Branch or seperate Tree

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
Do you see the Coptic church as a branch off of the universal apostolic church tree including perhaps Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic?

Do you see the Coptic church, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics as separate trees?

or how do you see your church in regards to others??



  • Branch theory ecclesiology is foreign to Apostolic Orthodoxy, and as such has no place in our Church. In fact, given how closely tied ecclesiology, Christology, and Trinitarian theology are, I would venture to say that branch theory ecclesiology is nothing short of heresy.

    As St. Paul makes very clear in his epistles, the One Church is defined by One Faith, One Baptism, and One Bread. The only other Churches to share in such unity with the Coptic Church are those which have been mentioned in other threads: the Armenian, Syrian, Indian, Eritrean, and Ethiopian Churches (as well as those autonomous Churches within the Coptic Patriarchate--the British Orthodox Church and the French Orthodox Church). As such, this communion of the Churches represents the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    With regard to the Eastern Orthodox Church, we believe we can be identified with them in Faith, and to an extent inter-communion occurs at some local levels; sometimes by virtue of general official policy (such as per the Agreed Statement between the Syrian and Antiochian Orthodox Patriatrchates). To be sure, though, no official inter-communion has been established, and I am rather pessimistic about such a re-union ever being established due to the complexity and sensitivity of the situation. I personally would not venture to define the relationship between our Churches in any conclusive manner, given that my long period of investigation of EO-OO issues has lead me to believe that it is beyond our ability to know the situation as it actually is (as opposed to as it appears).

    As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, I would be confident to say that they cannot be identified with the Church in any way given their departure from the Apostolic Faith. As far as I know, no level of inter-communion exists with them (though sporadic instances of individual communion do apparently occur in exceptional circumstances)
  • Wowsers!  That kinda sets the tone doesn't it?

    Thank you though.  That was informative and very to the point.

  • Dear Taylor,

    Iqbal sets out with great clarity the position of the Church.

    This does not prevent us participating in the World Council of Churches and talking with the EO and the RC's in particular about moves towards unity.

    The talks with the EOs have revealed that there is very little if anything in Christological terms that divides us, but the effects of sixteen centuries of division are hardly likely to be overcome in a few decades, especially when many laymen and clergy are very suspicious of the very idea of 'reunion'.

    The talks with the Catholics continue, and again, some progress is made towards understanding what each side believes. The official Catholic statement might be found here . You will see that, from the Catholic point of view, it parallels what Iqbal says.

    The Church is ultimately defined as the community that gathers at the Eucharistic feast, and that involves 'right worship' (the meaning of Orthodoxy) - which is where Iqbal's point is, once again, applicable; the Oriental Orthodox family is the one we recognise as Orthodox. Many of us think there is little difference in belief between us and our separated brethren in the EO Church, and that if only they would agree not to insist that everyone should agree on their own local definition of 7 Ecumenical Councils, and one of two other matters, we might move forward; but we fear Iqbal may be correct.

    Hope that helps,

    In Christ,


  • Since both the EO and OO can't be the one true church unless you have some belief in the branch theory, how do I decide which is the correct one. Here in London there is a Russian Orthodox and a Coptic Orthodox church near to each other. The singing is nicer in the Russian but other than that how do I choose? Is it down to preferring Egyptians to Russians or what? Is it a matter of taste?

    God bless

  • lol. I agree about the singing.

    To be honest, I don't know about the doctrinal differences between EO and OO apart from the Christology debacle. I am not exactly sure how the so-called last four "ecumenical councils" of their Church has defined.

    But Aidan, it isn't a matter of taste. I think you should pray continuously and visit both Churches, and have faith that God will bring you to the right Church.

    I am trying to impartial here, because you will obviously not believe me or anyone here when they say go to the Coptic Church.

    Perhaps, if you are learned enough, try seeing the doctrinal differences and see which one is has the greater persuasive evidence behind it?

    God Bless

  • Dear Aidan, Dear Thomas,

    For those wanting to know the background on this, this site is very useful.

    There are those among us who think that the talks have revealed that the differences which divided us sixteen centuries ago need no longer do so; but of course, in that time, other things have arisen, not least the fact that our Churches have developed under quite different cultural conditions, and that in all cases the Church and the national identity have tended to be closely identified with each other; so, for the Greeks under Ottoman rule, as for Egypt under Ottoman rule, the Church became the symbol of national identity as opposed to Muslim rule. This has created a situation in which sorting out what is ethnic practice and what is Orthodox praxis is complex and liable to create problems, because people feel that their national identity is being threatened.

    Like you, Aidan, I found I had Russian Orthodox or British Orthodox Churches to which I could go. The former seemed terribly keen on being Russian and seemed a little preoccupied with disputes between the Orthodox Church outside Russia and the Orthodox Church inside Russia, as well as disputes over Calendars; they also seemed to think that unless one was willing to adapt to Russian practices, one could not be Orthodox. The British Orthodox (who are Coptic) have their services in English and are English; the Copts are very happy and welcoming and seem genuinely delighted to share the treasures they have preserved from the beginning with us; no one insists we become 'Copts'. So, as the Americans would say, this was a 'no-brainer' once I had satisfied myself that the allegation of Monophysitism was a slander on a Church which had always had the same Christology as its great bishop, St. Cyril.

    One Church looked towards a foreign country, seemed preoccupied by its own internal divisions and seemed to want me to become quasi-Russian; the other said, 'welcome to the Church of God in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile', and let me get on with learning about the Faith through a medium I understood - English.

    Of course, had I believed that the Coptic Church was less than Orthodox, that would have meant nothing; but as I was convinced by the evidence that it was always fully Orthodox, that was not an issue. For so many centuries this Church has borne witness as a suffering Servant of God; it has not tried to convert anyone by force, nor has it been identified with an Imperial State and been tempted to forget its roots in the need for humility and redemption.

    What I can say, as a convert, is that I have found in the Coptic Orthodox Church that Apostolic Church of which it was said that even the gates of hell would fail to prevail against it; I have found a humble, God-fearing Church, in which the Bible is read more often than in most Protestant Churches, but in which the fulness of the Tradition is kept spotless, and in which the spirit of Christian love and fellowship burns brightly.

    So, one can only speak as one finds, but this is what I have been privileged to find. Of course, I have been fortunate, as an Englishman, in having a part of the Orthodox Church that is British in its ethos; but it is down to the wisdom of HH Pope Shenouda III in recognising the BOC as part of the Orthodox Church that I have this privilege. I feel glad to have such leaders, who look out to how Orthodoxy can reach out to those who do not yet have it.

    In Christ,


  • Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe that the main difference between the Oriental Orthodox Churches (the Coptic Church and its sister churches) and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, etc.) is on Christology or the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    The Eastern Orthodox believe that Christ has two natures, a divine one and a human one. The Orientals, however, believe that Christ has one nature which is both divine and human. As His Holiness Pope Shenouda III says, If you are going to separate the divine and human nature, then why don't you separate the human nature into body, soul, and spirit??

    This point of doctrine is not trivial at all, though it might seem so. Saints such as St. Dioscorous were tortured greatly to preserve this correct doctrine for us. Among the tortures they inflicted on him, they pulled out the hairs of his beard and knocked out his teeth.

    But the Oriental Orthodox Church has the correct stance on this matter and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III is working closely with many churches including the Eastern Orthodox for unity.
  • The Body of Christ, that is the Church can only be one but unless you are going to perform a trick with words or church structures you have two orthodox churches. Not only that but in my Church some people 'wall' themselves off or refuse to accept the sacraments of the other part.
    How does an ignoramus who finds St Cyril difficult, to judge? I belong to the Russian Orthodox Church which isn't missionary. The Coptic Church is missionary at present.(historically?....I don't know).
    What else? I would love to join the Coptic church from what I have seen of it but somebody needs to tell me why I should other than it seems fervent and well organised.

    More later

  • Dear User00

    You are correct, although the precise meanings are closer than you might think.

    If I can quote from the Second Agreed Statement of the talks between our Church and the EO Church in 1990:

    3. Both families agree that the Hypostasis of the Logos became composite (sunqetoj) by uniting to His divine uncreated nature with its natural will and energy, which He has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created human nature, which He assumed at the Incarnation and made His own, with its natural will and energy.

    4. Both families agree that the natures with their proper energies and wills are united hypostatically and naturally without confusion, without change, without division and without separation, and that they are distinguished in thought alone (th qewria monh).

    5. Both families agree that He Who wills and acts is always the one Hypostasis of the Logos incarnate.

    6. Both families agree in rejecting interpretations of Councils which do not fully agree with the Horos of the Third Ecumenical Council and the letter (433) of Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch.

    7. The Orthodox agree that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional Cyrillian terminology of "one nature of the incarnate Logos" ("mia fusij tou qeou Logou sesarkwmenh"), since they acknowledge the double consubstantiality of the Logos which Eutyches denied. The Orthodox also use this terminology. The Oriental Orthodox agree that the Orthodox are justified in their use of the two-natures formula, since they acknowledge that the distinction is "in thought alone" (th qewria monh). Cyril interpreted correctly this use in his letter to John of Antioch and his letters to Acacius of Melitene (PG 77, 184-201), to Eulogius (PG 77, 224-228) and to Succensus (PG 77, 228-245).

    The conclusion from this is that:

    9. In the light of our Agreed Statement on Christology as well as of the above common affirmations, 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.

    Unfortunately, seventeen years later, there is still much progress to be made; but the passage of time between 451 and now has, of course, created all sorts of other issues which also divide us. But on the central Christological issue, it is now widely accepted that the Coptic view was misinterpeted, misunderstood and, later, misrepresented. We have never been 'Monophysites' any more than the Chalcedonians have ever been 'Nesotorian'.

    I, for one, am glad we live in an era where we can talk about these things - and no one wishes to rip out anyone's beard; always, surely, the oddest way of securing real belief? How often have Christians acted in a way that Our Lord never would have condoned and would have condemned? Not the least of the impressive witnesses of the Coptic Church is that of the suffering servant. I wonder if any expect the Oriental Orthodox can make a claim not to have persecuted anyone for sixteen hundred years?

    In Christ,

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