Today is not only the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, but also a day with so much significance for us that January 28th is given a special place on the Ordo Calendar as printed for Anglicans in our churches as the feast of the Preservation of the American Episcopate. In 1978, on this day, in Denver Colorado, four Episcopal priests were consecrated as bishops for the purpose of Continuing the faith and practice of orthodox Anglicanism. The decision was reached late in 1977 that action had to be taken to preserve our Faith and valid sacraments. And so, to keep the Apostolic Succession of bishops alive, these men were consecrated even though it meant that they were forced to leave the Episcopal Church. On that day was the birth of the Anglican Province of Christ the King, and of the Anglican Catholic Church. Those four bishops were brave enough to leave the security of the Pension Fund, and all the safety of a large well-endowed organization, because something far more important was at stake, namely the truth. The truth makes demands on the conscience because the world is always in the grip of spiritual warfare. If not for the reality of human sin, the conscience would be easy to live with, and would never call us to painful duties.
The last remaining bishop to have been consecrated that day, that is the only one out of the four who is still active (and I think the last one who is still alive), is our own Archbishop, Robert Morse. Not only does he remain active as our Archbishop, but he also remains active as a chaplain at the University of California in Berkley (which he has been for more than fifty years), where he still goes to the campus just about every weekday and continues a very genuine ministry of personal evangelism among the students. Many years ago, the Rector of Christ Church in Carefree, our friend Fr. Steven Dart, when a student at Berkley, was converted through the ministry of Archbishop Morse. The Archbishop uses the Confessional as an evangelistic tool, and so it was in the Confessional that Fr. Dart was converted. And, the Archbishop has his office at our own Saint Joseph of Arimathea Seminary right there near the Berkley campus. He spoke of the day that followed his consecration by relating a mystical experience: He realized that he was carrying the cross in a way new to him. He felt its weight when faced with the new work he had to do. Earlier this year, in Wisconsin, Archbishop Morse was reminiscing for our benefit about that and the events that led to the consecration, including his own personal experiences of the dangers of spiritual warfare that he had endured as a priest serving under the infamous, the notoriously heretical, Bishop James Pike, the Episcopal bishop in San Francisco in the 1960s. He said that from Bishop Pike he learned the meaning of brutality- and Archbishop Morse is a World War II combat veteran.
Heresy is brutal, and the cold-heartedness with which ecclesiastical office holders like Pike have been so willing to crush the hearts of people who looked to them for spiritual leadership, is best expressed by the title of a book written by the retired Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina (who ordained my brother many years ago), Fitzsimons Allison. That title is The Cruelty of Heresy. Indeed, it is very cruel. I think of a lady I knew for years, a saintly matriarch of a large family in Catonsville, Maryland, forced to choose between the place that for more than eighty years had been for her the house of God, where all her family including her husband were buried, and the truth. That old church, with its stained glass, its walls covered with angels, its marble altar where the sacrament had been consecrated perhaps as many as a million times, had been her spiritual home, a bit of heaven on earth. Maybe some people would think of it as unworthy or carnal to be so attached to one place. But, I do not think so; people do have sentiments and deep feelings, affections for their memories, and attachments to the holiness of sacred space. There she was baptized as an infant. There she was confirmed. There she was married. There her husband’s funeral had been held. There she helped to teach the faith to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. There she had received Holy Communion thousands of times in over eight decades. With the Diocese of Maryland having taken over that church because the people of the congregation felt compelled to give it up, again due to the demands of conscience, this lady was forced to decide. Leave to go with her faithful brethren, or stay under the power of an unbelieving bishop?
The cruelty of heresy is that it forces such choices. And, that is only the smallest of its cruelties. Its greatest cruelty is that it aids the damnation of the soul rather than the salvation of the soul. It gives sweet comfort to the unrepentant sinner, a false security that his sins are not a separation from God. On the Last day it will not deliver anyone from the pains of Hell. Its other great cruelty is to both discourage and blame the true believer who does follow the demands of conscience. It heaps upon the honest believer false charges of meanness, of hatred, of bigoted intolerance. But, who is the real bigot? Is it the one who thinks and reasons that God does not contradict Himself or change His mind? No. The real bigot is often the one who imagines himself to be truly enlightened and sophisticated, but who, in reality, lives by a prejudiced rejection of Christian teaching, a prejudice he mistakes for knowledge. Another cruelty of heresy is that, in the name of a new and up to date religion, it restores the terror of the grave. Where do people go when they discover that the leaders of their church no longer believe in the Incarnation? What do they do when they find out that those leaders themselves are the ones who deny everything that the same church had once taught them to believe? If the clergy cannot say the Creed with sincerity, where does that leave the people?
The priests who left the Episcopal Church that day, by becoming bishops at the hands of Bishop Albert Chambers of the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Francesco De Jesus Paktigan of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church, were forced out by the truth. So were all the people who went with them. The only way to keep the faith of the Episcopal Church alive was to leave the Episcopal Church, and to teach that faith without compromise. It was necessary.
All these years later, here we are. We are deliberately mischaracterized as an angry bunch who are attached to old worn out ways and won’t change with the times. They say that we are only here because of the old Prayer Book (but the ‘79 book never hit the pews of the Episcopal churches until 1980- two years after the Denver Consecrations). They are always writing our epitaph, despite the fact that our numbers keep growing, and we keep building new churches. They think that all our congregations are old and have no future; but, most of our churches are filled with families and people of all ages. Most of the members of many congregations are people who never were in the Episcopal Church at all, but were evangelized or who converted from other backgrounds. But, make no mistake about the motives for the mischaracterizations: It is not that our critics believe we are dead: It is that they wish us dead.
What is it that the truth gives to us, after we have declared our independence from apostasy? It gives us freedom, as we know. It also give us power. The Holy Spirit works through the truth of the Gospel, because it is, as Saint Paul wrote long ago, “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.” Jesus healed the leper in today’s Gospel reading; and He was willing to enter the home of a Gentile to bring healing. This upset the religious authorities. To touch a leper was to touch uncleanness; to enter the home of a Gentile was to defile oneself- or so they taught. Let me remind you of what I said a year ago:
“[The leper] wanted not only to be healed, but to be clean; clean of leprosy which he saw as being itself a sinful state. Jesus not only heals him, but gives him the great restoration he desires. He sends him to the priests in the temple, and reminds him to offer to God the gift ordered in the Torah for the cleansing of a leper. He restores him to obedience to the Law, giving him the commandment to follow, right out of its pages. This was more than a mere ritual; the man was being given back his place in the religion of the God of his fathers, the people of Israel. More than only his body, his heart was healed that day.
“The Gentile, the Centurion, is not only a Gentile, but a Roman. He is what is called a God-fearer, not a convert to Judaism, but a worshiper of the true God nonetheless. However, he is not circumcised; and so, to enter his home is to make oneself unclean (again, by the rules of the rabbis of that time. The Torah really says no such thing). You may recall, from the Book of Acts, how many years later St. Peter would enter the home of another Centurion and God-fearer named Cornelius, and would say upon entering what difficulty he had doing so (for he was not supposed to enter the home of a man who is unclean).
“It is the Centurion who begs Christ not to come, and then proceeds to reveal the depth of his faith by saying ‘Only speak the word.’ Jesus, again looked upon a heart of faith. He knew that the true children of Abraham were those who believe, a teaching that would later be written down so eloquently by St. Paul. He knew that His own Divine presence carries with it the power to cleanse and to heal wherever He goes. His actions are never disorder, but the very essence of order; it is He Who made the heavens and the earth, and set them in their perfect course. He has come into the world to save us from sin and death, to bring order out of disorder, life out of death; to bring light into darkness, to make all things right. He alone has this power; though He has come and is a man who sees the outward appearance, He is also the Lord Who looks upon the heart.”
The Denver Consecrations were like these two healings. Certain religious authorities, to this day, condemn the decision taken by those four priests, and by those who went with them. It was “out of order” by their rule. But, it was the work of Jesus Christ, and the restoration of order into the chaotic turmoil created by the cruel and brutal spirit of heresy. And, because we have the Holy Spirit among us due to the simple faith that was expressed by that “man under authority”, we can reach out to the world around us as Jesus did. We can touch the pain of its uncleanness with the gift of healing; because there is no substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. We have the ministry of the word and of the sacraments; we have the medicine that people need. And, this is because we allow the truth to teach our conscience, especially that great truth of the Incarnation, that Jesus is the Lord.