Episcopal actions, orthodox reactions

Few would fault the clarity of the Orthodox response to the September marriage of Denis Gogolyev and Mikhail Morozev in the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God Chapel in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

The bishops defrocked the priest, bulldozed the church and burned the wreckage.

"Father Vladimir Enert, who married the gay couple, committed a sin in doing so," a church spokesman told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "He desecrated the place. We therefore needed to destroy the chapel."

They call it the Orthodox Church for a reason. This is why ecclesiastical politicos gasped when they read that an Orthodox bishop attended rites consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson as the Episcopal Church's first noncelibate, openly gay bishop.

This was an historic occasion and the whole ecumenical world was watching.

"Frankly, I have been surprised that so many people are upset about this," said Bishop Paul Peter Jesep of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church-Sobornopravna. "I believe Bishop Robinson was duly and prayerfully elected and, besides, I think it's inappropriate for one church to try and tell another how to fulfill its mission."

The 39-year-old bishop -- a former lawyer, journalist, U.S. Senate aide and founder of -- stressed that acted on his own and that his church has not addressed Robinson's consecration.

Orthodox leaders also noted that Jesep serves a tiny splinter church that plays no role in the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. There are dozens of non-canonical "Orthodox" flocks, including at least 16 other Ukrainian bodies.

Meanwhile, the American bishops are standing their ground. The conference proclaimed: "The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of church tradition, and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of a man and a woman. ... Neither Scripture nor Holy Tradition blesses or sanctions such a union between persons of the same sex."

Greek Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh was blunter: "Do these Anglican thinkers realize that an evil spirit may be behind all these things? What the Orthodox denounce in these false practices and teachings is that they are the practices and teachings which oppose the Will of God as taught by the Bible, thus, being the result of our fallen, sinful, human 'experience!' "

Nevertheless, the New Hampshire rites drew many mainline clerics. The ecumenical procession included representatives of the American Baptists, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Unitarian-Universalists, United Methodists and others.

Lutheran Bishop Krister Stendahl of Sweden took part and it was announced that he also represented the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said Father Robert Stiefel of the diocesan transition team. This was symbolic, because of an ELCA and Episcopal accord to share sacraments and clergy.

Apparently no Catholic clergy took part, although Jesep said several Catholic lay leaders joined the procession. Catholic bishops have often been observers at Anglican consecrations -- but not this time.

Pope John Paul II recently warned Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that the ties that bind them are at the breaking point. "New and serious" obstacles block the path to unity.

"These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature," said the papal text. "Some extend to essential matters of faith and morals. ... Faced with the increasing secularism of today's world, the church must ensure that the deposit of faith is proclaimed in its integrity and preserved from erroneous and misguided interpretations."

No additional commentary was needed, especially in a time when the powerful Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is showing a willingness to build new bridges to Anglican traditionalists in America and England. Might there even be a new "Anglican rite" in communion with Rome?

Whatever happens will happen, said Jesep. While the New Hampshire consecration may rattle other altars and pews, critics of Robinson's ministry must realize that the U.S. Episcopal Church has made its choice and acted on it.

"The larger issue is not who participated and who did not participate," he said. "The real issue is that there is a gay bishop -- period. The issue now is how the church reacts to this as a Christian family.