How should you go about determining whether this group you’ve been looking into, the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, has valid sacraments? Is it, you ask, primarily a matter of lineage?
There are doubtless other factors to consider, but this is certainly a good place to start. As you know from your doctoral work on Guénon, the sine qua non of any authentic tradition is the regularity of its sacramental transmission, whether this takes the form of the silsila of a Sufi shaykh, the apostolic succession of the Church, or—within the Church—the “golden chain” (as Saint Symeon the New Theologian calls it) that exists between Hesychast masters and their disciples.
In the case of this Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, however, what we have—according to their own information—is a group tracing its history to one Joseph Vilatte, a Presbyterian minister turned Roman Catholic layman, who was ordained an Old Catholic priest at the urging of an Episcopalian bishop in Wisconsin, and who was then consecrated in Sri Lanka as a bishop for the North American western rite diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church (in 1892). Maybe I’m too suspicious, but this sounds pretty fishy to me! But it gets even worse….
In 1910, because the Syrian Patriarchate had “lost interest in the western rite”, Bishop Vilatte and Co. decided to go it alone, declaring themselves autocephalous, that is, self-governing—which fact, as they admit, was not recognized by the canonically Orthodox churches, and not surprisingly! A church can be granted autocephaly by a parent church, as happened when the Moscow Patriarchate gave self-governance to the Orthodox Church of America (not to be confused with this OCCA) in 1970; but no church can stake a claim to such status by some sort of unilateral decision.
He who chooses himself for a master has chosen a fool, it is said. Why? Whitall Perry provides an excellent answer:
“Freedom from self requires a method, and a method in turn means recourse to cosmic principles that transcend the limitations of the human individuality, which otherwise must find itself fighting fire with fire. For the self or ego exists by definition as a result of ignorance, and ignorance cannot overcome ignorance: ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’ (Mark 3:23). It is true that ‘if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law’ (Gal. 5:18), but this reservation is for those who have already transcended the law; and if blind pride alone can make those under the law consider themselves above it, so will true humility have those rare ones who may in reality be above the law comport themselves in a manner exemplary to those still under it. ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient’ (1 Cor. 10:23)” (A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, 271).
We think of egoism, naturally, in connection with individuals, but there is also such a thing as collective egoism—or perhaps in this case we should call it ecclesiastical egoism—and its fruits are evident in this group, whose current practices, including the admission of women to holy orders and the consecration of “same-sex” marriages, are in flagrant violation of the canons of both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, the pretentious claim implicit in their hyphenated nomenclature notwithstanding! It’s a puzzle to me why they don’t just become Episcopalians.
Orthodoxy after all is more than a name.