by Metropolitan Sergii (Stragorodsky)
Part Three of Four.
In contrast to the total rejection of any significance of Apostolic succession among the heterodox there are those, primarily among the heterodox who exaggerate this significance to an extreme. An ordination within the Apostolic succession is treated as an entity in itself, which can exist within and outside the Church, even contrary to its will. Such an exaggerated concept of Apostolic succession is common primarily in the whole Catholic West and corresponds to the general characteristic of its religious views, in particular with the somewhat spiritually weak understanding of Divine grace.
The basic differences here between Orthodoxy and Catholicism on this point were clearly in evidence during the well-known debates of the Palamites and the Barlaamites. The Orthodox Palamites understood energies (the action of God on creation and upon man in particular) as a direct or a personal act of God. Thus they referred to energy simply as God.
The Barlaamites (Westerners), seeing the Godhead as inscrutable, looked upon energy as a manifestation of the created world and saw it as a creation separate from God. Reflecting this basic understanding in the teaching on sacraments the result is that grace is Divine energy. For an Orthodox, to say that “grace is given by sacraments” means that “God acts upon man in the sacraments.” Here it is extremely difficult to formulate the Orthodox teaching with precision.
The form of the sacrament is essential and it is impossible to connect the free creative act of God with a particular symbolic act or a material sign and to make it, so to say, dependent on the celebrant of the symbolic act. The form, for an Orthodox, becomes not so much as a source of grace but a sign or a witness that the Divine act has taken place.
Thus the minister of the sacrament is not the empowered grantor of grace but a petitioner for the Divine act to take place and a guarantor that the Divine act will take place. The priest’s prayer and assurance thus receives its power from the prayer and assurance of the Church, the “fulfillment of Christ” upon the earth. Thus the sacraments are effective as long as the sacred minister is in communion with the Church and ministers on her behalf.
On the other hand everything is clear and well-defined for the Catholic. Divine grace is a power emanating from God, granted by Him to the hierarchy and as such, having a separate existence from God. It is convenient to attach this impersonal power to a specific form (opus operatum) and to make it depend directly on the will of the minister-celebrant.
It must be admitted that we Orthodox, not infrequently are reduced to such a diminished material understanding of grace and sacraments. This takes place under Catholic influence. Mainly it is easier for the material man, the man “of this world” to operate with material, “mental” rather than “spiritual” concepts. But in any case, this is inconsistent with the purely spiritual Orthodox point of view.
The Western understanding of grace which leads logically to an exaggerated view upon the person of the priest to the diminishment of his significance as a minister of the Church is especially prevalent in Catholicism. Having received grace through a valid ordination the priest becomes to some degree personally as a source of grace, even though as a successor to others. Adding to this the teaching on the indelibility of grace results in the fact that a [Roman] priest can be cut off from his ecclesiastical authorities, become suspended, completely reject Christianity and become for example, a cultist or a declared atheist, nonetheless he remains a [Roman] priest, preserving his apostolic ordination and all his acts as a priest remain valid, even though he celebrates a so-called “black mass.”
Along the same line a bishop, performing an ordination, acts with the power of hierarchal grace given to him personally and thus, to put it crudely, transmits his own and not the Church’s grace and as such it is not essential whether he is acting with the consent of his Church or after he has left the Church. and, inasmuch as the grace of ordination is received not from the Church but from him who ordains, who in turn received it from the one who ordained him, etc. up to the Apostles, so does it matter whether they are Orthodox, whether they belong to the Universal Church or to some heterodox organization? So long as there is Apostolic succession in the given organization, the ordinations will be valid. The one who is so ordained will in his turn, be a personal carrier of grace which he can exercise at his discretion, with no concern about the teaching or the wishes of those who ordained him .
The basic fallacy of such a distorted concept of grace, priesthood and spiritual life in general is clearly exposed by those extreme, distorted conclusions reached by those straightforward and unceremonious seekers of ordination having Apostolic succession. If the grace of the priesthood consists of some unconscious thing indifferent to its fate (as if a piece of merchandise), then there should be no reason why anyone who has the desire could not take advantage of it no matter by what means.
One can recall incidents from the history of our Old Believer schism which were almost childish (for example, a priest would be immersed in a baptismal font, fully vested, so as not to “remove the ordination”), which took place, to recruit someone with Apostolic succession to their camp and still avoid being contaminated by “Nikonian heresy.” To the honor of the Old Believers none of them were tempted by blasphemy: to join the Orthodox Church falsely to obtain valid ordination and return to the fold. They did not go beyond attempts to recruit and enlist Orthodox bishops and priests to their cause.
Such is not the case in the West. There people did not limit themselves to the enticement of alien bishops and priests but went ahead to obtain Apostolic succession for themselves from an alien and even a heretical organization in order to make use of the ordination in their own group, passing themselves off as valid orthodox. An example is Vilatte, who made enough noise in his time. He went as far as India for his Apostolic ordination, to the Jacobites, in order to pass ordinations around to anyone desiring them, including Anglicans (in America), among Old Catholics (for example in France) and more precisely to everyone and anywhere wherever there was a desire to take advantage of the services of a hierarch. Imitators of Vilatte keep cropping up even today.
For example in Germany there are several religious groups (not including Old Catholics) who strut about proclaiming their theological erudition and who pretend to be recognized by the Orthodox. One is the “Evangelical Catholic Brotherhood” consisting of several thousand followers. It is headed by a Lutheran pastor Herzog who was ordained bishop by Monophysites. He continues to be a pastor for the Lutherans and carries out the functions of an Orthodox bishop among the “orthodox” Brotherhood. It is said that Bishop Tikhon (Karlovitz group) admits the members of the Brotherhood to prayerful and even Eucharistic communion.
There is also a “High Church Society” with more than half a million followers. The group is led by a professor of Lutheran theology Heile, who was consecrated bishop also by Monophysites and by “hundreds” of Lutheran pastors ordained (probably by Heile) to Orthodox priesthood. All of them continue in their Lutheran responsibilities, some as professors some as pastors, and at the same time serve as “orthodox” hierarchs in the “orthodox” societies.
There is also in Germany a “German Orthodox Diaspora” or at best “Spiridon” who styles himself a “Metropolitan” of the diaspora, a rather prominent personality for those seeking Apostolic ordination. According to him he is 33 years old and has been a hierarch for more than seven years. He is a German, baptized and confirmed a Catholic. He completed a course in theology in Belgian and Luxembourg monasteries. At age 19 he left Catholicism for the Old Catholics. He married. Soon became disenchanted with the Old Catholics and from 1926
“firmly stood on the Orthodox foundation.”
This did not prevent Spiridon, in October 1927, to approach some (apparently a vagans) married Armenian bishop Gregory Guzik who, in about five days ordained him (likewise married) a deacon, presbyter and finally a bishop of the “Armenian Orthodox Church” (without a designated diocese). Having received such an ordination Spiridon considered himself within his rights to proclaim himself a Metropolitan of the German Orthodox Diaspora, a society consisting of 200 adherents with seven priests and he now seeks to be recognized in that title, specifically in a black cowl with a (none other) garnet pectoral cross. Who is this Guzik and where did he get his ordination is apparently a mystery to Spiridon. In any event at first he (Spiridon) said that he cannot correctly determine where Guzik’s orders came from because all the participants (and apparently including Guzik) in Spiridon’s consecration returned to Rome. Spiridon at first called Guzik an Orthodox bishop of the Renovationist camp but who was not installed by them but by Armenian uniats namely, that Armenian group which in the seventies of the last century broke with Rome along with their bishop Kipellian.
Thus having broken with Rome these Armenians did not unite with the Monophysites and Spiridon is quick to call them Orthodox. This “Orthodox Armenian Patriarch” (as Spiridon calls him) Kipellian along with his bishop Kasangian apparently installed the Renovationist bishop Gregory Guzik. It should be noted that Kipellian returned to Rome in 1879 and thus Guzik’s consecration must have been earlier. Furthermore, Spiridon reveals that Guzik’s second consecrator Kasangian was not a bishop but a chorbishop in the order of presbyters. In subsequent correspondence from Spiridon it is stated that Guzik was not consecrated by Kipelian and Kasangian but by an Anglican Bishop Gore and Kasangian’s connection to the consecration was limited to a recognition of Guzik’s consecration as valid by his Armenian uniat group.
This revelation somehow favors Spiridon inasmuch as Anglican orders are now recognized by some of the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs thus it becomes easier to validate his orders. In this way an Anglican consecration, recognized by an Armenian uniat group separated from Rome, produces a Renovationist bishop (somewhat before the establishment of the Renovationists) who in turn becomes competent to install an Orthodox hierarch for the Germano-Orthodox Diaspora!
These back-door searches for Orthodox ordinations become more curious since, in Western Europe, there always were and still are close at hand, a number of legitimate Orthodox hierarchs: Greeks, Serbs Romanians and others, not to mention His Eminence Metropolitan Elevferii who oversees our churches in Western Europe. Obviously the wandering Armenians and their kind were more compliant and looked upon the distribution of ordinations to anyone who wanted one regardless of who they were, as something casual and did not set up any serious restrictions or qualifications on the recipients.
These monstrous events are obviously extremes and are judged accordingly by serious people even in the West. Nonetheless the motivation for them is based on completely sincere attempts, by any means possible, to arrive at ecumenical unity (e.g. by Anglicans, Old Catholics, etc.). Exaggerating the significance of Apostolic succession, these seekers for unity assume that a heterodox organization, even if separated from the Church, constitutes a Local Church within the Church Universal if it has preserved Apostolic succession among its clergy.
To be sure, the acceptance of erroneous dogmas or the violation of fundamental canonical principles etc., deprived this Local Church of Eucharistic communion with the local Orthodox Churches. But even if removed from communion, that organization as long as it has not completely departed from the Christian faith, continues to exist as a Church, performs sacraments and saves people. Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox is highly desirable for such a local Church, and would be beneficial in the mutual support of Church ministry. In all this, it is a moral obligation (according to Christ’s command “That all may be one”) perhaps more of a fascinating remote ideal, rather than a practical necessity: having lost communion, the heterodox organization nonetheless believes that it does not cease to be a local Church, part of the Church Universal.
In order to establish itself in communion, the heterodox “Church” must at least recognize its dogmatical and canonical defects and correct them, which it can do on its own initiative and then by that fact of correction it becomes a full member of the union of local Orthodox Churches, joined together by mutual communion in the Eucharist and prayer. In such a case there is no need of an official reception or a union with one of the existing Orthodox Churches. The Westerners, knowing only about unions with Rome which requires the suppression of any local customs or independence, are afraid that an invitation to unite with the Eastern Orthodox Church would result in the same attempt to subject them to the East with a loss of their own originality.
This fear of course, chills any already lukewarm thoughts about Church union. In point of fact, if the Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church is merely a desirable embellishment of Church life and not life itself, then is it not reasonable from the point of an abstract idea, perhaps one which is fascinating and edifying, but practically not very beneficial, to risk some very precious realities? This leads to an exchange of many sweet words, much erudition, many arguments over secondary matters, much persistence in vindicating principles, but there is not that thirst which forces one
“…to come to the waters” (Is. 55:1),
there is no spiritual effort with which one can
“accomplish great things” (Great Canon).