by Lawrence B. Wheeler, B.A., M.Div. (Former Anglican priest, convert to Orthodoxy).
It was a balmy summer day in midtown Manhattan when His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros stepped into St. Bartholomew’s Church. He was on Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, where the grand edifice sits, imposing and Byzantine, yet dwarfed by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. According to the Orthodox Church calendar, it was the feast day of Ss. Bartholomew & Barnabas, which fell on a Friday this year, the eleventh day of June 2021. The archbishop and his entourage had come to St. Bart’s, as the parish is fondly known, to commemorate the name day of Patriarch Bartholomew, his ecclesiastical superior in Constantinople – current-day Istanbul. The venerable patriarch had now sat on the far-away throne for thirty years – longer than any of his predecessors. An auspicious occasion it was – one worthy of a singular celebration for a primate termed the Ecumenical Patriarch. Undiscerning Westerners consider him to be the Eastern version of the Roman Pope, a claim to which the primates of the other Orthodox jurisdictions, especially the Patriarch of Moscow, do not subscribe.
Except for the fact that St. Bart’s is an Episcopal Church, there would have been no cause for alarm at the setting, and except for the fact that St. Bartholomew’s Day fell in the month of June, also known as “Pride Month”, there would have been no cause for alarm at the timing of the occasion. As it was, however, over the west door and next to the Stars and Stripes drooped a rainbow flag, which symbolizes the hubris of the homosexual movement, now having burgeoned into the LGBTQ+Whatever-in-Hell-Suits-You Movement.
Scheduled for the following week was a Zoom lecture by a woman who claims to have “transitioned” into manhood. Her (his?) name is Austen Hartke, who on Sunday, June 20 would contend that there is enough wiggle room in Holy Writ to make it appear as though the “gender identity” of transgendered people was something that God had conjured up, or at least tolerated. The clear reading of the biblical creation account is: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:27) But, according to Hartke that “ain’t necessarily so”, as George Gershwin might have crooned. The antiquated idea that a person is either a man or a woman seems to be too binary to the progressive Christian mind.
Pseudo-theology is nothing new to the Episcopal Church. Formerly named the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (PECUSA) the Episcopal Church now uses TEC as its acronym. Let’s review the highlights of its recent history, specifically its controversial firsts in clerical ordinations:
In 1974, rogue bishops, none with jurisdiction, disobeyed Church Canon and gathered in Philadelphia to illegally ordain eleven women to the presbyterate, aka priesthood. Their illicit act was ratified at the General Convention of 1976. One must note that, in 1944, during the imperial Japanese occupation, one woman had been permitted to function as a priest for the Anglicans in Hong Kong, but this ordination of the “Philadelphia Eleven” created quite a stir in our country. To conservative Anglo-Catholics, it was unseemly that a woman, whose very body was created for the life-giving grace of childbirth, should ever offer the unbloody sacrifice of the mass, a fulfillment of the antiquated Hebrew priesthood of the actual sacrifice of beasts for man’s sins. Neither is a woman by nature qualified to stand at the altar “in place of and as a type of Christ”, the God-man. As far as the evangelical Episcopalians were concerned, the innovation was simply not biblical, for St. Paul had said, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (I Tim. 2:12) Strike one. Either way, ordaining women was liable to divide the Anglican Communion.
In Massachusetts in 1988, a divorced black woman who had never attended seminary, Barbara Harris, was elected the first female bishop in Anglican history. Her controversial consecration triggered the formation of an independent group of conservatives, the Episcopal Synod of America. Never in the history of any of the three supposèd “branches” of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church: Orthodox, Roman or Anglican had any woman been elevated to the ranks of the episcopacy. By this time, there were many divorced people but few African Americans in the waspish TEC, and very few of the clergy had missed a seminary education. So, despite the fact that she did not represent a major slice of the Episcopal demographic, the considerations that Harris was a divorced black person without an M.Div. were only minor complaints compared to the unavoidable fact that she was a woman. It was this that caused the most consternation. Strike two.
Fifteen years later, in 2003 another bombshell was dropped. That was the election of the first openly-partnered homosexual priest, Vicky Imogene Robinson – a man with a woman’s name – to the office of bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Bp. Robinson was legally married when it became legal, but he and his “husband” would ultimately get a divorce in 2014. Gene Robinson’s sexual lifestyle utterly disgusted a major swath of Episcopalians. Vast numbers of them could not bring themselves to respect him as a member of the college of bishops. The Bible speaks clearly about God’s prohibition of homosexual practice:
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” (Lev. 18:22 KJV) In contemporary English that is: “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.” (TEV) For those who reject the moral authority of the Hebrew law, there is the clear judgment from St. Paul in the Christian Scriptures:
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (Rom 1:24-27)
This one action of episcopal consecration infuriated any remaining traditional Episcopalians, who then turned in their tens of thousands to breakaway Anglican denominations like CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, supported by the large Nigerian Church. Strike three.
In 2006, Katherine Jefferts-Schori became the first female primate of any Anglican province. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church does not have jurisdiction over a diocese, but that person wields a lot of moral authority throughout the denomination. Over the next nine years, Pres. Bp. Schori ruled with an iron fist. Along with her sycophant diocesan bishops, she defrocked any remaining clergymen who refused on the grounds of the Church’s own Scripture and Tradition to condone the ordination of women or homosexuals to the major orders of clergy. “At her direction, the national church initiated lawsuits against departing dioceses and parishes, with some $22 million spent as of 2011. She also established a policy that church properties were not to be sold to departing congregations.” (Wikipedia) Deep indeed was the vindictiveness that Jefferts-Schori demonstrated during her primacy of the Episcopal Church. Four whole dioceses left TEC in 2009, but since the Church canons had been changed to stipulate that all diocesan and parochial real estate was held in trust for the national Church, nearly all of the renegades had to part with their earthly treasure to carry on as best they could. South Carolina also was forced to leave in 2012, since Bp. Lawrence was bullied and persecuted by the national church for his faithfulness to Tradition. Bp. Love of Albany was even put on trial in an ecclesiastical court for maintaining moral standards in his diocese in upstate New York. Strike four.
A resolution of the general convention in 2018 made trial rites for “marriage equality” available to all homosexual Episcopalians, regardless of the diocesan bishop’s view of the matter. This caused the worldwide primates to suspend TEC’s full participation in the Anglican Communion for three years until 2018.
It is this radical, despotic TEC to which St. Bart’s belongs so enthusiastically. Surely Abp. Elpidophoros was well aware of TEC’s tumultuous recent past when, ignoring his own Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan, and passing over any other Greek Orthodox churches in his see, he went a few city blocks out of his way to select a parish named St. Bartholomew for the day’s festivities. Was he totally ignorant of the radical policies executed by the leadership of the TEC?
Surely the archbishop must have known that many refugees from ostracism by the TEC have sought a home in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA or GOARCH) where are embraced right doctrine, right worship and right practice. How can the venerable chief shepherd of the American Church not have known what a scandal it might be to his far-flung flock to see the archbishop darken the doors of a radical parish of such an apostate denomination? Why did he take another strike at the invisible wedge that threatens to divide GOARCH from the other Orthodox jurisdictions? “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (I Thess. 5:22) should have been the watchword of the day.
This was scandal. “Scandal’ comes from the Greek word for stumbling block, an apt metaphor for the experience of the former Episcopalian and Anglican converts who thought they had been walking a smooth and straight path on their journey in GOARCH, but have now stumbled at the recent scandalous news.
St. Ignatius said, “Where the bishop is, there is the Church.” Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology considers all bishops to be successors to the apostles and each has a long genealogy to prove his apostolic succession. The public acts that the bishop performs, he performs as an apostle εις τόπον και τύπον Χριστού (“in place of and as a type of Christ”, as noted above). Abp. Elpidophoros is the head of the Greek Church in this land, and whatever he does as archbishop he does as representative of Christ Himself.
St. Ignatius’ words imply that, in a metaphysical sense, the Church travels with the bishop. Whither he goes, we all go. Abp. Elpidophoros went to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church ahead of all of us in the Greek Orthodox Church. In a sense, we all passed under that rainbow flag, and served the Divine Liturgy in that nave where the progressive “gospel” of sexual inclusiveness is enthusiastically preached. Preached though it may be, that is not the Gospel at all, but rather a false gospel of capitulation to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. This false gospel does not demand the hard work of repentance, absolution and the application of the virtues, but one that promotes the surrender of the will to the passions of the flesh. It promotes the misdirection of carnal desire, calling it “sexual orientation”, and the recent normalization of transsexuality, calling it “gender identity” .
Nevertheless, the arrogant Episcopal Church forges on, and uber-liberal parishes like St. Bart’s relentlessly advance the front of the perverted sexual revolution. So, the salient question is again: Why did Abp. Elpidophoros make a point of selecting this flagrantly heterodox parish for the day’s celebration? He intimated the answer to that question in the homily that he gave at the end of the liturgy: “It is precisely because of the ecumenicity of the First Throne of Orthodoxy, and the faithful and inspiring ecumenical ministry of our Patriarch.” The patriarch’s oikumene has a much narrower scope than is claimed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. He may imply that his patriarchal authority extends beyond his own Constantinopolitan bailiwick, and it may indeed include his eparchies in Australia and America, etc. but it ends there. The patriarch does not hold sway over the other local (read: national) Orthodox churches, whether patriarchates or metropolises, nor does he represent any of them to the Roman Catholic Church or to any other ecclesial or religious body, nor to any secular government.
“As Orthodox Christians, we are not about exclusivity, but about authenticity. We say with the Lord Jesus Christ, “whoever is not against us is for us!”, claimed the archbishop in his homily, quoting Mark 9:40. The Orthodox Church is certainly authentic, but TEC is counterfeit. TEC is not “for us” but against us and against Christ Himself! They have torn down every boundary that protects sexual sinners from eternal judgment, refusing to guard the morès of tradition, and not only do they condone sin, but they actually promote it. That was most clearly on display at St. Bart’s. It is paramount that our leadership not be deceived and blithely venture where angels fear to tread. If the symbolic act which Abp. Elpidophoros performed on June 11 is treated as the indication of some new policy for GOARCH, then it may behoove those of more sensitive conscience to reexamine our church loyalty. We simply cannot stand idly by. There can be no rapprochement with an impenitent TEC unless they display a clear and public metanoia. Whether Apb. Elpidophoros’ shocking action made on St. Bartholomew’s Day was taken out of ignorance, or intrigue or out of defiance it is hard to know. Nevertheless, the effect on many in his national flock, especially the Episcopalian converts, was harmful. He should not have done what he did.
In January of 2020, before the pandemic hit, the archbishop had flown all the way out to Hawai’i for his first archpastoral visit to our congregation in the fair city of Honolulu. He concelebrated a hierarchical liturgy at our Cathedral of Ss. Constantine & Helen with Metropolitan Gerasimos. It was my privilege as an officer of the parish council to dine with both hierarchs on two occasions over that weekend: one formal and one intimate. I found our new archbishop to be eminently approachable, so I asked him some of the inconvenient questions of the day. He responded graciously, so I felt at ease to voice my private disagreement with him on certain topics, and I listened to his rational rebuttals. As we were leaving the restaurant, the Top of Waikiki, the archbishop even praised me in front of the rest of the party for asking the right questions. I had a good first impression of Abp. Elpidophoros at the time, but as an Orthodox believer in his jurisdiction, particularly as a former Episcopalian, I must declare that his use of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church for a hierarchical liturgy was more than disappointing. If it were possible, I wish that he could undo what he has done. God alone is our judge, but I pray that the Archbishop will repent of his actions and stay true to the traditions and morality of our beloved Orthodox Church.