Sunday, 8 January 2012

New Year Newsletter - England's New Ecumenical Directions

Fr Mark Woodruff writes:

The last couple of years have been pointing to a new future for the English Church. First, the several jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church in Britain that are part of overseas national or regional Churches decided to live and act together. From now on, we will be talking less of the Russian, Greek, Serbian and other Orthodox Churches in this country and more of an Orthodox Church of Great Britain. Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain remains the ruling bishop of the churches belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in this kingdom, but he is now to be known more widely as the President of the Assembly of Orthodox Hierarchs of Great Britain. Orthodoxy is not composed of national and provincial churches like Anglicanism and Lutheranism; it is supposed to be a single entity and thus manifest the universal Church of Christ wherever it is found – a living reality and an ecumenical objective on which it is united even now with the Catholic Church. So the new arrangements will bring its true nature and purpose to the fore. The Orthodox Church is not ethnic, or exotic: it is a local Church in Britain too, an integral part of the universal Church as we know it in these islands. Estimates are that in Britain there are half a million Eastern Christians of various backgrounds. This often disregarded body is a vast gift from God to sustain and reinvigorate the mission and service of all the Churches in this land. It is also his sign.

When the pastor for all the Churches and the servant of their unity, Pope Benedict, visited us in September 2010, he told us that the only way we can give a convincing account of the hope that lies within us is by unity – not good relations, but unity. This can be found in none other than the faith that the Church has received from the apostles. What God is painstakingly making clear in the different Orthodox Churches in Britain shows us that you do not have to abandon your identity, your traditions, your history or your ethos to be one in life and mission. There are still Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Antiochian, Arabic and other kinds of Orthodox dioceses and parishes, including a kind of English Orthodox Ordinariate – the largely ex-Anglican Antiochian Deanery of the United Kingdom. Each retains its rich and distinctive identity, the sense of family-belonging among its members, its precious cultural and liturgical traditions. But, without any threat to their integrity, they are not only in full communion between each other. They are working on how to be one body in British society, for all the world to see. As Pope Benedict said on how to achieve Christian Unity back in 1972, they are "entering more deeply into the mystery of the Church where you are, to discover that its reality is none other than one". Through them, God is showing us the road we must take to unity. There are tensions and problems and it may take many decades to achieve it. But internal Orthodox ecumenism is being determined by engaging with each other in hope, to deal with difficulties and disagreements, not by separation and estrangement. This is exactly what Pope Benedict was talking about: ecumenical progress is about plumbing the spiritual depths: getting under ecclesiastical self-interest, and settling in the Tradition that we have received.

Secondly, the black-majority and black-led Pentecostal Churches can no longer be seen simply as overseas denominations or individual congregations planted in Britain over the last half century. They form an increasingly coherent movement within the body of the Church in Britain. They are increasingly diverse. They are often serving people at the greatest risk in some of Britain’s most deprived areas, reminiscent of the zeal for service that brought practical relief and the good news of Jesus Christ by the hands of the Anglo-Catholic movement in the nineteenth century and beyond, as well as the Catholic Church in the same period. Some of these churches have their roots in the Reformed and Evangelical traditions. For other churches, the Pentecostal movement resulted in a breaking away from the Catholic Church and so there remains a strong sense of theological affinity as the search for integrating Church and Renewal in the Holy Spirit progresses. Several others have recognised their affinity with the Orthodox Church and its pronounced emphasis on the theology and operation of the Holy Spirit. Several evangelical charismatic individuals and churches have thus found their destiny in Orthodoxy. One, the Apostolic Pastoral Association, which has a strong African identity, takes inspiration from the Coptic Orthodox Church, itself from north Africa, because of its own concentration upon the apostolic faith of the Bible.

In both these families within the Church and how they are developing, the Spirit is blowing where he pleases, and dissolving the old certainties of who we are in the Body of Christ and how we belong to Him. Precisely as the former Cardinal Ratzinger once prophetically said, it is through going deeper than our denominations and encountering the single mystery of the Church.

This is the lens through which to view the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham that began to take form in January 2011. Too many people have seen this in an insular, English way as a mere swap between a choice of rival denominations. Is this what Anglo-Catholics actually believe about the Church of England being "part of" the one, holy, Catholic Church? Is that what those who are now Roman Catholics actually believe about the Catholic Church in which the entire Universal Church of Christ subsists and with which all Christians are already almost completely united by virtue of their Baptism? Of course not. For if we look at this new phenomenon in Anglophone Christianity from the point of view of the Pope and the unity of the Church that he is seeking, here is a concrete message that in the Church, whose complete unity is yet to be revealed, we will not all just have to change to Roman Catholic-"ism". The one Universal Church will integrate all kinds of gifts and providential histories that belong as gifts of the Spirit to the one Tradition and that serve the unity of our faith. In this one Church’s visible unity, there will be a Latin-rite Catholic reality enriched by all the cultures of the world; there will also be a Russian Orthodox reality, a Wesleyan Methodist reality, various realities with a proud attachment to the faith and values of the Reformation, a Baptist reality, a rich mix of Pentecostal and Charismatic realities. There will also be an Anglican reality with all the nuances and "noisy conversation" of its tradition as well as its glorious musical, liturgical and pastoral patrimony. The Pope is saying that the Catholic Church is not narrow, or that it can only conceive of absorbing the other and watering down the different. This is what some Catholics clearly want. But "united, not absorbed" was the declaration of Dom Lambert Beauduin at the Malines Conversations. Thus the Catholic Church is being urged by its supreme pastor to extend itself, imagine vast new spaces long uninhabited, and live up to realising it is called to be the manifestation of the entire universal Church itself. Of this, the Ordinariate for Catholics bearing their inheritance from the treasured Anglican patrimony is a foretaste. It is also a sign that the unity of the churches has to come out from behind great historic ecclesiastical institutions. These have their God-given purpose still, but they are the means and structure for the Church’s proclamation and service, not her limit.

The next Messenger will be a sequel to Anglicans and Catholics in Communion, capturing the important documentation and analysis about both the implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus one year on. It will also take stock of our new phase in ecumenism, in which the historic witness of the Catholic League remains an insistent voice, proclaiming that there can be no true and lasting unity that does not first, or at least in the end, embrace the faith that the communion of all Christians needs communion with the Apostolic Local Church of Rome, whose Bishop is the universal pastor Christ has given to his Church and servant of that unity which is vital for that "convincing account of the hope that lies within us" to which Pope Benedict compels us.

As the annual Week of Prayer for Chrsitian Unity approaches - it was devised and first spread round the world by Catholics, and it was the Catholic League's founders who first promoted it in England - please pray ever more urgently for the Unity of Christians. Our nation and society demand nothing less of the Churches in our land than to manifest the one life and truth of Christ whom we proclaim.

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