The following was written on July 8 by Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (posted here); Walton reported on a significant address by the leader of the Orthodox Church in America to the provinical assembly of the Anglican Church in North America.
A former Episcopalian who is now head of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) greeted delegates to the Anglican Church in North America’s recent provincial assembly in Bedford, Texas. Metropolitan Jonah, known by his monastic name, is the first convert to lead the million-member OCA.
In an address that was sometimes controversial and elicited animated response from delegates, Jonah made the case for ecumenical reconciliation between the Anglican and Orthodox churches and proposed a formal dialogue between the two. Still, Jonah did not refrain from touching sensitive points dividing the Orthodox from various currents of Anglicanism. The metropolitan voiced the Orthodox Church’s objection to ordained female clergy as well as denouncing iconoclasm and Calvinism. The statements were greeted with both cheers and groans from different Anglican delegates.
“We have to speak the truth in love,” Jonah said. “There is no truth if there is no love. There may be facts, but no truth.”
The Orthodox primate also called the gathered Anglicans to move ahead in ministry, distancing themselves from prior conflicts in the Episcopal Church.
“I know the Anglican Church has gone through a bitter, bitter time,” Jonah said. “My heart is with you. We need to surrender those resentments. Forgive those who have accused you, slandered you.”
Jonah, born James Paffhausen, was baptized in the Episcopal Church and influenced by the Episcopal charismatic movement that became popular in California during his youth. College led to his discovery of Orthodoxy, and his decision to embrace the eastern faith.
“Orthodoxy is not about picking and choosing what I like,” The metropolitan explained. “It is about finding the mind of the Holy Spirit. Nothing else matters.”
“This past millennium has been tough for us,” Jonah said, making a lighthearted transition into the serious subject of the trials endured by Orthodox Christians under Muslims, Mongols and eventually, communists.
Orthodoxy is a church where there were 20 million martyrs in the last century, according to Jonah.
“From this comes an incredibly powerful spiritual seed, for the seed of the church is the blood of the martyrs,” Jonah said.
The Orthodox primate spent much of his talk appealing for a unity between Orthodox and Anglican Christians, an aspiration that he saw as tantalizingly close to reality during the early 20th century. Reconciliation between the churches was stalled when the Episcopal Church veered towards liberal Protestantism, and came to an abrupt end with the advent of women’s ordination in the 1970s.
“We have the opportunity to come together, Anglicans and Orthodox, in truth,” Jonah said. “Does that Anglican Church that came so close to being recognized as a fellow Orthodox Church still exist? Here [at the ACNA assembly] it does.”
The metropolitan said that true unity was “a call to surrender to that one faith that is delivered to the saints.”
“The Church is not simply human, it is divine,” Jonah said. “We believe in the Church like we believe in Jesus Christ. The Church is the living body of Jesus Christ. It’s not just people who happen to like the same prayer book.”
In addition to a high view of the sacraments and the role of the church, Jonah also articulated a personal, individual faith.
“We have to surrender to God, personally, in the depths of our being,” Jonah said. “It’s that experience that I have died, that my life is hidden with Christ my God. The Lord Jesus Christ did not die so that we could have nice rituals.”
Jonah spoke to some of the social issues that have divided the Episcopal Church over the past generation, among them sanctity of life and human sexuality.
“We have to stand together in an absolute and unconditional condemnation of abortion,” Jonah said, to a standing ovation from delegates.
The Orthodox metropolitan also spoke about gender, sexuality and the damage he saw inflicted upon western society, saying that Christians needed to denounce immorality without judging.
“Immorality demoralizes,” Jonah said. “I think we can see where immorality has been allowed, what has happened. We need to look deep inside ourselves to find that identity given to us by Jesus Christ.”
Jonah concluded his address by opening his hands and stating “our arms are open” in inviting reconciliation with the Anglican Church. In response, Archbishop Robert Duncan promised to pursue talks with the Orthodox, and thanked the metropolitan for his willingness to re-engage with Anglicans after a long dry spell.