- Fr Victor E. Novak

[Fr Victor E. Novak is the rector of Holy Cross parish, located in the Ralston suburb of Omaha, Nebraska. Formerly part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), his parish became Western Rite Orthodox in 2013. In November 2013 Fr Novakbecame Dean of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. This article is from Virtue Online, July 16, 2012.]

In Advent 2010, Bishop Jack Iker of the Anglican Diocese Fort Worth offered "A Reflection on our Anglican Identity." In it, he said, "I invite us all to look beyond the surface level of our Anglican Identity, with its temptation to denominationalism, and go back to our heritage as Catholic Christians . . .

"This means that we are not members of a sectarian, Protestant denomination, but of the Catholic Church. Remember, the Church of England, which came to be known as Anglican, existed before the Reformation and traces its roots back to the Patristic age of the early Christian Church. This same Church, which predated the arrival of Augustine and his missionaries from Rome in the sixth century, is continuous with the Church of England that emerged from the sixteenth century Reformation. Reformed, yes, but not a new denomination, the Church of England still maintained the sacraments, creeds, and holy orders of the undivided Church of the early centuries, before the Great Schism of West and East in 1054.

"Knowing this, Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher famously said, 'We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds, we hold without addition or diminution. We stand firm on that rock.' And to that we might add that Anglicanism has no Scriptures of its own, no sacraments of its own, no holy orders of its own - just those of the Catholic Church that we have received. Fisher was right, as Anglicans we have no faith of our own.

"Like the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, orthodox Anglicans uphold the historic faith and order of the undivided Church. We are nothing more or less than Catholic Christians, seeking to be faithful to the teaching of the early Church Fathers and the Great Ecumenical Councils of the first centuries of Christian witness. With St. Vincent of Lerins, we affirm that the Catholic faith is that which has been believed 'everywhere, always and by all.' Wherever you find departures from this given faith and received order, you will find sectarianism, heresy and error."

Unfortunately, many Anglicans are losing sight of these facts as presented by Bishop Iker. The reports that I have received of the recent Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America by godly and learned priests who were in attendance, bear this out. There are clearly two Churches in the Anglican Church in North America: 1) orthodox Anglicans, and 2) 2002 Episcopalians - Episcopalians who simply drew the line with the election of Gene Robinson to the episcopate in 2003.

Despite assurances to the contrary, it does not seem that women's ordination is on the way out. In fact, every report that I received said that there were far more women in collars in evidence at the 2012 Assembly than there were at the 2009 Assembly. In addition, we are hearing rhetoric that is reminiscent of the Episcopal Church, such as that we are in a "period of reception" regarding the "ordination" of women; and that there are two "integrities" in the Church and that this was the understanding from the beginning.

Even worse are the continued compromises being suggested by those who really know the faith. Many otherwise orthodox Anglicans, while still arguing against the ordination of women to the episcopate and presbyterate, are willing to compromise and allow the "ordination" of women to the diaconate. This is despite the fact that the Scriptural qualifications for all three Orders are essentially the same and are clearly male, and that the unanimous witness of Catholic Christendom throughout the ages is that all three Orders are male in character. Once orthodox Anglicans are willing to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and the witness of Apostolic Tradition regarding the diaconate, what justification is there for not doing the same with the presbyterate and episcopate? Without the authoritative witness of Scripture and Tradition, any doctrine of Holy Orders is reduced to personal opinion and preference.

In support of such a compromise, we are sometimes hearing that both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism agree that women may be validly ordained to the diaconate, even if those Churches for reasons of discipline chose not to do so. We are also hearing from some quarters that women who have been "ordained" to the presbyterate are valid priests who can validly consecrate the Eucharist, but that they should not have been ordained and should not serve because it is a violation of Biblical headship and Catholic Order. There are even stories being told of women illicitly ordained to the presbyterate in the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and China who, while recognized as valid priests by Rome, were forbidden to exercise their ministerial priesthood by Church authorities because their ordinations were a violation of Catholic Order and Canon Law.

I knew these views were incorrect and the stories apocryphal when I heard them, but I decided to get authoritative statements from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches so there could be no doubt in anyone's mind. I contacted Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, Ordinary of the Anglican Ordinariate here in North America; Fr. Peter Stravinskas, superior of the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman whose publishing House, Newman House Press, published the Anglican Use Book of Divine Worship; and the Russian Orthodox Church, because the Moscow Patriarchate is by far the largest Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction in the world.

The following is my June 28, 2012 e-mail to Monsignor Steenson:

Good morning Monsignor Steenson,

My name is Fr. Victor Novak and I am the rector of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Omaha, Nebraska. We are a parish of the Anglican Church in North America. During the first decade of the new millennium I had served as the Ecumenical Officer for the Anglican Province of Christ the King and was very involved in the discussions that led to the issuing of Anglicanorum Coetibus. I will be attending the Forward in Faith North America Assembly in two weeks and I have a couple of questions for you.

First, we are beginning to hear voices among professed Anglo-Catholics that say women who are ordained priests are indeed priests, they are merely forbidden to exercise that ministry by Rome because it is contrary to Catholic Order. We are being told that some Roman Catholic women have been ordained in Europe by presumably dissident bishops, and in China out of perceived necessity, and that they have been recognized as valid priests but disciplined in Europe, and forbidden to exercise their priesthood in China. My understanding has always been that women cannot be validly ordained. Could you clarify this issue for me and shed any light on the truth or fiction of the stories about these alleged ordinations in Europe and China?

Second, we are hearing that although Rome does not ordain women to the diaconate at this time it is only a matter of discipline, and that women may be ordained to the diaconate and that the Roman Catholic Church does not dispute the validity of such ordinations. Again, my understanding has always been that women may not be validly ordained to the diaconate, and that the ancient Order of deaconess was a lay vocation much like the consecrated life and not the same as the diaconate. Could you clarify this for me? Thank you for your help.

I will be looking forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you every grace and blessing,

Fr. V. E. Novak+

Here is Monsignor Steenson's response:

Dear Fr. Victor, I am happy to answer your questions, because they are amongst the easiest I get these days.

1. It is not a matter of these women being irregularly ordained; they are invalidly ordained. This is a firm and settled teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church that women cannot be ordained deacons or priests. Perhaps the most accessible reference is Paragraph 1577 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2. You are correct on the question of women as deacons as well. It is not permitted, nor is it under consideration. The most definitive word on these matters is probably John Paul II's 1994 encyclical, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Note section four, where JPII says it is not a matter of discipline but a matter of the faith. Good luck on your meeting. I have many old friends in ACNA, and will keep you all in my prayers.

Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter / (713) 609-9292 While serving as an Ecumenical Officer during the discussions that ultimately led to the issuing of Anglicanorum Coetibus, I worked very closely with Fr. Peter Stravinskas, Ph.D, S.T.D.. He lived in Omaha at the time and we visited each others churches, dined together, and regularly communicated by e-mail and telephone. The priestly society which he heads has been very active in supporting the Anglican Use in the Roman Catholic Church, and he has great respect for our Anglican patrimony.

In response to my inquiry to him of June 28th, Fr. Stravinskas replied: "Paul VI in inter insignores and John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis have made it abundantly clear that 'The Church has no authority to ordain women.' Period. Any stories to the contrary are exercises in wishful thinking.

"On the diaconate for women, we face a different issue. Clearly, in the early Church there were deaconesses, but their 'ordination' was no different from that of lectors and acolytes - a blessing to engage in a particular ministry not involved in sacramental power."

In response to my e-mail to the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr. Anthony Bondi, Pastoral Vicar for Metropolitan Hilarion, called me on Friday, June 29th, and followed up our telephone conversation with the following e-mail:

Dear Father Victor,

It was a pleasure speaking with you.

This was passed on to me by the webmaster. His Grace is in Des Moines IA doing ordinations this weekend. So permit me to respond to you until he does so.

I also respond because there are a few priests who are attending the Forward in Faith Assembly who have asked me to attend and address their group.

Finally, I convey to you that I was once an Episcopal priest. I stayed to take care of my parish spiritually, until I simply could not take the level of apostasy anymore and left.

The teaching and practice of the Orthodox Catholic Church is that woman have never been, are not now, nor will ever be priests. Some scholars have pointed out on an old mosaic the word "presbytera" and concluded that there were female priests. The fact is that to this day the WIFE of a Presbyter in the Greek Church is called "Presvytera" as a sign of respect. So shoddy scholarship does not measure up to the 2000 year old Tradition of the Church.

As to the Diaconate: There is a big difference between "Deaconess" and "Female Deacons." We do not have any "Female Deacons" who have a liturgical role equal to the male deacon. In the early Church there were deaconesses who assisted with the naked baptisms of women as they were immersed. Today if a woman wished to be baptized it would be done in a public place with the wife of the priest or deacon assisting and with clothing on.

Now in all fairness, I must relay that there are a few Orthodox deaconesses in convents in Greece who bring communion to their fellow nuns who are in the infirmary as males are not permitted in those parts of the buildings.

The bottom line here, Father, is that the Anglican Church says that it is a "branch" of the Catholic Church (a self serving theory that both we and the Romans reject) but she continues to depart daily from the Tradition and Faith of the undivided Church. And even when she does try to keep that faith, she fragments into smaller and smaller pieces with more and more bishops.

Father Victor, you seem like a sensible man, why don't you and the rest of the like minded men come as a group into the Western Rite of the Russian Church?

I will send you the Orthodox BCP as promised.

Fraternally in Christ,

Fr Anthony Pastoral Vicar to the Metropolitan for Western Rite

Finally, I wanted to get the official position of the Polish National Catholic Church on the ordination of women to the presbyterate and the diaconate. In 2008, the Polish National Catholic Church issued an official profession of faith called the Declaration of Scranton. The Declaration of Scranton is based on the 19th century Declaration of Utrecht, but includes contemporary issues such as the ordination of women and the blessing of same sex-unions. In 2009, the PNCC issued an official Commentary on the Declaration of Scranton. The Commentary was approved by the PNCC Church Doctrine Commission on September 8, 2009, accepted by the PNCC Clergy Conference on October 21, 2009, and adopted by the PNCC General Synod in October 2010. Regarding the ordination of women this official document says: "The Polish National Catholic Church rejects the ordination of women to the three-fold office of diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate in concord with the practice of the Undivided Church, the teaching on Apostolic Succession and ministry, and the living Tradition of the Church."

There is a complete Catholic consensus among the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Polish National Catholic Churches that the sacrament of Holy Orders is male in character and that women may not be validly ordained to the episcopate, presbyterate or the diaconate. Until the 1970s this was also the position of the Anglican Communion.

The 1920 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion declared, "The Order of Deaconess is for women the one and only order of ministry which has the stamp of apostolic approval, and is for women the only order of ministry which we can recommend that our branch of the Catholic Church should recognize and use" (Resolution 48). In order to make clear the distinction between the revived perpetual diaconate and the Order of Deaconess, the 1920 Lambeth Conference also stated, "The deaconess order is modeled on the diakonia 'of the primitive rather than of the modern diaconate of men'" (Resolution 49).

The Order of Deaconess was restored in the Church of England in 1861, and by canon in the Episcopal Church in 1889. The Order of Deaconess also exists in the Anglican Church in North America. Deaconesses render valuable service to the Church and are identified by their blue habits. The Handbook for the Order of Deaconess says, "The Order of Deaconesses is an ancient and Apostolic vocation for lay women in Christ's Church. It is a Scripturally based, theological appropriate venue for women who feel called to ministerial service." For more information on the Order of Deaconess I invite you to visit the website of the Anglican Deaconess Association:

In his presentation, A Reflection on our Anglican Identity, Bishop Iker said, "I invite us all to look beyond the surface level of our Anglican Identity, with its temptation to denominationalism, and go back to our heritage as Catholic Christians... This means that we are not members of a sectarian, Protestant denomination, but of the Catholic Church." Unfortunately, it seems that we may be succumbing to the temptation of denominationalism and cafeteria-style Catholicism. In order to hold the ACNA together many otherwise orthodox Anglicans are willing to live with "two integrities" regarding the presbyterate at least for the foreseeable future, and to compromise with the advocates of women's ordination by abandoning the universal Catholic teaching on the diaconate. Yet Bishop Iker reminds us that, "Anglicanism holy orders of its own - just those of the Catholic Church which we have received... Wherever you find departures from this given faith and received order, you will find sectarianism, heresy and error." It is alarming that advocates of women's ordination in the Anglican Church in North America can be considered "conservatives" and "orthodox" today. The truth is that they would have been considered liberal-modernists in 1976, and remain so today. They are considered conservative and orthodox only because the center has moved so far to the left over the past forty years.

As Anglicans, we are standing at the crossroads. Never have the ecumenical opportunities been greater. We have the opportunity today to fulfill our vocation of being a bridge Church and working to reunite the broken Body of Christ. The other branches of the Catholic Church are beckoning to us, and the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church is drawing closer to us as the Catholic Revival in that denomination continues to advance. We may indeed be on the verge of a New Springtime for the Church, and a family reunion that will see the Body of Christ breathing again with both lungs: Eastern and Western. But all of this will be lost if we succumb to the temptation of denominationalism, for as Bishop Iker has said, "Wherever you find departures from this given faith and received order, you will find sectarianism, heresy and error." There will be absolutely no hope of Catholic reunion if we continue to allow the ordination of women to the presbyterate or the diaconate. None. Claims to the contrary are merely wishful thinking.

In 1961, Dom Anselm Hughes, one-time Prior of Nashdom Abbey, published a book called, The Rivers of the Flood. His book has had a great influence on my life and ministry. In it Dom Anselm Hughes reminds Anglicans of where our loyalty should be. He writes, "The first and most urgent matter to deal with is that of loyalty. Now in the Creed which in its Apostolic version is accepted by all members of the Church, either directly or vicariously, at their baptism; in the Creed which in its Nicene form they recite at every Sunday and feast-day Mass; they pledge their faith in the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. This is their first and largest loyalty, and those of whom we have been speaking as the Catholics within the Church of England consist of those to whom this allegiance comes always and instinctively first, and for whom all other loyalties, to the Church of England or the Anglican Communion, are made to rank as subservient to this over-riding, all-embracing, loyalty to the One Holy Church" (p. 146).

The bishops of the Anglican Communion, gathered in 1867 at the Lambeth Conference said, "We do here solemnly record our conviction that unity will be most effectively promoted by maintaining the faith in its purity and integrity, as taught by Holy Scripture, held by the primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils." It would be hard to find a more succinct definition of the Orthodox Christian Faith; and there can be no compromise in matters of the Orthodox Faith.

C. 2012 by Fr. Victor E. Novak