To Members of the Church of England who are Unhappy at the Degradation of their Communion and might consider ‘the Orthodox Option’
By Fr. Andrew Phillips
A few days ago it was announced that seven Anglican clergymen and 300 of their parishioners are to join the new Ordinariat of the Roman Catholic Church through the local Diocese of Brentwood alone. This follows the ordination of three former Anglican bishops as Roman Catholic priests at Westminster Cathedral a few days before. No doubt many more will follow them into the Roman Catholic option, understandably having been scandalised by the apostasy within Anglicanism. What is the point of view of members of the Orthodox Churches with regard to these events? Indeed, what are the Orthodox Churches?
The Orthodox Churches
The Orthodox Church is a Family or Confederation of fifteen Local Churches, as were the Churches of the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Romans, the Thessalonians, the Corinthians etc, as described in the letters written to them by the holy Apostle Paul 2,000 years ago. Today, however, instead of covering small communities grouped in cities around the Mediterranean, the Orthodox Churches cover countries and different ethnic groups all over the world.
Today, the Orthodox Church worldwide numbers 217 million. She ranges from by far the largest, the Russian Orthodox Church with 164 million members, to the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church, which is confined to the Czech Lands and Slovakia and has only 110,000 members. On the other hand, the Russian Orthodox Church is spread over 62 different countries, uses nearly as many languages in Her worship and a third of Her members were born and live outside Russia. Just as you do not have to be Roman to be Roman Catholic, so you do not have to be Russian to be Russian Orthodox.
Throughout our history, Orthodox have been persecuted by all sorts of groups, pagan Roman emperors, heretics, intellectuals, Muslims, iconoclasts, Roman Catholic crusaders, Mongols, Ottomans, Communists, freemasons, Nazis, sectarians etc. For example, the largest Orthodox country, Russia, was invaded no fewer than four times between 1812 and 1941, by the French and their allies, then by the French, the British and the Turks, then the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, and finally by the Nazis. This is in accordance with our Lord’s words of warning to His disciples in the Gospel that,
‘all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet’ (Matt. 24, 6).
The main thing is that the Orthodox Church is still here, for
‘the gates of hell shall not prevail’ (Matt. 16, 18).
Orthodox Christian Views of Non-Orthodox Christians
For those accustomed to the rather cozy, inward-looking Catholic-Protestant view of the Church, the Orthodox view may come as a shock, a disturbing reminder that there is ‘a third way’. This Orthodox view is that Roman Catholics are lapsed Orthodox. As for Protestants (therefore Anglicans), they are lapsed Roman Catholics. In other words, Catholics and Protestants are two sides of the same lapsed coin. As an outsider to the Catholic-Protestant view of the world, it took me many years to realise that this is why many Anglicans have to become Catholic before they are ready to knock at the door of Orthodoxy. It is phase that many have to go through. On the one hand, it is true that all that Protestants reject in Catholicism is also rejected by Orthodoxy, because it consists of deformations introduced in the second millennium. However, it is also true that for Orthodox, Protestants threw the baby out with the bath water and we still feel that Catholicism is closer to us than Protestantism.
This is why the Orthodox Churches have a reserved attitude towards those who come to us and ask to be received, simply because they are unhappy with their present situation. Thus, in 1995, when a group of about ten Anglican clergy and some 200 followers asked to be received automatically into the Orthodox Church on account of the Anglican ordination of women and that the clergy be automatically ordained as Orthodox priests, they were refused by both the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches in this country. Why?
Both Orthodox Churches felt that the reason for wishing to join the Church was negative. For example, their request could have been out of misogyny or clericalism, rather than for Biblical and theological reasons. Certainly many Orthodox found this all strange, when, after all, the doctrine of the Church of England had largely been dictated to it by a woman and the then head of the Church of England was a woman, the namesake of the first, and had been its head for over 40 years at that time. In order to join the Orthodox Church, first you have to love Orthodoxy. And love for Orthodoxy is proved by waiting, being prepared, being trained. And although another Orthodox bishop did later receive those Anglicans as a separate ex-Anglican grouping, the point had been made.
The Grace of God Brings us to the Church
The Church does not come to us. This is a Protestant view, with the superficial emotionalism of ‘outreach’ and contrived, short-term, all too human proselytism. The result? Here today, lapsed tomorrow. Rather, the grace of God brings us to the Church. It is rather like the young man who wants to join a monastery. He may be kept waiting at the monastery gate for many days and weeks to test how serious he is, whether he has come for negative reasons or positive reasons. Why does he want to join, for negative or positive reasons? That is the question.
For example, the young man in question may have had a failed love affair. That is hardly a serious or positive reason to join a monastery. Thus, someone who has never been to Orthodox churches many times and is not familiar with Orthodox worship, values and civilisation is hardly prepared to join the Orthodox Church. If someone who comes for negative reasons (disliking the policy of his current communion / ‘a failed love affair’) is allowed to join, he will not stay, because technically joining the Orthodox Church is not at all the same as becoming Orthodox and remaining Orthodox. And it is the latter that interests us.
For if you do not become Orthodox and therefore remain Orthodox, how will salvation be achieved? Certainly, not by lapsing from one communion, then coming to the Church, and lapsing from Her as well. Salvation will not come to us if we are not ready to accept the Church as She is and all we want to do instead is to make the Church in our own image. It is no good diluting Her for the sake of our own comfort and egoism, creating a ‘diet Orthodoxy’, because we cannot stand up for Christ at services or go to confession regularly. If people do not love the Orthodox Church as She is, then they must stay with the Protestant-Catholic world.
It is our belief that most of the understandably distressed people who are moving from the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion to Roman Catholicism are making the right move for themselves. (However, we also believe that their move and the ordination of married men, former Anglican clergy, as Roman Catholic priests will cause great problems for Catholicism itself, given its obligatory celibacy for its priests). For some Anglicans we see this move as a necessary preparation for Orthodoxy. We know full well, from nearly forty years of experience, that some of those who today are undertaking the move to Roman Catholicism will one day come knocking at the doors of the Orthodox Church. And they will have been made ready for that initial step only by the experience which they are setting out on now.
mary of egypt says
Thankyou so very much for all the spirit food
tyhe Greek Orthodox Church i attend is 70% in Greek
With this site you are really caring for my spirit food
gLORY BE TO gOD!!!
mary of egypt
This is a timely article. I am not Anglican and was received into the Orthodox Church six years ago. But in light of recent events in my jurisdiction, this article is an encouragement to me re: loving Her the way She is. Thank you.
Where is the OCA in all of this excellent information? The Orthodox Church in America with its English language services is truly a beautiful way for truth-seekers to find the fullness of Orthodox worship. Our congregation is a lovely mixture of ethnicities, cradle Orthodox and converts who gather together in worship and fellowship. Surely you could find a place to mention the OCA!
I enjoy your newsletter and have referred your site to many seekers.
After much similar thinking I agree with your assessment that these transfers, not conversions, to the Church of Rome will ultimately prove to be dissatisfying. One very important issue of potential trouble is the “demotion” of Anglican bishops to the status of priest, a process that can only contain potential resentment and ultimate stagnation. Additionally, will be the issue of forced celibacy that you mention, all of which suggests the creation of a vile and tasteless brew.
Father Andrew is addressing a particular situation from his experience of it here in Great Britain, which is where he serves as a priest. That is why he makes reference to the Church of England and some of the English dioceses of the Roman Catholic church. When he speaks of his forty years of experience with Anglicans, he is speaking primarily of Anglicans in Britain. As a former Anglican myself, who continues to converse regularly with North American Anglicans, I know that much of their culture, self-understanding, and way of thinking are quite different from those of many Anglicans here in Britain.
Bearing all of that in mind, it seems very appropriate that Father Andrew should largely limit his comments to his experience here in Britain. The Orthodox Church in America does not exist here. It has no parishes or missions here, and, while I cannot speak for him, I assume that Father Andrew’s experience of it is minimal. Most Orthodox Christians in Great Britain have no direct experience of the OCA, and it just doesn’t really enter our consciousness, apart from those of us who use the internet a lot and read about Orthodoxy in different parts of the world. I know from conversations that many have never heard of the OCA.
So please don’t take it as a slight that the OCA is not mentioned. Any mention would simply be out of context.
Peter Bolton says
Ah! Now Fr Andrew’s article about why few Anglicans will become Orthodox makes sense and doesn’t seem so cold and unwelcoming!
Tyrell Lewis says
“If people do not love the Orthodox Church as She is, then they must stay with the Protestant-Catholic world.”
When I hear a modern person say something like: “I am who I am and if you don’t like it, oh well.” I hear pride, blindness, and foolishness. Sort of the way our Lord said: “If you were blind than you would see, but since you think you see then you are blind.” He spoke to Pharisees who thought they had it all together and didn’t need to repent.
How is the comment above about the Orthodox Church any different? The way I take it, there is no room for true meditation and reflection, and so the Orthodox Church is going to be do what it wants no matter what. Remember how surprised the Pharisees were that Christ was not happy with them. The God they thought they were serving was not happy with how they were serving him at all. I hope this is not the state of the Orthodox church when Christ returns.
We should always be open to repent and to hear Christ’s command in Revelation: “Repent quickly before I take my candle stick from you.” No one is beyond repentance and as long as falible men are involved we should always be contrite and soft toward God commanding us to change our ways. I believe this statement reflects an unwillingless to being open to hearing God truly speak to the church since if God happened to speak and it was a command of repentance it could not be heard since the answer would be: “This can’t be the voice of God but only the voice of another persecutor who If they do not love the Orthodox Church as She is, then they must stay with the Protestant-Catholic world.”
Kathleen Peters says
I’m sorry that Tyrell has misinterpreted the article. I have come from Protestantism and Catholicism and I was very offended by a Russian Orthodox priests comments about 2 years ago. I sought to straighten him out with some facts and comments, though in a gentle way. He advised me to check out Orthodoxy and Her claims. I was converted through that. I read a lot from Fr. Seraphim Rose’s books, which you may like as well. God bless you in your search for truth.
Oliviana Pandan Kedu says
I am ex Anglican. Had excommunicated from Anglicanism since last year… This year is a first year I didn’t with them again. I always saw the corruption of Church of England everyday, I saw their priests always do something bad like drinking alcohols, smokings etc. I also choose Orthodox as my last option after an incident occured at June, 2017 where I was dreamed the Anglican Church collapsed and Orthodox Church rises from rubbles and I awoked after this in fear. The rest I will tell you all later after this.
David Minor says
Thank you for this article! It really helps me understand why the local Greek Orthodox priest treated us the way he did ( not bad but reserved and maybe skeptical ). It actually caused is to turn to the ACNA (originally Church of Christ and Methodist). But I still find so many things intriguing about Orthodoxy and feel it’s probably still the road we’re on. I just wish there was more of a presence of Orthodoxy here.
Fr. John says
David, let us know how we can help. It’s the only choice. And as far as having an Orthodox presence, again, let’s talk!
This articlle has been food for thought. I am an Anglican Christian who has been studying the schisms in the church after reading a book called ‘Orthodoxy’ and can say that I have grown to understand and be attracted to the Orthodox Church for who She is.
However, in Australia Orthodox Churches are seen to be closed ethnic clubs with closed doors and little or no presence in the wider community regarding communication, service, social justice or loving one’s neighbour as other churches are known for their presence. This selectivity and lack of visual light has made it difficult to know whether I would be intruding to visit a service so I have not made contact yet.
I am just wanting to ask why the Orthodox Church is not known for reaching out to unbelievers or lapsed Orthodox Christians if Mark 16:15 teaches to reach out to share the good news? This is a serious question of mine, not a criticism as I am genuinely drawn to Orthodoxy.
Fr. John says
Melanie, we are constantly busy reaching out to others. While those churches may ‘seen to be closed ethic clubs’ you should probably go and see for yourself which ones are primarily immigrants, and which are lively parishes welcoming newcomers. Things aren’t always as they seem. And it is no different here in America, where we are super busy with converts – but still ‘appear’ to those who know practically nothing about us that we are ‘ethnic’ somehow.
What’s funny is, once I entered the Orthodox Church, my old church looked far more ethnic and homogenous than any of my Orthodox parishes do, but I never though about that until I made the jump.
Go and have a look for yourself – but look for Christ.
Thank you for your reply and encouragement to check things out for myself. It can be a bit daunting as we have only belonged to multicultural congregations, but as you said things are not always as it seems. My husband suggested we visit together soon. We certainly will be looking for Christ.
Thanks again for your helpful writings.
This is exactly what I did. A “continuing Anglican” who went to an Orthodox church for nearly a year almost was baptized and then jumped ship to go the way of Rome by confirmation. Only after more reading and soul searching, years later did I realize that I needed that to shed my pride to finally understand that I have to submit to the church not “choose” and bend the church and it’s beliefs to me. I’m now back at Catechism and God willing will finally be joined to her Pascha 2022.
Oliviana Pandan says
I was an Anglican, now I’m ex Anglican. I also in process converting to Orthodoxy this time. Mean I still at middle of this until the pandemic almost destroying my plan to convert. But many people from Anglican church try to stop me from converting to Orthodoxy. I should tell them reason why I leave Anglicanism for Orthodoxy. Lord have Mercy on me.