by Fr. Andrew Phillips
With four decades of divisive turmoil, you would think that most Anglicans would recognize that by allowing so much liturgical, theological and pastoral nonsense throughout the decades within their gates, they are now the inheritors of a ship which is on the bottom of the ocean. Sadly, this is not always the case. As a former Episcopalian myself, I’m particularly interested in the plight of fellow Anglicans, and wish more of them would consider the Orthodox faith seriously – it is what they are working, trying and looking for.
The Orthodox Church IS the Church of the Fathers of the Anglican tradition.
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.
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.
Mark Williams says
Thanks for your article about why Anglicans don’t join Orthodoxy. I appreciate your candour and the points you make are all valid. However as a cradle Anglican who is exploring Orthodoxy I would want to take issue with your observations re women bishops and practicing homosexuals. I came to faith within Anglicanism and from the beginning have tried to live out my faith within its fold. Women’s ordination was not an issue at the time and it is only in later years when it was beginning to be debated that I started to have misgivings. Even then I had the dilemma of where would I go if I could not agree? For me then (and now), Roman Catholicism was not an option and Orthodoxy did not have a high enough profile in Britain. Also the homosexual issue is something every church has to deal with. The fact is that I never encountered it in any sort of open form. We had suspicians but no concrete evidence. It was not a case of naivity but of not wishing to judge on the basis of hearsay. It is becoming more and more of a struggle to stay because of this but having been an Anglican all my life and kept fellowship with those who genuinely want to keep the faith it is no easy decision to consider leaving.
Besides issues like the above can be used as triggers by God to start a person thinking in a different way. Before I really started reading in any depth about Orthodoxy I did not have much of an idea of what else was out there other than Roman Catholicism. I therefore was not able to fully appreciate the importance of tradition etc.. When you are on the inside of Orthodoxy it is easy to take these things for granted but when you have known no different then your world is the only world there is.
You have to also take into consideration that people like myself are, as your website anticipates,on a journey and for some, like me, it is a long journey. I am from a Charismatic Evangelical background where liturgy was not important and evangelism at all costs was. I have moved away from both those positions – or at least their extreme ends – and am moving more and more into a deeper love and appreciation of liturgy and tradition. It is because I am moving in that direction that I began to look more and more into the roots of both and discovered, hidden away, the Orthodox Church. It has taken a long time – 22 years – but I am progressing in that direction.
Also I suspect that there are some within Orthodoxy who have been baptized, chrismated and even attend church who still need to become fully Orthodox in the fullest sense fo the word and in the way your article hopes any prospective Anglicans will be. If “hell is paved with priests’ skulls” as St. John Chrysostom said, then it is perfectly possible that that includes nominal Orthodox laity too. Conversely devout Anglicans may well discover that as they acted in good faith and sought to love and serve their Lord outside the Orthodox Church their souls will not die but live.
I am a regular reader of your excellent website and the Preachers Institute one (In fact that particular website invited me to submit my blog “Pathway to Orthodoxy” for their 40 days of blogging challenge). I hope that you will be able to see where I am coming from just as I appreciate your position, even if it is a little over-stated in some ways.
Fr Mark Mesley says
Fr Andrew seems disappointed that so few Anglicans who are concerned about developments in our own Communion are thinking of joining the Orthodox Church … unfortunately, his article has not helped his cause! He may know lot about the Orthodox Church, but he clearly has a very limited knowledge of Anglicans, as he makes all sorts of generalisations, which are not necessarily true. For example, he tells us that we are a Protestant, non-sacramental Church … this is not true in the Anglo-Catholic circles I move in and many Catholic minded Anglicans would find his ignorant comments deeply offensive. Take his remarks about Anglican hymns, some of which are translations from Greek or Latin from the treasury of hymns from the undivided Church, for example, J.M. Neale’s many translations. Strange how some Eastern Orthodox equates Orthodoxy with Byzantine. In any case, many later Anglican hymns are perfectly orthodox in their theological content … much of his rant reads as an attack on the British Antiochian Orthodox Deanery! (which mainly consists of former Anglicans).
And, yes, Fr Andrew, you do make some valid points … why should anyone find it attractive that you fast for half the year? Judging by the small number of Eastern Orthodox who actually practrice their faith, neither do many cradle Orthodox either!
Fr. Andrew Phillips has never been an Anglican so I would suppose this article is based on his personal opinion rather than the perspective of a former Anglican. I am surprised his mention of “culture shock” did not actually mention ethnic culture which some potential converts find intimidating.
I imagine that there are quite a few Anglicans that know about Orthodoxy, but know nothing of the Western Rite. I have read conversations online about how people worry that they would have to become culturally Greek or Russian to become Orthodox. There is a NEED for people to know about Western Rite.
Fr. Andrew Phillips is not a supporter of the Western Rite. May even be considered the opposite by some… It’s a pity, especially since he is in England!
Clark Bailey says
I was an American Anglican ( Episcopal Church) from 1998-2009, I came to Anglicanism from a Baptist background when I was in search for the New testament Church. I really was drawn to Orthodoxy from my search but there was no Orthodox parish even close to where I live ( within 100 miles anyway). Anyway the past few years have saw Orthodox parsihes and missions spring up closer to home and myself and soem likeminded people are engaged in having an Orthodox mission started here locally, well to make a long story much shorter, the good fathers statements and attitude towards Anglos ( or at least the way I interpreted ) are just the way some people look at Orthodoxy ( as an ethnic religion) which is unfortunate from both perspectives. We must pray and work towards the unity that our Lord prayed for us to have.
Fr. John says
Welcome! Many of us came to Orthodoxy in the same way, and many, like my own parish, are loaded with those from a variety of backgrounds who have finally found the pearl of great price. Great email address, by the way!
philip toone says
Fr. Andrew is obviously unaware of the blatant racist attitudes to be found in many greek social clubs[churches]
Fr. John says
I’m quite sure Fr. Andrew is very aware of them. But then, they aren’t really any different from Anglican ones, just different foods.
Christ God appointed men as Apostles, yes, but the Apostle to the Apostles, the one
who first told them He is Risen, was a woman, Mary Magdalene. The Apostles had
to preach in synagogues where no woman could preach, to public pagan and mixed
scenes where a woman would be held in contempt and also be a lust inducing
distraction from the message by virtue of her femality
that said, I OPPOSE WOMEN IN THE PRIESTHOOD. Why? not because the
priest represents Christ to us, he also represents us to Christ, and in the Orthodox
Holy Liturgy there is not one word about the priest as mystically representing
Christ, but in the secret now usually open prayers, he claims to be in the position
of the Cherubim, as the whole body of the laity and clergy present also do earlier.
RC got a little too sacramental.
ONE. some of the reasons Christ chose men still pertain today, and more so
in other parts of the world, and might return as bad as then. TWO in time of
serious bad persecution, it is unlikely that a male priest will get raped on the
altar. THREE whatever biblical and historical and archaeological arguments
can be made for ordaining and consecrating women, the fact is all the arguments
made for this partake of fleshly concerns, about representing women, or having
power or whatever. Also the whole feminist thing being co opted by the perverts
doesn’t help. Also, when you have to oppose a cleric, there are fewer things
getting in the way when it is a man. Also, a corrupt woman priest could be
more dangerous than a man. Also, and as a woman who has been gullible I
can vouch for this, women are more deceivable THERE ARE WOMEN OF
MANLY MIND AS ALL SHOULD BE, but these are few.
Peter Bolton says
No one could be less welcoming. Thanks a bunch.
I find this article very mean-spirited and not Christ like at all. God grant you humility and love! All this commentary is doing is broadening the gap between Orthodox Christianity and others who might like to learn more about Orthodoxy. Why do we do this? I I am a devout Orthodox Christian who loves the Orthodox church. Interestingly, my husband and I have moved to a remote area of northern MI where there are no Orthodox churches. We have been welcomed by a small Anglican parish mission church here and I have struggled with many things regarding intercommunion, the cycle of services, feast days, etc. What I have observed to be good and right is that this particular parish regards the Eucharist as holy, the body and blood of Christ, observes the triune God, knows Christ is the head of the church, acknowledges the communion of the saints, and the necessity of continual repentance. Now, if those aren’t all the things that matter most and create a bridge to unity of the faith than I don’t know what is…ENCOURAGE don’t DISCOURAGE! Lord have mercy! I have also heard a few of the wonderful Anglican God fearing people I have met say that they explored Orthodoxy and hold true to it’s beliefs but did not feel welcomed by the Orthodox church. Let’s change that!
Mr Trebilco says
As someone who is condsideing coming back to God, as it were, and one from a somewhat default position ( whilst my mothers side was Catholic and lapsed and my Father nominally CoE ) and uncommited backgrond of the Church of Wales,
I find in this article a very brief summary of Orthodoxy, everything that I have been drawn to (sense of the sacred, the sacramental, ascetism,) that were lacking in the past experience of the current CoE/CoW.
I have every intention in attending a Russian Orthodox service very soon
Fr. John says
Mr Trebilco, let us know how we can help you.
This article seems to say that non-cradle-Orthodox are not welcome in the Orthodox Church. All converts will come with baggage. It takes time to become Orthodox, yes. This article is not the attitude of the father receiving the Prodigal, rather, it is the attitude of the rather sniffy brother of the Prodigal.
Fr. John says
It’s true that some Orthodox parishes are that way, but so are some heterodox parishes. Most are quite warm and welcoming. See for yourself what thousands of us have seen.