The Smallness of God and Anglican Struggles

nativity1.jpg

Whom have we, Lord, like you –

The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,

The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,

The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.

Blessed is your honor!

St. Ephrem the Syrian

We draw near to the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity, and I cannot fathom the smallness of God. Things in my life loom so large and every instinct says to overcome the size of a threat by meeting it with a larger threat. But the weakness of God, stronger than death, meets our human life/death by becoming a child – the smallest of us all – man at his weakest – utterly dependent.

And His teaching will never turn away from that reality for a moment. Our greeting of His mission among us is marked by misunderstanding, betrayal, denial and murder. But He greets us with forgiveness, love, and the sacrifice of self.

This way of His is more than a rescue mission mounted to straighten out what we had made crooked. His coming among us is not only action  but also revelation. He does not become unlike Himself in order to make us like Him. The weakness, the smallness, the forgiveness – all that we see in His incarnation – is a revelation of the Truth of God. He became the image of Himself, that we might become the image we were created to be.

My heart has continually turned this week to thoughts of the Anglicans – many of them friends from an earlier time in my life. The news tells me that a number of congregations in Virginia have said they will no longer remain in communion with the Episcopal Church. It will be a painful Christmas for many. My prayer for them is not merely success in one more of the ongoing skirmishes that mark life in our post-Christian era, but that God give them the gift of smallness – to be meek, to be weak, to lose if need be. No one can defeat you if you are willing to be small enough, meek enough, weak enough, if you are willing to lose. Christ traded a throne for a cave. Some may have to trade buildings and beloved properties for the Kingdom of God. It’s a swap that’s been made before.

Orthodox Christians in America and England should never forget the kindness shown to us by Anglicans. Many of our Churches were allowed to grow in their parishes, in a kind sharing of facilities. St. Vladimir’s Seminary first met at the General Seminary in N.Y. St. Tikhon himself, I am told, once lived on that campus.

There was a great generosity from Anglicans that helped make St. Sergius Theological School in Paris a reality. More than that was the simple friendship and warmth given to refugees when huge parts of the Orthodox world seemed to be collapsing. Organizations such as the Fellowship of St. Sergius and St. Albans helped to foster understanding that certainly enriched parts of the theological world.

Today the Orthodox Church has, in its turn, provided a home for many Anglican refugees, fleeing a different collapse – but the hospitality is the same. Many of us had to become “small” in order enter the narrow door of Orthodoxy. But again, this is the way of the Kingdom.

May God give His grace to all – even to those whom I have counted as enemies. It is for their sake that God became small in the first place. How can we do less?

20 Responses to “The Smallness of God and Anglican Struggles”

  1. Meg Lark Says:

    Driving around town yesterday, I passed our local Episcopal church, which closed the week before Easter this year due to not being able to get past the Gay Bishop scandal. (Can’t help wondering if the Bishopess would have finished them off….) It was so sad to think that this really rather large church, built with so much joy and hope back in 1959, would not see another Christmas. (And no, there is nothing about it that would be suitable for an Orthodox congregation — too much glass and angular modernism, very 1960 Avant Garde).

  2. Bigjolly Says:

    Fr. Stephen, your thoughts on smallness were perfectly timed for me this morning. Funny how that works.

    I’ve heard the term post-Christian era several times recently. Could you explain what this means?

    Thanks.

  3. Christopher Says:

    The community of the Metropolia’s Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection met for many years in an Episcopal church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after the Soviets sued for and won control of St. Nicholas Church on the Upper East Side (built by Sts Tikhon and Alexander). They moved to their present location on East 2nd Street – which is the still the second seat of Metropolitan Herman – after that church was condemned.

  4. Jonathan Says:

    “…that God give them the gift of smallness – to be meek, to be weak, to lose if need be. No one can defeat you if you are willing to be small enough, meek enough, weak enough, if you are willing to lose.”

    Father, this is well-timed. Pray this also for me today, that, in discussions I am having today, I might strive to be small.

    Lord, have mercy on me.

  5. Fatherstephen Says:

    Bigjolly,

    (Sometime you have to explain the name – though it seems so appropriate this time of year).

    Post-Christian is a more-or-less popular term in describing our culture’s move away from Judeo-Christianity as the general consensus for community morals, values, structures, etc. I’m not sure when we would date the rupture between our culture and Christianity (though it is still profoundly influenced by its past) but its reality seems pretty clear.

    Fifty years before Roe v Wade, such a decision would have been unthinkable in our culture (maybe not in Germany).

    Christians who live here have to work harder (since we’re not really in charge) to be heard and to have an impact on what goes on around us. For instance, I was taught Psalms in Grammar School (made to memorize them). It was done after morning prayers (this was the local public school). No one questioned it or asked to be excused. Even the non-Christians, and non-Church-goers seemed to think it worthwhile to know Psalms. Today you have to screen many things your children are taught (and if you happen to be a Christian from an Orthodox background) you have to correct much misinformation that is taught as “fact” in high schools (and our local high school is one of the best in the nation).

    That’s post-Christian.

  6. Barnabas Powell Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen.

    My need to be small is much greater than I often realize.

    It is said that the angels of heaven peered over the edge of heaven the day Jesus was born and looked into the manger. One angel turned to the other and said “My, look how small God has made Himself.”

    A blessed Nativity to you all.

    B

  7. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Bless, you Fr. Stephen, for this gracious and truthful word. Indeed, there is great joy in walking in humility. How can we not be humbled when HE who stooped to befriend us is the Eternal One, the Ancient of Days, perfect Man and perfect God?

  8. Robert Bonds Says:

    As one who was left by the Episcopal Church, who later joined one of the Continuing Churchs and now is part of an OCA parish, we in the Orthodox world need to reach out to those who are fleeing the apostasy of the Episcopal Church. The alternatives that are availble to those that are fleeing could have them going to a lite version of the church they are leaving instead of re-uniting themselves to one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church.

  9. Jack Says:

    Father Stephen and BigJolly,

    You were taught the Pslams in PUBLIC SCHOOL!!! You have to be kidding me! Post-Christianity was the official line by the time of the Eisenhower administration, but America has always been an “enlightened” country. Think Jefferson. And, our form of Christianity has always been very much a watered down post-traditional ahistorical affair. I just read an angry letter to my local paper about a Christian angrily decrying the paganization of Christianity by religious festivals like the mass and Christmas! Egads.

    However, as your biographical details make absolutely obvious to anybody younger than you, Father Stephen, post-Christianity didn’t fully penetrate down to us men on the street until the past 30-40 years or so. There is no way in hell we could have studied the Pslams or anything slightly biblical in school. We got none of that.

    We have been busily beavering away at any public expression of Christianity since then. We may end up keeping some of the symbols, like Moses at the Supreme Court, but only at the expense of completely evacuating them of any and all real, proscriptive, content. So, as Moses looks on, the Supreme Court creates rights to infanticide (“partial birth abortion”). . .

  10. madmouser Says:

    Father Stephen:
    You are truly a kind, loving soul. Thank you for your blogs. They are inspirational.

  11. Fatherstephen Says:

    I do not mean to make any inappropriate announcements here. But I feel it would be proper to note that there will be a conference on Orthodoxy for Anglican and Episcopal Clergy at the St. Andrew House Center for Orthodox Studies in Detroit, MI on the 29th and 30th of January. My wife and I will be in attendance as well as a number of other former Episcopal and Anglican clergy (and some cradle born as well). I will be among the speakers at what seems to be a very solid gathering of gentle, mature folks. For information check out the website:

    http://www.orthodoxdetroit.com/

  12. Michael Bauman Says:

    And the world says: “Think big”; “Get big or get out” We have BIG government, BIG business, and BIG labor and the bigger each gets, the less human each becomes. There is an optimum size for hospitals for best patient care, but that size is economically difficult to sustain so we have BIG medicine that ignores both the person and the community trying to treat disease in isolation while many practioners go after the BIG research grants.

    We human beings are not big, we are small and the only way to deal with our sins is as small children–“I’m sorry Abba, I won’t do it again” Then we can feel His loving embrace and know His joy.

  13. Fatherstephen Says:

    Michael,

    Excellent point. I also think that parishes get to big. In the Knoxville area, our mission plan for St. Anne’s, is not to be larger than a priest can minister to – which means hear confessions and truly act as spiritual leader (this means less than 200 people). Our mission plan isn’t to be big, but to found other missions across the area. We’ve been instrumental in two others in nearby cities (2 to 3 hours away). We hope to someday be but one of many Orthodox parishes in the greater Knoxville area. Today we are one of two, the other being St. George Greek Orthodox Church, which I will always think of as our mother church (my ordination to the priesthood occurred there) and though we are OCA and thus not planted by St. George, their prayers and help, particularly in our early days were absolutely essential. I give thanks to God for them daily.

  14. November Says:

    I pray for all those in the Episcopal tradition. I have a good friend who is an episcopal priest. We tend to pick at each other about some of our differences but at it’s smallest level we are brothers in Christ. We must always be willing to return kindnes for kindness and to never revel in the tribulations of another.

  15. Lee Poteet Says:

    But Orthodoxy will never be able to be as big as true Anglicanism was in the past. It will loan no churches or other facilities to continuing Anglicans who wish to maintain their faith and tradition and it will provide nothing in the way of the support which both England and the United States have done for the Orthodox under the rot of Islam.

    The last time I was in England there was still an Orthodox parish making use of a side chapel in an ancient English Church. Would any of the Orthodox jurisdictions do that for a group of continuing Anglicans. I think not. But St. Tikhon gave his own chalice and paten to the Church of the Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco after the fire and earthquake of 1906. Has any part of the current Orthodox Church done as little as that for a group of orthodox Anglicans? Perhaps, but I have never heard of same.

  16. Fatherstephen Says:

    Lee,

    There are canons that prevent certain forms of hospitality – though Orthodox Churches in America have loaned facilities to Coptic Churches and other Monophysite groups. Much has been given to Anglicanism – though perhaps it will seem ungrateful not to have returned the same in kind. Orthodoxy has been ravaged financially through the centuries and has not been able to do much of anything (even for its own) financially.

    But, you are correct, since Orthodoxy does not subscribe to the branch theory, we would likely not do certain things for Anglicans that the canons would not permit. We share much in common, but Orthodoxy does think that Anglican is and has been in error.

    I think that Orthodox should be grateful for the kindness shown us and show what kindness we are allowed in return. But I’ll grant your point, particularly when I look at things from your point of view.

    I think if you read Russian history, however, you might discover that there were generosities extended in situations that seemed appropriate – much as you mentioned concerned St. Tikhon.

    You have my prayers, though I am probably praying for something other than the success of Anglican breakaway groups. I am praying for your (and my) salvation. Ultimately I think that is found in the Orthodox Church. But we have always believed that – and were known to believe that when Anglicans were as generous to us as they were. Do you ask us now to be what we were not then?

  17. Roland Says:

    I think I should begin by identifying myself as one who is in his final weeks as an Episcopalian, anticipating joining the Orthodox catechumenate early in 2007.

    Because of the Orthodox Church’s emphasis on community, the ideal is for entire separated bodies of Christians to be reconciled with the Orthodox Church together, rather than trickling into Orthodoxy as individuals. Less than a century ago, it looked like Anglicanism was, however slowly, moving towards such a convergence with Orthodoxy. At that time, there were no other Christian churches of which this could have been said. Therefore, Orthodox-Anglican relations were friendly and hopeful for a time.

    But things have changed rapidly (by Orthodox standards) since then. Not only did Anglicanism as a whole begin to drift away from Orthodoxy rather than toward it, but Anglicanism lost its internal coherence as the Church of England abandoned its intention to be THE Church OF England and started to see itself as just another sect. Meanwhile, Orthodox relations with both the Roman Catholics and the Oriental Orthodox (“Monophysites”) improved. Vatican II made it possible for Catholic theologians to sidestep medieval accretions and return to a more patristic approach for theology – a process that recently bore fruit in the Catholic Church’s reconsideration of Limbo. And theologians from the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches worked out a tentative agreement on the main issue separting them – Christology. Therefore, Orthodoxy has quite reasonably shifted the focus of its ecumenical efforts away from Anglicans toward relationships more likely to bear fruit.

    Right now, it probably makes sense for the Orthodox – and everyone else – to avoid entanglements with all Anglican bodies; the dangers of intervening in someone else’s civil war are well known.

  18. Fatherstephen Says:

    It should be noted that Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk, the, more or less Secretary of State for the Russian Orthodox Church, sent a letter to the 5 or 6 American Episcopal Bishops who had requested alternative oversight after the election of the new Presiding Bishop. He mistakenly thought they were opposing the ordination of women (which was not the issue). But offered graciously to restore conversations with those dioceses.

    At present the Russian Orthodox Church has officially announced that it would not even accept money from the Episcopal Church, USA, despite their great need.

    I don’t know that the Orthodox mean to stay officially out of things, we’ve tried to be helpful. My own Archbishop was the representative observer to the Episcopal General Convention of 1976 and he asked permission to address the House of Bishops before their fateful vote. They only allowed him to speak after the vote. He begged them to reconsider, noting that they were placing themselves outside any possible claim to Historical Catholicity. To no avail.

    There’s probably more willingness to be of help than some might think. But at present the number of “continuing” Anglican Churches is quite confusing, including the claims that some of them make.

    ORthodox does not accept the “validity” (not our word) of Anglican Orders (though some Anglicans think we do. I was reordained when I became Orthodox. But there is much sympathy, gratitude, and willingness to help within the bounds of canon law.

    Much of what we have offered has been, on the one hand, a “Western Rite” under the Patriarch of Antioch, which is a modification of the Anglican Rite, and personal welcome to clergy and laity coming to Orthodoxy. Unofficially there has been much more than that.

  19. David Jones Says:

    I must warn any and all of you who read the comments of one “Bishop” Lee Poteet that any complaints or criticisms he offers are simply a case of the pot calling the kettle “black.”

    When “Bishop” Lee Poteet pontificates about historic Anglicanism, he should take some of his own advice and learn how to do things properly and in order — in other words, in the Anglican Way. But that requires humility and teachability, two gifts which he most certainly does not possess.

    Where to start? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, when it comes to “Bishop” Lee Poteet, “Never have so many things been found so wrong in so short a time.” First, he’s an Episcopus vagans, and therefore is outside of historic, orthodox Anglicanism. He has been asked time and time again to reveal who consecrated him, and under what circumstances, but he refuses to answer. Could it be because his consecration was outside of apostolic succession — or, still worse, that he consecrated himself? We’ll never know until he finally answers.

    Second, “Bishop” Lee Poteet is the “rector” of an “independent” Anglican “parish.” Yes, you read that right: “independent.” As with his consecration, it seems that things involving “Bishop” Lee Poteet simply don’t follow the rather clear strictures of Anglican ecclesiology. But he is happy to educate the rest of us on the intricacies of historic Anglicanism nonetheless.

    Third, the “parish” which he serves as “rector” meets in a motel. Now, that comment may strike you as crass. And perhaps it would be so, if his “parish” were a rather new work. But it has been in existence for 10 years! Under his oversight, the “parish” has moved from one funeral home chapel, to another, to a storefront, and now to a motel. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, he’s now in the middle of a legal action between those who founded the parish and claim its name and the title to its property, and his little band of unthinking sycophants who are fooled into thinking that his incomprehensible “sermons” are actually “deep.” They’re right — they are “deep,” but not in the way that they think.

    Suffice it to say that the best thing any innocent bystander can do on this blog, or anywhere else they may run across “Bishop” Lee Poteet, is to simply ignore him. He is a vandal — he shows up on blogs, hurls insults and invective at sincere Anglicans, and then shuffles off to somewhere else in cyberspace to speak with an authority that he cannot rightly claim.

  20. Carol Warburton Says:

    Hello David,
    I am interested in your comments regarding “Bishop” Lee Poteet. Would you please send me an e-mail so that I could learn more regarding this “Bishop.?” Thanks! CW

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