Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk Blasts Liberal Anglicanism

One can only wonder what was going through Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' heart and mind as he listened to the address that Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (who also serves as chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations) delivered to the Nicean Club at Lambeth Palace on September 9. Here is some of what the Metropolitan said:

At the time of the Council of Nicaea, the Church was united in East and West. But at the present time, there is a multitude of communities each of which claims to be a church even though approaches to doctrinal, ecclesiological and ethical issues among them often differ radically.

Nowadays it is increasingly difficult to speak of ‘Christianity’ as a unified scale of spiritual and moral values, universally adopted by all Christians. It is more appropriate, rather, to speak of ‘Christianities’, that is, different versions of Christianity espoused by diverse communities.

All current versions of Christianity can be very conditionally divided into two major groups – traditional and liberal. The abyss that exists today divides not so much the Orthodox from the Catholics or the Catholics from the Protestants as it does the ‘traditionalists’ from the ‘liberals’. Some Christian leaders, for example, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way of building a Christian family: there are other models and the Church should become appropriately ‘inclusive’ to recognize alternative behavioural standards and give them official blessing. Some try to persuade us that human life is no longer an absolute value; that it can be terminated in a mother’s womb or that one can terminate one’s life at will. Christian ‘traditionalists’ are being asked to reconsider their views under the slogan of keeping abreast with modernity.

Regrettably, it has to be admitted that the Orthodox Church and many in the Anglican Church have today found themselves on the opposite sides of the abyss that divides traditional Christians from Christians of liberal trend. ...

Today the Orthodox-Anglican Dialogue itself has come under threat. It is especially lamentable because this dialogue has had a long and rich history, beginning with the numerous talks at various levels held between Orthodox and Anglicans from the
17th century. ...

We are concerned about the fate of this dialogue. We appreciate the proposal Archbishop Rowan Williams made this year to exclude from the dialogue those Anglican churches which failed to observe the moratorium on the ordination of open homosexuals. But we regard this proposal as not quite sufficient to save the dialogue from an approaching collapse. The dialogue is doomed to closure if the unrestrained liberalization of Christian values continues in many communities of the Anglican world. ...

We have studied the preparatory documents for the decision on female episcopate and were struck by the conviction expressed in them that even if the female episcopate were introduced, ecumenical contacts with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches would not come to an end. What made the authors of these documents so certain? There was a second controversial statement. The same document argued that despite a possible cooling down in relations with Catholics and Orthodox, the Church of England would strengthen and broaden its relations with the Methodist Church and the Lutheran Churches in Norway and Sweden. In other words, the introduction of the female episcopate ‘will bring both gains and losses’. The question arises: Is not the cost of these losses too high? I can say with certainty that the introduction of the female episcopate excludes even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the apostolic continuity of the Anglican hierarchy.

We are also extremely concerned and disappointed by other processes that are manifesting themselves in churches of the Anglican Communion. Some Protestant and Anglican churches have repudiated basic Christian moral values by giving a public blessing to same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals as priests and bishops. Many Protestant and Anglican communities refuse to preach Christian moral values in secular society and prefer to adjust to worldly standards.

Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture. ...

What can these churches say to their faithful and to secular society? What kind of light do they shine upon the world (cf. Mt. 5:14)? What is their ‘salt’? I am afraid the words of Christ can be applied to them: If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (Mt. 5:13).

We are aware of the arguments used by proponents of the above-mentioned liberal innovations. Tradition is no authority for them. They believe that to make the words of Holy Scripture applicable to modernity they have to be ‘actualized’, that is, reviewed and interpreted in an appropriate, ‘modern’ spirit. Holy Tradition is understood as an opportunity for the Church to be continually reformed and renewed and to think critically.

The Orthodox, however, have a different understanding of Holy Tradition. It is aptly expressed in the words of Vladimir Lossky: ‘Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church – the life giving to every member of the Body of Christ the ability to hear, accept and know the Truth in its inherent shining, not in the natural light of human reason’. ...

Summing up, I wish to assert that today we have new divisions in Christendom, not only theological but also ethical. Regrettably, many Christian communities, which once maintained fraternal relations with the Orthodox Church for many years and were in dialogue with it, have shown themselves to be incapable or unwilling to assume obligations stemming from our dialogue. We accompany our reactions to these developments with assurances of respect for the right of all churches and communities to make decisions which they deem to be necessary. Yet, at the same time, we state with sadness that neither the official dialogue nor the most valuable relations and contacts in the past have kept some of our Anglican brothers and sisters from steps which have taken them even farther away from our common Christian Church Tradition.

Read it all.

No doubt, those on the "liberal" side of things in the Episcopal Church will find much to object to in the Metropolitan's address. It is quite frankly inexcusable, for instance, that he fails to get the name of the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire correct, calling him "Jim Robertson" instead of Gene Robinson. Others may find in the Metropolitan's words a lack of pastoral sensitivity to the feelings and faithfulness of LGBT Christians.

Nevertheless, as a catholic-minded Anglican who cares about the "common Christian Church Tradition" and for whom aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy have played an important role in the Christian journey, the Metropolitan's statement saddens me. My sadness is compounded by the fact that I have a brother who converted to Orthodoxy. Insofar as the Metropolitan's words can be taken to represent the views of many if not most leaders within Orthodoxy, the divide between us is that much broader and deeper.

It may be true that Anglican-Orthodox dialogue has been dying for some time now. Even so, the Metropolitan said that "we continue to be fully committed to the dialogue with the Anglican Church [sic] and will do our utmost to keep this dialogue going." But the overall forcefulness of his address suggests that meaningful dialogue is, in fact, dead with Anglican provinces like the Episcopal Church, and perhaps also that the nails have been hammered into the coffin.


Bill Dilworth said...

If you think this guy was insensitive towards gay Christians, you should read some of the things the OCA's Metropolitan Jonah has to say about us.

Personally, I find myself less and less concerned about Churches who refuse to recognize our Orders or even our bona fides as a Church, and yet try to influence Anglican policies by periodically dangling the carrot of recognition in front of us. Both the RCC and the EOC have simply pulled this particular stunt too many times. No doubt this attitude will be put down to my being on "the 'liberal' side of things in the Episcopal Church," but I don't think that's all of it. I simply believe that Anglicanism has an unwholesome obsession with the opinions other Churches hold concerning us. Any time an Orthodox or Roman prelate drops a crumb our way the reaction reminds me of Sally Field accepting an Oscar - "You like us! You really, really like us!"

Neither Rome nor Constantinople are terribly concerned about those areas of their lives and beliefs with which we disagree. I suggest we will not be an "adult member" of ecumenical dialog until we follow suit.

Your mileage, obviously, varies. :-)

Bill Dilworth

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the comments, Bill. I've not read the things that Metropolitan Jonah has said about gay Christians, but taking your word on the matter I'm pretty sure I don't care to. It's one thing to hold a principled position on moral matters based upon one's understanding of scripture and tradition, and something else again to disrespect the dignity of persons by one's actions and words.

After reading the Metropolitan's address, I read Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey's 1962 lecture at the University of Athens entitled "Constantinople and Canterbury." It's almost impossible to believe that there ever was a time like that, when Anglican and Orthodox Christians really took each other seriously and with a genuine desire on both sides to seek greater unity. It saddens me deeply that this desire has largely been abandoned by Christians doing whatever seems right in their own eyes.

I don't share the view that most of the Anglicans/Episcopalians who care about "the opinions other Churches hold concerning us" have an "unwholesome obsession" (perhaps there are some who do have such an obsession). I don't think it's necessarily an obsession nor unwholesome to care about such things, because that is part of what it means to care about Christian unity beyond the confines of one's particular tradition. Caring about that is in keeping with our Lord's prayer "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21). And so I think that losing a connection to the largest bodies of apostolic Christians in the world is a tragic departure from our Lord's prayer.

Joe Rawls said...

As someone who simultaneously affirms the Nicene Creed, the ordination of women, and the full inclusion of lgbts in all levels of the church, I have to live with a strong sense of having fallen through the cracks, as painful as that is. Perhaps we as a church have to do the same thing, being open to the spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism but not selling out controversial positions that we know to be right.

Bryan Owen said...

Joe, as always, I appreciate your comments and your position.

For many reasons (some personal), I'm struggling with all of this, so I would greatly appreciate insight on how to answer the following kinds of questions.

If those among us who affirm the Nicene Creed and who are "open to the spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism," but who are also unwilling to sell out on "controversial positions that we know to be right," find ourselves shunned and even utterly repudiated by Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism because of our stance on those controversial matters, what substantive meaning is there to saying "we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church"?

Would our actions that cut us off from the largest bodies of apostolic Christians in the world contradict these words from the Creed that we affirm in the liturgy?

Or must we be bold enough to say that our confidence in being right means that those who have shunned and/or utterly repudiated us are wrong such that they are the ones who don't really live into what it means to affirm "we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church"?

Joe Rawls said...

Despite serious disagreements with the RCs and Orthodox, I would never say that they don't live into the creedal affirmation about "one, holy and apostolic church". There are situations, however, when taking a hit for what one thinks is right is unavoidable. Without adopting the moral smugness of the liberals, a tall order, to be sure. Ad gloriam per crucis, and all that.

Bill Dilworth said...

Bryan, I'm really surprised at your suggestion that our rejection by the RRC and EOC has any bearing whatsoever on whether we are part of "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." After all, neither body has ever recognized our claims to catholicity in the past. If their approval has ever been a factor, then we've always been on the outside.

I suggest Edward Markham's approach:

"He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in."

Bryan Owen said...

Joe, thanks for saying a bit more. Perhaps my response to Bill below will also be relevant to your comments.

Bryan Owen said...

Bill, while I continue to believe in “the sufficiency of Anglicanism,” I am also mindful of these words written by Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in The Gospel and the Catholic Church:

“For while the Anglican church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to Gospel and Church and sound learning, its greater vindication lies in its pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as ‘the best type of Christianity,’ but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.”

A friend once sent me this response to Ramsey’s words:

“Anglicanism’s vocation is ultimately to locate itself with the Great Church and the Great Tradition, even if that location means Anglicanism’s distinctives must eventually disappear.”

It seems to me that Ramsey and my friend have articulated a very different understanding of the Anglican vocation in relation to the universal Church than what I typically hear from many Episcopalians, some of whom are quite frank in saying that they don’t care what any other Christian groups think of us. For them, we are no fragment of a larger, broken whole, but a sufficient, autonomous entity unto ourselves.

Bryan Owen said...

Continuing my response to Bill:

As to the issue of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches having “never recognized our claims to catholicity in the past,” I note points Michael Ramsey makes in his 1962 address at the University of Athens:

“If we [Anglicans] warm towards you [Orthodox], you have shown warmth indeed towards us. Just over forty-one years ago, in 1920, the Oecumenical Patriarch issued his Encyclical Letter, Unto all the Churches of Christ wheresoever they be. To read it now is to see the realism and the prophetic vision which were in it. Three years later, in 1923, the Oecumenical Patriarch declared Anglican orders to be valid in the sense that the orders of Rome and of the Church of Armenia are valid. Grateful for that declaration, we yet realize now--what some were slow to realize--that validity of orders is a thing entirely secondary to agreement in Orthodox Faith. Two years later, in 1925, a remarkable concourse of Orthodox prelates attended the commemoration of the Council of Nicaea in London. Five years after that, in 1930, there met in London the Anglican and Orthodox theological commission. Its Report, issued in 1931, is a fine analysis of the theological issues. In 1935 there came the conference in Bucharest between the Church of England and the Church of Roumania, and the valuable report which came from it. The war disturbed these growing relations, and prevented contacts. Since the war there was in 1956 the conference in Moscow in which it was my privilege to lead the Anglican delegation in discussion with representatives of the Patriarch of All Russia. To-day I am, like my predecessor in 1960, on my way home from receiving the gracious hospitality of the Oecumenical Patriarch.”

Like Ramsey, Metropolitan Hilarion also recounts the extensive history of Anglican-Orthodox dialogue in his recent address, as well.

(See also the many documents over at Project Canterbury.)

Up until the 1970s, there was significant progress made in mutual understanding between Anglicans and the Orthodox (note again Ramsey’s citation of the Oecumenical Patriarch’s declaration on Anglican orders). One could argue that we were getting closer than ever before to greater recognition. Much time, energy, and money was spent on both sides for this work. It seems strange to go to that all that trouble if you really believe that the other side is a completely lost cause. Where we are today, of course, is a different story, and it appears that all of that ecumenical work has been cast aside.

I just wonder what it will mean to say “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church” as the Episcopal Church gets smaller and more isolated – and perhaps even decisively cut off even from dialogue – with the largest bodies of apostolic Christians. In such circumstances, it seems tragically ironic, and perhaps even comical, to speak about us drawing a circle to take others in.

Bill Dilworth said...

Bryan, I'm sure you're aware that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not speak for the EOC the way that the Pope does. He can make any number of pronouncements, and the only Orthodox Church that has to abide by them is the relatively small one he actually presides over. At any rate, the operative phrase is "valid in the sense that the orders of Rome and of the Church of Armenia are valid." The EOC does not recognize Roman orders as valid in and of themselves; while RC priests converting to Orthodoxy may be received without (re)ordination, this is done with the understanding that God supplies what was lacking through oikonomia. It's emphatically not a recognition of their orders, much less ours.

The position of the EOC in ecumenical affairs has always been been the same: communion with Orthodox Churches depends upon reception of the Orthodox Faith - in its entirety. Anything short of that is inadequate. There may be points of agreement, statements co-issued, and so on, but they do not view the matter in the same way that, say, the Episcopalians and the ELCA do: there's no point short of complete doctrinal agreement that acts as a threshold for "intercommunion."

Anglicans have often misinterpreted friendly gestures from the Orthodox as constituting some sort of recognition, because we wanted it to be that way.

At any rate, the ordination of women scotched ecumenical progress between the two bodies some time ago. Ordaining "open homosexuals" doesn't really present a further barrier - that way was cut off when we ordained the first woman.

Bill Dilworth said...

I also suggest that the Metropolitan's focus on gay Christians is in some sense a cultural and political stance. Russia is one of the most homophobic countries on the planet, and the ROC has not shied away from tapping into that homophobia. In much the same way, the OCA's Metropolitan Jonah has been accused of blasting the Episcopal Church's stance as a way of boosting his Church's shaky canonical status in the Orthodox world. Orthodox prelates are no more immune to politically and culturally driven agendas than Anglican ones.

The Orthodox, especially Eastern Europeans, do not have a lot of experience with gay people being honest about themselves. I was once, during Confession, told by a Serbian priest that he wasn't sure what advice to give me, since there were no homosexuals back home in Serbia.

Bryan Owen said...

All valid points, Bill. And that's amazing what the Serbian priest said! Denial knows no cultural or religious boundaries.

As I noted in a sermon I preached back in Easter season, the healing of the kinds of divisions within the universal Church we're talking about is not likely to happen in our lifetimes. I'll even go so far as to say that I am confident they won't be. And even keeping in mind the point that communion with the Orthodox requires accepting the Orthodox Faith in its entirety as they understand it, the question remains: does or should that give us license to make the canyon between us that much deeper and broader than it already is?

I won't pretend to have easy answers to my questions on all of this. I really do struggle! But I am finding myself resisting the tendencies on the Left to simply repudiate and walk away from anyone - including other Anglicans - who are telling us that they no longer recognize us as adequately Christian.

Maybe Joe is right and we simply take the hits, knowing that there will be consequences. But there may also be unintended consequences we cannot foresee which, if we could foresee them, might give us pause.

JC Fremont said...

I know this is a very small point to make, but here's a thought about the misnaming of Gene Robinson in the Metropolitan's address: I think that calling him "Jim Robertson" says a lot about how important TEC is in the Church of Russia's worldview. That TEC would consecrate him is unforgivable, but TEC is still pretty small potatoes to the Russians.

A church whose saints include Elizabeth the Grand Duchess of Russia and Herman of Alaska takes a very broad view, and occasionally slipping up on a detail of the activities of another church is probably to be expected. (I was a little disappointed that the Russians named Joseph of Volokolamsk the patron of businessmen recently...being more in sympathy with Nil Sorsky...but I can live with it.)

Anonymous said...

There were some practical ecumenical benefits to the Anglo-Orthodox dialog which are certainly now gone. There are several elderly members in our GOA parish (of Greek and Syrian heritage) who as children attended the local Episcopal church, because at the time there was no Orthodox church in the area. I've been told it once was the policy of the GOA to let members in remote areas with no Orthodox presence attend Anglican churches.

Those days are over. They probably ended with WO, but I dare say the current brouhaha doesn't help your case, nor does the fact that the most prominent theologians having an affiliation with the TEC, in the eyes of many on the outside, are Spong and Borg (Borg is canon theologian of the TEC diocese of Oregon, no?). And when you have theologians like Borg (whose works were promoted in our TEC diocese when I was Episcopalian) showing how one can parse the 'credo' to mean 'I give my heart to' and not 'I believe', so one can free oneself from 'the literal factual truths of the following statements' (see 'The Heart of Christianity'), based on a little riffing on the philology of the word 'credo', you might understand how those outside the TEC might not know how to interpret a statement that one affirms the Nicene Creed. (For my money, if you are going to play with philology, I would start from 'pistevo eis ena Theon', from which you can go to epistemology, and from there to Augustines 'I believe in order to understand'). With theology like Borg's being promoted in many parts of the TEC, why should the GOA trust the Episcopalians with the spiritual care of their members in remote areas?

I would be curious to know what Metropolitan Jonah has actually said about GLBT issues - from what I've read and heard from him, he has a tendency of being occasionally blunt and undiplomatic, which is at times refreshing but at other times makes me want to cringe a bit.

- Steve

Bryan Owen said...

"With theology like Borg's being promoted in many parts of the TEC, why should the GOA trust the Episcopalians with the spiritual care of their members in remote areas?"

An excellent point, Steve. Liberal theologians like Borg can say that they affirm the Nicene Creed, but the substance of what they actual affirm signals a rejection of the historic Christian faith. The words of Metropolitan Hilarion apply to those who adhere to the theology of the Borgs, Crossans, Pagels, and Spongs out there:

"We are aware of the arguments used by proponents of the above-mentioned liberal innovations. Tradition is no authority for them."