Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Warning from the East

This is a sobering presentation from the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk of the Moscow Patriarchate . He was speaking in Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowen Williams, the primate of the Church of England and leader of the Anglican Communion. The occasion was the Nicean Club, which has been dedicated to furthering relations between the Anglican Church and the Eastern Orthodox. For him to say what he said on such an occasion took courage, but I believe it also came from a desire to call the leaders of the Church of England to a full awareness of the dangers of this time for the Church. Indeed, this is the kind of warning that speaks to all of us, including those of us in the ELCA. Our divisions are not some localized anomalie. All of Christianity is involved in this growing division amongst us. Read the Metropolitan's words, and pray over their meaning and warning for all of us.
(And yes, I have read his words regarding the ordination of women. I encourage us to read them also. Can we, can I defend the decision to ordain women from Scripture? And if I were asked to forgo my own ordination and wait for the consensus of the whole Church to decide that this was the time to introduce the ordination of women, to truly act as a member of an interrelated body rather than as an autonomous independent unit acting alone, would I be willing to wait in service to those other members of the Body of Christ? It is a question worth pondering, and answering honestly.)


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.

. . . 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’.

Read the entire piece here:


Tim Fisher said...

There are many important aspects of the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk's warning that we should attend to. (I'm guessing this is a title or office, rather than a name.) One of those aspects is its framing. He (I presume this is a he) frames his warning as a struggle between "traditional" and "liberal." I reject this framing. It is inaccurate. Of course, part of what I consider to be included within "traditional" is "Lutheran," a tradition which I assume the Metropolitan Hilarion doesn't share. But even beyond that, I claim Scripture as a foundation of the tradition I participate in as I celebrate the ordained ministries of LGBT people and support the married and blessed relationships of same-gender couples.

The Rev. Erma Wolf said...

Tim, I also generally reject (and try to avoid using) the designation of "liberal" or "conservative" as they have too much the background of politics to serve well in describing the differing movements within the Church. But I would raise two points. The first is I understand Metropolitan Hilarion as trying to describe the current situation as that of disagreement and division running within each denominational group, rather than between (as he notes) Orthodox and Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican, Anglican and Catholic (and we could add, Lutheran and Catholic, etc.).

The second is that, while you claim that you and others who "support the married [sic] and blessed relationships of same-gender couples" are within the definition of "traditional Christian/Lutheran", you and I disagree with that claim. The claim that same-gender couples can be married and blessed according to Scripture is an innovation, a recent innovation, which is not found in the Great Tradition of the Church. It comes out of a new understanding and interpretation of Scripture, Creeds and Confessions, which you claim to be in continuity with what was taught before, but which many, many in the broad Church reject.

I noted in my aside that the Metropolitan also lifts up the ordination of women as being an innovation that is in conflict with the tradition of the Church; he is right, it is. I believe a Scriptural case can be made for endorsing this innovation, but I have long been troubled by the fact that the ALC and LCA acted on this matter in advance of other ecumenical partners, particularly the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church. In light of recent events in the ELCA, I remain troubled by the implications of acting alone then, for the way we continue to act alone last year and now.

Thanks for your comments. While we clearly disagree, these matters need further discussion from within the ELCA by those on both sides of this argument.

Tim Fisher said...

>> The claim that same-gender couples can be married and blessed according to Scripture is an innovation, a recent innovation, which is not found in the Great Tradition of the Church.>>

Perhaps the *claim* is an innovation, yes. But Scripture itself, which I and many others throughout the Christian world base our claim on, is not a recent innovation vis a vis the Great [sic] Tradition. The Great Tradition does not own the Gospel. It does not own the Word. It does not own what the Word effects in believers. That effect, and all the things that are fruits of that Word and that effect, and also tradition(al).