Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Delivers Schmemann Memorial Lecture

February 2, 2010

[Yonkers, NY] — On Saturday, January 30, 2010, the Anglican archbishop delivered the 27th annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture — this year titled “Theology and Contemplative Calling: The Image of Humanity in the Philokalia” — and received an honorary doctoral degree on the campus of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

During his visit, Dr. Williams also attended Divine Liturgy and had a lively and frank discussion with the theological faculty of Saint Vladimir’s at a private brunch. After the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, and the Anglican archbishop both publically expressed their desire for a deeper personal friendship and their hope for deeper understanding and cooperation between their respective communions. Four hundred people attended the lecture and ceremony, distinguished by an episcopal presence from both the Orthodox and Anglican faiths.

The Anglican archbishop received the invitation to be this year’s Schmemann Lecturer for his pioneering work in Russian Orthodox studies and his long-standing interest in Eastern Christian studies. His doctoral work at Oxford University focused on Vladimir N. Lossky, a famous mid-twentieth-century Orthodox theologian; and his first book, Wound of Knowledge, was a study of spirituality from apostolic times to the sixteenth century.

Dr. Williams’s lecture on the Philokalia, a collection of monastic writings ranging from the fourth through the fifteenth centuries, reflected his massive knowledge on the subject. Beginning and ending with quotes from Father Alexander Schmemann’s classic work, For the Life of the World, he delivered a discourse on the spiritual battle that human beings must wage in journeying from a self-centered life to a life in Christ, according to the writings of the Christian ascetics. Additionally, the Anglican archbishop thanked the seminary for its “overwhelming warm and generous welcome,” which, he stated, crowned his first visit to Saint Vladimir’s in 1974, and was all that he “had hoped and prayed for.”

Seminary dean Archpriest John Behr in his remarks at the event said, “In and through all of this and more, Rowan Williams has made a great contribution towards the increasing knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy in the West, and also helped the Eastern Orthodox themselves think through their own tradition, providing insights, asking questions, opening up dialogue; and for this we are truly thankful.”

Father John, who had been examined by Dr. Williams for his own doctoral degree at Oxford, saw an opportunity for the Anglican cleric to be this year’s Schmemann Lecturer coincident with his planned travels to the U.S. and also viewed his visit to the seminary campus to be an occasion to further Anglican-Orthodox relations. The faculty and Board of Trustees of Saint Vladimir’s together voted to confer upon the archbishop a Doctorate of Divinity honoris causa at the event.

In his welcoming address at the event, seminary chancellor and CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield further noted the importance of a continuing Orthodox-Anglican dialogue, saying, “Only a few days ago I was in Russia where I was blessed to venerate the holy relics of St. Tikhon of Moscow, the former archbishop of North America. As a seminarian, I came to have such an attraction to this confessor and pastor. He was a friend of Anglicans, especially Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton of Fond du Lac. All of us here, who are Orthodox Christians living in North America, are the spiritual children of St. Tikhon, and, Your Grace, we, like St. Tikhon, extend our hand of friendship, and we bid you welcome!”

Metropolitan Jonah bestowed the honorary doctoral degree upon the archbishop. His Beatitude, who is also the president of St. Vladimir’s Board of Trustees, recently signed a concordat on behalf of Saint Vladimir’s with Nashotah House, an Episcopalian seminary, signaling the agreement of the two seminaries to work together for the preservation of the Orthodox-Anglican dialogue that began in the early 20th century.

Matushka Juliana Schmemann, wife of Father Alexander, expressed her thoughts on the extraordinary visit, saying, “As diverse as our ways to the kingdom, as different as our journeys to the Lord, we are all united in our love of the Lord and in our joy to serve Him. This unity is reinforced by the archbishop’s coming to speak to us and to share in our universal love in Christ.”

A complex and controversial figure, Dr. Williams has been widely criticized in both Orthodox and conservative Anglican circles, particularly for his writings on homosexual unions (especially in his 1989 paper “The Body’s Grace”), and his promulgation of arguments in favor of the ordination of women, beginning at the 1988 Lambeth Conference. Conversely, he has equally challenged liberal theologians and post-modern atheists: he defended the bodily resurrection of Christ in the face of Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong’s ridicule of the doctrine, and has poked holes in the logic of Richard Dawkins, author of popular anti-theistic books, including The God Delusion.

Particularly noteworthy among his audience was the attendance by bishops in the Anglican Church of North America [ACNA], a “Province-in-formation” within the global Anglican Communion formed in June 2008, representing a traditional, conservative, and “biblically-faithful way of following Jesus,” in opposition to many current practices that, its members say, are “accomodated and incorporated” by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Rt. Rev. Ray R. Sutton, the Ecumenical Bishop from the ACNA, stated, “With grateful hearts to Metropolitan Jonah, we welcome and rejoice over his vision and commitment to restoring Anglican-Orthodox dialogue. We who are faithful Anglicans thank Saint Vladimir’s for its deep commitment to the faith once delivered and its love for others outside Orthodoxy who share likeminded love for the love and truth of Jesus.”

Likewise, the Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth in the ACNA, said, “The real significance of today’s events goes far beyond the awarding of an honorary degree to Dr. Rowan Williams. By conferring this degree upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Vladimir’s has expressed respect and affection for Anglicanism, as well as a hope for a deeper relationship between Anglican and Orthodox Christians. Metropolitan Jonah has spoken of this new vision in a very inspirational way.”

Dr. Williams’s U.S. tour also included an address at the Desmond Tutu Center in New York City, and a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. His main purpose in the New York metro area was to participate in the 2010 Trinity Institute’s National Theological Conference themed “Building an Ethical Economy: Theology in the Market Place.”

A podcast of the lecture and academic convocation may be found soon on the website of Orthodox Christian Network [OCN], who graciously agreed to record and archive the event on www.myocn.net. Additionally, the lecture will be made available in print form on the official website of the Archbishop of Canterbury, www.archbishopofcanterbury.org.

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