Saturday, April 21, 2007

Déjà vu, sort of
As the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad will reconcile with the church in the mother country in a few weeks. Some are comparing the reactions in a few places to the Episcopal row.

As the message board this came from is down for maintenance I’ll summarise.

Apparently the rector of a church in Trenton, New Jersey and much of a congregation in El Rio, California say they’ll leave if the reunion happens.

Legally it parallels some Episcopal parishes’ moves to leave the liberalising national church and go under arrangements with overseas Anglican bishops.

Unlike the law in the rest of the United States, California has some recent precedent for breakaway congregations keeping their buildings as the Episcopalians have found out.

This reaction from some Russians who escaped the Communists in the 1940s — I know some — and some of their descendents is understandable!

However, as the Russian Church has done nothing deal-breaking/church-splitting like officially allowing an apostate to remain a bishop in good standing (like the Episcopal Church did in 1966), unilaterally trying to change the apostolic ministry (like the Episcopal Church did in 1977), trying to have gay weddings (the point of consecrating a practising homosexual as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire a few years ago) or entering communion with non-episcopal Protestants (as the Episcopalians now have done with American Lutherans and United Methodists) the parallel breaks down. (How the Russian Church handles ‘same-sex blessings’: defrock the priest and raze the building. That actually happened.)

So these threatened splits among the Russians smack of Donatism (saying the unworthiness of the minister — such as from past collaboration with the Communists — takes away the grace of the sacraments administered): theologically they don’t work.

Churchwarden Michael Avisov of Holy Trinity, El Rio’s argument sounds awfully americanised and Protestant: ‘In my mind, it’s a clear-cut case of standing up for what we believe in, which is the American way, democracy, freedom of practicing our religion and being masters of our destiny.’ Nothing about obeying one’s lawful, still Orthodox bishop!

Interestingly in American Orthodox history, episcopal vs congregational ownership of church property was a reason for several Slavic immigrant splits from Rome and, in some cases, switches to the Orthodox because sometimes the local Roman Catholic bishop tried to use ownership of church buildings to break up Byzantine Catholic parishes — many Irish bishops hated them.

When defending money, property or that sacred cow, gay weddings, the Episcopal left affects an ecclesiology higher than Pope Pius IX in elevator shoes, quoting St Ignatius of Antioch and all that. Traditions and canons matter except when they, you know, don’t (like when trying to change the apostolic ministry starting back in 1974). Faced with that logic no wonder many choose to stay home on Sundays instead. Anyway, Midwest Conservative Journal (with whom I disagree vehemently on politics!) puts them in their place with this: ‘If you’re a PROTESTANT, then you don’t EVER get to invoke Nicæa. Not unless you’re planning on converting to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy.’

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