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General Synod, York, 2008 - The Church of the Triune God

Friday 4th July 2008

Following an allocution from Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Persamon, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the following speech introducing a synod debate on the report at the July Group of Sessions 2008. References are to paragraphs in the report.

At the end of January 2007, the latest agreed statement of the International Commission for the Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue (ICAOTD) was launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch, at a ceremony at Lambeth Palace, followed by a liturgy of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey. The completion of the Cyprus Agreed Statement, The Church of the Triune God, in 2005 at the Monastery of Kyykos, concluded the third phase of the Anglican-Orthodox international theological dialogue. Its principle theme is the doctrine of the Church, and includes a study of the ordained ministry of the Church, including the thorny question of who may be ordained to it. It ends by examining the two related topics of heresy and schism, and the nature of 'reception'.

A transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech follows:

I must say by way of introduction that the experience over many years of working with this particular ecumenical commission was one of the most stimulating and fertile - and simply delightful - of my entire experience. I find myself constantly challenged and enriched by this. I hope that the final document will have something of the same effect as you read it and re-read it. And in the few minutes available to me, what I want to do is simply to pick out very few points from the document and the relevant passages in them, to suggest what the key issues are that we might like to reflect on in this debate.

And I want to begin by noting that there's an easy possible misunderstanding of the way in which this document sets about its business. As is said on the first page of the report, it's not simply that we are being commended to a social analogy for the Trinity; there are three divine persons and lots of human persons and so God and Humanity are a bit like each other really. The document goes a great deal deeper than that. It's much better to say that in the light of what is revealed about reality itself, in the doctrine of the Trinity all talk of the Church must be consistent with that, and if fundamental reality is revealed in the doctrine of the Trinity (as existing in relation) then that dictates and shapes everything we say about the Church and indeed about everything else.

So, for example, (paragraph) 1.22 is crucial, 'The Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and the abode of the Holy Trinity. It is not primarily a sociological phenomenon, but a gift of God the Holy Trinity', the Church is as it is because of God's being as God is, in Trinity. And thus the Church is as it is to be a manifestation of God's life, a life in communion. What is basic in everything is Agency acting in interdependence, in relationship, in mutuality, but the created order is always at risk of losing that interdependence, and human beings are very particularly at risk of forgetting their interdependence. Hence the fall, hence sin, as essentially the assertion of self-sufficiency against God and against others.

And that means of course, that our salvation is the restoration of relationship. You'll see if you turn to (paragraph) 2.2, the phrase, 'These eternal relations are the cause of our salvation'. We are the way we are because God is the way God is, and we are saved in the way we are saved because God is the way God is. Salvation is the restoration of communion, and that happens effectively, decisively, when the eternal life of God the Son in communion with the Father of the Holy Spirit is, through the Spirit, translated into the human life, and death and resurrection of Jesus.

Once again, the form of our salvation depends on God being the way God is. And lest anyone should think that there is some kind of weakening or softening of an emphasis on the centrality of the cross here, I draw your attention particularly to (paragraph) 2.12, 'The Son of Man is glorified in his betrayal and death: the work of God's Spirit is power made perfect in weakness'. The signs and wonders of Jesus' spirit-filled ministry must be understood in the light of the paschal mystery. The paschal perspective, the perspective of Good Friday and Easter, is the way in which we grasp, in human terms, in the human world, how God is the way God is in Jesus Christ.

So the Church appears as the Spirit's creation out of that incarnate reality in which we are liberated from our isolation (might look at paragraph 2.40 for that). So, that immediately suggests the sort of point made in, for example (paragraph) 3:32. It's inevitable that diverse receptions of the Gospel, diverse ways of receiving and hearing the good news, are implied in this pattern. Salvation is not a monolithic message, delivered all in one go, to one set of homogenised people. For our restoration to communion, a diversity of hearing and understanding is part of the reality to which we're called. And (paragraph) 4.14 will tell you a little bit about the proper dimensions of a diversity brought together in reconciliation, that's not just passive co-existence.

As Metropolitan John has already outlined, that is the framework (concerning the doctrine of God and salvation) within which we're invited to think through what we might want to say about ordained ministry in general, and the specific questions around the ordination of women. And all of that overall perspective dictates of course that we need to have a relational view of ordained ministry. It also dictates caution about misleading views of primacy (caution expressed perhaps rather too edgily at one or two points), without losing sight, as again we've been reminded, of the importance of a proper theological understanding of primacy. You'll find in (paragraph) 5.15, a very clear statement about how apostolic succession is the succession of apostolic communities. And in (paragraph) 6.25, (there's) a reminder that we need to break through a rather sterile stand-off between what used to be called 'ontological' and 'functional' views of ministry, so that we may have a relational view.

All of this moves towards the engagement with the issue of the ordination of women as priests. And you've heard Metropolitan John saying how in our discussions we've found repeatedly that we were being driven back (as I said to some of you last night in another context) to ask if we were asking the right questions. Certainly the position towards which the report was moving complicated any excessively straight-forward and direct appeals to arguments about the male historical Christ and the individual priest now, while leaving open that very searching question (which his Eminence referred to a few moments ago) about the sense in which the priest in the Eucharist, the bishop in the Eucharist, represents the Eschatological Christ, the Christ that is to come. To put it rather simply, one of the areas in which we did find ourselves, not stuck, but certainly aware of our differences is precisely what the Metropolitan outlined. On one side, people saying, 'We need a very good reason to change', and on the other side people saying, 'We need a very good reason not to change'. And that in itself may have some cultural background to it also.

But as you've heard, the positive outcome of these discussions was that we were able to identify in one another a level and a style of theological conversation, which enabled these issues to be raised very honestly, and raised in a context where we felt together we were genuinely celebrating the revelation of God as Holy Trinity in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And I would very much hope that something of that celebratory note does come through the document, and perhaps has come through a little bit in what you have heard this afternoon.

Towards the end of the report, there is an important reminder that the issue is about how we recognise one another as belonging within the same family of theological discourse and sacramental understanding. And yet a reminder also that to acknowledge adequate and important convergence in faith, and even in practice, is still some way off from a point where we can simply receive one another's ministries without question where we can arrive at some kind of organic unity. Nonetheless, to clear our discourse in the first area to identify what adequate convergence might look like and how we're able to recognise. That is, in itself, an enormous gift, we may still be a very long way from the second aspect - the receiving of ministries. You might look at (paragraph) 9.29 there. But I believe (as do all the members of the commission) that this report lays some very significant foundations for developing the degree of recognition expressed around that sense of convergence on a vision of the Church which is fundamentally about God being the way that God is, (and) salvation being what it is because of the way God is, and all the structures and practices of the Church, likewise, being what they are because of God. Those eternal relations, if I may quote that passage again, are, 'The cause of our salvation'.

Mr Chairman, Synod, I am very happy to present this report for discussion and reception. Thank you.

The Cyprus Report can be found in the ecumenical section of the Anglican Communion website:

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