Interview with the Most Rev. Kallistos Ware, Archbishop of Gt. Britain

GW – Bishop Kallistos, may I ask you how you understand the role of the ecumenical observers here at the Conference?

KW – Well, most obviously it signifies that we are conscious that we are all members of one Body in Christ. There are visible divisions separating Christians, but we know that on a deeper lever we do share, in a real sense, membership in one Body. Its expression is incomplete, imperfect, but it is nonetheless a genuine reality.

Therefore, I can as an Orthodox, worship with my sisters and brothers who share with me belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Saviour. But I would go further than that. I think of the words of St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, when one member of the body suffers, all the other members suffer with it; when one member rejoices, all the other members rejoice. As fellow Christians we share one another’s joys and sorrows. For me, as an Orthodox, coming to the Lambeth Conference is an opportunity to do precisely that – to share in your joys and your sorrows.

But, even more, I will go a further step and say that the questions that you are considering are also questions that are of concern to us. And if they are not particularly on our immediate agenda now, yet they are questions that we will need to consider increasingly in the future. So, yes, you have much here to discuss as Anglicans – specifically Anglican problems. But I see them also as questions that are posed to us Orthodox. For example, the question of women priests and bishops. Most Orthodox would say, we should not ordain women. But if you ask them why not, they will say that it has never been done; they will appeal to tradition. But you press them a little farther, and say that there must be a reason why women have never been ordained as priests. The argument from tradition merely tells you that they have never been ordained as priests, but it does not tell you why. Surely there must be some theological reason. On the one hand, the Orthodox are certain and clear in their answer. Most of us would say, no, we could not ever ordain women. Yet others would say, it is for us essentially an open question. We are not proposing to do so in the near future, but we need to reflect more deeply on it. If all we say is, “impossible, never,” we perhaps should ask ourselves, what are the implications for our understanding of human nature , of the difference between male and female, for our understanding of the priesthood and the relationship of the priest to Christ. That is an example of how your questions are perhaps to some extent also our questions.

Then again the issue that is coming up very much here at Lambeth: the possibility of blessing homosexual relationships. The Orthodox Church would answer, no, this cannot be done – that sexuality is a gift from God, to be used within marriage, and by marriage we mean the union of one man and one woman. But it’s quite clear in the modern world – and the Orthodox also belong to the modern world – that the whole issue of the meaning of human sexuality is going to be more and more explored. And if we are to interpret this traditional teaching to our people, we need to reflect deeply on the basic principles.

So in those two ways I could say, your questions are also our questions; your concerns we also share.

GW – Does your presence and participation at the Conference lead you to any reflection on the future relations between the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Church?

KW – The Anglican-Orthodox dialogue is going through a difficult period, we all have to admit that. Probably the high point in Anglican-Orthodox relations was in the 1920s and 1930s. Since we began the dialogue again in 1973, in an official and international way for the first time, a number of new issues have arisen which we on the Orthodox side did not foresee. These are exactly the two issues I’ve just mentioned – the ordination of women and the understanding of homosexuality. But, though the dialogue has become in some ways more difficult, I believe it should continue. One cannot at this stage see the dialogue between Orthodox and Anglicans as leading in the immediate future to organic unity. That is not our serious expectation. But, we need to talk to one another. We have everything to gain through learning more about one another’s understanding, everything to gain through listening.

And the effect of this dialogue carrying on is that we learn to understand better our own position. As Orthodox, we learn, through talking with the Anglicans, to understand better what it is that we as Orthodox believe. And the reverse would be true – I think that Anglicans too, through listening to the Orthodox, learn more about Anglicanism. It has often been said that the purpose of travel is to come back to your home and to see it for the first time with new eyes. So the purpose of ecumenical dialogue is, among other things, to understand better our own home, who we are. And therefore through the challenges that are put to us by our fellow Christians, in this case the Anglicans, we understand better what we Orthodox mean by our faith. So the dialogue continues to mutual self-understanding.

GW – Being aware as you are of the major issues that are facing the Anglican Communion both internally and externally, if you had to offer some advice to the Archbishop of Canterbury at this Conference, what advice would you give him?

KW – First, I admire deeply the way in which Archbishop Rowan is fulfilling his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, at this moment of crisis. It’s easy to say, with reference to his position here at the Lambeth Conference or generally in the current Anglican world, that he is in a no-win situation. But granted the immense difficulties that he is facing, he is not doing too badly. Now, what should he be doing here at Lambeth? Should he be offering very firm and clear leadership, insisting on a particular point of view, putting forward resolutions to the plenary gathering of the bishops for their acceptance? He has not chosen to do that. Some people feel disappointed. Some people feel he should be doing that. But if he were to do that, it would create confrontation and division. If you walk through the mountains and you find a large rock in your path, one method is to kick it out of the way. The other is to walk around it and go on with your journey. Now Archbishop Rowan has probably understood that if he tries to kick this particular stone, or this double rock – the ordination of women and homosexual relations – if he tries to confront it head-on and insist on a clear expression of the position of the Anglican Communion, to kick the stone out of the path, he is likely to hurt his toe. The stone perhaps is too sharp and heavy to be moved in that way at this moment. But you can walk round it in the sense of affirming the bonds of unity that exist beyond these divisive issues. And this is what he wants to do with the present Lambeth Conference. To make this a time of shared prayer, shared discussion, strengthening the bonds of friendship. Now some people would be disappointed that as far as we can see, and we are halfway through now, there is not going to be either a major confrontation or a very clear affirmation. But perhaps this is not the right moment – this is not the kairos, the opportunity given by God for such clear statements. Is a very difficult thing to discern, when to insist on a decision, when to say we are not ready. That’s the problem that confronts the chairman of any gathering. And it confronts Rowan in a particularly poignant way.

Perhaps there will be some clear resolutions coming out of the Conference – I don’t see them emerging as yet. We are now Friday evening, in the first week. We’ve got another eight days and much can happen in that time. But, perhaps there are times when we have to say, “we are not ready, and we need to reflect further,” rather than creating a clear division. I suppose his dilemma is this. Unity is good. Therefore, from one point of view, everything should be done to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion. We do not want to see this division that has taken place between a meeting in Jerusalem and one at Lambeth as leading to a schism between the Anglican Church. But then there is the other side of the question, and it is this that creates the dilemma. Unity, yes, but not unity at any price. Unity has to go with truth. Sometimes people do have to break communion in the name of truth. That has been described today by the Archbishop as the “Reformation principle”, though it existed long before the Reformation. But sometimes in the name of truth you do need to part company. Has the Anglican Communion come to that point? I don’t believe that it necessarily has. And therefore my advice to Archbishop Rowan – though he doesn’t need it – is go on, without compromising the truth, go on trying to maintain the bonds of communion within the Anglican fellowship.

GW – Many Anglicans have looked to the Windsor Report and the process coming out of the Windsor Report as a means of preserving, building up and restoring these bonds of communion. I wonder if you could share the Orthodox perspective on the Report and the process coming from it.

KW – First, I am impressed and helped by the way in which the Windsor Report, in common with many other statements in recent times, insists upon the nature of the Church as koinonia, communion, The Windsor Report says there are many different images of the church, but the one that acts as a unifying concept is the idea of the Church as communion, koinonia. We may develop this, and the Windsor Report does so, by saying that this Communion exists on three levels. First of all, it is to be found in the life of the Holy Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is a way of saying that God Himself is communion – God is koinonia. God is not just one, loving himself, turned inward, the eternal monad – God is three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, joined in a communion of love. And this, the doctrine of the Trinity, is a model for our understanding of the Church. The point is made, not only in the Windsor Report, but very clearly in the agreed statement put out by the Anglicans and the Orthodox, entitled “The Church of the Triune God”, that was endorsed at Cyprus in the year 2005. There again, it is said that the Church is an icon of the Holy Trinity. And that I definitely find helpful. Of course, you have to say the unity of three Persons in the Trinity is incomparably closer than the unity of persons in the Church. But nonetheless the model of the Trinity is a paradigm of what our human position should be. And that is what Christ says in his high priestly prayer in St. John 17, “As you Father are in me and I in you, so also may they be one in us”. So that the mutual love in the persons of the Trinity is what we in the Church are called to reproduce here on earth.

Then again, the idea of communion applies to the Eucharist, and it applies to the Church, as I’ve already said. Koinonia is a key word running through all three levels.

It’s significant that the phrase “communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed – in the Latin, communio sanctorum – can refer either to the sancti, the holy persons, or to the sancta, the holy things And these two meanings are integrally bound up with one another. This has been pointed out in the recent statement put out by the Anglicans and Roman Catholics called “Growing Together”. So yes, the level of God, the first level of the Trinity, God as communion, is reproduced on earth in the Church, the communion of the holy people. But the communion of the holy people is brought about in the third place through communion in the holy gifts – the Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist. So the Church is held together not by power of jurisdiction, but by sharing in the mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ.

So I see the Windsor report as helpfully stressing these three levels of koinonia. However, this koinonia is not limited to the Anglican Communion. The Windsor report is written in that particular perspective, and that I find a little strange. After all, the Anglican Church has always claimed to be no more than part of the Catholic Church, and this is stated in the Windsor Report among other places. So surely the Anglican Communion cannot decide the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate in isolation. Nor the question of the possibility of blessing of same-sex marriages. Surely that must involve a consensus of the total Body. The Anglican Communion cannot settle this without bearing in mind its bonds with the wider communion of the Church – the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. And that is one thing, I think, that troubles us very much as Orthodox, as it troubles the Roman Catholics. We feel that the Anglican Church, on these matters which are of basic importance, has acted alone, without catholic consensus. So I would have wished that the Windsor Report had put more emphasis upon communion meaning the total Body, not just the Anglican Communion. That I see as a limitation in its perspective.

I’ve spoken about the need for catholic consensus on issues like the ordination of women or the blessing of homosexual relations. These are departures from Church order and from accepted moral teaching of major importance, and therefore there ought to be some consensus not just within the Anglican Communion but with the other Churches, especially those that preserve the historic apostolic faith and order, the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. That is one side of the matter, the need for consensus. But then we might also say, should there not also be the possibility for a prophetic action? Will you ever have change unless some people are willing to stand up and say, this is what we ought to be doing? And even if their testimony is highly controversial, who will nonetheless stand by their position. It could be argued that perhaps the Anglican Communion was guided by the Holy Spirit to lead other Christians into new paths. Now I can see that as a valid argument and I want to balance that against the point that we need to act with catholic consensus. How can we do both these things together – preserve catholic consensus, and yet allow grace for freedom in the Holy Spirit? Christ did not tell us that nothing should never be done for the first time. The whole witness of the early Church points in a different direction. So how do you balance these two things – the need for consensus with the need for freedom in the Spirit, the need for loyalty to holy tradition, with the need to be open to new initiatives? And I think this is at the heart of a great deal of what we are talking about here in Canterbury at this Lambeth Conference.

GW – Some people have said that issues such as sexuality and the ordination of women, are distractions getting in the way of the Conference. Do you see these things as distractions from such things as the issues of social justice and mission?

KW – This is certainly the way in which the outside world, or a large part of it, will view the Lambeth Conference. They will say that when so much of the human population is permanently hungry, ill-housed, suffering from disease which could be cured (if we the rich nations would really set our minds to helping), when so much of the world is suffering in this way, is it not a loss of proportion to be concentrating on women priests, or even on homosexuality? And one could strengthen this point by saying, the Church does not exist for herself. Christ said, “May they all be one that the world may believe”. The Church exists for the world, for the conversion of the world, for mission, and mission doesn’t just mean telling people about Christ (though that is vitally important). Mission means also helping them and ensuring that there is social, political and economic justice – that is all part of mission. The Epistle of James is very clear on this matter, that if a poor man comes to you and is hungry, has no clothes, no home and no food, and you just talk to him about Jesus Christ and say, “Now go away,” that’s not really mission, that’s not preaching the faith. Faith is not words, faith is how we relate to living persons, how we make their joys and sorrows our own, to use the image of St. Paul that I have already mentioned.

So in that way I do say that those questions we are considering here at Lambeth are not all-important, and not all perhaps the first priority. On the other hand they do need to be discussed, because they do involve our understanding of the basic questions of human nature and of priesthood. And so as long as we do not lose sight of the wider agenda, we are right to try and get clear our minds clear on these issues. And it was extremely significant that yesterday on our London day we didn’t march through the streets of London with placards about homosexuality and women priests, we marched through the streets of London with placards about poverty and justice.

GW – For anyone with even a moderate understanding of the Orthodox Church, one of the first things they think of is the liturgy of the Church and the rich worship. Do you think that the orthodox perspective of liturgy could hold some importance for Anglicans?

KW – Liturgy is fundamental to the life of the church. At the Last Supper Jesus did not tell us, “Say these things,” he didn’t give us a verbal message that we were to pass on to others. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me”. He gave us an action, the operation of the Eucharist. And so the Church becomes truly herself when she celebrates the Eucharist. Therefore liturgy is fundamental. But there are different ways of approaching liturgy. Sometimes discussions of liturgy become deeply archaeological. For example, when was this particular prayer introduced and in what places? Then liturgy seems very distant from the practical mission of the Church. There is the story told about the great Anglican dean of St. Paul’s in the early part of the twentieth century, Dean Inge, who was asked at a dinner party by his next door neighbour, trying to make conversation, “Dear Dean, are you interested in liturgy?” To which he replied, “No, and I do not collect postage stamps.” [i.e. he was not interested in an archaeological discussion of liturgy] So that’s the false idea of liturgy, which turns it into discussion of minute questions of ritual and ceremonial. But if we understand liturgy in the broader sense of the action of Christ in the Church, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with Jesus Himself as the high Priest present invisibly offering the holy gifts, and giving himself to us, then surely we see that liturgy is central to the existence of the church, and central to the church’s mission. The celebration of the Eucharist, communion in the holy sacrament of his body and blood, this is the life-giving source from which all our social witness, all our practical action, to relieve disease and poverty and injustice, has to proceed. This is the fountain from which all else springs. And so liturgy in that sense is inseparable from mission and social action. Liturgy is the inspiration and the power that is given to us by God to change the world. So at the end of the Orthodox celebration of the Eucharist, the celebrant says, “Let us go forth in peace,” and that is not an epilogue but a prologue. It doesn’t mean, the service is over, go off and have a cup of coffee. It means, the liturgy is over and the liturgy after the liturgy is now about to begin. Go out into the world to transfigure the world through the power of the communion that you have received in Christ’s sacrament.

GW – With regard to unity in the Communion – we Anglicans don’t have any kind of a magisterium the way the Roman Catholics do. Do you have any suggestions as to how the Orthodox might offer any model for Anglicans who are trying to approach the question of unity?

KW – We Orthodox bear in my view a marvellous theology, in principle, of conciliarity, of what the Russians call sobornost (unanimity in freedom would be a good translation of sobornost). But the problem is, while we affirm all this in theory, what happens in practice? And so, as an Orthodox I am deeply conscious of the gap between theory and practice, and am deeply hesitant about offering advice to other people. But in all humility, yes, what is our model for decision making in the Orthodox Church? We believe strongly in the principle of conciliarity. If you speak of communion, koinonia, and ask through what instrument this communion in the Church is manifested, then we Orthodox would answer, through the council. It might be an ecumenical council, claiming to represent the whole Church. But we haven’t had in the Orthodox Church such a council since the year 787. It might be through a local council, and we have had many such in later Orthodox history. A local council would not claim to represent the whole Church, but its witness and decisions might be accepted by the other parts of the Church and thus would require an ecumenical authority. But for us, the instrument through which the Holy Spirit manifests himself in the Church is through people meeting together in synod. And every true Church council is a continuation of Pentecost. The mystery of Pentecost was that people of many different nationalities, languages, races, met together in one room, and the Holy Spirit descended upon them all, and they all spoke and they all understood one another. The breaking down of barriers, the creation of mutual harmony, mutual comprehension – that is the mystery of Pentecost and we believe by God’s grace that it is reproduced in every true council. And I pray that the present Lambeth Conference will share in this grace of the council.

So this is the way in which the Church makes its decisions, not just by majority vote but by a process of convergence. We shouldn’t apply rules of parliamentary procedure to Church councils – they are on another level. We shouldn’t apply simply democratic methods, where the majority is always right. Sometimes truth lies with a minority, and a council should always find a place for the conscientious views of minorities.

I think it is through the council that the Church on earth reaches a decision on crucial problems. Then there is the question of the reception of the council by the total Body of Christ, by the whole people of God. This has been discussed a good deal in ecumenical meetings recently, and there is an important section in the Report, The Church and the Triune God, section 9, on this question. [ The Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed Statement , 2007.]. This is one of the best sections in the Report. I hope it will be widely read and noted. So koinonia means the meeting in council of the bishops, who bear witness to the faith of their Churches, but then the reception, the acceptance, the reaffirmation of what the bishops have said by the total Church of Christ, by the total people of God, the royal priesthood of all the baptized. This is the process that I would see as our Orthodox model. How it works in practice is not always clear. But Christ did not say, “I will give you a quick and easy answer to all questions until I come again”. Christ said, “The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church”. But he did not say that this would be quick and easy, and that you would always have an instant sound bite that would solve all your problems. The Holy Spirit is always present in the church; the Church will never fail or fall away totally from the truth. But through whom the Holy Spirit is speaking at any one point in Church history is not always clear. So if we are to hear the voice of the Spirit we must listen carefully.

GW – The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken more than once at the conference about the importance of common prayer in establishing and nurturing the unity of the Church. Do you have any reflections on process of liturgical reform in the Anglican Communion alongside the significance of common prayer?

KW – One of the big differences between the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church has to do with common liturgy. The great majority, 99% of the Orthodox, use the Byzantine rite. A priest may come to Oxford with no common language, and yet he would know exactly has is happening and being said in the liturgy. We have the bond of a single liturgy that is used by everyone. The same is no longer the case for Anglicans.

There has been a very big disintegration in the C of E in my lifetime. When I was young, yes, there were a lot of differences in the way the Eucharist was celebrated. But basically what you had were many parishes using 1662, not just the evangelicals but right across. And then you had the Anglo-Catholics who by and large were using what we then called the interim rite, which was again 1662, rearranged in the light of 1549. There was a wide range of shared worship, and this I think has grown much less now.

I remember a few years ago in Canterbury here, when we were having an Anglican-Orthodox meeting, we agreed to go on Sunday morning to the Cathedral, and we were told it would be the 1662 rite. Archbishop Runcie was celebrating. And he didn’t actually celebrate it from the north end – it was the eastward position, which was already then a departure from the rubrics. But north side they meant something quite different from what we have today, and we would need to furnish the church in a Laudian manner to understand that. But what struck me as very strange was to end the Eucharistic prayer with the narrative of institution, and then have Communion, and then say the Lord’s Prayer, which in all the historic liturgies goes before Communion (but I think I’m right in saying that in 1662 it comes before Communion). I found that very, very strange. I think that all the revisions of the Anglican rite have seen the need to have some further prayer after the narrative of institution. I don’t demand that it should be exactly the same as the Byzantine epiclesis. I hope that the action of the Spirit would be emphasized, in a way it is not in the Roman rite, the so-called Tridentine rite, or in the 1662 rite. If you have an invocation of the Spirit before the words of institution, that would still be all right in my view – you judge everything by the spirit of the total rite. But you need some prayer after the institution and before the Communion. To have the prayer without that I found very strange.