When a Letter of Congratulations Contains a Warning. . .

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The Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Bishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, has written a letter of congratulations to Right Reverend Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham and nominee as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Metropolitan of Volokolamsk

Consider its contents:

Dear Brother and Lord Bishop,


I would like to extend to you wholehearted congratulations on your election as Head of one of the oldest episcopal chairs founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 7th century.


You have been entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ (Tit. 1:7) the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth (cf. Jn. 18:37).


The Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion are bonded by age-old friendly relations initiated in the 15th century. For centuries, our Churches would preserve good and truly brotherly relations encouraged both by frequent mutual visits and established theological dialogue and certainly by a spirit of respect and love which used to accompany the meetings of our hierarchs, clergy and ordinary believers.


Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole.


We hope that the voice of the Orthodox Church will be heard by the Church of England and Churches of the Anglican Communion, and good fraternal relationships between us will revive.


I wish you God’s help in your important work.


“May the God of love and peace be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).


+Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

“Congratulations” might not be the best word to describe the entire contents of Bishop Hilarion’s letter.

“Innovations,” “deviations,” “increasingly estrange,” “further contribute to a further division of Christendom,” and “good fraternal relationships between us will revive” sound more like a “warning” to the new Archbishop of Canterbury: His denomination is falling off a moral cliff.

Bishop Hilarion doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the orthodox Christian faith, does he?

Imagine what the National Catholic Reporter would have to say if the USCCB or a U.S. metropolitan archbishop sent  the new Archbishop of Canterbury a similar letter of congratulations!

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  1. Nice letter but technicall speaking, the Archbiship of Cantebury is not the “Head of one of the oldest episcopal chairs founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 7th century”. That see ended in 1558.

  2. The last Archbishop of Canterbury was Reginald, Cardinal Pole. His predecessor, Thomas Cranmer, was deprived for heresy. All successive so-called archbishops are not in Apostolic succession.

  3. Just what are the views of the Orthodox on the validity of Anglican orders?
    Are they similar to those of the Catholic Church (i.e., that they are invalid)?
    If not, in light of this ‘congratulations’, is it possible that in the future our
    Orthodox brothers will also deem Anglican orders invalid?

  4. The Eastern Orthodox Churches generally accept the validity of Anglican Orders, but Canterbury’s and ECUSA’s apostasy has put a kink in the works. Eastern Orthodox do accept validity of Anglican Continuum Jurisdictions on a case by case basis. The Anglican Church responded to Pope Leo XIII’s Bull in the late 1800s on the invalidity of Anglican Orders with Saepius Officio. In today’s environment with many Anglican bishops in the Continuum being consecrated by Eastern Orthodox and Old Catholic Jurisdictions – which Rome recognizes as valid – makes Pope Leo XIII’s Bull out dated. There are also other arguments for the validity of Anglican Orders. Read Saepius Officio. I can’t link to it and other stuff on this matter now because I have to get back to neutron ‘R us. But too many in the Roman Jursidiction have this inflated sense of Roman supremacy that’s simply wrong. Many if not most Anglicans in the Continuum would recognize the Pope as Primus iter Pares, just like the Orthodox. Gotta go for now. Fully expect to be blasted for what I wrote.

  5. Bishop Hilarion knows that there are souls at stake and through his tactful refutation of Anglican innovations he may pick up a few converts. The truly prayerful Anglicans will not be able to remain Anglican and the institution will fail unless it seeks reunification. I believe it will happen in my lifetime.

  6. I quote, “Remember, Father David, that the Orthodox are Easterners and not Westeners, and “yes” does not mean “yes” and “no” does not mean “no”, said Archimandrite Barnabas, Yes, there are statements that indicate that the Orthodox Church does recognize Anglican Orders; but much more important is the fact that no Anglican priest who has become Orthodox has been allowed to officiate without being re-ordained.” Fr Barnabas lived and worked for years in France because they did not with to draw attention to the fact that, although a canon in the Church in Wales, he had been re-ordained.
    Actually, the issue is more complicated because, ingeneral, the Orthodox do not think in terms of validity. For us it is all a little confusing.

  7. Here is Saepius Officio, Answer of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Bull Apostolicae Curae of His Holiness Leo XIII.

    Here is Why Anglican Clergy Could Be Received in Their Orders by the Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky. The Christian East, March, 1927

    Here is an interesting article at Philorthodox about the Validity of Anglican Orders:

    Here is an excellent paper on the Validity of Anglican Holy Orders by Father Mark of the Anglican Church of the Trinity in Hiram, Georgia:

    I acknowledge that Canterbury and the Episcopal Church USA are in full flight from orthodoxy. They have polluted themselves with embracing homosexual sodomy and female clergy. They no longer have valid orders. But those in the orthodox Anglican jurisdictions that broke away from this madness are a different matter.

  8. I think it’s a masterful letter, expressing concerns in a tactful but forthright manner. It will probably have little effect on the actions of the new Anglican archbishop but I respect the metropolitan for his attempt to speak the truth in love. I’m Catholic and thus have theological differences with the Orthodox churches but no animus. I wish we could all be one.

  9. I have never, ever heard of an Episcopal deacon or priest “received” as clergy into any legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction in North America – conditionally or unconditionally. All are ordained as if they were laymen. That’s what happens “on the ground”, position papers and ecumenical diplomacy not withstanding.

    However, Pope Benedict XVI has shown great warmth and interest in the formation and rapid growth of the ACNA, (Anglican Church in North America). The ACNA has also begun friendly dialogues with the conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans and the conservative Polish National Catholic Church as well.

  10. Remember, the Eastern and Anglican churches have a lot at stake in preserving the idea of an Anglican-Catholic-Orthodox communion. It’s not just about inter-church relations; it’s about their self-identity. It’s got to kill the Orthodox to see the Anglicans become just another Protestant denomination.

  11. “Imagine what the National Catholic Reporter would have to say if the USCCB or a U.S. metropolitan archbishop sent the new Archbishop of Canterbury a similar letter of congratulations!”

    Or the Pope.

  12. Dan raises an interesting point, one answered by Spero News editor Martin Barillas at: http://www.speroforum.com/a/GYKROSZMUH3/73295-Pope-sends-congratulations-to-new-Anglican-leader

    Barillas writes:

    Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Catholic Church’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity, sent a message on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI to the new Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Communion, the Right Reverend Justin Welby. Cardinal Koch expressed “congratulations and warmest best wishes.”

    Cardinal Koch, a Swiss native, wrote “Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion are a hugely important part of the ecumenical call for all Christians to seek greater fidelity to the Lord’s will, so clearly expressed in his prayer to the Father at the Last Supper ‘that all may be one’. For almost fifty years, as you are well aware, there has been a formal theological dialogue which continues to seek a deeper understanding of the great heritage shared by Anglicans and Catholics, as well as the points of divergence which still impede fully restored ecclesial communion. During that same time, relations between succeeding Popes and Archbishops of Canterbury have been marked by numerous meetings which have expressed intense spiritual and human friendship, and a shared concern for our Gospel witness and service to the human family.”

    Cardinal Koch has expressed in the past his commitment to good relations with Christian communions other than his own. In 2010, the cardinal spoke of the Pope’s “irreversible” commitment to ecumenism while averring that neither he, nor the pontiff, wish to return to a time before the Second Vatican Council.

    Writing to the incoming leader of the Anglican Communion, Cardinal Koch said “I am certain that under your leadership those excellent relations will continue to bear fruit, and I look forward to meeting you personally, and to future opportunities to share our common commitment to the cause of Christian Unity, ‘so that the world may believe’.

    “Please accept the assurance of my earnest prayers for you and your family as you prepare for a new phase in your dedicated service of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

    Quite different from the letter of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion.

  13. As an Orthodox Christian living in England, I must say that I much prefer the approach taken by Cardinal Koch which makes the points which have to be made very subtly, and without any possible personal offence to the Archbishop-designate.

  14. Here in the United Stated the Epsicopailian Church is have major fractures within itself. We are seeing an extremely large number from that belief move to Catholism. I was reading of one entire parish, building and all, become Catholic. In talking to Episcopalian’s about this they are saying many with in their religion don’t like the exact things the Russain Orthodox Bishop mentioned.

  15. Paul W. Primavera; Is it true that any and all men who are validly ordained and may have repudiated St. Peter and the Apostolic Succession as Vicar of Christ on earth may have stepped off into heresy?

  16. Mary D V,

    The Orthodox Anglicans whom I know do not repudiate either the Pope or Apostolic Succession. Rather, they maintain that there were 12 Apostles, not 1, and that the Historic Creeds of Christendom say “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, not “One Holy Catholic and Petrine Church.” Further, most agree that the Bishop of Rome is Primus iter Pares, but historically not Primus in Auctoritate.

  17. To continue in my response to Mary D V:

    As I indicated above, the question that we must ask ourselves is this: did Jesus Christ establish One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds state, or did Jesus Christ establish the One Holy Catholic and Petrine Church? The discussion below shows what Sacred Scripture says.

    In Matthew 16:18-19, when Jesus provides the Key to the Kingdom and states that whatever is bound on earth will be bound in Heaven, and loosened on Earth loosened in Heaven, He uses the second person singular in speaking to St. Peter. The Greek word “?????” means “you singular bind” and the Greek word “?????” means “you singular loosen.” This is repeated in the Latin Vulgate with the word “ligaveris” which means the same as “?????” and the word “solveris” which means the same as “?????.”

    However, in John 20:21-23 a change is made to plural when Jesus after His resurrection meets the Disciples in the Upper Room, breathes on them the Holy Spirit and declares that whose sins they forgive are forgiven and whose sins they retain are retained. The Greek phrase “????? ????” in verse 21 means “I send you plural”. The Greek phrase “?????? ?????? ?????” in verse 22 means “Receive you plural the Spirit Holy.” In verse 23, the Greek word “????????” means “you plural shall forgive” and the Greek word “???????” means “you plural shall retain.” This is repeated in the Latin Vulgate. In verse 21, the phrase “ego mitto vos” is used to denote “I send you plural”. In verse 22 the phrase “accipite Spiritum Sanctum” means “receive you plural the Spirit Holy”. Finally, in verse 23, the word “remiseritis” means “you plural shall forgive” and the word “retinueritis” means “you plural shall retain.”

    Furthermore, In John chapter 21, where Jesus thrice asks St. Peter to feed His sheep, the Orthodox Anglicans would maintain that He gives to St. Peter a special responsibility, not a special authority since there are 12 equal Apostles (well, 11 until the lot casting of Matthias in Acts chapter 1, and that was NOT an exclusive Petrine appointment).

    The relevant Biblical texts of Matthew 16 and John 20 are reproduced below in Greek, Latin and English for the interested reader. I checked the conjugations of the Greek verbs at this web site: http://wesley.nnu.edu/gnt/. While my Latin is passable, my ability at Greek is horrible, and my pharmacist – a very pretty young Greek lady – says that I pronounce the “????? ????” (The Lord’s Prayer) with a horrible Yankee accent and should stick to broken English, which I am really an expert at. 😉

    Matthew 16:18-19

    ???? ?? ??? ???? ??? ?? ?? ??????, ??? ??? ????? ?? ????? ?????????? ??? ??? ?????????, ??? ????? ???? ?? ????????????? ?????.
    ???? ??? ??? ??????? ??? ????????? ??? ???????, ??? ? ??? ????? ??? ??? ??? ????? ????????? ?? ???? ????????, ??? ? ??? ????? ??? ??? ??? ????? ????????? ?? ???? ????????.

    Et ego dico tibi quia tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam.
    Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum et quodcumque ligaveris super terram erit ligatum in caelis et quodcumque solveris super terram erit solutum in caelis

    And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
    And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

    John 20:21-23

    ????? ??? ?????? [? ??????] ?????, ?????? ????· ????? ?????????? ?? ? ?????, ???? ????? ????.
    ??? ????? ????? ?????????? ??? ????? ??????, ?????? ?????? ?????·
    ?? ????? ????? ??? ???????? ???????? ??????, ?? ????? ??????? ???????????.

    Dixit ergo eis iterum pax vobis sicut misit me Pater et ego mitto vos.
    Hoc cum dixisset insuflavit et dicit eis accipite Spiritum Sanctum.
    Quorum remiseritis peccata remittuntur eis quorum retinueritis detenta sunt.

    He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.
    When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.
    Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

  18. Bishop Hilarion is to be congratulated for his stand against the aberrations being now contemplated even in pagan America. I have a problem with keeping those not in the fulness of faith in their quandary without the body and blood of Jesus whch must surely be a serious handicap for salvation. The decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council along with eschewing doctrine and discipline were responsible for almost destroying evangelization in the disastrous wake of the corrosive “Spirit of Vatican II.” Catholics not taught the faith became easy targets for Protestant proselytism. My drive as a convert of 63 years has never deviated from trying to make everyone become a Catholic. Without the Real Presence there is no life in us..

  19. Both Eastern Orthodox and Orthodox Anglicans believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Both believe in the Catholic Church, Katholicos meaning universal or whole. Both believe that Rome is not the be all and end all of the Catholic Church. Both recite the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. Both have valid Holy Orders. Both have valid Sacraments, a fact that Rome itself recognizes in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy. Both refuse to use the word Transubstantiation, both preferring to regard what happens at Consecration of the Species as a Mystery not understandable by mere mortal man. Both maintain what Sacred Scripture states: unless you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you have no life in you. The problem always devolves to this: is the Church Petrine or Apostolic? Metropolitan Hilarion would say One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and he warns the newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury from departing from that Church through ordination of women and homosexuals. BTW, the Roman jurisdiction has more than its fair share of homosexual priests and a woman’s ordination movement, both thankfully opposed by Rome itself.

  20. “Quite different from the letter of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion.”

    That isn’t fair. Both the ordination of women and the homosexually partnered bishop received very frank responses.

    Wikipedia [standard disclaimers apply] has this to say: “However, in conversation with the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, Cardinal Walter Kasper…. warned that if the Church of England was to ordain women as bishops, as the Episcopal Church has done, then it could destroy any chance of reuniting the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Although ARCIC had just completed the major document on Marian theology in 2003, Pope John Paul II officially called off all future talks between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion upon the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop.”

  21. Mr. Primavera:

    Glory to Jesus Christ. As an Eastern Catholic, which straddles the east and west, I understand your point of view. The papacy has been an evolving institution we all agree over the past 2,000 years. I believe that even the two most recent popes agree that unity or ecclesiastical communion will require a revised view of the role of the papacy with regard to the Orthodox churches. If it is God’s will, it will happen since unity is more important now than in any Christian era. Anglicanism by its own hand has committed suicide by its actions over the past few decades. My understanding of Anglicanism may be limited but being ‘ordained’ is not the end all or be all…..for example some Catholic women are being ordained by schismatic bishops. Many if not most ordained Anglican clergy have a low church at best or an extremely liberal or Protestant view (which is at variance with orthodox faiths) of the Eucharist as a symbol rather than a reality. The Eucharist in the center of unity. The fact that Anglicans who hold the orthodox view – high church Anglicans – are marginalized and ignored by the mainstream and Anglican hierarchy. Any devout Anglican at this point in time should join an orthodox communion not only for their souls sake but also their sanity.

  22. I basically agree with you, Patrick, and now there are many breakaway Anglican Jurisdictions. I went to Wikipedia to list them below. The one with which I am familiar is the Orthodox Anglican Church which follows the 1928 BCP and has a very High Church view of the Sacraments, including Holy Orders and the Eucharist. Its Archbishop / Primate and its Suffragan Bishop can trace their Episcopal Orders via:

    (1) The Rebiban Succession (common to the Roman Jurisdiction) through the Utrecht Union which became the Old Catholic Church in Europe, and
    (2) The Eastern Orthodox Succession through the Moscow Patriachate of the Russian Orthodox Church

    Here is the “current” List of Continuing Anglican Churches (estimated number of Parishes are in parentheses) – to those Romans who rightly point out how fractured this shows Anglicanism to be, they would do well to consider how equally fractured the Roman jurisdiction is between liberal social justice Roman Catholics and conservative pro-life Roman Catholics, with all the variations in between:

    American Anglican Church (12)
    Anglican Catholic Church (135)
    Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (12)
    Anglican Churches of America (2)
    Anglican Church in America (75)
    Anglican Church of Virginia (8)
    Anglican Episcopal Church (6)
    Anglican Orthodox Church (10)
    Anglican Province of America (60)
    Anglican Province of Christ the King (42)
    Christian Episcopal Church of Canada (3)
    Diocese of the Great Lakes (5)
    Diocese of the Holy Cross (20)
    Episcopal Missionary Church (30)
    Holy Catholic Church–Western Rite (30)
    Orthodox Anglican Church (5)
    Southern Episcopal Church (3)
    United Anglican Church (6)
    United Episcopal Church of North America (16)

  23. You are correct, Mary D V. Indeed, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church does provide the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. Note the title of the Church. it does not say “One Holy Roman and Petrine Church.” And even Rome recognizes that in spite of human disunity, the Eastern Orthodox who recite the same Nicene and Apostles’ Creed as we do ( except for the Filioque – different topic) are a part of that Catholic Church. It is Catholic which means whole, NOT just Roman, but it does include Roman and most are willing to acknowledge the Pope as Primus iter Pares.

  24. Without mincing words, I say straight on that the head of the Anglican Communion is remotely controlled by the Government of Britain! And, as we all know, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Britain is one the countries that supports same-sex marriage and all the shenanigans associated with gays and lesbians. From this background, one could see the reason any Archbishop of Canterbury would always support the enthronement of gays and lesbians in both the Anglican Church hierarchy and congregation! Anything short of this from such Archbishop could result in his removal. It is unfortunate that the separation of the Church and The State is not present in the United Kingdom! More unfortunate is the fact that some unpleasant policies adopted by the Archbishop of Canterbury would impact and could offend the beliefs of many Anglican faithful situated outside Britain. And this gay and lesbian issue is definitely a sore point in this direction. I look forward to the day a future Archbishop of Canterbury would dare the government of Britain by throwing out the Church’s adoption of the gay and lesbian matters. It would be a beginning of moral and legal reforms in the UK.

  25. Is not the monarch by definition head of the Church of England? Isn’t it a state church and the archbishop is chief prelate but not the head of the church? He can’t make doctrinal decisions without the confirmation of the monarch who’s now ruler of England in name only. In such a situation (if I correctly understand it) how can the church remain faithful to Christ? No one can serve two masters.

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