Monday, December 06, 2010

Fr. Andrew Phillips: Why Few Disillusioned Anglicans Will Join Orthodoxy

Reposted with permission from Journey to Orthodoxy.
Currently the Church of England is racked by division concerning the ordination of homosexual clergy and female bishops. There are now Anglicans who have already left or who are planning to leave the Church of England because they cannot square such ‘modernisation' with their consciences. Some speak of ‘the end of the Church of England'. Most who leave seem to join other Protestant groups or else go to Roman Catholicism. A third option is to start a new, or else join an old, ‘Continuing Anglican Church', of which there are several. A fourth option, the least likely, is to join one of the Orthodox Churches. Why is this fourth option by far the least popular? There are several reasons:


We must wonder about the motivations of those who object to ‘woman bishops'. The doctrine of the Church of England was largely moulded by a woman, Queen Elizabeth I, and the current head of the Church of England is her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II. The wider Anglican Communion has had ‘woman-bishops' for years. And what logic is there in the concept that you can have ‘woman-priests', but not woman-bishops? This is like saying that you can have woman-teachers, but not woman-headteachers. You cannot help suspecting a certain misogyny and clericalism in the opposition to ‘woman-priests' in what is, after all, a Protestant, that is, non-sacramental, denomination. The reason why female clergy are unthinkable in the Orthodox Church is not because of misogyny, but because Christ-God did not appoint women as apostles. If Anglicans were going to leave the Church of England about female clergy, they should have left when female clergy were first introduced. However, if they wished to join the Orthodox Church because of this issue, then they needed a positive reason to join it, not a negative reason to leave somewhere else.

Again, there is much lack of logic with the question of homosexual clergy. They have existed for generations in the Church of England and relatively openly. A small section of senior clergy of the C of E long ago gained notoriety for sodomy and pedophilia in public schools. As one member of the C of E said to me a few years ago: ‘I can't see anything wrong with it, as long as they are discreet'. In other words, everything is fine as long as you are hypocritical. Orthodox look for honesty, logic and consistency in the motivation of those who say that they wish to join the Orthodox Church. How otherwise will former Anglicans reach the next stage, when, having formally joined the Church, they actually have to become Orthodox, which can be a very different story.

2.The Tradition, the Liturgy and the Sense of the Sacred

Few Anglicans will join the Orthodox Church because our liturgical heritage is so radically different – the Orthodox Church is nearly 2,000 years old, the Church of England not yet 500 years old. Therefore, in the latter, standing up and singing Victorian or modern songs together and sitting down and listening to long speeches about current events (sermons) is very important. In the Orthodox Church we come to church to pray, following rites which have scarcely changed since apostolic times, as for example is witnessed to by baptism by immersion, confirmation given with baptism, communion in both kinds, communion given to babies, confession, our frequent use of the sign of the cross (and in its original form), the use of candles, incense, a screen, a veil over the altar doors and a seven-branched candlestick. For the same reason of apostolicity, we stand for worship, both our creed and calendar, confirmed in the fourth century, are zealously adhered to and we do not use the novelty of organs or other musical instruments.

Orthodox worship therefore comes as a culture shock to those who come from forms of worship which date back only few generations or at best, a few centuries. Moreover, Anglican worship, when not wholly moulded by modern secularism, is defined by its revolt against Roman Catholicism. And the latter, despite many abuses and deformations, is actually older than that of the Church of England and still has some liturgical sense - though at present its sense of the sacred, of holiness, is often utterly deficient. To be honest, it is clear that Anglicans have simply lost the sense of the Tradition (the inspirations of the Holy Spirit over nearly 2,000 years) and therefore they only have recent human conventions and customs to mould their worship. And in losing the Tradition, Anglicans have also lost the sacraments and sacramental sense. This can be the only explanation for their introduction of female clergy, who, in their case, are social workers – and some of them surely very good social workers - but not priests.

3.The Ascetic Sense

The Orthodox Church is the only original Church, therefore it is an ascetic Church, as it was in the times of St John the Baptist, of the apostles in Jerusalem, as it was in the catacombs, as it was in the deserts of Egypt, as it still is today. Our guardians are in monasticism, which has nothing to do with the secular criteria of the Church of England. The fact that we stand for worship is for example an almost impossible barrier for most Anglicans. The fact that we are called on to fast for half the year is another impossible barrier for most. For example, our whole ethos of preparation for communion, fasting, reading of prayers and confession, is alien to a group in which people are used to having a fried breakfast and then an hour or so later taking communion. It is clear to Orthodox (as also to many Anglicans) that our understanding of communion is totally different. For them it is a mere memorial with bread and wine, for us it is the burning presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Prayer, fasting, standing, confession – all these practices are alien to the Church of England and yet essential to the Gospel and therefore to Orthodoxy. Lifelong Orthodox actually believe in the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation and Divinity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God, the Cross, Providence, holiness (the Holy Spirit acting in the material world), the saints, the angels, relics, icons and miracles. Anglicans have produced no saints over nearly 500 years (though a very few do speak of St Charles I) and most of them tell me that they are proud of this and that they do not believe in saints. True, we Orthodox are not always very devout in our Orthodoxy and not very punctual at our services, but we would not think of abolishing any of the beliefs of the Church or the practices of prayer, fasting, standing and confession. The Church is the Church, regardless of our human weaknesses. We do not adapt the Church to the world (secularism), as Henry VIII did and as Archbishop Rowan Williams is in fact allowing through weakness. In Orthodoxy, the world adapts to the Church, not the other way round.

4.Becoming Orthodox

Some former Anglicans have in the past joined the Orthodox Church. Many have integrated the Faith and, after joining, have actually become Orthodox. Others, sad to say, having joined the Orthodox Church for negative reasons (disillusionment with the C of E) or for purely academic reasons and not for positive reasons (the realisation that without Orthodoxy their souls will die), and so not become Orthodox. As a result they have tended to split off from the mainstream, closing themselves off in little groups, where they practise what is in fact an approximate if very confused Orthodox rite with Anglican practices, a ‘make it up as you go along' attitude. This means intercommunion, no confession, no fasting, sitting down during the services (indeed, virtually no services beyond the eucharistic liturgy), the use of Anglican hymns, the use of the Anglican calendar, no iconostasis, parish politics, and ‘protesting' (= Protestant) attitudes towards Orthodox bishops and resulting divisions and boycotts of their respective cathedrals and bishops.

Another problem here is the refusal by many ex-Anglicans to accept that Orthodoxy is international. Unfortunately, Anglicans who are used to ‘uninational' parishes find it very difficult to accept the multinational parishes, which are the reality of real Orthodoxy. Without the presence of other Orthodox nationalities, they will not learn Orthodoxy, they will not actually become Orthodox. The presence of ‘foreigners' among them should be greeted by them and they should accommodate them, accepting parts of the service in ‘foreign' languages (xenophobes must realise that every ‘foreign' language is someone else's native language). The nationalist exclusivity of many ex-Anglicans, to be frank, their phyletism or nationalism, and refusal to come to terms with the sometimes very, very dark national history of England/Britain, is not acceptable in the multinational Orthodox world. In our parish we have eighteen nationalities, from Russian to Greek, Romanian to Syrian, Australian to Latvian, French to Bulgarian – this is reality. History shows us that tiny ex-Anglican groups, unintegrated into the mainstream of the Orthodox Church, are basically just more ‘Continuing Anglican Churches' and are not taken seriously by the rest of the Orthodox Church.


The chances are that most Anglicans will remain in the Church of England, though some will leave for Roman Catholicism and some for various sub-Anglican groups, perhaps headed by ‘African Anglicans'. It is not to be expected that many will wish to join the Orthodox Church – for the four reasons expressed above. Of course, all are welcome to come and see, as is everyone, whatever their background in this country, whether they belong to the 2% who are practising Anglicans or the 98% who are not. Some, as we know, not only do join our Church, but also find their spiritual home with us and in due course become Orthodox. If you can accept us, as we are, welcome! But please do not come with your own agenda or else you will also be disillusioned.

Fr. Andrew Phillips
St Edith of Wilton
16/29 September 2010

The above raises some interesting points which I think are fair, if perhaps expressed a bit triumphantly. I would and do take exception to the suggestion that Anglicans are unfamiliar with prayer. That strikes me as rather uncharitable hyperbole. In my mind the principal barriers that Anglicans have with respect to Orthodoxy are two.

1. Ignorance. Most Anglicans have had little or no contact with the Orthodox Church. In many places there are no Orthodox churches for many miles. The vast majority of Anglicans don't think about us because we are invisible. And as the old saying goes... "out of sight, out of mind."

2. Culture shock. Anglicanism is a distinctly Western form of Christianity with roots in the Roman Church, but having drifted more and more towards overt Protestantism over the centuries. That drift has accelerated in recent decades. Orthodoxy is a profoundly liturgical Faith with its roots lying in the Roman Empire of the East. We are in a word, Byzantine. Our rites are about as alien to most Anglicans as one can get. Overcoming that is extremely difficult for many Western Christians.


The Archer of the Forest said...

I will buy your first point that many Anglicans simply do not know much, if anything, about the Orthodox church, which is indeed unfortunate. I often regret not discovering the Orthodox church in any detail until after I was out of seminary and already ordained in the Episcopal Church

I don't know if I would agree with your second point. At least for us High church Anglicans who have a great appreciation for liturgy, I think many Anglicans if they actually engaged with Orthodox liturgy would fall quite in love with it.

I attended a Ukrainian Orthodox church on Wednesday for Compline on a fairly regular basis when I was at my first Episcopal parish. I admit there were many things about the liturgy I had never seen before or even quite understood, but I thoroughly loved it.

I will grant you that such liturgy is well outside the realm of experience for most Western Christians, but I know many former Anglicans who wouldn't go back to Anglican liturgy if you paid them. I know if the Anglican Communion collapses, I know Orthodoxy would be the first door I'd be knocking on. Maybe I'm a special case...

Anonymous said...

Why not offer the St. Tikhon rite orr the St. Gregory rite? Might well improve the odds. Statmann

margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Igumen Gregory said...

I think that as we Orthodox begin to think more in the missionary aspect of our history, we will find the emergence of an Orthodox Western Rite can be a very valuable tool, not only for uprooted Anglicans but as a tool for eventual reconciliation of Roman Catholicism to Orthodox Unity. Pray that Christ our God will hasten the day!

Anonymous said...

couldnt help but comment on your "We are in a word, Byzantine." why do so many use byzantine? that term, in its religious application, was coined by a catholic... archbishop elko of the ruthenian catholic church... to describe themselves

John (Ad Orientem) said...

why do so many use byzantine?

I share your distaste for the term. But like it or not it has become the accepted term of reference for what was in truth the Eastern Roman Empire. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow in order to avoid confusion.


bob said...

The WR is only a few years older than the 1979 BCP. I wouldn't suggest it. Too likely to give the idea that "We didn't have to change very much!" which is an illusion. Going from having to be responsible for just the history since the Tudors (and having to constantly carry around the baggage of that "solution") and all at once being responsible for 2000 years of the faith is a big leap. There are just a huge number of things Anglicans don't consider every day. The Orthodox are also a very flaky lot. I wouldn't inflict a lot of the current situation on a newcomer even thought I believe the Faith is true. Ignorance is there because ---Well, what else have they GOT? Bishops? Theologians? Are you KIDDING?? If you have no catechesis you pretty well have no laity. And it's laymen that get made into clergy, and eventually you have Rowan Williams and Mrs. Schori. In the latter case I knew her mother, and I know she tried, but there you are. The usual Anglican layman isn't in a position to make many intelligent decisions about doctrine. They haven't been taught any, ever.

Anonymous said...

Bob: if you are looking for liturgical age in the WR, the St. Gregory rite should easily pass the test. Statmann

William Tighe said...

Here are my thoughts on the "Liturgy of St. Tikhon:"

I suppose that I should alert readers to the fact that the subsequent comment thread turns rather contentious mid-way through it, and that, although not the initiator, I am one of the "contenders" in it.

David said...

The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is a Western Liturgy so long as it is in a language of the West. I have been to many high church Anglican parishes that had beautiful liturgies and in many places I saw a liturgy that sounded like the Divine liturgy of St. John. I love God so I love the liturgies period. One thing I really found that I loved was that in the Orthodox liturgies they were heavily laden with theology, which I find a very important feature. People say liturgies are cold and dead. I disagree with that very much. Without faith the liturgies are words, with faith they are alive, they are a sanctuary in this life. They are living faith. I hope to get a WRO mission started in the Sacramento area. It isn't a preference of one over the other it is living my faith. If WRO is Orthodox then there should be no matter if a parish is Eastern or Western. What ultimately matters is that we are Christ followers. I do think the WR has something to offer in that it can reacquaint the East with the Orthodox Saints of the West, Saint David (Dewi Sant in Welsh). For Orthodox to remain healthy and Orthodox we have to love the Saints East and West, we have to love the Liturgies East and West. Why? Because they both are a product of God. We are one church. I want to experience every accepted liturgy. I want to get past the local customs such as Greeks saying "Amin" in parts of the liturgy where other jurisdictions say it isn't supposed to happen. I wish sometimes there was more affirmation of the truth by lay people, better than ignorance of it or worse ignoring it.