NASHOTAH: Traditional Anglicans Restart Unity Talks With Orthodox Church
Two Seminaries Sign Historic Covenant in Unity Pledge
By Michael Heidt
VOL Special correspondent
October 10, 2009
NASHOTAH HOUSE -- A decade's long impasse between Anglicanism and the Orthodox Church has been broken at an ecumenical conference at Nashotah House.
Signing an historic 'covenant' between Nashotah House and St. Vladimir's Seminary, traditional Anglican leaders and their counterparts in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) have pledged themselves to work towards unity.
Speaking to an international audience of one hundred and seventy people, ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) Archbishop Robert Duncan stated that signing the conference's inter-seminary covenant, committing Nashotah House and St. Vladimir's seminaries to mutual prayer and fellowship, "lays the groundwork of something very much larger", namely "serious dialogue" with the OCA and "the resumption of ecumenical discussion between two separated parts of the Church."
After describing Anglicanism and Orthodoxy as "two streams of one very great river", Archbishop Duncan outlined several "wonderful commonalities to build upon." These include reverence for Scripture and the "Great Tradition", liturgy, art, music, monasticism and veneration of the Saints. Likewise, both Churches are founded on conciliar, or autocephalous models of governance and, with ACNA's rejection of "Western Anglicanism's long embrace of democratic principles," find common cause against secularist influences within and without the Church.
Despite this common ground, Duncan believes that there are still obstacles to overcome along the road to full communion of the two Churches. He listed three areas: The "filioque" clause, which was added to the Nicene Creed by the Western Church, stating the double procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, the ordination of women, which is strenuously objected to by Orthodoxy and permitted in parts of the ACNA and lastly, the Archbishop's reference to the Calvinism of some of ACNA's membership, prohibited by Orthodoxy and condemned as heresy.
Archbishop Duncan feels these are serious matters, but none-the-less believes they are not insurmountable. ACNA's leader concluded with heartfelt thanks for the restarting of ecumenical dialogue, echoing Metropolitan Jonah's statement at ACNA's foundational meeting in Bedford, Texas, "I thank God (for) the offer to resume ecumenical discussions... I also come with arms wide open, speaking the truth in love."
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, a former Anglican, took up this theme, speaking powerfully to the urgency of unity in the face of an increasingly aggressive secularism:
"We stand at a crisis which threatens to undermine the very basis of our culture... only by standing together, united by one Faith, one Heart one Church, will we be able to withstand the onslaught of licentiousness... and fight against it. There is in materialism, there is in secularism only despair."
In the face of this, the OCA's Metropolitan believes ecumenism to be essential, not just as an "institutional process" but as a "mutual discernment in one another of our common identity." This is under-girded by faith, which is the "living knowledge of God implanted by the Holy Spirit, and the "common affirmation (of which) is a sign that we share that same vision of the truth."
His Beatitude continued, addressing the "centrality" of Orthodoxy and it's relevance to unity:
"The Orthodox Church has this central vision of being united in Christ by the Spirit to the Father and we cannot bear not to be united to one another. This is really about our identity as Christians, it's not about labels, institutes, it's about the living reality of our communion in Christ by the Holy Spirit... (this) must be made manifest by our communion in the Chalice... of our eternal life."
This means that full union between Orthodoxy and traditional Anglicanism is imperative and goes beyond mutual projects and discussion. "That's the goal of our dialogue, absolute unity," said the Metropolitan, and this will be "actualized through repentance, a mutual striving towards God and the will of God." For Jonah, unity will only be achieved by walking the way of the Cross, which means letting go of "our desire for power and control, personal agendas... nothing else matters."
In the words of the leader of America's autocephalous Orthodox Church, giving ourselves to this purely spiritual perspective will "align us with the energy of God."
It is precisely this energy which moved the conference, marking the renewal of ecumenical relations between the Churches of the East, as represented by His beatitude Jonah, and Archbishop Duncan, of the Anglican Church in North America. Future ecumenical discussions have been set between the two ecclesial bodies.
---Fr. Michael Heidt is a priest in the Diocese of Ft. Worth
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