Monday, February 09, 2015

Met. Hilarion: Is There A Future For Ecumenism? (This is a must read)

...The dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Anglican communion began to experience serious difficulties from the second half of the twentieth century with the decision by the Episcopalian Church of the USA in 1976 to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood. At the session of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue in 1978 in Athens the Orthodox side declared that meaningful dialogue with the goal of achieving Christian unity was under threat if women’s ordinations were to continue. Nevertheless, at the end of the 1980s the Episcopalian Church of the USA began the practice of ordaining women as bishops, once more underlining the divergences in views of our Churches on the issue of apostolic succession.

In 1993 the decision of the priestly ordination of women was taken by the General Synod of the Church of England. After the introduction of women priests there then followed discussions on the introduction of a female episcopate. At present, these discussions, which have divided the Anglican communion, may be considered to be over. Only a few days ago the first female bishop was consecrated in the Church of England. Many perceived this to be a significant achievement, while others regarded the event as cause for great disenchantment. It has had a negative effect not only on the ecumenical contacts of the Church of England but also on the situation within the Anglican communion, many members of which remain firm adherents to Christian tradition in the sphere of morality and the teaching on the Church.

I remember well the heated discussions on the issue of the elevation of women to the dignity of bishop at the last Lambeth Conference. I was present at the conference as an Orthodox observer and had the opportunity to talk to many Anglican bishops and to participate in heated discussions on the topic. At one such discussion I was asked: ‘Is there, from the point of view of the Orthodox Church, a principle difference between the female priesthood and the female episcopate? After all, you did not abandon dialogue with the Anglican Church after the decision on female priesthood, why then are you worried about the possibility of a female episcopate?’ Until then I had never thought about the question of the difference between the two things, but as I was asked the question directly I had to come up with some answer on the spot.

It is true, I replied, that we did not cease dialogue with the Anglican Church after the introduction of women priests, but not because we were in agreement with this. The issue is that even then we did not recognize the legitimacy of the Anglican hierarchy. However, for more than a hundred years discussions had been held between Anglicans and Orthodox regarding the possible recognition by the latter of the Anglican hierarchy. Now that possibility, even theoretically, has been removed. Why? Because hitherto we viewed the ordination of women to the priesthood as erroneous actions of individual bishops. Now women have been given the right to become bishops. For us this signifies a very simple fact – discussion on the recognition of the Anglican hierarchy is closed (emphasis mine A/O)...

...From my point of view the most promising dialogue today is between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. Like the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church has never thought of herself as separate from Tradition, she aims to teach and live in accordance with the tradition that has been handed down to us through the ages. The significant improvement in relations between our Churches seen in recent years is tied to a greater realization that we are united by a common heritage, thanks to which both Orthodox and Catholics can and must bear witness together to the world to the never changing values of the Gospel of Christ.

Read the rest here.

This is a wide ranging commentary that among other things, is sharply critical of Anglicanism and liberal Protestantism.


bob said...

Met Hilarion is one of the sanest men alive. I wish someone with plain speaking and sense like this was among the Orthodox 40 years ago when Anglicans went on this particular tangent.. The Russians wouldn't have been free to speak so sensibly then, but the rest of the bishops then and now are mostly content to graze and chew. How nice to have him.

Evangelical Orthodoxy said...

Met. Hilarion has repeatedly emphasized his program of an "alliance" between Orthodox and Catholics, and does so again here. Historically, I am reminded of the "alliance" between the Latins and the Byzantines under Alexios I Comenenos. The histories of the First Crusade resulting from this alliance teach one lesson for a militant Christendom: united we stand, divided we fall.

More importantly, unity provides a good witness to the world; a religion that preaches unity as a major gospel tenet should be, in itself, united.

I do wonder if, as many have said, Met. Hilarion's "alliance" goals are more harmful to true unity than if he were focused on "full communion" (as Met. Zizioulas has been). Some say the "social, moral alliance" is a mere placebo obstructing real ecumenical dialogue on theological issues with the easy unity to be found in the pro-life movement, traditional marriage, anti-materialism, etc.

I'm not sure. I think if Orthodox and Catholics can be reconciled in theological and ecclesiological matters, we should go for it. "Full communion or bust" to be sure. But maybe the "alliance" Met. Hilarion is talking about is the first step in that direction. After all, there is still a lot of mistrust and bigotry on both sides that makes ecumenical dialogue difficult. Perhaps working together to establish Christian orphanages all across Europe (and similar social endeavors) would be a good way to start learning from each other again?