Archbishop of Canterbury receives honorary doctorate from St. Vladimir’s

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (second from left), was greeted by seminary Dean Fr. John Behr (far right), seminary Chancellor Fr. Chad Hatfield (far left), Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (second from right), and Matushka Juliana Schmemann (center) at the 27th annual Father Schmemann Memorial Lecture on campus. [PHOTO: Joseph Olas]

Dr. Rowan Williams began his New York City tour this past week with duties related to his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, but ended it by demonstrating his academic acumen and continued interest in the Orthodox Christian faith. On Saturday, January 30, 2010, the Anglican archbishop delivered the 27th annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture— this year titled “Theology and the Contemplative Calling: The Image of Humanity in the Philokalia”— and received an honorary doctoral degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

During his visit, Dr. Williams also attended Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Three Hierarchs in the seminary chapel, and had a cordial and frank discussion with St. Vladimir’s theological faculty at a private brunch. After the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and the Anglican archbishop both publically expressed their desire for a deeper personal friendship and their hope for deeper understanding and cooperation between their respective communions. Additionally, Dr. Williams thanked the seminary community for its "overwhelming warm and generous welcome," which he stated, surpassed even his first visit to St. Vladimir's in 1974, and which was all that he "had hoped and prayed for."

The Anglican archbishop received the invitation to be this year’s Schmemann Lecturer for his pioneering work in Russian Orthodox studies and his long-standing interest in Eastern Christian studies. His doctoral work at Oxford University focused on Vladimir N. Lossky, the famous mid-twentieth-century Orthodox theologian; and his first book, Wound of Knowledge, was a study of spirituality from apostolic times to the sixteenth century.

Dr. Williams’s lecture on the “Philokalia,” a collection of monastic writings ranging from the fourth through the fifteenth centuries, reflected his massive knowledge on the subject. Beginning and ending with quotes from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s classic work, For the Life of the World, he delivered a discourse on the spiritual battle that human beings wage in journeying from a self-centered existence to a life in Christ, according to the writings of the Christian ascetics. Nearly four hundred people attended the lecture. 


Seminary Dean Archpriest John Behr in his remarks at the event said, “In and through all of this and more, Rowan Williams has made a great contribution towards the increasing knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy in the West, and also helped the Eastern Orthodox themselves think through their own tradition, providing insights, asking questions, opening up dialogue; and for this we are truly thankful.”

Father John, who had been examined by Dr. Williams for his own doctoral degree at Oxford, saw an opportunity for the Anglican cleric to be this year’s Schmemann Lecturer coincident with his planned travels to the U.S.; and also viewed his visit to the seminary campus to be an occasion to further Anglican-Orthodox relations. The faculty and Board of Trustees of St. Vladimir’s together voted to confer upon the archbishop a Doctorate of Divinity honoris causa.

In his welcoming address at the event, seminary Chancellor and CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield further noted the importance of a continuing Orthodox-Anglican dialogue, saying, “Only a few days ago I was in Russia where I was blessed to venerate the holy relics of St. Tikhon of Moscow, the former archbishop of North America. As a seminarian, I came to have such an attraction to this confessor and pastor. He was a friend of Anglicans, especially Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton of Fond du Lac. All of us here, who are Orthodox Christians living in North America, are the spiritual children of St. Tikhon, and Your Grace, we, like St. Tikhon, extend our hand of friendship, and we bid you welcome!”

Metropolitan Jonah bestowed the honorary doctoral degree upon the archbishop. His Beatitude, who also is the president of St. Vladimir’s Board of Trustees, recently signed a concordat on behalf of St. Vladimir’s with Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary, signaling the agreement of the two seminaries to work together for the preservation of the Orthodox-Anglican dialogue that began in the early twentieth century.

Matushka Juliana Schmemann, wife of Fr. Alexander, expressed her thoughts on the extraordinary visit, saying, “As diverse as our ways to the kingdom, as different as our journeys to the Lord, we are all united in our love of the Lord and in our joy to serve him. This unity is reinforced by the archbishop’s coming to speak to us and to share in our universal love in Christ.”

A complex and controversial figure, Dr. Williams has been widely criticized in both Orthodox and conservative Anglican circles, particularly for his writings on homosexual unions (especially in his 1989 paper “The Body’s Grace”), and his promulgation of arguments in favor of the ordination of women, beginning at the 1988 Lambeth Conference. Conversely, he has equally challenged liberal theologians and post-modern atheists: he defended the bodily resurrection of Christ in the face of Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong’s ridicule of the doctrine, and has poked huge holes in the logic of Richard Dawkins, author of popular anti-theistic books, including The God Delusion. Additionally, his pro-life stance has been well documented.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (center), receives a Doctorate of Divinity honoris causa from Metropolitan Jonah (right), primate of the Orthodox Church in America, on the campus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, while Dean Archpriest John Behr (left) looks on. Also participating in the ceremony were seminary Chancellor Archpriest Chad Hatfield and Associate Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. John Barnet (background, from left). [PHOTO: Joseph Olas]

Particularly noteworthy among the audience was the attendance by bishops in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), a “Province-in-formation” within the global Anglican Communion. Newly formed in June 2008, it represents a traditional, conservative, and “biblically-faithful way of following Jesus,” in opposition to many current practices that members say are “accommodated and incorporated” by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada, according to the group's Website

The Rt. Rev. Ray R. Sutton, the Ecumenical Bishop from the ACNA stated, “With grateful hearts to Metropolitan Jonah, we welcome and rejoice over his vision and commitment to restoring Anglican-Orthodox dialogue. We who are faithful Anglicans thank St. Vladimir’s for its deep commitment to the faith once delivered and its love for others outside Orthodoxy who share likeminded love for the love and truth of Jesus.”

Likewise, The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth in the ACNA, said, “The real significance of today’s events goes far beyond the awarding of an honorary degree to Dr. Rowan Williams. By conferring this degree upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Vladimir’s has expressed respect and affection for Anglicanism, as well as a hope for a deeper relationship between Anglican and Orthodox Christians. Metropolitan Jonah has spoken of this new vision in a very inspirational way.”

Dr. Williams’s U.S. tour also included an address at the Desmond Tutu Center in New York City, and a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. His main purpose in the New York metro area was to participate in the 2010 Trinity Institute’s National Theological Conference themed “Building an Ethical Economy: Theology in the Market Place.”

A podcast of the lecture and academic convocation may be found soon on the Website of Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), who graciously agreed to record and archive the event Additionally, the lecture will be made available in print form on the official Website of the Archbishop of Canterbury A photo gallery and accompanying speeches related to the event will be posted soon.