Orthodox Metropolitan Soft on Sacred Tradition

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware was waxing philosophical in the wake of the Lambeth Conference, presenting a soft approach to Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. There are some interesting parallels with an earlier post of mine, Orthodox EP Soft Like Anglicans on Abortion, in that these comments are given with the intention of being sympathetic with the current Anglican predicament. Still, this cannot be understood as mere diplomatic speech as it was given in the wake of the Vatican’s stunningly frank language on the same matters delivered by Cardinal Kasper just days prior. The full interview is found here.

An interesting exerpt (emphasis mine):

… First, I admire deeply the way in which Archbishop Rowan is fulfilling his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, at this moment of crisis. It’s easy to say, with reference to his position here at the Lambeth Conference or generally in the current Anglican world, that he is in a no-win situation. But granted the immense difficulties that he is facing, he is not doing too badly. Now, what should he be doing here at Lambeth? Should he be offering very firm and clear leadership, insisting on a particular point of view, putting forward resolutions to the plenary gathering of the bishops for their acceptance? He has not chosen to do that. Some people feel disappointed. Some people feel he should be doing that. But if he were to do that, it would create confrontation and division. If you walk through the mountains and you find a large rock in your path, one method is to kick it out of the way. The other is to walk around it and go on with your journey. Now Archbishop Rowan has probably understood that if he tries to kick this particular stone, or this double rock – the ordination of women and homosexual relations – if he tries to confront it head-on and insist on a clear expression of the position of the Anglican Communion, to kick the stone out of the path, he is likely to hurt his toe. The stone perhaps is too sharp and heavy to be moved in that way at this moment. But you can walk round it in the sense of affirming the bonds of unity that exist beyond these divisive issues. And this is what he wants to do with the present Lambeth Conference. To make this a time of shared prayer, shared discussion, strengthening the bonds of friendship. Now some people would be disappointed that as far as we can see, and we are halfway through now, there is not going to be either a major confrontation or a very clear affirmation. But perhaps this is not the right moment – this is not the kairos, the opportunity given by God for such clear statements. Is a very difficult thing to discern, when to insist on a decision, when to say we are not ready. That’s the problem that confronts the chairman of any gathering. And it confronts Rowan in a particularly poignant way.

…I’ve spoken about the need for catholic consensus on issues like the ordination of women or the blessing of homosexual relations. These are departures from Church order and from accepted moral teaching of major importance, and therefore there ought to be some consensus not just within the Anglican Communion but with the other Churches, especially those that preserve the historic apostolic faith and order, the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. That is one side of the matter, the need for consensus. But then we might also say, should there not also be the possibility for a prophetic action? Will you ever have change unless some people are willing to stand up and say, this is what we ought to be doing? And even if their testimony is highly controversial, who will nonetheless stand by their position. It could be argued that perhaps the Anglican Communion was guided by the Holy Spirit to lead other Christians into new paths. Now I can see that as a valid argument and I want to balance that against the point that we need to act with catholic consensus. How can we do both these things together – preserve catholic consensus, and yet allow grace for freedom in the Holy Spirit? Christ did not tell us that nothing should never be done for the first time. The whole witness of the early Church points in a different direction. So how do you balance these two things – the need for consensus with the need for freedom in the Spirit, the need for loyalty to holy tradition, with the need to be open to new initiatives? And I think this is at the heart of a great deal of what we are talking about here in Canterbury at this Lambeth Conference.

This is certainly the way in which the outside world, or a large part of it, will view the Lambeth Conference. They will say that when so much of the human population is permanently hungry, ill-housed, suffering from disease which could be cured (if we the rich nations would really set our minds to helping), when so much of the world is suffering in this way, is it not a loss of proportion to be concentrating on women priests, or even on homosexuality? And one could strengthen this point by saying, the Church does not exist for herself. Christ said, “May they all be one that the world may believe”. The Church exists for the world, for the conversion of the world, for mission, and mission doesn’t just mean telling people about Christ (though that is vitally important). Mission means also helping them and ensuring that there is social, political and economic justice – that is all part of mission. The Epistle of James is very clear on this matter, that if a poor man comes to you and is hungry, has no clothes, no home and no food, and you just talk to him about Jesus Christ and say, “Now go away,” that’s not really mission, that’s not preaching the faith. Faith is not words, faith is how we relate to living persons, how we make their joys and sorrows our own, to use the image of St. Paul that I have already mentioned.

…So in that way I do say that those questions we are considering here at Lambeth are not all-important, and not all perhaps the first priority. On the other hand they do need to be discussed, because they do involve our understanding of the basic questions of human nature and of priesthood. And so as long as we do not lose sight of the wider agenda, we are right to try and get clear our minds clear on these issues. And it was extremely significant that yesterday on our London day we didn’t march through the streets of London with placards about homosexuality and women priests, we marched through the streets of London with placards about poverty and justice.

While one must praise the recent ecumenical progress made with the Orthodox, or some of them, one has to be sure that openness to the Orthodox is not an openness to the errors of the age to which some Orthodox leaders seem to be giving ground, at least theoretically. Can one call a bad fruit of the Spirit of the Age a matter of prophetic action and still be a Christian?

Kallistos’ sympathy for Rowan is misplaced. Can one sympathize with Rowan when Rowan is a thoroughly compromised homosexualist and it is his theological party that has cause the growing rift that it is his job to heal? Can one have sympathy with this Rowan who has refused to assert orthodox Christian doctrine? Can one sympathize with this Rowan when he has protracted the debate for 10 more years so that his own liberals will have time to take control of the CofE before decisions are made? Can one sympathize with the anti-Gospel calumny we have witnessed at Lambeth and which was planned for as much as a year ago?

20 Responses to Orthodox Metropolitan Soft on Sacred Tradition

  1. […] also:  Orthodox Metropolitan Soft on Sacred Tradition Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)On Political Euphemisms: […]

  2. Lotar says:

    Not really news. It is a little amusing to see a Roman Catholic realize the quality of Orthodox bishops the Vatican has been having its ecumenical lovefests with.

    One could point out what the Russians are saying, but apparently RCs have a hard time understanding how little influence the EP, his bishops and his tiny jurisdiction have over the Chuch at large.

  3. Fr. J. says:

    Lotar, thanks for the comment. I have not posted the MP’s statement on Lambeth because it does not stand out as remarkable. Yes, he condemns the direction of the Anglicans. That the Vatican also condemns the Anglicans would not be newsworthy except that Anglicans had previously had pretensions of being Catholic, pretensions which now in this historic moment are ever to be dismissed.

    But, this little ditty from the Met. Kallistos is a doosey.

    As for the MP’s hard line, well, like Putin, he takes a hard line on everything.

  4. Lotar says:

    I think perhaps that is – at least from my observations – one of the most frustrating things for Roman Catholics about the Orthodox: The contrast between the effete bishops you get along with ecumenically and the supposed “hardliners” you do not.

    Most of the Orthodox world will read Bp Hilarion’s commentary on the Lambeth conference, and not Bp Kallistos’. It is unfortunate that though the EP’s jurisdiction is tiny and nearly dead, it represents a disproportionately large segment of English-speaking Orthodox.

  5. Fr. J. says:

    It is also difficult for Catholics to discern whether an Orthodox commenter is critical of the EP for the content of the Patriarch’s remarks or because the commenter is a Russian imperialist theologically, politically, or both. Either way, inter-Orthodox jealousies are very unattractive.

    As for Orthodox hardliners, Benedict XVI is quite capable of holding a line without being ascerbic. Third Rome, a mere neophyte, still has much to learn from the first and only Rome.

  6. Lotar says:

    I think it is rather uncommon to find someone critical of the EP simply because they are a Russian “imperialist” – however you may decide to define that. If you mean to imply that I am such a person, it would be difficult to peg me as one, given that I belong to a Byzantine jurisdiction.

    Often the most scathing critics of the EP comes from within his own jurisdiction, namely, Mount Athos.

    Funny. It seems to me that on more than one occasion Benedict has stepped up to the line only back pedal. Still, he tends to do better than JPII.

    One can roll out a line of bad Popes, bad EPs and bad MPs, and it proves nothing. At the moment we have a bad EP, and there are few Orthodox who will argue with that.

  7. Fr. J. says:

    I never said that Bartholomew I was a bad EP. He is just weak on abortion and his associate is oddly chummy with the sinking ship of Anglicanism. It is a complex world. Even a good man can get some things wrong. Likewise, even a bad man can get some things right. I have criticized the positions of these men, not their characters.

    Now, the characters of some online commenters speak for themselves regardless of their faith, present company excluded. After all the Church is a hospital, not a resort.

  8. Lotar says:

    I didn’t say he was a bad man. If he is, I’m sure that I am worse. I said he is a bad EP, which he clearly is. He is a Modernist. He is weak on all moral issues, which makes him a bad pastor by definition.

  9. Fr. J. says:

    So you say.

    It is time for a break. Thank you, Lotar for your contributions. I will be out of town until Friday when I will re-open this combox–ready to take all comers! :-)

    God Bless,

    Fr. J.

  10. Fr. J. says:

    Welcome back.

    Ok, comments are back on.

  11. diane says:

    Hi, Father J! I am glad comments are back on. I look forward to further discussion of this issue. :-)

  12. Fr. J. says:

    Hey Diane, thanks. Not sure it will wake up again, but keep ur gloves on!! :) jk

  13. diane says:

    LOL, Father. They’re velvet gloves, of course. But is there an iron fist within them…? That’s the question!

    Are you familiar with Marshall Fightlin (I think that’s his name)? He’s a Catholic convert from Judaism and one of the wittiest, funniest people I’ve ever encountered in cyberspace.

    Anyway, some years ago he said (and I quote): “Orthodoxy is Anglicanism waiting to happen.” At the time, I confess, I rather thought he was overstating the case. (And, of course, when I quoted Marshall’s words elsewhere, there were howls of protest from Internet Orthodox polemicists who claimed [as usual] that we Catholics were the crypto-Anglican sellouts to Modernism whereas the Orthodox were the Ent-like preservers of every last jot and tittle of the inviolate Ancient Faith.)

    Well, in the light of the EP’s stance on abortion, the widespread Orthodox fudging re artificial contraception, and this latest statement by Metropolitan Ware, I’m beginning to see that Mr. Fightlin was prescient.

    Historically, Orthodox cultures have been artificially insulated from modernity. Now that they are finally beginning to run smack up against the modern world, their response, it would seem, is somewhat less than Ent-like.


    P.S. Mr. Fightlin also characterized Messianic Judaism as “Baptist fundamentalism with a knish,” which I confess I find very funny indeed.

  14. diane says:

    “[L]ike Putin, he takes a hard line on everything.”

    You can say that again, Father!

    I would not want to be an apologist for nationalistic hard-line Russian Orthodoxy right now.

    I’m also glad I’m not a Georgian…in the line of fire, so to speak.



  15. Fr. J. says:

    I am curious about the MP on the invasion of Georgia by the Russians. I am virtually certain that the MP no longer criticizes Russian policy. He is the new chaplain to totalitarianism.

  16. Mole Island says:

    Metropolitan Kallistos is far too close to the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain. He was ordered by the Ecumenical Patriarch not to attend or speak at its Diocesan Conference last May. Kallistos’ misconceived advice led to a schism in the Orthodox community in Oxford, his “home town”.

    Kallistos’s wooliness and indecisve thinking at Lambeth makes him sound just like any Anglican Bishop. He is incapable of defending the Orthodox Faith. Maybe his new-found Russian friends can give some well-needed theological instruction. He is unfortunately an unreformed 1960s ecumenist, and an embarrassment to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

  17. Fr. J. says:

    Mole, you make an interesting comment. On my other post on the EP’s soft position on abortion, the EO commentators went out of their way to dismiss the EP as a representative of the EO churches. They similarly have dismissed Kalistos for being too close to the EP. I am trying to square your observation that Kallistos is too close to the Russians. Or, maybe I am not understanding things well.

  18. Mole Island says:

    Father J., the extraordinary thing is that Bishop Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate was the best doctoral pupil Kallistos ever had at Oxford, and the two have remained firm friends ever since and often wind up at the same conferences together. I do sometimes wonder if the two of them had decided on a “hard man / soft man” approach to the Lambeth Conference which would have made the outside world feel uneasy about the EP and in the eyes of the Orthodox gain credibility for the Russian Church.

    In other words, I am suggesting that qute possibly Kallistos is being used by the Russians to damage the standing of his own Patriarchate.

  19. Fr. Yousuf Rassam says:

    I know this is paleo-commenting but here goes.

    Mole Island’s baseless speculation about Met. Kallistos allowing himself to be used is just bizarre. Mole Island should read Met. Kallistos speech to the Parisian Exarchate on the UK Vicariate website. Indeed his closeness to many in Sourozh is notable, but Orthodoxy in the UK is not a huge pond, anglophone Orthodoxy is even smaller. When you add to that that a large number of anglo-phone convert clergy are patristic scholars you can easily see that they all have long relationships of friendship and academic collaboration with each other. Another buddy in this circle is Abp. Rowan Williams, a patristic scholar and Russian theology scholar. Met. Kallistos seems to be trying to give his buddy a boost. Met. Kallistos also has a distressing trait, for a hierarch, which he carries over from his professorial role of trying to give both sides of an issue, to be fair. Many allegations of “modernism” against him fail to note when quoting him that he is stating the existence of a position, not personally advocating it. And in giving this explanation I do not mean at all to excuse what Met. Kallistos said after Lambeth. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. OTOH I do have an inkling of what Rowan W is up to, and he is someone that I regard with a measure of respect, though I sadly think all his projects are doomed.

    But really, you RCs claim that we don’t speak with one voice, but really, when it is easily discernible, you simply don’t want to hear it. Ortho bloggery may be full of acerbic commentary about Roman Catholicism, RC bloggery excels at dismissing and ignoring what Orthodox actually think. (often hinting at an inside scoop which is laughable to us on the inside. Most Orthodox simply do not see Orthodoxy and the RC as compatible. If they are Russian they are “Czarist Imperialists”, if they are Serbs or Greeks they are nationalists or hardliners. If they are converts they are “angry ex-catholics” or “unreconstructed protestants”. If they are laity they are uninformed. If they are clergy or monastics they are zealots, and if that charge won’t stick they must not mean what they say, but are only pandering to hardliners. There is always an implication not to listen to that Orthodox voice as not representative. But consider those categories, listed above- one of them can be applied to nearly any Orthodox on the planet.

    When Fr. Thomas Hopko (hardly a reactionary) bothered to actually give a vision of re-union, in response to things such as Ut Unim Sint etc. (his response BTW, would count as rather generous even scandalously so to most of us Orthodox), RC blopggery was astounded: not count Vatican I as a true council??? unthinkable!

    Well there you have it- Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are incompatible. I can assure you that I as an Orthodox priest will never, ever accept Florence and Vatican I as true, or infallible. If I were to do so I would cease to be Orthodox. Believing Roman Catholics are free to say that they will never ever renounce them – that to do so would be to cease to be Roman Catholic. To use Latin lingo: mutually exclusive magisteria. I repeat, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are simply incompatible.

    What to do then? Quit dating since we will never get married!! It’s high time for the ever awkward ‘let’s just be friends’ part of this courtship.

    As for the obvious glee you get in finding quotes showing this or that Ortho-hierarch failing somehow, something about planks and eyes comes to mind. Bp. Trautman, Cardinal Mahoney, Dominican Nun who volunteers to help abortions. O yeah, we orthos are “Anglicans waiting to happen”.

    What I want for Roman Catholicism is not for it to try to be Orthodoxy, but for it to be better at being itself. I do not rejoice in Trautman, Mahoney, et all. I sorrow over it. I think what was really wrong with Fr. Hopko’s vision of Ortho/RC re-union is that the Roman Catholic Church really needs to let the Papacy (such as Pope Benedict XVI) clean up, (they all say he is a hardliner German inquisitor,I say let him prove it, I will cheer!) not have more mis-adventures with an alien conciliarity. For that I wish P B XVI well, and many years.

    Fr. Yousuf Rassam
    St. Innocent (of Irkutsk, NOT Innocent III!!!!!!) Orthodox Church
    Tarzana, CA

  20. Mole Island says:

    In fact, Father Yousuf, the conference given by Bishop Kallistos was put up on the old Exarchate-uk website precisely to remind him of the position he had once taken, which he appeared to have abandoned in 2006 when he nailed his colours to the mast of the Diocese of Sourozh against his colleague Bishop Basil (of Sergievo, then Amphipolis) who had left the Moscow Patriarchate and joined the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    You are absolutely right in saying that Kallistos tends to state a position without necessarily promoting it. That’s fine in a university lecture hall, but hopeless in a pastoral situation. One of the problems over his involving himself in the split in the Diocese of Sourozh is that he was seen as interfering in the affairs of communities entrusted to another Bishop. This caused a lot of distress and confusion among the lay people and to this day there are those who try to avoid attending services celebrated by Met. Kallistos. There are also some people who have given up the practice of the Orthodox Faith or have left to join other denominations largely as a result of what happened in Oxford between 2006 and 2009.

    It’s a tragic story.

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