Sunday, October 17, 2010
The future of ACNA relations with the OCA
By Robin G. Jordan
The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, which was renamed the Orthodox Church of America in 1970, declared itself autonomous at a time when the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia was experiencing serious persecution at the hands of the Bolshevik government and was struggling for its survival. In 1920 Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow directed all Russian Orthodox churches outside of Russia to govern themselves autonomously if the central administration were disabled or if they were unable to contact it. The ROGCCA declared itself autonomous without the necessary condition of the inability of the central administration to govern them. The Russian Orthodoc Church did not actually grant autocephaly to the OCA until 1970. All autocephalous Orthodox Churches , however, do not recognize the atocephaly of the OCA.
The OCA has been torn by scandal in recent years. Archbishop Seraphim who has jurisdiction over all of Canada for the New York-based OCA has most recently taken a leave of absence due to allegations of sexual misconduct. The Moscow Patriarchate, I have learned from sources within the Russian Orthodox community or close to that community, is reconsidering its recognition of the OCA as autocephalous. In the wake of the collapse of the former Soviet Union and in part due to a resurgence of Russian nationalism the Russian Orthodox Church has itself been experiencing a resurgence. One of the consequences of this resurgence is that it is taking a greater interest in the state of Russian Orthodoxy outside of Russia and it does not like what it sees. The Russian Orthodox Church is more conservative than the OCA. The scandals wracking the OCA are in the minds of the Russians damaging the public image of the Russian Orthodox Church. They look at the effects that sexual scandals of the Roman Catholic Church have had upon that Church’s public image.
The Russians see themselves as faced with two choices. They can withdraw their recognition of the OCA’s autocephalous status and resume oversight of the OCA and purge the OCA of any undesirable element. Moscow would appoint or approve the appointment of new bishops for the OCA. Or they can disown the OCA. In the later case they would withdraw their recognition of the OCA as being genuinely Russian Orthodox and severe their relations with the OCA.
Whatever the Russians choose to do, it is likely to cause a split in the OCA. If the Russians reassumed oversight of the OCA, the more liberal segment of the OCA is likely to separate from that body and form their own province. If the Russians disown the OCA, the more conservative segment of the OCA is likely to seek to remain with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church is not known for its openness to ecumenism. It shows no interest in intercommunion agreements with Anglican bodies that from a Russian Orthodox point of view are heretical. If an Anglican body wishes to have improved relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, it must fully embrace Orthodoxy. This has been the position of Russian Orthodox Church since the Non-Jurors made overtures to that Church in the seventeenth century.
The efforts of Bishop Ray Sutton’s ecumenical task force to develop an intercommunion agreement with the OCA must be evaluated in the light of these developments. If the Russian Orthodox Church reassumes oversight of the OCA, it is not going recognize such an agreement. The existence of an intercommunion agreement with the ACNA may actually jeopardize the careers of the remaining OCA leaders. Whoever in the OCA is at the present time pursuing such an agreement would be regarded as too liberal and would be purged from the OCA leadership. They would be removed from their leadership positions and banished to a monastery. The OCA leaders who enter into such an agreement are also jeopardizing the OCA’s relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and their own church’s conservative wing.
It is difficult to believe that Bishop Sutton and his task force are not aware of this development and the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church toward ecumenism. Why then are they seeking the GAFCON Primates’ acceptance of the dropping of the Filoque clause from the Nicene Creed?
A number of possibilities present themselves. First, Sutton and his task force and/or the ACNA leaders supporting the initiative are seeking to establish the ACNA in a leadership role in relationship to GAFCON and the global south Anglican community. Historically Americans seem themselves as destined to be world leaders. Because they are more conservative than their counterparts in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church does not mean that they have abandoned such pretensions. The ACNA is moving in what may be described as an Independent Catholic direction—toward a charismatic and evangelistic-minded but unreformed form of Catholicism, which, since it is also found outside of Anglican bodies, cannot be characterized as Anglo-Catholicism. A small but growing body of evidence exists that elements within the ACNA and its ministry partner, the former AMiA, now the Anglican Mission, are seeking to influence GAFCON to move in the same direction and away from the Reformed Catholicism of historic Anglicanism. Since the Thirty-Nine Articles affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and the Son, the GAFCON Primates’ endorsement of such a change in the Nicene Creed would amount to a rejection of the doctrine of the Articles, which its authors believed was consonant with Scripture. The Anglican Church of Rwanda has promulgated a new constitution and set of canons that are the work of a former Roman Catholic priest in the Anglican Mission and incorporate the doctrine, language, norms, and principles of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law and affirm the dogmas of the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. The Rwandan Church is spearheading a movement in the global South community for a revamping of Anglican ecclesiology that builds upon the work of the same priest. Historic Anglicanism may be described as under a two-pronged attack from liberalism and Catholicism that originates in North America and particularly in the United States.
Second, Sutton’s task force and/or the ACNA leaders supporting this initiative is anticipating that the ACNA may benefit from a split in the OCA. The dropping of the Filoque clause from the Nicene Creed would eliminate an obstacle to breakaway congregations and clergy from the OCA migrating to the ACNA. It would also remove an obstacle to unaffiliated Orthodox joining the ACNA.
Third, this particular undertaking of the Sutton’s task force is cosmetic and intended for internal consumption. The membership of the ACNA is quite naïve in matters of ecumenical relations. It is meant to appeal to Convergentist sentiments in that body and the Convergentist vision of the ACNA as a church in which not only are disparate theological streams coming together but also is on the forefront of a similar convergence worldwide. It also helps to justify the existence of the task force and its funding.
Fourth, Sutton has private reasons for what he and his task force are doing. He sees it as a way to gain heightened prestige for himself, advance his own career, and eventually secure for himself the top position in the ACNA hierarchy—the office of Archbishop and Primate of the ACNA.
Fifth, it is a combination of these possibilities.
In any event this initiative is not going to further the cause of authentic historic Anglicanism in North America. An influx of Russian Orthodox into the ACNA would provide additional impetus to its present movement in an Independent Catholic direction, as the influx of High Church Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians into the Reformed Episcopal Church contributed to its movement away from the doctrine and principles of its conservative evangelical founders. The improved relations between the ACNA and Convergence and Independent Catholic bodies that resulted from the College of Bishops’ recognition of their Independent Catholic orders increase the likelihood of an influx of congregations and clergy from these bodies, which are experiencing troubles of their own. The split in the Anglican Church in America over the personal ordinariate for Anglicans in the Roman Catholic Church and related developments may bring more Anglo-Catholics into the ACNA. Without the establishment of one or more Reformed Protestant dioceses and even a Reformed Protestant sub-provincial jurisdiction in the ACNA and the negotiation of a special protocol for these groupings exempting them from a number of doctrinal and governance provisions of the ACNA constitution and canons and guaranteeing to them the right to elect and confirm their own bishops, there is no future for Reformed Protestantism of authentic historic Anglicanism in the ACNA.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 2:47 PM