Ecumenism in the continuum

The Right Revd Paul C. Hewett, Bishop of the Diocese of the Holy Cross, explains how orthodox Anglicans can be a force for unity in the Church throughout the world

 

For the first thousand years, the Church was visibly one. We may call this the consensus of the first millennium, the patristic consensus, the time when the Fathers were combating heresy and formulating orthodox dogma and the Creeds. This was the age of the seven ecumenical councils, when all the creative juices of the Church could flow together. Our commitment as Anglicans has always been to this consensus. Traditional, orthodox Anglicans have always immersed themselves in it and pointed to it as our way of interpreting Scripture. Orthodoxy’s litmus test is antiquity, ubiquity and consent: what has been believed and taught always, everywhere, by all the faithful.

A model for unity

Our vocation as Anglicans is wrapped up in the paradigm of the patristic consensus of the first thousand years. The consensus of the first millennium is the model for revealing our unity. It is the convergence point for the Body of Christ. Pope John Paul II used to say that as the Church moves into the third millennium, She must use the paradigm of the first millennium to overcome the divisions of the second.

Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, traditional, orthodox Anglicans and many believing Protestants are now all on the same page. It is astonishing that the Patriarch of Moscow may plan a lengthy and unprecedented visit to Rome. He cites the rising tide of Islam as one reason why he and the Pope must learn to speak with one moral voice. A meeting like this begins to fulfil what Leon Bloy believed, that the Church in the West would be renewed by the Russian Church that has suffered in fire and water. If Rome is the shoe and Orthodoxy is the foot, then we as Anglicans can be the shoehorn. We are the only Christians who simultaneously understand Rome, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Our Lady’s Protecting Veil is torn in many places. Traditional, orthodox Anglicans are on hand, globally, to help her mend the rends we can reach.

East and West

In 1995 Pope John Paul II wrote an Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, ‘that they may be one,’ from John, chapter 17. The Pope asked a daring question. ‘If the charism of the Petrine Office is supposed to be the charism of unity, why, and in what ways, has it become a stumbling block?’ There were various replies to Ut Unum Sint. Perhaps the most profound of these came from Olivier Clement, a Russian Orthodox priest in Paris, who took the Pope seriously enough to write a magnificent book called ‘You Are Peter’. Clement was forthright not only about the errors of Rome, but also about the failings of the Orthodox. He believes that the Holy Spirit is calling for Rome and Orthodoxy to rediscover each other at the deepest levels.

In the West we need more of the East’s understanding of pneumatology and eschatology. This refers to how everything in the Kingdom is in the Holy Spirit, and to how the Church, as a tree, has its roots in heaven and its branches on earth. The East needs more of the West’s historical approach, of the Church living and ministering in the present, and in the long progression of time, with apostolates for every condition of man.

Relationship with the Greeks Again, if Rome is the shoe and Orthodoxy is the foot, we Anglicans can be the shoe-horn. All through the centuries Anglicans have had warm relationships with the Orthodox, never more so than in the United States, after the Second World War. The Greeks remember that most of the blood shed to liberate Athens, first from the Nazis, then from the Communists, was Anglican.

Many Greeks were immigrating into the United States, and were welcomed into our Episcopal churches, as members, and as communities forming their own new congregations. The Greek bishops said to their people that they should even receive Holy Communion at our altars, if there were no Greek parishes nearby. The sincere friendship and rapport the Episcopal Church had with the Greek Orthodox was grievously shattered in 1976 with the purported ordination of women.

The Greeks were betrayed. It is up to the traditional orthodox Anglican remnant in the United States to re-build the relationship with the Greeks. We may be the only ones who can do it.

Rebuilding friendship

If we can make some headway here, it may be the most precious gift we bring to Rome when the time comes. We go to Rome not as suppliants, but bearing a gift: a newly forged friendship with the Greeks. The Holy See would appreciate nothing more. Restoring full communion with Constantinople is Rome’s first priority, and the Greeks are the greatest obstacle, even though paradoxically it is from Greece that brilliant ecclesiologists like John Zizioulas have arisen.

His book, Being as Communion, is arguably the ecclesiology for the coming centuries. If we can re-build our relationship with the Greeks, then they can talk to the Holy See through us, and through us, the Holy See can talk to the Greeks. This may be the only way in which the full communion is ever restored. It is to be hoped that someday in the not distant future a delegation of Anglicans from here and abroad, and some from the Scandinavian remnant, will be able to spend a couple of days with the Archbishop of Athens. But first we must rebuild our friendship with the Greeks.

At every Synod I tell our priests, ‘take a Greek priest out to lunch.’ And we can join our Orthodox brethren for lunch in those places where they have an Orthodox brotherhood. Today, the two great patriarchs of the universal Church, the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople, do dine together from time to time, and have a warm and gracious friendship.

Bringing gifts

What we have to offer the rest of the Body, in realigned, orthodox Anglicanism, has now been tested and refined by a wilderness generation that has wrestled long and hard with issues of sexual identity and family life in the light of Scripture and Tradition.

Rome very much wants what we have to bring as a patrimony for all time, not lost by absorption, but protected and prolonged as a gift for the rest of the Body. They want a strong dose of our Benedictine family life. Our small parishes are family units. Their parishes are so large that they have to use the Ignatian model of the Church as the militia Christi, the army of God. A rectory is a barracks. They want a heavy dose of what we have.

Our Book of Common Prayer is a Benedictine regula for the ordering of all life. There are many cues they want to take from us, such as restoring the Daily Office to their laity.

Growing convergence

The Ordinariate, so much discussed of late, was set up by Rome as a specific response to a certain community of Anglicans who requested a place in Rome. Rome knows that 99 per cent of traditional, orthodox Anglicans, who number tens of millions, are not going to accept the Ordinariate. What Rome is asking of the bulk of us is, first, to get our act together in the great re-alignment.

This convergence has been accelerating since the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in 2008. First, we get our act together. Secondly, we clean up our act. Anglican dioceses that ordain women have to stop and reform and get it right on holy orders. The Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, comprised of six continuing bodies, is working to magnify the biblical office of deaconess. As the priestess door closes, the deaconess door opens.

We can magnify women’s ministries based on Scripture and Tradition: deaconesses, catechists, nuns, Church Army officers, lay canonesses, and above all, wives and mothers. And we have to get it right on holy matrimony.

Our patrimony

Rome has also asked us, through people like Aidan Nichols in England, to tell them what gift we bring to the rest of the Body. What is our patrimony? What things do we want to keep in a Church whose unity is visibly restored? What made us so great? How is it we put together the greatest empire the world has ever known, and how did the Anglo-American alliance win the biggest war ever fought? ‘We can read history books, but we’d like you to tell us in your own words.’ The Anglican Association, a Forward in Faith think-tank in England, is working on this project.

So we get our act together, clean up our act, say what our patrimony is, and re-build our friendship with the Greeks. Then, when the time comes, we go to Rome, with the Russians and Greeks. We stand tall, square our shoulders, sit at the table as equals, and say that we want the consensus of the first millennium. We want what the Russians and Greeks have already been promised: full recognition and autocephaly, self-governance.

Time to re-group

If God has a vocation for us as Anglicans, then the great realignment in our global Anglican community will go forward. And God does have a vocation for Anglicanism. Anglicanism is not all washed up. In the recent past, our community produced Winston Churchill and did win the greatest war ever fought, against gnostic totalitarianism. The devil then changed his tactics and set upon us from another angle, more subtly, but with even greater ferocity, with the gnostic lie about sexual identity and family life and life that is vulnerable. Anglicans have taken the brunt of the devil’s attacks on the Church for over a generation now, and now God is helping us re-group and re-supply.

We are no more washed up than anyone else would be under similar attack. We have a vital role to play in the Body of Christ. ND

A version of this talk was originally given by
the Rt Revd Paul C. Hewett
ssc,
Diocese of the Holy Cross
at the World Consultation on the Continuing Anglican Churches,
St Paul’s, Brockton, Massachusetts,
All Saintstide,
4 November 2011

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