RESPONSE TO PETER FARRINGTON’S ARTICLE ON “APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION – WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT”

Abba Seraphim of  Glastonbury – 06/06/2020

Father Peter Farrington, who was ordained to the priesthood in the British Orthodox Church when it was part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, now, serves as a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Midlands. Despite having served in the British Orthodox Church for twenty-one years, he has sponsored considerable efforts and arguments attempting to diminish the ministry of the British Orthodox Church since it returned to its independent status in 2015.

His online article, “Apostolic Succession – What it is and what it is not[1], which he has just published online, specifically attacks the Apostolic Successions deriving from Mar Julius (Ferrette), Bishop of Iona, and Mar Timotheos (Vilatte), Bishop of America, about which he perfidiously states:

“It is not a matter of unkindness, or lack of inclusivity, to insist, as the Church always has, that Apostolic Succession belongs only in the Orthodox and Apostolic Church and that none of the so-called successions deriving from Ferrette or Vilatte have any worth whatsoever in Orthodox terms.”

However, he fails to recognise the fact that the late Pope Shenouda III stated:

“The British Orthodox Church of the British Isles is a local church holding to the historic faith and order of the Apostolic Church, committed to the restoration of Orthodoxy among the indigenous population and desiring to provide a powerful witness to the Orthodox Faith and Tradition in an increasingly secular society.”[2]

Following our lengthy discussions and having supplied Pope Shenouda with all the details concerning our Apostolic Succession, he decided not to re-ordain me but to recognise my orders and received me into the jurisdiction of the Coptic Patriarchate by economiain the form of anointment with the Holy Myron, which took place at St. Bishoy’s Monastery on 4 June 1994. He stated that this confirmed all the orders previously received from my predecessor, Metropolitan Georgius, and although Pope Shenouda subsequently conditionally reconsecrated me to the episcopate on 19 June 1994, prior to ordaining me as Metropolitan, this was performed solely for the purpose of conveying the continuity of the Alexandrian Apostolic Succession. I was then advised not to re-ordain any of my existing clergy but merely to promote each of them by only one degree, following the confirmation of their existing orders by anointment, so that they also then would be within the Alexandrian Apostolic Succession.

Discussing the subject of establishing new Orthodox churches, the learned scholar and theologian, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), the first Englishman to be consecrated within the Œcumenical Patriarchate, stated,

“Neither an Œcumenical Council, nor the Patriarchate of Constantinople or of Moscow, nor any other Mother-Church can create a new local Church. The most that they can do is to recognise such a Church. But the act of creation must be carried out in situ, locally, by the living Eucharistic cells which are called to gradually make up the body of a new local Church.”[3]

Although we changed our name from The Orthodox Church of the British Isles to the British Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda recognised our existence as an existing Orthodox community and merely sought to sustain and strengthen our ministry by incorporating us within the Alexandrian Patriarchate. Should it prove helpful to us he also offered to consecrate additional British Orthodox bishops to reinforce our outreach, although at that stage I did not feel that this was yet necessary.

Saint Irenaeus, the second-century Greek Bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon) in Gaul,  whose famous tome AdversusHaereses, attacked the heresies of early gnostic sects claiming secret wisdom, and proclaimed the three Pillars of Orthodoxy to be the Sacred Scriptures, the Tradition handed down from the apostles, and the teaching of the bishops, who were their successors. He wrote:

“In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”[4]

When Peter Farrington asserts that “The Apostolic Tradition depends on the reality of the Apostolic Succession, and the Apostolic Succession represents the reality of the continuity of the Apostolic Tradition” he adheres to what St. Irenaeus proclaims, yet diminishes the fullness of Apostolicity by characterizing it as essentially related to communities rather than individuals.  By contrast, we have the example of Saint Ignatius, one of the leading Apostolic Fathers of the Church, who as a youth was a disciple of the Apostle John and later became a successor to the Apostle Peter, who had established the church of Antioch and was accounted the city’s first bishop, before going to Rome to found the Church there. Saint Ignatius taught that a bishop was the centre of unity in the Church and that in essence the episcopate was best fulfilled by a monarchical bishop, because he saw so clearly the need for Church unity, which was achieved, and that Church unity was guaranteed by the bishop of each local Church.

For what is the bishop but one who possesses all power and authority so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitation of the Christ of God?”[5]

Working with his presbytery, of which he is part, the bishop is likened by Saint Ignatius to Christ and the presbyters, to the twelve apostles:

For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.”[6]

Ignatius congratulated the Ephesians on being united to their bishop just as the Church was united to Jesus Christ “and Jesus Christ to the Father. This is how unity and harmony come to prevail everywhere.” To the Smyrnaeans he wrote that they should only “regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or by someone he authorises” and that without the bishops’ supervision, no baptisms should be permitted.”

A church divided on confessional lines is as alien to this ecclesiology as the Anglican ‘branch theory’. Roman Catholic theology supports the idea of the Church being a number of parts that together constitute the whole, the unity of which is only realised through the head, which is the Papacy.[7] This fragmentation doctrine, however, is not consistent with the Apostolic Fathers who taught the ever-present realisation of the Church of God in each local eucharistic community:

“Through the Eucharist, we have the whole Christ and not a ‘part’ of Him, and therefore the Church which is ‘actualized’ in the Eucharist is not a ‘part’ or ‘member’ of the whole, but the Church of God in her wholeness. For it is precisely the function of the Eucharist to manifest the whole church, her ‘catholicity’. Where there is the Eucharist, there is the Church; and conversely, only where the whole Church is (i.e. the people of God united in the Bishop, the Head, the Shepherd), there is the Eucharist.”[8]

Nevertheless, we must guard against a corrupt ecclesiology, where the bishop exists for his own sake in some arbitrary and autocratic manner. He too is part of the Church and any attempt to separate him from the Church will end either in an extreme papal position which theoretically places him above and apart from the Church[9]or as existing for his own sake entirely, with neither clergy, congregation nor ministry:

“The bishop is vested with power, yet the root of this power is in the Church, in the Eucharistic gathering, at which he presides as priest, pastor, and teacher. ‘Power’ in the Church can be defined and understood only within the indivisible unity of the Church, the Eucharist, and the bishop.”[10]

This understanding of the role of the local bishop, though sometimes obscured and corrupted, is a constant witness of the Orthodox Church:

The bishop is certainly the organ by which the Apostolic Message and power are transmitted, but the charisma veritatiscertum[11] which is transmitted to him by the laying-on of hands is manifested only in the local church and not above it. The bishop is not alone, but is inseparable from his community: acting, teaching, and administering within this community.”[12]

Each local Church, though linked by faith and love to other local churches, was entirely self-governing. As we have said, the participation of neighbouring bishops in the consecration of a local bishop did not give them jurisdiction over that particular church but represented the unity and co-operation which bound them to each other in love:

From the moment he is elected and consecrated, the bishop is the president of the Eucharistic Assembly, i.e. the head of the Church, and his consecration finds its fulfilment when for the first time he offers to God the Eucharist of the Church. Thus the consecration of a bishop is first of all the testimony that this man, elected by his own Church, is elected and appointed by God, and that through his election and consecration his Church is identical with the Church of God which abides in all churches.” [13]

Father Schmemann goes on to emphasise that the consecration is in no sense the transfer of a gift from the neighbouring bishops, but the manifestation that the same gift, which they have received in the Church from God, has now been received by this bishop in this Church. Father Nicolas Afanassieff is the vigorous exponent of this Eucharistic ecclesiology:

“The local church is autonomous and independent because the Church of God in Christ indwells it in perfect fullness. It is independent, because any power, of any kind, exercised over it would be exercised over Christ and His Body. It is autonomous, because fullness of being belongs to the Church of God in Christ, and outside it nothing is, for nothing can have being outside Christ.”[14]

The consecration of a bishop may be in order for him to perform service in a specific place although essentially he is ordained a bishop in the ‘Church of God’ and not merely confined to his local community. In the British Orthodox Church the ‘Declaration of Intention’ made by a bishop before conferring orders affirms this:

We also Declare that We do not proceed to set apart this candidate here present as a minister of a sect or schism, or portion of the Church, but that it is Our firm purpose, resolve, and intention, invoking the aid of the All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, to set them apart to the specified ministry in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

In all spheres of human activity, office bearers other than those holding hereditary positions, generally owe their status to either appointment by a superior or a form of election, whereas those who constitute the Christian ministry, not only receive through their episcopal consecration an indelible “character” but also receive specific spiritual powers and authority as those which were conferred upon the Holy Apostles and their successors, with the sole right and ability to transmit it to future generations. As with those Apostles who moved from one See to another, many bishops both historically and currently have transferred their sees, sometimes to different portions of the Catholic Church.  However, in order to promote both stability and unity, some early church canons even prohibited the translation of bishops from one church to another and forbade bishops to recruit or to ordain clergy belonging to another church without their own bishop’s permission. Some canons also prohibited any bishop from entering another province unless he was invited to do so by a brother bishop and also forbade bishops from other provinces to be called in to arbitrate disputes between bishops. In order to prevent ambitious meddling in other churches that might lead to usurpation by visiting bishops, even restricted episcopal visits limit translations to cities where other bishops were established.

Farrington’s insistence that authentic Apostolic Succession is “about the unbroken continuity of a community and the continuity of leadership within it, and with a shared and preserved Tradition of teaching and practice” is fallacious as such an unbroken continuity exists in the current Assyrian Church of the East, which having accepted the teachings of Archbishop Nestorius of Constantinople (428-431)and rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Ephesus (431) is not reckoned as being an Orthodox Church.

Following our Lord’s ascension into heaven and in the early apostolic era, the apostles and their delegates travelled to many remote parts of the world in order to preach the Gospel and spread the Faith. Many widespread territories, such as the British Isles, although they constituted parts of the Roman or other ancient Empires, received missionaries whose task it was to establish new Christian communities.

Indeed among the ancient chroniclers of Britain, there are even suggestions that our Lord Himself in his youth visited the British Isles and later it received St. Joseph of Arimathea, St. Aristobulus, and St. Simon Zelotes among its earliest evangelists, who established a local Apostolic Succession which considerably predated the Roman Augustinian mission of A.D. 597. The noted Latin theologian, St. Jerome of Stridon (340-420) even asserted the true catholicity of Christians not belonging to the Holy Roman community:

“The church of the city of Rome is not different from that of the whole world. Gaul and Britain, Africa and all barbarous nations adore one Christ and follow one rule of truth.”[15]

The noted Orthodox prelate, St. John Chrysostom (347-407), likewise recognised Britain’s apostolicity:

“Even the British Isles (!) have felt the power of the Word, for there too churches and altars have been erected: there too, as in the extreme East,… or in the South, men may be heard discussing points of Scripture, with different voices, but not with different belief.”[16]

A modern Catholic scholar addressing the issue of continuity writes:

“I have tried to draw out certain characteristics of this ancient, British Church, and show that those characteristics place it in continuity, continuity with the rest of the Christian Church in Europe at that time and, indeed, in continuity with the Catholic faith which we all share today. That word continuity is one I would like to stress. The Christian faith arrived in these islands during the time when Britain was still part of the Roman Empire…..From the start, therefore, British Christianity was not an insular, isolated phenomenon – it was part of something much larger. The British Church was, in the essential characteristics indistinguishable from the universal Catholic Church which existed on the continent, in the Middle East and elsewhere. It was … Catholic in its faith, its discipline and structure, and in its forms of worship. British bishops appealed to Gaulish bishops for help in defending the one true faith they shared against the innovations of Pelagius. British bishops sat in council with other bishops, and in communion with Rome, at the council of Arles in 314 (and at the Councils of Nice (325), Sardica (347) and Rimini(359) to mention only those we know about. British Christians offered the same sacrifice, administered the same sacraments, and observed the same great feast-days as their brethren elsewhere.”[17]

Although the British Isles suffered from the Protestant Reformation and there was a breach in the historic Apostolic Succession, nevertheless the seventeenth-century godly divines, through their study of the writings of the early church fathers as part of the common heritage of the universal church, began to recognise the apostolicity of the ancient Sees of the East. The abortive efforts of the Nonjuring bishops to establish organic links with the Greek and Russian churches became not only the basis upon which nineteenth-century Anglicanism could re-establish serious theological dialogue, but also the precursor for the restoration of Orthodoxy to the British Isles.

“That the Catholick remnant of the British churches, acknowledging that they first received their Christianity from such as came forth from the Church of Jerusalem, before ever they were made subject to the Bishop of Rome and that Church; and professing the same holy Catholick Faith, deliver’d by the Apostles, and explain’d in the Councils of Nice and Constantinople; be reciprocally acknowledg’d as a part of the Catholic Church in communion with the apostles, with the holy Fathers of those Councils, and with their successors.”[18]

Although one might consider that the Roman Catholic Church is of Apostolic origin and shares many aspects of the Catholic Faith, it is still not numbered among the Orthodox Churches and indeed has even established rival Eastern Catholic Patriarchates, including a Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria which intrudes upon the ancient apostolic succession of the Coptic Orthodox community. These would be categorised by Father Peter as being:

“But anyone who was not in the ancient and Apostolic Succession, which must be associated with the ancient and Apostolic Church and the ancient and Apostolic Tradition is to be suspected and rejected. Some are heretics and teach error, often significant error. Others are schismatics and have separated themselves or been separated from the Apostolic and Orthodox Church.”

Nevertheless, a significant Œcumenical dialogue has recently taken place between the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church. On 28 April 2017 the Coptic and Roman Popes jointly issued a statement in which they recognised a continuity of life and teaching:

“This renewed spirit of closeness has enabled us to discern once more that the bond uniting us was received from our one Lord on the day of our Baptism. For it is through Baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. 1Cor. 12:13). This common heritage is the basis of our pilgrimage together towards full communion, as we grow in love and reconciliation.”

As a result of this they mutually recognised each other’s sacraments:

“Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus.”[19]     

In consecrating Jules Ferrette as ‘Bishop of Iona & its Dependencies’, Metropolitan Julius of Emesa (later Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV of Antioch) sought to effect the restoration of the Orthodox Apostolic Succession to the British Isles. Ferrette’s understanding of this was clear:

“I want men tried in the ministry to advise me, and concert with me the means of rendering to so many disorganised Christian communities in the West, valid Sacraments and an undoubted Apostolic Succession, so that their Bishops, Archbishops, and Patriarchs may one day sit as equals with their brethren of the Eastern and Latin Church in the Œcumenical Council which will pronounce the end of Schism … They will not be asked to submit to any other Faith but that which the Holy Spirit teaches us in the Scriptures, for which the Martyrs have died, which the Œcumenical Councils have sanctioned … They shall never be asked by me to hate or despise the Mother Church by which they have been prepared for the service of the Holy Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church of the West.”[20]

That some similar groups which descended from Bishops Vilatte and Ferrette endeavoured to minister to existing Anglican clergy holding firmly to a Catholic and Orthodox tradition, such as the celebrated Father Ignatius of Llanthony (Joseph Leycester Lyne) – who promoted the monastic life – and Dr. Frederick George Lee of Lambeth, was inspired by the desire to revive Orthodox Apostolic Catholicism. In clarifying his position Bishop Julius (Ferrette) wrote:

“As a bishop consecrated for a Western Mission by one of the Eastern churches, I am not answerable either to the whole of these churches, since they are not in communion one with the other, nor even to the one from which I derive my apostolic succession. I am an autocephalous bishop, that is to say independent, indeed more independent than one of the Patriarchs of the East, each of which is bound to subordinate his actions to the opinion of his colleagues of the same communion and even to that of his suffragans and of his clergy as well as of the lay folk.”[21]

In attacking Mar Timotheos (Vilatte) Father Peter makes several ill-informed statements, such as mentioning that in 1938 the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Mar Ignatius Ephrem I, excommunicated him for having consecrated a bishop, although his predecessor, Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV, had formally authorised Vilatte’s consecration, stating:

“We stand up before God’s Majesty, and raising up our hands towards His Grace, pray that the Holy Ghost may descend upon him, as He did upon the Apostles at the time of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom they were made Patriarchs, Bishops and Priests, and were authorised to bind and loose as written by St. Matthew. We, therefore by virtue of our authority received from God, authorise him to bind the loose; and elevating our voice we offer thanks to God, and exclaim Kyrie Eleison three times. Again we pray to God to grant him cheer of face before His Throne of Majesty, and that we and he may be worthy to glorify Him now and at all times, forever and ever.”

Vilatte was highly respected by Orthodox clergy, such as Bishop Vladimir of Alaska & the Aleutian Islands, who wrote to Vilatte,

“I received a letter with the Confession of Faith and read it with great interest and pleasure. Believe me, that your Christian teaching is fully in accord with the sense of ancient true Catholicity of the Christian Church. I would not hesitate to sign your pamphlet myself as perfectly Orthodox.”[22]

‘Holding strong to the Orthodox faith, Archbishop René Vilatte Mar Timotheus encounters his enemies. He is gaining many faithful and Churches across America.’ – St. Gregorious of Parumala (Letters).

Also, the Dean of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York, Father Ingram Irvine, complained of a campaign against Vilatte conducted by the Anglican and Romanist press:

“Such treatment of Mgr. Vilatte by the Roman and Anglican press is a disgrace to them … he is an Archbishop of Christ’s Church, who has served Jesus Christ, is serving, and is following Him closer, perhaps than two-thirds of the prelates of any other church in Christendom. I am related to Archbishop Vilatte as a child of God, and therefore as a man and a priest, when the Archbishop is lied about, slandered, held  up to mockery, it is my privilege and duty, who has nothing to gain by his defense, to proclaim to the world that I would prefer his position, however much persecuted, to the vaingloriously vile position held by his un-Christian persecutors.”[23]

It should also be mentioned that the learned and œcumenically affable Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Môr Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, who was kidnapped by Syrian Islamicists in 2013 and may yet have suffered martyrdom, was actively engaged in regular dialogue with independent Orthodox jurisdictions deriving their Apostolic Succession from Vilatte and was endeavoring to bring them back into full communion with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

Orthodoxy is not merely a denominational designation but derives from the Greek words orthos (right) and doxa (belief) based on the Faith and Tradition of the Apostolic Church. Farrington fecklessly claims that

“Apostolic Tradition is not a list of texts, and canons, and prayers, which could be used by anybody, but is a living continuity of life in the Holy Spirit, passed on from generation to generation in the same community.”

The Greek philosopher and Orthodox theologian, Christos Yannaras, defines the Orthodox Faith as,

“A gift from God, a fruit of the interior purity of the Christian’s spiritual life, which is identified with the vision of God; with the immediate vision of the personal God; with the personal experience of the Transfiguration of creation by uncreated grace.”

To exclude the apostolicity of Christians who uphold the Faith and Traditions of Orthodoxy simply because they are currently not linked to other specific communities is a narrow and negative attitude. Metropolitan Kallistos warns that,

“Now we have, unfortunately in our Orthodox Church today, a number of zealot groups who are extremely negative about anyone who disagrees with them and understands Orthodoxy in a slightly different way. They reduce Orthodoxy, all too often, to a series of negations. And surely, Orthodoxy can’t be that. And these people, often very sincere people, act unfortunately as a blackmail party. They frighten others into saying things that might be thought controversial. They quench the spirit of freedom and exploration.”[24]

 ABBA SERAPHIM

RECOMMENDED READING

SUCCESSIO APOSTOLICA Being an Account of the Apostolic Succession of The British Orthodox Church (Metropolis of Glastonbury) by Abba Seraphim, Metropolitan of Glastonbury (The British Orthodox Press, London: 2020), 192 pp. + illus.

ISBN: 978-1-71697-749-7. Hardcover. £16.01

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/abba-seraphim/successio-apostolica/hardcover/product-66y76y.html

As with all historic Christian churches, the British Orthodox Church adheres firmly to the transmission of the Sacred Ministry in an unbroken succession from the Lord’s Apostles, which – having prevailed inviolate throughout the ages – ensures that its holy orders are universally admitted as valid. Although its mission was re-established through an episcopal consecration deriving from the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1866; its association over the intervening century and a half has resulted in additional lines of apostolic succession deriving from a variety of Orthodox and Catholic churches becoming united with its original line, which came to be regarded as an “Œcumenical Apostolic Succession”. Following its union with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria for more than two decades, this not only augmented the existing historic Orthodox successions but today is regarded as paramount. In addition to the historic accounts of the various Apostles and their successions, a number of issues and predicaments raised against them are discussed in full, as well as the Church’s response and ways of settlement, especially oikonomia in the Orthodox tradition as well as the approach regarding the integrity of Apostolic Succession as being equable with the Apostolic Faith.

[1]St. George Orthodox Ministry: Coptic Mission Communities in the UK: http://www.stgeorgeministry.com/category/father-peter-farrington/

[2] Article 1 of the 1994 Protocol determining the relationship of the British Orthodox Church for the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

[3]SOP 302, Nov. 2005, given at the St. Serge Institute of Theology in Paris.

[4]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3:3.

[5] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Trallians, VII.

[6]Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, IV.

[7]Vide Abba Seraphim, Root and Branch. The Canonicity and Regularity of the British Orthodox Church (2017), Chapter 1: “The Local Church”.

[8]Alexander Schmemann, “The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology” in The Primacy of Peter, (London, 1963), p. 38.

[9]The Declaration of Papal Infallibility, Pastor Aeternus, (1870) states that the definitions of “the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.”

[10]Schmemann, op.cit., p. 39.

[11]St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 4.11.2

[12]Boris Bobrinskoy, “The Continuity of the Church and Orthodoxy”, Sobornost, Series 5, No. 1 (1965), p. 21.

[13]Schmemann, op.cit., p. 41.

[14]Nicolas Afanassieff, “The Church which Presides in Love”, in The Primacy of Peter, op.cit., p. 75 and L’Église du Saint Esprit (Paris, 1975).

[15]Epistle 101.

[16]‘Contra Judacos’

[17] Fr. Richard Whinder, B.A., S.T.L., Christianity in Britain before Augustine.

[18]Extract from A proposal for a concordat betwixt the orthodox and the Catholick remnant of the British Churches and the Catholick and Apostolical Oriental Church, 1716.

[19]http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2017/04/28/0279/00640.html#orig

[20] Abba Seraphim, Flesh of Our Brethren (2017), p. 70.

[21] Letter, Ferrette to Loyson, 9 February 1900, quoted in Abba Seraphim, Flesh of Our Brethren (2017), pp. 83-84.

[22] J. R. Vilatte, My relations with the Protestant Episcopal Church (1960), p. 20.

[23]Winnipeg Free Press, Manitoba (Canada), 6 March 1909.

[24] Metropolitan Kallistos, “What is Theology” (2012), https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/cambridge/what_is_theology

Source:
Abba Seraphim