Orthodox extend hand to Duncan's new Anglican Church

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BEDFORD, Texas -- The spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church in America offered to begin talks aimed at full communion with the new Anglican Church in North America, then named a series of obstacles whose removal could tear apart the hard-won unity among the 100,000 theological conservatives who broke from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

"What will it take for a true ecumenical reconciliation? Because that is what I am seeking by being here today," Metropolitan Jonah said to a standing ovation from 900 people assembled in a tent on the grounds of St. Vincent Cathedral in Bedford, Texas.

He spoke of St. Tikhon, a 19th-century Russian Orthodox missionary to the United States who initiated a close relationship with the Episcopal Church that later cooled.

"We need to pick up where they left off," he said. "I occupy the throne St. Tikhon held as the leader of the Orthodox Church in America. Our arms are wide open."

The Anglican Church in North America hopes to be recognized as a new province of the 80 million-member global Anglican Communion, of which the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. province. The new church believes the Episcopal Church failed to uphold biblical authority and classic doctrines about matters ranging from the divinity of Jesus to biblical morality, a criticism that the Orthodox share.

The Orthodox Church in America is a self-governing daughter of the Russian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Jonah, who was elected last year in Pittsburgh, is a convert who was raised as an Episcopalian. He spoke with humor about both traditions, warning, "I'm afraid my talk will have something to offend just about everybody."

Although there is a global Anglican-Orthodox dialogue with participants from the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church in America, there is no dialogue or relationship between any Orthodox jurisdiction in the U.S. and the Episcopal Church itself, said Bishop Christopher Epting, ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, who said he has tried and failed to interest the Orthodox in new talks.

He believes that the Orthodox Church in America and the Anglican Church in North America "would be strange bedfellows ... but that is their choice to make," he said.

Metropolitan Jonah named several issues that he said the two churches needed to "face head on" and resolve before they can achieve full communion. Among the most volatile on his list were the Calvinist theology taught by many evangelical Anglicans and the ordination of women as priests, which the new church allows each of its dioceses to accept or reject.

"Calvinism is a condemned heresy," he said, to a smattering of applause from some Anglo-Catholics in the new church.

"For ... intercommunion of the Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church, the issue of ordination of women needs to be resolved," he said, again to applause from many of the same people.

"I believe women have a critical role to play in the church, but I do not believe it is in the [priesthood or as bishops]," he said. "Forgive me if this offends you." He called for an effort to "creatively come together to find the right context for women's ministry in the church."

In his response, Archbishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, the leader of the new church who worked for years to bring Anglo-Catholics and Calvinists together and to make a place for female priests, accepted the offer to dialogue.

"We will have much to talk about and we will talk," he said.

In an interview he said, "the non-negotiable [issue] is Jesus Christ. These conversations have been going on for centuries ... We'll see what God brings."

The Rev. Mary Hays, a priest who serves as chief of staff to Archbishop Duncan in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican), said that some of the metropolitan's issues would raise even greater resistance than women's ordination.

"The ordination of women is the least of the things about which we have division," she said. "Quite a few of our folks have been shaped by Calvinism. It's one of many issues that divide us. I hope we'll be able to find our way going forward."

Metropolitan Jonah said he would report on the new church to today's meeting of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America, which represents all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions. He had not consulted with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church about his offer, he said, though their leaders have showed prior interest in a relationship with conservative Anglicans.

The assembly also received official greetings from representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals and the conservative 2.5 million-member Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). From Pittsburgh the Rev. Donald Green, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, attended on behalf of all regional bishops of Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and historically black churches. Christian Associates includes both the Anglican diocese and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that has remained in the Episcopal Church.

Bishop David Zubik, of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, was also slated to attend his friend's installation as archbishop. Bishop Kevin Vann of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth greeted the assembly on Tuesday.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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