Bishop Robert Ladds, Superior-General of the Society of Mary,
with Archbishop Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church
A fair bit of publicity has been given to concerns about the Anglican Communion expressed by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. His Lambeth address in 2010 HERE was widely reported.
More recently, in a carefully worded letter HERE, Hilarion stated that Moscow expected Bishop Welby to discipline the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Welby had been “entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth.”
“Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion,” Hilarion said.
“The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole,” he wrote.
In the light of these communications, it is significant that Bishop Robert Ladds, Superior-General of the Society of Mary and sometime Bishop of Whitby was granted an audience with Metropolitan Hilarion when leading a pilgrimage to Russia in September. What follows is Bishop Ladd’s response to Bishop Hilarion’s Paper introducing his work and his concerns as head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. Significantly, Bishop Ladds spoke of those who - while a minority among First World Anglicans - hold the Catholic Faith as it has been believed by most Christians throughout the ages.
Your Eminence, thank you for your gracious welcome and for the privilege and joy of this Audience. Our respective nations are geographically, culturally and historically separated to a significant degree. But the Arms of Christ reach beyond the physical and practical and are capable of joining us spiritually within the brotherhood of the Christian Faith. As a Bishop of the Church and in my role as Superior General of the Society of Mary, my prayer, my stated views and my pastoral endeavour are committed to doing all that is possible to continue in the best possible ways of unity with the great Churches and Communions of East and West.
We had the pleasure of first meeting you at the last Lambeth Conference and subsequently in London in September 2010 when you spoke to us as members of the Nikean Club. Your words then were strong and your insights clear and many of us rejoiced to have the clarity of your teaching. You drew for us the stark reality and doom of that unity in the Church for which our Lord Jesus Christ prays if “unrestrained liberalism of Christian values” is allowed to continue
You contrasted this potential for disunity with a vision of the power and beauty that unity of understanding and purpose can bring to the Church in fulfilling one of Her primary callings; that of evangelisation. A Catholic-Orthodox alliance, you believe, could “defend the traditional values of Christianity” and assist to “restore a Christian soul to Europe” by allowing engagement in a “common defence of Christian values against secularism and relativism”
You spoke of the 1,700 years that had elapsed since the Council of Nicaea. In all that time “the criteria that were used to distinguish truth from heresy have not changed” and “the notion of Church truth remains as relevant today as it did 17 centuries ago”. The Church is called to be faithful to the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit as tested by Holy Writ and Sacred Tradition.
In this regard, Nicaea, as the First Ecumenical Council, is critical in that its teachings are a foundation of Christian Truth and unity that persists to this day, accepted as such by all the major Communions of Christendom. Members of our Society of Mary are ever mindful of this gift of God’s grace to His Church and thus of the importance of upholding its teachings and traditions, including those relating to the Sacred Ministry and ecclesiology.
As a Society of the Laity and those Ordained to the Sacred Ministry, under the Patronage of Mary Help of Christians, we are also especially appreciative of thye teaching of the Third Council, at Ephesus, defining Mary as Theotokos – Mother of God.
Our Members seek to live a Rule of Life supporting our witness to the glory of God and our honouring of the Holy Incarnation. Our Objects are to Love and Honour Mary; to spread devotion to Her; to take Her as a model of purity, personal relationships and family life; and in the cause of Christian unity.
As Mother of God, Mother of the Christ, who perpetually intercedes for His Church that it “may be one” as the Father and the Son are One, we take Mary as Mother of Unity. A title frequently used by the Holy Father, Paul VI.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II called us to accept Our Lady as a “common mother” and a source of unity. Mary is seen as the model Christian; pure, filled with God’[s grace of redemption; given entirely in faith, hope and love, to the purposes of God’s Will and bringing forth, showing, Christ to the world. In this She is the Model of the Church. She embodies that to which we are all called. At Her Annunciation She accepts, body and soul, the Will of God in Salvation. At Her Visitation She takes Christ to a waiting world. At Cana She commands us to do as She Herself has done: “Do whatever He asks”. As at the Foot of the Cross, as swords pierce Her Immaculate Heart, She stands in faith. At the Resurrection, She rejoices in the Living God. At Pentecost She holds the new-born Church in Her arms.
It is significant that the focus of the Holy Father’s teaching is upon Mary in the life of the “Pilgrim Church”. That is, the Church in the context of the world; in the context of a journey; in the context of the ever-changing present and the unchanging truth of Faith. It is in this context that we express our personal joy, and that of our Chaplain-General, Father Graeme Rowlands, that Your Excellency has graciously accepted Honorary Membership of our Society of Mary and has received our Insignature.
The Church subsists in both the body of those in Eucharistic Communion and in the individual Christian. Decisions made within our own Communion are causing some to seek where the Church might most perfectly to be found and where they might best continue their Christian Pilgrimage. Some have followed that other searcher for the Church, John Henry Newman, and made secession to the See of Peter. Others to the Orthodox family. Yet others have become members of a Personal Ordinariate. Those of us, of traditional and orthodox stance, who at present remain, hold to the truth and sacraments as we believe were once delivered by Christ to the Apostles and believed by the majority of Christians for the majority of time. As a minority we may, more and more, need to see the Catholic Faith as maintained in us as individuals and minority groups and Societies, rather than in a wider collective body. Some of us are mindful of words spoken from the scholarship of Bishop Michael Nazir Ali (late of the ancient See of Rochester) that though the Non Jurors of the 17th century appeared to have had limited influence; their faithfulness was eventually to blossom in the Oxford Movement and the Catholic Revival in the Church of England.
Your Eminence, there is synergy in your teaching and challenge to preserve the unity of the Church founded on the teaching of Nicaea with the image and place of Our Blessed Lady, Mary, implicit in the teaching of Ephesus.
As the everlasting Arms of Christ Jesus reach out to embrace a world in deepest need of His love and redemption; as His Arms reach out to hold and embrace His Body the Church, let our prayer be for Truth in that Church; for her faithfulness to the unchanging Faith of the Gospel; for the Hope that we may be preserved from sin, error and a worldly waywardness creating greater schism.
Your Excellency, may God bless you in your work and mission for unity in Christ. As you have welcomed us, so may we ask you, in the Name of Christ, pray for us, as we shall most surely pray for you.
+ Robert Ladds
Society of Mary
(From the current issue of AVE, the journal of the Society)
(From the current issue of AVE, the journal of the Society)