalion thV nohthS nhoV--a handsome quarto of 560 pages. The Canons contained in it are those of The Holy Apostles. First Oecumenical. Second Oecumenical. Third Oecumenical. Fourth Oecumenical. Sixth Oecumenical. Seventh Oecumenical. In Trullo or Quini-Sext. Prime-second (i.e., Council of Constantinople of 861, disallowed by Rome.) Council in Saint Sophia (called by the Latins Eighth Oecumenical.) Carthage (258 and 418.) Ancyra. Neocaesarea. Gangra. Antioch. Laodicea. Sardica. Constantinople (394, A.D.) And those of SS. Dionysius, Peter, Athanasius--of Alexandria: Gregory of Neocaesarea, Basil, Gregory Nyssen, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius, Timothy, Cyril, Theophilus of Alexandria, Gennadius, John the Faster, Tarasius, Nicephorus (A.D. 815,) Nicolas (A.D. 1087.)--TRANSL.]

2. And, on the other hand, those expositions of faith which, though they have never been examined and confirmed by Councils, yet are received by the Oecumenical Church: such as the Creed of S. Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea; and that which bears the name of S. Athanasius of Alexandria. The former is printed along with the "Orthodox Confession"--of which more hereafter: and the other in the Horologion.

Among the expositions of faith, which have appeared in the Orthodox Church in the East, some are common to all this Church; others are peculiar to the Russian Church.

These are the general symbols: 1. Two Confessions of the Orthodox faith, composed to serve as a guide to all members of the Eastern Church.

A. The first, which appeared at Kieff in 1640, had for its object the preservation of the purity of Orthodoxy against the opinions of Lutherans and Calvinists, and still more against the doctrines of Roman Catholics, and the ci-devant Uniats. It is known by the name of The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of the East. It was examined in the first place by the Council of Kieff: then in 1643 by that of Jassy. [For some account of the Council of Jassy, the reader may consult my History of Alexandria, Vol. II., p. 560.--TRANSL.] It was then reviewed and approved by the four Eastern Patriarchs. [That is, Parthenius (II.) of Constantinople, Joannicius of Alexandria, Macarius of Antioch, Paisius of Jerusalem.--TRANSL.] "We find," write they, "that this book is in perfect accordance with the dogmas of the Church of CHRIST and with the sacred Canons; that it contains nothing contrary to the Church: and we declare, assembled in Synod, that every pious and orthodox Christian, who is a member of the Apostolic Church of the East, ought to read this book, and not to reject it. Nectarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, expresses himself in a similar manner: "This book contains, it is true briefly, but also clearly, the orthodox doctrine, as you may see by its title: it is a true and pure profession of faith, without the least mixture of the corruptions of other Communions." Finally, it was admitted by the whole Eastern Church, a fact attested by the Council of Jerusalem, held in 1672, under the presidence of Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem. [Usually called, in England, the Council of Bethlehem.] It was again received by the Great Eastern Council of 1691. [No account, not even the briefest, of this Council has yet been published in English. It will be related at length in my History of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.--TRANSL.] It was approved and confirmed, for the Russian Church, by the Patriarch Joachim, in 1685, and the Patriarch Adrian in 1696. The latter went so far as to call the work inspired, but not in the strict sense of the word. Next it was received by the Holy Governing Synod: in 1837, by a decree of that assembly, 30,000 copies were published for the use of all the parishes in the Empire: in 1840, it confirmed a special ordinance of the Commission of Ecclesiastical Schools, which prescribed it as a work to be taught in the inferior section of seminaries. In 1845, it resolved that there should be every week a special class, when this book should be studied in detail; and that, before passing into the superior division, the pupils must go right through it again, as an introduction absolutely necessary to the study of theology. [This work, which, it should have been stated in the text, was the original composition of Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kieff, in opposition to the ravages of the Uniats in White Russia, has never been translated into English. I have a MS. translation of it, which any theological scholar wishing to study tbh subject should be very welcome to have lent him.--TRANSL.]

B. The other Confession we have mentioned appeared in 1672, at the Council of Jerusalem. Its especial aim was to preserve the purity of orthodoxy from the errors of the Calvinists, and it was published under this title: "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith of the Eastern Church." All its patriarchs and other prelates attested the truth and purity of this exposition, when in 1723 they sent it to the Christians of Great Britain, as the basis of union between the two Churches, and communicated it at the same time to our Holy Synod. The Holy Governing Synod accepted and attested this Confession, by its publication, in 1838, in Russ. In 1845, it ordered that a copy should be presented gratuitously to every ecclesiastical pupil for his study, after he had left the Seminary.

Besides these two general Confessions of Orthodoxy, there are particular Confessions for particular cases, as--

(1) The oath of Bishops--Important as any oath must be as a matter of faith, this is so additionally, because he who pronounces it is. a man destined to be pastor and guardian of one particular Church, because he takes it solemnly in the Church, in presence of a vast number of the faithful, and before an assembly of prelates from whom he expects to receive Divine grace for the purpose of preaching the word of truth, and of feeding well the spiritual flock entrusted to him.

(2) Dogmatical questions, which are addressed to Jews and Saracens on their entrance into the one Holy Oecumenical and Apostolic Church, in which all that distinguishes the Christian faith from the false belief of modern Judaism and Mahometanism is clearly explained.

(3) The profession of faith pronounced by the members of other Christian confessions, on returning into the circle of the Orthodox Church, and in which the features which distinguish orthodoxy from the belief of the heretics are pointed out.

(4) The formula of excommunication, composed of twelve articles, and pronounced in Orthodoxy week.

Finally, these are the confessions of faith composed originally in the Russian Church. There are first:

I. The positive expositions of Christian orthodox doctrine, which have been published, and are still publishing, in the name of the Holy Synod, for the instruction of Christians in faith and piety; that is to say, catechisms. The principal of these manuals is the Great Christian Catechism of the Orthodox Catholic Church of the East, (the work of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow,) examined and approved by the Holy Governing Synod, and published, by order of His Imperial Majesty, to be taught in schools, and for the use of all orthodox Christians.

II. We might mention besides some controversial writings, published, by order or permission of the Holy Synod, against Dissenters; such are, against the Papists; The Dialogues between a man who seeks the truth, and a man well convinced of the orthodoxy of the Greek and Russian Church; against the Reformed, the Rock of faith of the Eastern Church: against the Sectaries, Spiritual exhortation, &tc.

To conclude, we must remark that these things of the second class have not the same importance. Without doubt, in so far as they are all published by the Orthodox Church, they represent the Orthodox Church; but as a touchstone of faith, we can only admit three--1. The Orthodox Profession of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of the East; 2. The Letter of the Patriarchs of the East; and 3. the Great Christian Catechism, published by order of the Holy Governing Synod.

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