It was the South Carolina Diocesan Convention of 2002, I believe, during which Bishop Salmon voiced something I will never forget.
In an effort to assure the continuity of some sort of traditional Christianity in the Diocese (it wasn’t directly under threat; the resolution was foreseeing a day like today), some well-intentioned soul proposed that we approve a resolution stating something like, “Be it resolved that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.” Given the utterly heretical antics which have occurred in various places since that time, one can certainly understand the intention, especially in retrospect.
But Bishop Salmon, in his wisdom, approached the microphone before anyone else could say anything and said, “People: the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not up for a vote. He is the Lord whether or not one believes it or accepts it.” This was a moment of important clarity. In fact, Bishop Salmon was honoring his vocation as an Anglican episcopos, a firm voice defending the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
One wonders, in the history of Anglicanism in North America, where this all went so far off track””if it was ever on track. One surprising and notable fatal flaw inherent in Anglican/Episcopalian synods and conventions is the democratic process, especially whereby the unchangeable doctrines of the historic Christian faith are debated and often hang delicately in the hands of majority rule.
Since the very task of Christianity is paradosis (Greek), traditio (Latin), tradition””to receive only that which has been passed along from the beginning, and then to pass only that along to the next””it is totally foreign to the Christian faith that if 60% of all bishops, clergy, and laity vote in favor of something, then it should be done. This approach might be fine if the debate is to send missionaries either to Africa or to Asia. It is no problem to vote on whether or not to host the next General Convention in Miami or in Reno.
But the Christian faith itself is not up for a vote. In fact, it is not even open for debate among self-professing Christians. Why? Once again, because Christianity is received. One can receive it and accept it or not, but it is not subject to change. Red lights should flash and sirens should sound whenever anything is proposed to be believed which never in the history of the Christian faith has been both delivered and received.
Since Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”, so then teachings about him are “the same yesterday, today, and forever”. And because the Church is the body of this unchangeable Jesus Christ, then too, the structure and belief of the Church is unchangeable and unchanging.
Since Jesus Christ, by his divine-human nature shows us precisely what it means to be both human and man, then we have no need to debate what true humanity looks like, nor what true manhood is. Jesus Christ is not just the “last Adam”; he is the true Adam, the true Man. True manhood and true personhood is one and the same: love defined as seeking and doing nothing but the will of the Father in Heaven, which always involves crucifixion, denial of self, and following””not leading.
Women also can turn to the purest, most perfect woman who ever lived to see precisely what it means to be woman. Mary, the ever-Virgin Theotokos (God-bearer), who is””even according to the ECUSA hymn, borrowed from the Orthodox””“more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim” and who “lead(s) their [the saints’] praises”, is she. And she is not just the second Eve, she is the true Eve””the most ”˜real’ woman. The one who heard the word of God and kept it. Mary is the holy example of love, purity, and chastity, not to mention joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no true humanity, personhood, apart from Jesus Christ. There is no femininity, womanhood, apart from the Theotokos. There is no Christianity without both. There is obviously no Christianity with out Christ; but there is no Christ without his holy Mother, Mary. It is perhaps this lack””the near extinction of the veneration of the Mother of God in Anglican circles””which is at the root of today’s struggles.
But then again, there are two quotes which are also instructive: His Eminence (now) Metropolitan KALLISTOS Ware (most famous for his excellent books The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way) said, “St. Athanasius said, ”˜God became man to make man God.’ But God also became man to make man, man.” We have much to learn from this.
I do not know to whom to attribute the second quote, which I will paraphrase. “It is truly a sick world when we have veered so far from Christ, that the example and highest goal is to attain the status of fallen man (as opposed to attaining to Christ)””even for women.” In other words, in our modern society, the standard for all people (even for women) is the fallen male.
How utterly sad””truly sad””that the Anglican Church of Canada””like so many others””should believe that Christianity is up for a vote. I suspect we should be relieved that in order to approve SSB, 60% had to be in favor. I suppose we should all breathe a sigh of relief that it ”˜failed’.
But it didn’t. As has been seen in our own country, the fact that it is up for a vote and debate at all indicates that it is only a matter of time, every second of which is precious for our salvation.
And how totally ironic that these votes should take place on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord, June 24. St. John’s preaching was indeed a fore-running of the Lord’s, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Repent indeed. Change your minds.
John the Baptist preached as a voice in the wilderness as a sign of what was to come. But now already the Lord is come, is sacrificed for us, and indeed is risen! Neither these holy and life-giving events nor any facet of Christianity is up for vote.
To be in the wilderness now is an unnecessary choice. The Church can be found, and it is not far away. As the prophet Ezekiel said, “So turn, and live!”
–Fr. John Parker is Priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC, and can be reached at frjohn [at] ocacharleston [dot] org