ANGLICAN-ORTHODOX ecumenical relations have been seriously damaged by the Church of England’s decision to ordain women bishops, according to a very senior Orthodox figure. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Director of Russian Orthodox Church External Relations, speaking in Cambridge recently, declared the ordination of women bishops had ended the possibility of Orthodox recognition of the Anglican hierarchy: “Discussion on the recognition of the Anglican hierarchy is closed.” While female ordination to the priesthood had been regarded as “the erroneous actions of individual bishops”, the female episcopate meant Anglican-Orthodox dialogue would “develop no longer in a theological way” but only by “inter-action on practical issues.” “From our perspective the decision by the General Synod of the Church of England to allow women to be ordained bishops has come about not as a theological or ecclesiastical-practical necessity, but by the determination to follow secular notions of equality of the sexes in all areas of life.
This in turn is tied to the fact that women now have more elevated roles in British society. “In other words, the female episcopate, like the female priesthood, is a result of the successes of the feminist movement, which arose and developed in a secular environment, and was not the result of the natural development of Christian teaching and ecclesiastical order.” While arguments over female priesthood and episcopate could “in the final run” be “transferred solely to the sphere of mutual dialogue within corresponding theological commissions”, other processes in the Anglican Communion were causing “great alarm and disappointment in the Orthodox milieu.” Ordination of openly gay bishops and clergy in the US Episcopal Church, recognition of same-sex unions as marriage, and blessing of them by some Anglican communities – all deemed by Orthodox as “apostasy from the norms of apostolic faith” – added to the current great obstacles in ecumenical relations.
Metropolitan Hilarion said that whereas in the 20th century divisions between Christians were primarily doctrinal, in the 21st century they were primarily on moral issues, between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘liberals’. “Currently we are divided in the very essence of that witness we are called to bear to the external world – no longer preaching a single moral teaching.”