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DROMANTINE: Koinonia But No Communion

KOINONIA BUT NO COMMUNION
Primates stress Fellowship but not Common Eucharist

COMMENTARY

By David W. Virtue

NEWRY, Northern Ireland (2/25/2005)--The Eucharist, the one loaf and common cup of Christianity, has been the sacramental expression of unity from the parish through the dioceses to the provincial and on to international gatherings like the Lambeth Conference and the Primates meeting.

There has never been an occasion, of which we know, where the Common Eucharist was not central to the worship of the gathered community. It has been celebrated in the context of every major meeting of Anglican leaders.

This writer cannot recall a time or meeting when this has not been so. And this is entirely what would be expected in the light of the teaching found in such places as the Virginia Report 1998 and the Windsor Report 2004. Here the Koinonia/Fellowship of the three persons of the godhead is said to be reflected and mirrored in the unity and diversity of the churches of the Anglican Communion, and the Common Eucharist is the dynamic symbol of this koinonia which begins in heaven and is experienced on earth.

And yet this week, a gathering of the most powerful leaders of the Anglican Communion in a moment of extreme crisis, who in their communiqué claim to have had open, honest and frank fellowship, had no Common Eucharist at all. Can you imagine a conclave of Cardinals meeting in Rome and not having a Common Eucharist?

However, there was provision made each morning at a Eucharist celebrated by one of the Archbishop of Armagh's chaplains for individual primates to attend according as they felt the need. But it was made clear that this was not a Common Eucharist but a provision for those who felt a need of it. So the whole week went by with common prayers and Bible readings but without that which is claimed by these leaders themselves to be the very heart and soul of the koinonia/fellowship which they say underlies the bonds of affection of which they often speak.

The truth of the matter is that at least 22 of the Primates, who are orthodox in faith and morals, have publicly stated that they are not in communion with certain Western Primates of the north.

The conference, like all Anglican conferences, is built on the frame of Holy Communion an expression of the koinonia, and the primates, the leaders of 78 million Anglicans in over 50 countries, could not agree to come together around the Lord's Table.

This appears to be a dysfunctional communion at work which can wax eloquent on the very fact of their own fellowship and then be unable to express it where our Lord commanded it to be expressed and celebrated!

Perhaps this dysfunctionality is to be held in mind in interpreting the communiqué which carefully avoids stating the fact of their being no Common Eucharist.

Frank Griswold who has always believed and who often opines on the centrality of the Eucharist as being the outward and visible sign of the unity of the diverse people of God, found himself to be the basic cause for this dysfunctionality. No wonder he left before the conference ended!

Furthermore there is a rich vein of Anglican teaching, much loved by Griswold, which emphasizes that the unity of God's people around the Lord's Table is a visible and effectual sign to the world, of the possibility of the healing of brokenness by the gospel embodied in the Eucharistic celebration.

But here the Primates, who claim to have a mission and message for a broken world, were unable collectively to offer the sign of healing and unity to that same world.

At his Episcopal Church headquarters in NYC Primate Griswold says he always attends, the noonday Eucharist when he is in town. "I'm here, at 12:10 p.m. I'm in the chapel. It reminds me that I'm not alone. The dynamic of the gospel is death and resurrection. The sense of losing security or wondering what's going to happen to me is part of the pattern of faithfulness, as far as I can tell. In a very real way I'm sharing Christ's pattern."

It could be said that Griswold had the greatest influence upon this conference even though his doctrine of sexuality was severely questioned, and the greatest influence he had was to cause dysfunctionality among the whole body of the assembled primates who had no Common Eucharist because of him.

Who won? The traditionalists, evangelicals and orthodox have been putting out statements that all they wanted to hear has been heard, but there is a real sense that the victory has been achieved by the one who has had his opinions on sexuality rejected.

The paradox is that the man who has been condemned and rejected was the victor in that he caused the primates to fail to do that which everyone in the Anglican Churches of the world expect them to do, which is to have a Common Eucharist.

--If you would like to read more stories about the Anglican Communion then go to www.virtueonline.org. VirtueOnline is the most widely read orthodox Anglican News Service in the Anglican Communion.

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