Former Archbishop of Canterbury Talks Orthodoxy

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Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, discussed Orthodoxy and the role humanity and divinity play. (Maria Ancona/The Ram)

Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, discussed Orthodoxy and the role humanity and divinity play. (Maria Ancona/The Ram)
Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, discussed Orthodoxy and the role humanity and divinity play. (Maria Ancona/The Ram)

By Eddie Mikus

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center held its 10th “Orthodoxy in America” lecture on Sept. 30, featuring Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 until 2012 and the current master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge.

“The lecture is about 10 years old and it is the only lecture of its kind in the United States in terms of size and scope,” said Dr. George Demacopoulos, the director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center. “It is the largest annual public lecture of its kind in a university. Some of the past speakers included Archbishop Dimitrios, who is the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. We’ve also [hosted] Patriarch Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, which is the worldwide leader of the Orthodox Communion.”

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center’s mission is to “foster intellectual inquiry by supporting scholarship and teaching that is critical to the ecclesial community, public discourse and the promotion of Christian unity.”

Lectures like the “Orthodoxy in America” provide a forum for discussion of Christian unity. Williams focused on ways to apply Orthodox teachings to a larger Christian context.

Despite his Anglican background, Williams is also an Orthodoxy scholar. Demacopoulos explained that, despite William’s Anglican background, he was an ideal lecturer for the event. “He is one of the most visible and important theologians in the world today,” Demacopoulos said. “He’s retired now, but he is the former Archbishop of Canterbury, which is the head of the Anglican Communion…[He has] continued to write about and reflect about and be inspired by Orthodox Christianity.”

Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, gave the ceremony’s introductory remarks.

“You have truly become Pontifex Anglicanus, the Anglican bridge builder,” McShane said. “You have built bridges of understanding and love between and among peoples and between and among faiths.”

Williams began his lecture by discussing the teachings of the Orthodox scholar Olivier Clément. He then proceeded to explain how this concept of humanity is incorporated into Christian teachings.

“What Christians claim is that human existence is addressed by an act that is completely beyond the categories of nature, of repeatable process,” Williams said. “So our humanity is eternal, taken beyond repeatable processes and capable of responsibility, in the strictest sense of the word,” said Williams. He described how this eternal humanity leads to a Christian hunger for the Eucharist that would exhibit this humanity.

He explained how the human and divine worlds are linked to each other through the liturgy and the Eucharist.

Williams also discussed the importance of the liturgy in Christian celebrations as a way to bridge the gap between the living and dead.

“Liturgy is the period of time in which the transition from one world to another can be traced and mapped,” he said.

He continued, “The celebration of the liturgy is the primary way in which we are constituted guardians and guarantors of the faith of others.”

According to Williams, Orthodox theology differs from Western theologies like Catholicism in that it  is more accepting of humanist traditions than Western theologies.

“It is a theology that expects to find an anthropology of visually healing, in way which Western theologies have not often sought to do,” Williams said of the Orthodox tradition.

Michael Palamara, GSB ’15, and president of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, said that he hoped the lecture would help lead to unity among Orthodox Christians within the United States.

“It’s the state of Orthodoxy in America, because originally it was made up of the immigrants and the diaspora. So, they separated based on their race and they separated based on their cultural identity. And, the divisions arose from that,” Palamara said of the current divisions in the Orthodox church in America.

He explained that Americans often view the Orthodox church based on ethnic lines, even though all of the Patriarchs are part of one unified church.  But, he saw events like the one at Fordham as helping to bridge the divide.

“There’s such a dialogue now of the Orthodoxy in America that it is forming one Church… [It’s] grassroots movements like these, bring together people of all jurisdictions, and where we have an understanding that we’re all Orthodox and we’re all American,” said Palamara.

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Eddie Mikus is a Staff Writer for The Fordham Ram.