Sunday, September 23, 2007

Alternative episcopal oversight that failed
Next week will be the centenary of the coming of Bishop Stephen (Soter Ortynsky) to America from old Austrian/Polish Galicia (in the Ukraine). In a way it was having a ‘flying bishop’ (if there had been airlines) but for issues (except the big one about the scope of the Pope and even that was more an excuse than a real reason) not really about religion and nothing to do with a difference in morals (unlike the Episcopal row today).

It happened here in Pennsylvania (a week from today the Ukrainian Catholics will have a special service at their cathedral in Philadelphia where his tomb is).

St Tikhon (far right) with the Bishop of Fond du Lac (centre) and a Polish Old Catholic bishop (far left) at the consecration of Fond du Lac’s cathedral

Essentially he was sent to do damage control after the ham-handed treatment of immigrant Ruthenian and Galician Greek Catholic coal miners and steelworkers by the resident Irish clergy drove many of them to their East Slav cousins of the same rite in the Russian Orthodox dioceses under Archbishop St Tikhon (Bellavin): the Toth split. (Today about 60 per cent of parishioners in those old Russian dioceses are Ruthenians and Galicians not Russians.)

Alexis Toth

After the Roman-Byzantine estrangement in the Middle Ages these people were Orthodox but went under Rome during long periods of Polish and Austrian rule. (The Galicians were trying to stop Polish persecution; the Ruthenians sought protection from the Protestantism of their local rulers.)

Pictures of Ortynsky show how self-latinised Ukrainian Catholics had become (against Rome’s wishes) — clean-shaven (he had a beard at first) and in a mixture of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox choir dress.

Other than the competition for jobs a reason the Irish hated these East Slavs was simple prejudice/ignorance: for example unlike in the Roman Rite the East Slavs retained the Orthodox practice of ordaining married men. The year Ortynsky came Rome issued its first ban on the practice in North America. Enforcement beginning in 1929 started another schism, this time to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Anyway his mission was a failure really: the local Roman bishops limited what he could do and as for the Galicians and Ruthenians in many cases that horse had run out of the barn: they were Orthodox. The Russians had diocesan bishops as opposed to the bishopless Greek Catholic churches at the mercy of hostile Irish RC clergy so ecclesiologically they happened to make sense. And to top it all off the Ruthenians and Galicians/Ukrainians didn’t get on!

(Eight years after he died Rome tried again and set up Ukrainian and Ruthenian dioceses in America overlapping the Roman Rite ones, which the latter’s bishops weren’t happy about.)

As I mentioned it wasn’t really about the Pope but looking back it does seem a conflict between an authentic traditionalism based on rule of law, the way things have evolved and always have been done, and I think this is a classic Orthodox position that’s authentically Catholic, and ‘all that matters is that you are under Rome’/‘as long as it’s a Wal-Mart’.

This blog doesn’t rejoice over schism but if you take away the hateful anti-Westernism one finds among some Orthodox, here the Orthodox had a point!

Two thoughts about recent news in the Episcopal row
Again the only inevitable outcomes are some parishes will be split and some others squashed. On both sides. Most Episcopalians won’t be affected in any way no matter who wins.

Flying bishops approved by Dr Jefferts-Schori for Episcopalians opposed to gay weddings? Just like Catholicism can’t be reduced to mere opinion or liturgical style, even though many on both sides of this issue are Christians (I retract and apologise for ever saying otherwise — that made no sense!) this is a non-negotiable (a deal-breaker for remaining in the same church) like the episcopate and the Real Presence and to say otherwise seems condescending. ‘You can stand over here in the Indian reservation/unia and be quiet/be Catholic while the rest of us have gay weddings/are Protestants.’ No.

As for the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is a Christian in his beliefs) having a secret church service for gays it was never a secret that Dr Williams sympathises with the liberals on the issue but he’s upset them because as ++Cantuar he’s tried not to let that interfere with what he thinks is his job, serving the massive majority of Anglicans worldwide who are not white, not rich and not liberal (but are Protestants so I don’t really have a dog in this race). Beyond a show of his personal sympathy I’ve no idea what it’s supposed to mean and speculation seems like only gossip.

Update: America’s mainstream Presbyterians have similar problems.

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