The Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers
In the West, January has been a season of Ecumenism. In the last quarter of the last century, the Octave of Christian Unity, fitly bookended by the Feasts of the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul was widely observed and commonly reported upon in the media. The idea of the octave originated with the Graymoor Fathers in 1908 and was greatly enhanced by the Second Vatican Council, 1964. The founder of the Graymoor’s was Paul Wattson who had opened his ministry as an Anglican priest, in our own Omaha Nebraska. He was here as part of the Associate Mission which the new Bishop, George Worthington, brought to Nebraska to launch an urban mission aimed at the working-class immigrant populations of the city. The young celibate priests were active across the city with social programs and founding churches. The mission did not last long and most of it work disappeared, save for St. Andrew’s which continues to serve the city. Wattson returned to the East and found a vocation as Roman Catholic, founding an order formally called the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, never losing his zeal for unity, including for that of the divided churches.
It comes as a pleasant surprise that at the end of January a significant ecumenical event will happen in which, in a small way, I will be a part. St. Vladimir’s Seminary, NYC, of the OCA is marking the feast called the Synaxis of The Ecumenical Teachers with a liturgy and program which will be addressed by Dr. Hans Boersma, an Anglican Priest, in honor of Dr. Alexander Schememann. These events that can be participated in online by registering on their web site, https://www.svots.edu&form=IPRV10#.
The Ecumenical Teachers are St. Basil, the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom. They are the key Fathers associated with the Council of Nicea which preserved the worldwide unity of the church, 321 CE, and with the struggle that ensued to defend its teaching. The word “synaxis” refer to coming together as a congregation for the liturgical purpose common prayer and witnessing. The image of the three hierarchs, differing in their gifts, so gathered is itself a celebration of unity and an elegant witness to the great triune unity of the Divine enshrined in the teaching of the Council. It is a testimony to St. Vladimir’s zeal for unity that it makes this the patronal feast of their chapel. I share with you the version of this icon which is in my own prayer corner that it might add to its aura to the light that shine forth from work of St. Vladimir’s. In it St. James of Jerusalem is added, as his presidency at the Council in Jerusalem, laid the foundation of a conciliar church.
Schememann also belongs to that last quarter of the last century, which now seems so long ago, when we devoured his writings as a means and a hope for living into an Ecumenical Age, which, of course, did not happen. The issue in the West is clear. Even as the fruits of the theological dialogue was being published, ARC, LED and others, a shift was taking place in church life. The fears for interior unity and discipline within the various church bodies, led to a replacement of theological identities with political identities. Political lines were easier to draw and to defend. There is no need to point fingers because we have all done it. The bottom-line result is hard to assess, but one wonders if more has been lost that gained, and how, difficult it is to walk out of it.