Monday, September 11, 2006

What can we learn from Fr. Thomas Hopko?

In all that follows of these selected excerpts from a talk by Fr. Thomas Hopko, substitute in your mind "Continuing Anglican" (for lack of a better phrase) when Fr. Hopko says "Orthodox." The same scandal of disunity over issues that often are trivial, political and no more essential than a simple "who struck John?" scenerio, needs to become a thing of the past. I firmly believe that many jurisdictions have sprung up all over the place for no more valid a reason than that somebody wants to wear a purple shirt and a mitre, and simply won't submit himself to the wisdom and Canon Law of established Anglican churches. That is, because somebody wants power. Read these remarks by Father Hopko, and think about our own house (or houses). I have included the editor's note to introduce our own readers to Fr. Hopko.
Father Thomas Hopko is an Orthodox theologian and the dean emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. He is a retired professor of dogmatic theology who lives in Ellwood City, Pa. Recently, he spoke to the St. John Chrysostom Society at a meeting held at St. John Orthodox Church in Campbell on the topic of what the Orthodox would have to do, despite our shared common heritage, before there could be unity with Catholicism. The topic seems of such importance to ecumenism that we include here, edited for length, his remarks that evening. The St. John Chrysostom Society works to foster unity and understanding between Roman Catholics and members of eastern-rite churches.

They don’t even want unity. So I am extremely pessimistic about that point. Why? Because the Orthodox leaders don’t even want unity among the Orthodox, let alone with Roman Catholics or Protestants. It’s obvious. The record is clear. I’m not making this up. This is not my opinion. The Orthodox leadership, and most of the Orthodox people, don’t want unity with others, and they are not ready to give up anything… even the smallest little thing that is clearly not essential to the faith. I feel very strongly that this is true.
When people ask me, for example, why the Orthodox jurisdictions in America are not united, the answer is very clear: because our leaders don’t want it. If they wanted it, we would have had it yesterday. There is nothing stopping them… you may have to suffer a lot. You may have to give up some things: power, pre-eminence, prominence, property, possessions, prestige, positions, privilege and pleasure. We’re not ready to give up those things because of pride, passion and prejudice. Forget it. There’s not going to be any unity. That’s what divides people generally, and it is certainly what divides churches…
Another point for the Orthodox is that we not only have to desire unity, be ready to sacrifice everything essential to have it, to be able to distinguish what is essential from what is not, be able to forgive the past and admit our own sins and concentrate on ourselves, to do practical acts of charity and mercy – but also never, ever to say or do anything that would offend another person unnecessarily…There are so many ways we can charitably go out of our way to not hurt others… our churches speak about unity, and then every day attack each other in missionary work and so on. Even among the Orthodox, one of our jurisdictions starts a mission and three days later, another jurisdiction starts another mission on the same street. That’s just offensive.

… You all know the story of the Orthodox man who was shipwrecked on an island. When they came to rescue him, they found two churches there. The rescuer said, “Why are there two churches here? You’re all alone.” The Orthodox man said, “Yeah… that’s the one I go to and that’s the one I don’t.” That’s a deeply ingrained mentality among eastern Christians because of their history, their culture, their politics. But if that is not purged out somehow by the grace of God, forget about talking unity with Catholics. Orthodox need to first have unity among themselves, even culturally and nationally in regions where they live.
… So Orthodox need to be ready to go the extra mile. Jesus said, “If they ask for your coat, give them your shirt. If they ask you to go one mile, go two.” So our attitude has to be always toward bending over backwards, so to speak, to do the thing that will build up unity rather than give offense or cause hard feelings.

People always point out that they fear greater unity because it will cause greater schisms… some of our people won’t go along. But we have schisms anyway. Let’s have them for the right reason. Suppose we had unity and half the [Orthodox] people didn’t come along. I think we should be ready to say goodbye to them if the unity is in God. We have to be people of unity, not because we will have more power in society, or be more popular, or George Bush will invite us to the White House. We have to have unity because God wants it, but it has to be unity in God, not unity in Ukrainianism or whatever… If the unity is not in God, in Christ, in the Spirit, who wants it anyway?

But history shows that the people who worked for unity in the Faith were usually persecuted, while the masses just went about their business.


The Lemonts said...

My experience with Orthodoxy found me coming to the conclusion that it is not remarkable from other "churches". For instance the Greeks believe the Antiochians are liberal, some ROCOR people believe the Greeks are nominal at best. I found Orthodoxy via the Antiochians but by circumstance I ended up in a Greek parish. Now I love the priest, I loved the parish. My wife hated the parish (but really liked the priest) because it was ethnic though apparently not as ethnic as a "real" ethnic Greek parish. I had contemplated trying a different jurisdiction but none close used english at all let alone 60/40 like the Greeks. I rarely heard the Antiochians speak ill of the Greeks, except perhaps pointing out that conversion to Orthodoxy does not require becoming Greek.

Now I am living in the Portland, OR area and I see a much more pan Orthodox atmosphere. The closest parish is Antiochian and I was very happy with my first liturgy there.

All of this disunity reminds me of a saying of St. John Chrysostom "The desire to rule is the mother of all heresy".

As far as continuing jurisdictions go the ACA doesn't seem to bash at all. Atleast not in the two parishes I've been to. My experience with the APCK was similar. I did once ask a priest why not become WR Orthodox rather than have this tiny parish with no impact on the community. If there is no objection to the Eastern Churches theology, why not join together to make an impact (i.e. sharing the Gospel, feeding the hungry, etc., etc.)?

poetreader said...

Thank you for posting that, Fr. Hart! When there are not major differences in essential doctrines, there is no excuse whatever for disunity, and there are no parties to the schismatic situation who are not putting themselves in sin. That applies to Orthodoxy, and that applies to Anglo-Catholicism. Are there differences in character or emphasis? Of course there are, and the Catholic Faith is such that it incorporates these in itself. Are there differences in doctrine? There may be -- but are these differences sufficient to justify a division among Christians? Sometimes that is the case, but all too often such differences are within the range of things upon which Catholics may disagree. As I look at both the Continuum and Orthodoxy I become more and more convinced that most of these perceived differences are simply excuses for keeping one's own ego-pleasing separation. If Catholic Christians keep up this kind of bickering, we are asking Our Lord, by our actions, to withdraw His blessing. His promise is that the Church will not be defeated by Satan, but He has not promised that there will be more than a remnant at His Coming. I am firmly convinced that the reunification of Catholic Christians is one of the most vital issues facing us.


Albion Land said...


Ironic. I read Fr Hopko's piece via another link, and the same thought came to my mind.

As a relative newcomer to the Continuum, I am still mystified as to why we have so many jurisdictions in the first place and why there is no (re)unification.

From a purely political point of view, I can't see unification as affecting anyone other than the primates, as their could only be one per country. But there ought to be a way to accommodate the overlapping bishops, at least till they retire, in some sort of transitional arrangement.

I can certainly see no impediment to unification of the ACC, ACA and APCK. I'm not sure about the APA, because of its proposed merger with the the American evangelicals and its relationship with Nigeria, whose position on WO I do not know.

I would very much like to hear from you and Fr Matthew, respectively APCK and ACC, and from people from other jurisdictions.

What's the problem, folks? Why can't we get it together?

Warwickensis said...

What's the problem, Albion?

I'm not sure.

I'll hazard a few guesses:

1) Even Continuing Anglicans are infected with the indiviualistic mores of the present social climate.

2) (This is certainly the case in Blighty) The Continuing Anglican Churches are distant in physicality and small in number. Thus there is a tendency to be defensive about one's "clique."

3) There is a subtle tension between Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Papalists, whose Ecclesiology is different.

However, I'm an Anglo-Papalist and am happy (nay, adamant) to remain in Communion with my Anglo-Catholic friends. This may, in some people's minds, be contradictory, but perhaps there is a need to go for the unity first and resolve (if we can) the contradictions later.