Wednesday, November 14, 2012

from Russia with love ...

A tip of the biretta to Fr Michael Gallop over at the Let Nothing You Dismay Blog for this letter from Metropolitan Hilarion, the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Archbishop of Canterbury-elect:

Dear Brother and Lord Bishop,

I would like to extend to you wholehearted congratulations on your election as Head of one of the oldest episcopal chairs founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 7th century.
You have been entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ (Tit. 1:7) the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth (cf. Jn. 18:37).

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion are bonded by age-old friendly relations initiated in the 15th century. For centuries, our Churches would preserve good and truly brotherly relations encouraged both by frequent mutual visits and established theological dialogue and certainly by a spirit of respect and love which used to accompany the meetings of our hierarchs, clergy and ordinary believers.

Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole.

We hope that the voice of the Orthodox Church will be heard by the Church of England and Churches of the Anglican Communion, and good fraternal relationships between us will revive.
I wish you God’s help in your important work.
‘May the God of love and peace be with you’ (2 Cor. 13:11).

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

One could not accuse the Metropolitan of trying to sugar-coat things with his letter! 

Personally, I don't think on the basis of this that there is any likelihood of some form of unity in the near future. And even if these difficulties could be dealt with there remain other issues that are also quite thorny. 

There are some positive notes in the letter, however. He addresses the ABC-elect as 'Dear Brother and Lord Bishop' - that displays a willingness to show courtesy despite the divisions. It might be a step too far to suggest it implies a recognition of Anglican orders, but it is certainly a gracious gesture. 

It also shows that Orthodoxy hasn't washed their hands of Anglicanism yet. Despite the 'tangible difficulties' the Orthodox still hope that some form of communion may be achieved. 

Finally, he clearly spells out what some the major problems are, from the Orthodox perspective, that would need to be addressed if unity is to be achieved. This lets Anglicans know where they stand.
These problems, are of course, are also issues for the Catholic Church. 

This does not mean that it is all gloom for those who wish both to remain Anglican and be in communion with the wider Church. Doors remain open, as Metropolitan Hilarion's letter makes clear. What's needed now is prayer and perhaps some creative thinking. God wants his Church to be One. I am sure he will guide us in the right direction if we let him.


  1. copied from Facebook:
    Fr RM: you tip away father. have you ever had any dealings with the russian church? if you think they set the ecumenical agenda, god help us all.

  2. In reply to Fr RM
    1. a 'tip' is a common blogging courtesy acknowledging where you first picked up on something;
    2. No dealing with the 'russian church'; I know lots of Orthodox Christians & have read Bishop Hilarion's book 'the mystery of faith'; his stance would be the standard in Orthodoxy;
    3. I never said the 'russian church' set the agenda ... but as I said, their views are typical of all Orthodox. I would have thought all parties to ecumenical dialogue were involved in setting an agenda ... & if a much bigger group than Anglicans says some things are non-negotiable, where exactly would Anglican's 'leverage' be to move them?

  3. Father, thank you for your comments and for the hope they express. We must pray that somehow they come to fruition, if not in our day then in God's own time and in his own way.

  4. Hope is central to our faith, is it not, Father? ;-) And I do remain hopeful that it remains possible to achieve some form of unity. Perhaps not all Anglicans can, or indeed desire, to be in communion with either Rome or the Orthodox churches. But I do not think this means that those who truly wish to be faithful to Christ's call that we should be one can not find a way of being in communion with the wider Church.