Project Canterbury

What Might Have Been
By Leicester C. Lewis, Ph.D.

The Christian East, 1932, 13: 2, pp 79-80.

In view of the steadily increasing friendship between the Eastern and Anglican Churches, I am glad to put on record the account of a serious attempt at intercommunion, made in America now nearly thirty years ago, which in the mysterious providence of God miscarried.

It will be recalled that at the famous consecration of Dr. Weller as Bishop Coadjutor of Fond du Lac (Wisconsin) in 1900, both Bishop Koslowski of the Polish Old Catholics and Bishop Tikhon, later Patriarch of the Russian Church, were present, in the chancel vested. The photograph taken of the bishops at this consecration popularized the significance of the service, and well it deserved to do so. Every one of the vestments contested during the previous fifty years in the Anglican Communion was used at this solemnity, under the authority of the bishops commissioned to consecrate by the Presiding Bishop of the American Church. The three episcopal ministers of the altar wore the full eucharistic vestments, besides cope and mitre, and the Assisting Bishops were also in cope and mitre. Incense and processional lights were used, and the Blessed Sacrament was reserved on a side altar. Therefore practically every point of consequence which had been in litigations during the Ceremonial Revival was employed here under the highest possible authority. Moreover when criticism of the service was made in certain quarters, Bishop McLaren of Chicago, himself one of the assisting bishops, and recognized as the foremost canonist in the House of Bishops, publicly invited anyone who could do so to test formally the legality of the service. None dared to do this, and hence the Fond du Lac consecration closed an epoch in the story of the revival of Church ways in America.

The ceremonial importance of this beautiful service has long been known and appreciated, but it had a little known sequel, which I wish to chronicle here.

The Russian Bishop Tikhon, as I have said, was present vested, and it had been the intention of Bishop Grafton, the Chief Consecrator, to have him join with the American prelates in the actual laying on of hands. Owing, however, to the strong opposition of one of the assisting Bishops, this did not happen, and the Russian bishop was "merely present." Bishop Tikhon, however, remained in terms of close intimacy with Bishop Grafton, and indeed through the latter's influence was made an honorary doctor of theology at Nashotah Seminary.

Not long after this, Bishop Tikhon, with his seat in New York, found it necessary to consecrate a bishop for the Orthodox Church in Brooklyn. The candidate was Archimandrite Raphael, whose jurisdiction was to be among the Syrians. At that time there were only two Orthodox prelates in America, Tikhon of New York and Innocent of Alaska. Now it was that Bishop Tikhon, remembering the great service at Fond du Lac, and in view of all he had heard of things Anglican from Bishop Grafton, invited the latter to join in the consecration of Bishop Raphael, thus making up the canonical third consecrator.

The implications of such an act were of course obvious, and Bishop Grafton accepted the invitation with apostolic eagerness. His Chaplain in the East at that time was the Reverend Sigourney Fay, then still in Deacon's Orders, later Archdeacon of Fond du Lac and Professor of Dogmatics at New York. I, then a school boy, had known Fr. Fay at Holy Cross Monastery, and as a consequence he asked another friend, Clement Hoffmann, and myself, to come to the service as acolytes.

The chaplain and the acolytes arrived at the Russian Church on Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, in good time for the service, only to find that Bishop Grafton was unable to be present. He had been positively forbidden his leaving his bed. With Bishop Grafton's unstinted and lifelong devotion to Catholic ideals, we can be certain that this was no diplomatic illness.

So all that happened was that the Anglican chaplain and acolytes were present in the sanctuary without their bishop. The two Russian bishops conducted the ceremony, and consecrated without a third. We, however, were given places of honour behind the ikonostas, were separately censed, and received the unconsecrated elements of the Agapé at the end of the service. The Gospel was sung in several languages, including the original Aramaic words used by Our Lord.

As, in the years since, Fr. Fay became a Roman Catholic and later died, and as I understand that my acolyte companion of whom I lost track soon after the service has also died, it seems only fitting that the attempt at genuine Catholic fellowship between two great bishops and confessors, Grafton of Fond du Lac and Tikhon of Moscow, should be placed on record by the sole Anglican survivor of the attempt.

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