ACNA ARCHBISHOP AND THE RUSSIAN CHURCH
“I have desired to see a restoration of Christian fellowship between the separated portions of Apostolic Christianity. It would be a great benefit to Christ and the extension of Christ's Kingdom if the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Western ones, the Latin and the Anglican, could cease their warfare and work harmoniously together. Nor should we of the Anglican Communion withhold our sympathy from those sectarian bodies that have gone out from us, but pray that the breaches may be healed.”
Charles Chapman Grafton, the second bishop of the (ECUSA now TEC) Diocese of Fond du Lac (Wisconsin), made this statement in 1903.
The Most Reverend Foley Beach, the senior bishop or primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), has become a world traveler since his election to that office in 2014. His Christian witness no doubt is his strategic driver but building relationships undergirds his tactics. One of those relationships under construction is his highly visible engagement with the Russian Orthodox Church. Does this budding relationship matter in the grand scheme of things?
Adherents of biblical orthodoxy whether Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican or Protestant, should want to work together to be seen by the world (secular and religious) in a shared Christian witness. In this regard relationship talks with the Russian Orthodox Church are not a waste of time, though perhaps ecclesial relationship discussions run secondary to initial or primary and personal witness to Christ. Leaders of the Church Militant should never shy from efforts at church unity. Talks with the Russian Church, however, are not new.
Before there was an ACNA, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh (who would become the first Archbishop of the ACNA province) wrote to the Moscow-based Russian Church Metropolitan Kirill in 2006 in response to an initiative by the Metropolitan. At that time other leaders within Episcopal Church dioceses sought alternative provincial oversight (APO) outside the Episcopal Church. In retrospect some will say that this was the beginning of the Anglican Realignment.
The 2003 consecration of the bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church, an avowed and active homosexual man, created problems for orthodox Episcopalians. That 2003 event prompted APO discussions not only with the Russian Church but with Anglican provinces in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. The point noted here is that historically Russian Church leaders have always been willing to talk substantively with orthodox American Anglicans.
In 1867 the Russian government sold Alaska to the United States of America. As a result most residents of Alaska returned to Russia. Those who remained were approximately 12,000 Russian Orthodox Christians in nine parishes. As a missionary diocese of the Russian Church, its headquarters or episcopal seat eventually was moved from Alaska to San Francisco.
In 1898 a young, 33 year old bishop named Tikhon Bellavin, arrived from Moscow. Tikhon had the vision to expand the Russian missionary diocese into an American Church and he formed new dioceses not only of Russian ethnicity, but Arab, Serbian, Greek and Romanian. Shortly after Tikhon’s arrival in America be was befriended by Charles Chapman Grafton, the Episcopal Church bishop of Fond du Lac.
When the Diocese of Fond du Lac elected its bishop coadjutor in 1900, Grafton invited not only the Russian bishop of Alaska and America, but a bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church to participate in the service of consecration. After the service a picture was taken of all the bishops attending the consecration. The gathering depicts American Episcopal bishops donning copes and mitres, a high church or Anglo-Catholic image highly irregular to most low-church Episcopalians. The picture so appalled evangelical Episcopalians it was subsequently referred to as the “Fond du Lac Circus.” The reaction to the picture is interesting, but not the point.
The point is that Episcopal Bishop Grafton and Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon were engaged in and worked together on visible Christian unity. Dialogues between the two churches took hold over the next century but came to a sudden halt in 2003 when the Russian Orthodox Church withdrew from their official dialogue with the Episcopal Church.
Given the long-term willingness of the Russian Orthodox Church to remain in dialogue with Anglicans in North America – orthodox Anglicans in particular – it is evident that Archbishop Foley Beach will continue with a Russian-North American dialogue.