BISHOP RAPHAEL AND ORTHODOX/EPISCOPALIAN RELATIONS

by Fr. Andre Issa

 

Part Three: Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny — 1860-1915

From the end of the sixteenth century, the Protestant Anglican Church made many approaches to the Orthodox Church and looked upon it as a Church which appeals to Holy Scriptures and the writings of the holy fathers, and the one which claims continuity with the Church of the New Testament. Orthodoxy especially rejects the supremacy of Rome and the Pope of Rome over all Churches, but above all, the Anglicans were hoping that the Orthodox Church would recognize their Orders.

Relations between the Orthodox Church and the Anglicans began in the seventeenth century between the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) and George Abbot, Anglican archbishop of Canterbury. Relations continued between Constantinople and the Church of England and successfully reached contacts in the nineteenth century with the Great Church of Russia, where good relations and theological dialogue were established, with the purpose of promoting the unity of Christendom, between Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and the Anglican Church.

When in 1896 the Roman Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican clerical Orders to be invalid, the Anglicans sought more serious dialogue with the Orthodox. As a direct result "The Anglican and Eastern Churches Union" was founded in London that same year.

The first contact the Church of England made with the English colonies in America was in 1578, and the first permanent Anglican settlement in the new world was founded in 1607. During the eighteenth century the Church of England was officially established in Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina and Georgia. In 1789, following the Revolutionary War of Independence, the Anglican Church in the United States (Protestant Episcopal) became autonomous and independent of the Church of England but remained an integral part of the Anglican communion, joined to its English mother church by kinship of faith and worship. In the United States they took the name of "Protestant Episcopal Church".

The Protestant Episcopal Church opened a new era of relations with the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States when its General Convention of 1862 established the "Russo-Greek Committee" for the purpose of seeking fresh contacts with and information about Orthodoxy. After that year, Orthodox/Anglican relations were many and varied. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the leaders of that movement were the Russian Orthodox Bishop of North America and the Aleutian Islands, Archbishop Tikhon, and the Episcopalian Bishop Charles Grafton, Bishop of Fond du Lac. On February 7, 1907, the Russian Holy Synod decided officially to transfer Archbishop Tikhon from North America to the see of Iaroslav in Russia, appointing Bishop Platon, second vicar of the Kiev diocese, to succeed Archbishop Tikhon in North America. Since Platon was very impressed with the Anglican Church since he was the rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, he continued these relations wishing the unity of all Christendom.

On October 13, 1908, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States inaugurated an American Branch of "The Anglican and Eastern Churches Union" at a meeting held at its Church of the Holy Transfiguration in New York. The meeting was attended by three Episcopalian bishops and a large number of their clergy; Raphael Hawaweeny, Bishop of Brooklyn, Father Basil Kherbawy and Deacon Iskandar Atallah representing the Syrian Mission in North America; Father Benedict Turkevich, delegated by Archbishop Platon to represent the Russian Church in North America; Father Methodios Korkotis representing the Greek Mission; and the Greek Consul General from Washington, DC also attended. After the opening prayer, the participants discussed the plan they must follow which would lead to success in the near future. Then Bishop Raphael spoke, wishing that the mutual approach in such meetings would exceed to true unity by resolving the essential problems between the two Churches regarding the Sacraments and basic Christian doctrine. He said "that the day is near when we do not say our Church and your Church but we will all be one in Christ."

At the meeting the Episcopalians announced that the organization's purpose was not only to develop fraternal relations with the Orthodox Church, but also to make formal conversations promoting unity. The body decided to encourage seminarian student exchanges, with seminarians of the Episcopal Church being sent to Russia for a period of study in Orthodox academies, and seminarians of the Russian Church being sent aboard for a period of study in Anglican theological schools. The body then elected Edward Parker, Bishop of New Hampshire, as the Episcopalian vice-president of the American Branch of "The Anglican and Eastern Churches Union", and being well pleased with the impression Bishop Raphael made at the meeting, elected him as the Orthodox vice-president. Bishop Raphael accepted this position in the belief that "The Anglican and Eastern Churches Union" would offer opportunities to help realize unity.

As was their usual custom with all prelates and clergy of other bodies, the Episcopalian bishops urged Bishop Raphael to recognize the validity of their Orders and to permit his people to receive sacramental ministrations from the Episcopal Church. It was pointed out to Raphael that many of the isolated and widely scattered Orthodox Christians in North America had no easy access to Orthodox priests (and hence no easy access to the sacraments), but could be easily reached and ministered to by Episcopalian clergymen. They tried to persuade Raphael that they were true priests — Orthodox in their doctrine and belief, though separated in organization. Unconvinced by their arguments, Raphael cautioned the Orthodox Syrians not to be taken in by such arguments, and that no unity of faith or practice existed between the Orthodox Church and the Protestant Episcopal Churches.

On October 14, 1909, during the annual meeting of the American Branch of "The Anglican and Eastern Churches Union" held at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey, the Episcopalian bishops pressed Bishop Raphael to translate The Book of Common Prayer into Arabic and to encourage the Orthodox Syrian faithful who were without the ministrations of a local Orthodox priest to attend Episcopal churches. Bishop Raphael refused, for many theological reasons, saying: "The spiritual communion between the Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church does not exist yet; all we have accomplished is friendly relations." He suggested that if the Episcopalians were truly interested in being of help to his flock, that they should keep Orthodox service books in their churches which could be used by the Orthodox Syrians when they might visit an Episcopalian church.

Raphael continued to be greatly concerned by the dilemma which faced members of his flock who lived in areas at great distances from Orthodox parishes. Their dying went to their graves without confession and communion and with no priest to conduct a funeral. Young couples needed their marriages blessed in a church and their children baptized. Therefore in June of 1910 Bishop Raphael took a bold pastoral step and granted permission for his people in these circumstances of emergency and urgency to receive ministrations from an Episcopalian clergyman, when no Orthodox priest was available, and only from an Episcopalian clergyman. He believed that the Episcopal Church considered the Orthodox Church to be the oldest Church and that only the Orthodox Church preserved the truth of the Christian Faith without changes. He also had great love for them and his personal desire to be tolerant toward them in issues and matters that did not contradict the canons of the Orthodox Church and its apostolic teaching and doctrine, hoping by this he would help to realize the unity between the two Churches.

Writing to the Episcopalian bishops, Raphael listed the pastoral rules which he stipulated were to be observed by any Episcopalian clergyman who might be called to minister to his people in such extreme circumstances, concerning marriages, divorces, baptisms (and not chrismation), confessions and communions for the dying, recommending that if an Orthodox Service Book can be produced, that the sacrament and rites be performed as set forth in that book.

Bishop Raphael's letter reached the mother Church of England. The secretary of "The Anglican and Eastern Churches Union," the Reverend Fynes Clinton, wrote to Raphael on August 6, 1910, commending his step and stating that "the House of Bishops, in their last meeting in Lambeth, England, decided that there is no canonical preventive which prevents the Anglican clergy from baptizing and chrismating the Orthodox children," and that such a step is "of greatest importance in the interest of approaching the day when we, the Anglicans, will be given the same right when we travel in the Orthodox countries, … your step, which may be today difficult for some Orthodox bishops to undertake and for some to accept will positively effect the future of the relations between the two Churches. Therefore, I have sent your letter to be published in our Anglican newsletters, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to other bishops of the Anglican Church."

Being uncomfortable with the response of the Anglicans, Bishop Raphael wrote Clinton, in August 19, 1910, an explanatory letter stating that "I trust that no doubtful interpretation has been given to that letter. I tried to be both very Christian and frank. In no way must it be interpreted as admitting anything which the Orthodox Church does not admit or in contradicting what it does not deny." And "I, as head of the Syrian Mission in North America, find my people scattered far and near. Of all Christian bodies they and I find the Protestant Episcopal Church most respectful and kind toward me, as their Bishop, and to them. That Church has extended a Christian hand. I have gone as far as I can conscientiously toward that Church as part of the great and beloved Anglican Communion. Whereinsoever my people have need of ministrations of necessity, there being no Orthodox priests, I have preferred the Priesthood of the Anglican Church to minister to them, rather than that of any other. No farther I can go. All other matters I must leave in the hands of God and the rightful authorities of the Holy Orthodox Church throughout the world. I will stand with them in their final decision".

Being a vice-president on the Eastern Orthodox Catholic side of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union and having issued on Protestant Episcopal solicitation such a permission to his people, Bishop Raphael set himself to observe most closely the resulting acts, following upon his permissory letter and to study most carefully the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Anglican teaching in the hope that the Anglicans might really be capable of actually becoming Orthodox. But the more closely he observed their general practices and more deeply he studied the teaching and the faith of the Protestant Episcopal Church the more painfully shocked, disappointed, and disillusioned Bishop Raphael became; furthermore, the very fact of his own position in the Anglican and Orthodox Union made the confusion and deception of Orthodox people the more certain and serious. The Episcopal Clergy informed the Orthodox people that Bishop Raphael recognized the Anglican Communion (Protestant Episcopal Church) as being united with the Holy Orthodox Church and their ministry, that is, Holy Orders, as valid; they offered their ministrations even when Orthodox clergy were residing in the same towns and parishes, as pastors, saying that there was no need of the Orthodox people seeking the ministrations of their own Orthodox priests, for their ministrations were all that were necessary. Bishop Raphael found that his association with Episcopalians was made a basis for most insidious, injurious, and unwarranted propaganda in favor of the Protestant Episcopal Church among his parishes and faithful.

Finally, after more than a year of constant and careful study and observation, Bishop Raphael felt that it was his duty to resign from the association of which he was a vice-president. In doing this he hoped that the end of his connection with the Union would end also the Protestant Episcopal interferences and uncalled for intrusions in the affairs and religious harmony of his people.

Therefore, while the American Branch of the "Union" was preparing for its fourth annual meeting to be held on November 10, 1911, Bishop Raphael decided to resign from the association. He wrote his letter of resignation on September 26, 1911, but he did not send it to the members of the Branch until the day before the meeting, on November 9, 1911. The letter was read at the meeting and the members of the Branch accepted the resignation of Bishop Raphael, assigning a special committee to prepare a letter responding to Bishop Raphael's letter of resignation. The committee wrote the response on December 21, 1911.

Bishop Raphael's letter of resignation from the American Branch was well-received by all Orthodox Christians in North America and in Russia, and he was commended by all who understood Anglicanism and the reason for its desire for dialogue with the Orthodox Church. These included such people as Archbishop Platon, Bishop Alexander and the Orthodox clergy in North America. Nicholas Uspensky, secretary of the Kiev Theological School, wrote Raphael on March 18, 1912, saying, "I read your letter of resignation in the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger. I admire your literary courage which every Orthodox bishop should follow." Sir Campbell, a doctor of Canon Law in England and a convert to Orthodoxy, wrote to Bishop Raphael on October 17, 1911, saying that he had read the letter of resignation in two Catholic magazines in England, adding that the Anglican/Orthodox movement was founded only because the Anglican Church needed to have its Orders recognized as valid by the Orthodox Church.

In the August, 1912 issue of Al-Kalimat (THE WORD) Bishop Raphael issued an official edict to his flock rescinding his earlier permission (1910) and forbidding them to accept the ministrations of Protestant Episcopal clergymen. Later that same year Bishop Raphael reinforced the above edict by sending a "Pastoral Letter" to all of his clergy and laity explaining in depth the whole matter. (To be continued.)

Fr. Andre' Issa is pastor of St. George Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
April 1995
pp. 5-7

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