Forward in Orthodox Faith

An American-based friend recently sent me a message, asking about efforts on the part of Orthodox churches in Britain to reach out to Forward in Faith. I very rudely failed to reply in a timely fashion so have decided to make a blog post out of it in the hope that this will go some way towards appeasing the wrath of my acquaintance. I just hope that I don't offend too many people by responding publicly.

The answer is that I know of very little that has been organised on any sort of large scale. There is the quiet evangelism among individuals, for which Orthodoxy is known, but there's nothing such as the OCA's outreach to ACNA. While Metropolitan Jonah's address to their conference was outstanding and inspiring, and no doubt ideal for that context, it was tailored for a situation that is so far removed from the reality of church life in Britain as to be largely an irrelevance to us.

The impression I have got over the years, both as an Anglo-Catholic and now as Orthodox who hears the views of Anglo-Catholics about Orthodoxy, is that English (the factors facing those in Scotland and elsewhere may be different) and North American Anglo-Catholics simply do not understand each other. They may belong to the same genus but they are different species, and I suspect that much of it is historical. I am led to understand that the variety of Anglo-Catholicism known as Anglo-papalism is essentially non-existent in the USA, while among English members of FiF, it is by no means uncommon and may even be the position of the majority. The provinces of York and Canterbury were once under Rome in a way that other Anglican provinces never have been. Anglicans in England have a direct historical link to the patriarchate of Rome that those elsewhere do not, and I suppose Anglo-Catholics in England could find in this some sort of basis for a different ecclesiology from that of their American counterparts, seeing themselves simply as separated parts of the Church of Rome. The impression I get of American Anglo-Catholicism is that it sees itself as Anglican first, and seeks to establish/fortify within its Anglican context the ancient Catholic faith. From that position, the ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox churches and even the talk of possible corporate reunion is not beyond the realm of possibility.

This difference is borne out in worship. American Anglo-Catholics have traditionally used the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in one form or another, or have used one of a number of specially-tailored missals which have usually been based on the BCP but have been enhanced in some way. The result has always looked distinctively Anglican. To them, the concept of an Anglican church using the Roman Missal is simply incomprehensible. Not only can they not visualise it happening in reality, they cannot imagine why any Anglican would wish to do such a thing. Yet, in England, in many Anglo-Catholic parishes, that is precisely what happens day by day, week by week. Many of those that use Common Worship then use its various textual and rubrical options and loopholes, (and there are many), to make the end result resemble the Roman Missal as closely as possible. It doesn't stop at textual variations either. Many English Anglo-Catholic parishes also follow the liturgical trends adopted by their Roman Catholic counterparts, even if they aren't actually required by the Roman Rite, such as the laying aside of the chalice veil, the delegation of the priest's 'Let us proclaim the mystery of faith' to the deacon, and so forth. Chalice veils are often viewed as a middle-of-the-road affair by modern Anglo-Catholics here. North Americans generally do what they see best in their situation and would be less likely to turn to current Roman practice for a rule against which to measure their own.

This came to light when the talk first appeared of Anglican ordinariates under Rome, and the speculation began over what this would look like liturgically. The Anglican Use in the USA was approved some years ago, but, as we have seen, the Anglican liturgical tradition in the USA is quite different from here. In the British Isles, Anglican doctrine and therefore liturgics have often been, at least in part, a reaction against its neighbours. So the Scottish Book of Common Prayer was less Protestant than the English one in the doctrine that it expressed, as a reaction against Presbyterianism. It contained an epiklesis, among other things, and when Anglo-Catholicism appeared in the 19th century, those in Scotland would have looked at their prayer book and seen something with which they could work. (Incidentally, the Scottish Episcopal Church is still generally considered to be liturgically higher than the CofE, as is the Church in Wales, as a response to the "Chapel"). Of course, it was the Scottish Prayer Book tradition that was taken to the USA, and formed the basis of Anglican liturgical practice there. So, when those American Anglo-Catholics approached Rome and said, 'Right. We want you to receive us but we've got this Anglican liturgical heritage that we don't want to lose', Rome was able to examine their rites and see that, yes, there was something distinctive about it that they could take with them.

By contrast, the English Prayer Book was in many ways a reaction against Catholicism, and bore more marks of Protestantism than its Scottish equivalent. When Anglo-Catholicism came along, many found themselves quite unable to work within the constraints of such a book, and such books as the English Missal were published, which enabled the mass to be offered in what was essentially the Roman Rite of the time, only in English. That never really went away, and the result is that, if most Anglo-Catholics of the FiF variety were to now ask Rome to examine their rites so they could take their Anglican liturgical heritage with them, what Rome would see would be something that looks almost exactly like the Roman Rite, if not actually the Roman Missal itself. They would quite rightly ask, 'Where is this Anglican liturgical heritage that you want to bring with you?'

Now there are of course many exceptions to this, but in a large part, members of FiF with whom I have been in contact, both in my Anglican and my Orthodox days, have been Anglo-papalists. Rome is mother and Orthodoxy is some strange and foreign thing, which may be venerable for what it is but is in schism nonetheless. The sort of address that Metropolitan Jonah gave to ACNA and the standing ovation and cheers that punctuated it at various intervals would simply not happen here. Many simply have no time for Orthodoxy.

All of this means that the Orthodox response to FiF here in England at least will of necessity be very different from that in America. There are some members of FiF who are not Anglo-papalists but simply traditional Anglicans, who grew up with their Prayer Book and wish to continue their Christian lives in a context where they do not have to defend themselves against certain trends in the CofE or the eagerness of those around them to swim the Tiber. Many of them are somewhere in the Continuum, while others remain in the CofE. I suppose that it is to them that this effort is tailored. A couple of us who were initially involved with this left after a while, and what we had in common was that it was that we simply weren't part of the target group. I had been a liberal Anglo-Catholic and at the time had welcomed the revisions in the Anglican Communion, so I never felt driven out and in need of refuge elsewhere. My journey to Orthodoxy began because I took seriously my Anglican friends who disagreed and began to explore ecclesiology. In time, I saw their position as being just as untenable as my own and I came to Orthodoxy because I came to believe that it alone is the Church of Christ.

So my excitement about an Orthodox Western Rite was born not out of clinging to a Prayer Book but rather out of my love for the Orthodox history and heritage of Britain: its liturgies, its prayers, its music, its customs, its holy places - the Saints who would have known those prayers, who would have sung that music. I did not understand the existence within Orthodoxy of an Anglican-based rite, with Anglican chant, and Anglican hymns inserted into it. I still don't. Had I wanted that I would have remained Anglican, although it must be said that these rites reflect Anglican practice of years ago and would not be recognisable to many Anglican people today who might otherwise benefit from a Western Rite in Orthodoxy. That is not to say that these things no longer exist in Anglicanism but they are found in pockets rather than being the usual stuff of Anglican worship in England. The first time I ever heard Merbecke was when I was asked to lead the singing of it at these Orthodox services, and I had to learn it for the purpose. Anglican chant is something heard in cathedrals but not most parishes. As for the Prayer Book, services from that are something Anglican prayer Book enthusiasts have to go looking for because it is so uncommon, especially as a main Sunday service. Some places might use it for the quiet 8 o' clock service but even they are getting fewer and fewer.

I am sure that there must be other Anglicans who, like me a few years ago, cannot relate to incessant lamentation over the loss of the Church of England "as it used to be" because the Church of England as it is now is all that they have ever known, who find Prayer Book services alien to their daily experience of Anglicanism, and yet who might be open to be moulded by Orthodoxy if it weren't presented as something that is sniping at what has formed them into what they are today. And what of non-Anglican Christians who are nonetheless the inheritors of the western liturgical tradition in some form and who may wish to explore Orthodoxy: Sacramental Methodists, Roman Catholics, even Independent Catholics? What benefit are Anglican-style services to them? We may find the modern rites in use in these churches and in the CofE problematic but to pretend away the past 40+ years when they have been in use is to severely narrow our missionary efforts. The fact is that to many, possibly most, Anglicans in Britain today, Prayer Book services with Anglican chant, Merbecke, and the scent of teak oil in the air would take just as much adjustment as ancient western services with plainchant. Therefore, while I don't doubt for a moment that the Western Rite may well be more accessible to such people than the Byzantine Rite because the general structure of the Liturgy will be more familiar, and plainsong is commonly used in a number of Anglo-Catholic parishes, and this is part of their pre-schism heritage, if faced with a choice between ancient Orthodox rites with plainsong, and Prayer Book-based rites with Anglican chant and Merbecke, I see no good reason not to go with the former, but then it isn't my decision to make.

I don't mean to disparage the outreach that is happening here. After all, who am I? People are being brought into the bosom of the Church through it and this is always a cause for rejoicing, but I suppose I just have my own private reservations and concern for the relative isolation of some of those who are brought into the Church in this way. I still support them in prayer and would assist them if asked. I just suppose part of me is saddened that there is this splendid opportunity to reach out and it seems tailored only to a specific few: those who are old enough to remember, and wish to continue in something approximating the Anglican worship of 30/40 years ago.

So there's my answer to your question, my friend. There's enough there to certainly make it worth more than a Facebook reply.

11 responses:

Jon Marc said...

Thanks for the post! It can count as a reply and a half ;-). It's good to have a survey of what's going on in Anglo-Catholicism in the UK as opposed to the USA.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

It may be that the Orthodox Western Rite in USA may be "DEAD MAN WAL:KING" after the last Bishops Conference on the Unity of American Jurisdictions.
Metropolitan Jonah was well received but the ACNA is following the TEC road, only turning the clock back to 1976 accepting women's ordination. Archbishop Duncan and several bishops also accept this, only Fort Worth (Bishop Iker) and the Reformed Episcopal Church stand apart. The REC does have the old 'office' of Deaconess, which I do approve of as well).

Michael said...

You're welcome, Jon Marc. :-0

Thank you for your comment, Matthew. I have seen this mindset myself here in England. Because for a number of former Anglicans, the thing that made them realise they could no longer stay was the ordination of women, one still hears among some former Anglican converts to Orthodoxy reference to the glory days of the Church of England before it ordained women. The queen was on her throne, God was in his heaven, and all was well with the world. Yet this pre-OOW CofE was still an inheritor of the legacy of Augustine, it still had a rabid anti-sacramentalist and iconoclast element within it, much of which was enshrined in its authorised forms of service, it still held to the condemned heresy of the double-procession of the Holy Spirit, and still subscribed to an ecclesiology which did not see severance of communion with the Church as being a separation from the Church. All of these were serious problems with the Church of England for centuries before the idea of the OOW was ever countenanced, and any discussion of being embraced by the Orthodox Church would have been dependant on these things being corrected first, which is precisely what Metropolitan Jonah seemed to be saying to ACNA. When one looks at this bigger picture, the ordination of women is really of little consequence. If ACNA has not heeded Met. Jonah's words and its hierarchy seems content with simply turning the clock back a few decades, still allowing all of these communion-destroying problems to exist along with the cafeteria approach to the Ecumenical Synods that is currently ACNA's official position, then this is truly disappointing.

Now, I don't expect my Anglican friends or readers to agree with me. However, when Orthodox people seem to be essentially saying that the Church of England was really just an isolated Orthodox Church until the first bishop laid his hands on a woman's head, I'm afraid I just don't understand that. I don't understand when converts to Orthodoxy treat traditional male Anglican clergy with great deference while treating female Anglican clergy with lukewarm politeness at best, (or far worse, as I have seen). To me, they are both the same. Male Anglican clergy, however traditional, are no more priests or deacons than their female counterparts. They are both deserving of love and respect as human beings, and if it is an Orthodox individual's practice to show particular respect to clergy of other confessions, there is no good reason for that to be witheld simply because they may happen to be women. Anything else suggests either ecumenist tendencies ("Well, the males are true priests really, aren't they?") or misogyny (if they are both the same, why treat the women worse?)

I just don't get it. I think it's another pitfall of converts spending all of their convert life among other converts who have the same background. Instead of shedding the baggage of the past and being properly inculturated into Orthodox life, there is a danger that they could simply reinforce each other's past hang-ups, stunting spiritual growth and true conversion.

Michael Lomax said...

Let me ask a straight question: is the Orthodox Church in England (better: are any of the Orthodox churches in England) really capable of absorbing FiF or similar refugees in any number from a dying Anglo-Catholicism?

Michael said...

A good question, Michael, (and welcome!)

My initial thoughts are that, yes, Orthodoxy in the UK could handle this, and well.

However, not just any and any Orthodox jurisdiction could manage this. The Greek Archdiocese, (though I admit it grudgingly), is by far the largest and most stable jurisdiction here. However, it has a particular history of absorbing Anglican clergy that went horribly wrong due to politics, spite, and human weakness, and it ended very badly, with the ultimate removal of its bishop, and lasting negative effects for individuals some years later. It was over a decade ago now but my suspicion is that they would be very wary about how they approached such a thing today, probably meaning that the possibilities would be severely curtailed.

The presence of the Georgian, Serbian, and Romanian churches is very much still an ethnically-based presence by and large, and in some cases, doesn't go beyond a single parish.

My own ROCOR diocese is reasonably stable, yet quite small and, in my view, doesn't have the structures in place that would make it feasible.

The Sourozh Diocese of the Russian patriarchal Church, on the other hand, is stable, is in a period of increased morale and stability, has a strong missionary focus, a resident bishop, and clergy an prominent lay people with expertise in both Catholic and Anglican faith and polity. While Sourozh it has suffered instability in the recent past, the Basilite faction, which, though it contains good people, was the cause of great unrest, has left. The pieces have been picked up and life has gone on. However, my impression is that the Sourozh Diocese would insist on reception into Orthodoxy on a proper and canonical basis, likely without fast-track ordinations of clergy who have no idea how to serve. Vladyka Elisey is Vladyka Mark's protegé in many ways and I'm sure he would not simply settle for receiving a group of Anglicans and leaving them to their own devices. He would have a genuine care for their formation in the Orthodox Faith.

cont'd below

Michael said...

cont'd from above

Of course, there is always the Antiochian Deanery, which is largely made up of parishes that started life as Anglican convert communities. I struggle to speak about this publicly. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, some of them are personal friends, while some of them have been very good and generous to me. However, one of their priests once told me that, in those early days, they essentially had to approach bishop after bishop until they found one who did not insist that they join existing parishes, and allowed them to start new ones, which is what they had already determined as a group they wanted to do. He said this to me in such a way that it sounded as though they were hard done by but as I heard the words, it sounded to me as though these bishops were merely seeking to ensure that they settled into the Orthodox Faith and life, learning from others how to be Orthodox, but that instead, they went from bishop to bishop until they found one who would give them what they wanted. The result today is a group of parishes which do much good work but where it is not difficult to find questionable ecclesiological and liturgical practices which are hangovers from Anglicanism. As a layman, I attended an Orthodox funeral in an Antiochian parish where an Anglican priest, in surplice and stole, performed part of the role of an Anglican deacon. I have heard gleeful defences of the practice of giving Communion to the non-Orthodox, seen portions of the Alternative Service Book 1980 inserted into the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, importations of practices that are at odds with the structure and integrity of the Byantine Rite, and omissions from services that I think lose something of the completeness of the rite that nourishes and feeds us. Some are better than others, and Anglicans approaching the Antiochian deanery may have an easy time, but I'm just not sure that this would be the best route and, without meaning to offend good friends, my personal recommendation would be against it.

So yes, I think it is possible and that Orthodox in the UK is in a position to receive such groups, (if they were to seek this) but, in my personal view, Sourozh is the only feasible possibility.

Lichael Lomax said...

Michael, thank you for your reply, which you have clearly given time and thought to.

Let me try it this way: it seems to me increasingly that as a Christian, anywhere, you need to be part of a tradition, part of a history. Ideally, one coterminous with one’s own personal history, and if not, at least whose language and cultural history one knows intimately.

As an Englishman and as an Orthodox I sense there is an English tradition which I can plug into – expressed not in terms of Apostolic succession or theological purity ¬¬¬– but an honest search for God, a certain sobriety, ‘decency’ in the best sense of the word. Something I feel to exist in the best of Anglo-Catholicism, once you strip out the tat and the camp, something I sense in English Roman Catholics like Archbp. Nichols (not too Irish or Italianate). Something I am beholden to.

I think that once you have an existing tradition, one’s job as an Orthodox is to help purify it, perfect it, rather than exchange it for an off-the-shelf one (Moscow, Mount Athos or whatever) or worse – what a lot of converts in fact do – create one’s own one-man tradition (like snails carrying their own houses on their backs).

Where you do have a problem is where there is no real clear tradition (either there never was or it has been lost), as is the case here in Belgium. But that’s another story.

On the Ordinariate, would it be too unkind to suggest that some of the Anglo-Papalists (the biretta crowd) are really closer to SSPX than the RCs?

Michael said...

Thank you, Michael.

I must be honest and say that I'm not sure I fully understand. I can certainly appreciate the need to be part of a history - a continuity - but I'm not sure I perceive that as being necessarily one's own local history. Neither am I sure that the absence of such a Christian history in a given society is necessarily a problem for the Christian, (although it will of course mean that there are different challenges for the missionary activity of the Church, but I don't think that's what you were addresing - forgive me if I have misunderstood).

I love that Britain has an Orthodox past, and I delight in the treasures of that which remain for us today, but for me, as Orthodox and British, that tradition has not been handed on to me - at least not directly. In my own Christian life, I have come to Orthodoxy through an English outpost of the Russian church, and that is reflected in how I have been formed in the Faith. I claim much of the development and history of the Russian church as my own because that is the means by which the Faith was passed on and has come to me - and I thank God for it and its riches. Yet, as this is manifested here, it has taken into itself the revived elements of the Orthodoxy that once existed in Britain, and I receive the spiritual benefits of that as well. This isn't problematic for me: it hadn't occurred to me that it might be at all. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps it is to do with my not having grown up in Britain, and having spent my childhood in a very different culture. While I was born in Britain, many aspects of British history and culture - the good and the bad - are things that I had to learn in my late teens and early twenties. This I also claim as my own but much of it was just as new and fresh to me in my late teens as Orthodoxy was to me when I discovered it. The culture of my childhood has no Orthodox history at all. Its development is quite different from that here in Britain. Yet I claim this, too, as my own.

So I suppose, from a personal perspective, while I very much see that, wherever it is planted, the saving Faith can only ever truly being to grow and flourish when it finds its place within the particular culture of the people to whom it is brought, on the personal level, I just don't perceive any particular need for my faith to be linked in a special way to the history of my culture. No doubt, as I mature in the Faith, my understanding and expression of it will continue naturally and gradually to become more and more fully integrated with how I understand my place in the society in which I live, which I think is right and proper.

I had never thought about this before, though, and would welcome some more of your thoughts as somebody who does feel the way that you do about the relationship between faith and personal history.

Michael Lomax said...

Dear Michael,

This is going to be a bit rambling and messy…

For me this idea of the importance of being deeply rooted into a tradition is a hypothesis which is at the testing stage right now.

It offers a possible explanation to some relatively unlinked observations:

1) That nearly 40 years after leaving England (in 1973) and the Church of England (in 1982), Anglo-Catholicism at its best represents an autochthonous English way of being Christian which I feel beholden to, and the loss of which I would mourn.

2) A curious flatness and introversion that I observe in a lot of Orthodox converts in Belgium, who strike me as curiously unrooted and culturally arid.

3) The poor showing of Belgian Catholicism, which I can explain in terms of loss of/absence of a deep tradition.

4) The ease with which I am accepted in Russia as a member of the church of their culture, despite my somewhat halting Russian.

It also taps into another hypothesis I am testing: that we are making a mistake by turning our backs on ‘social Christianity’, by seeing individual conversion and confession as the sole valid route to God. I am not sure that, once it became legal, Christianity ever spread just at the individual level, by reasoned conversion of one convicted individual after another. It was more tribe by tribe, mediated largely through the tribal chief and his immediate circle. And it remained strongly ‘tribal’ until 40 years ago. Something like what I think Patriarch Kirill is shooting for in Russia. This type of Christianity is theologically messy, and out of fashion, but I believe is still relevant in a mission context. But you cannot do ‘tribal’ Christianity from outside the tribe, which is where I see a serious limitation of Orthodoxy in England or Belgium. Nor, incidentally can you do it if you are s--t scared of populist movements, like the ‘better class’ of Belgians are.

Where I do take issue with you is with the phrase ‘I love that England has an Orthodox past’. It reminds me too much of an over-effulgent Roman Catholicism which rejoiced in the days when ‘the blessed Sacrament was still taken down every road in England’. In the days of the undivided Church, the faith was simply Christian, and I doubt whether 20 people in Bede’s England could have told you what the word 'Orthodox' meant. True, English Saxon spirituality probably most resembled present-day Orthodoxy or Anglo-Catholicism, but it is only to that extent that I would call it Orthodox. And indeed, I am not sure that what I would call the real deep spirit of Anglo-Catholicism (or perhaps better: the Catholic movement in the Anglican Church) isn't so near to Orthodoxy that it’s too close to call.
As an English friend and fellow-convert and I concluded well into the second bottle of wine a few years back: 'Orthodoxy is perhaps the best way of being Anglo-Catholic in Belgium.

I would be curious to know what took you away from Anglo-Catholicism. If it’s too personal for a public access blog, then privately.

Michael said...

Well, here's my second attempt. My first, lengthy reply was lost when the computer crashed.

What I said was that you raise many interetsing points, some of which resonate with me and others of which are perhaps somewhat subjective, (not that this is necessarily a criticism - it just means that I don't find them immediately accessible from my perspective). I was particularly interested to read your thoughts on Christianity historically having been cultural/tribal in a way that Orthodoxy has not (yet?) become in places such as Britain and Belgium. I'm not sure what we do with that but it is certainly something for me to explore further and my initial thoughts are that there is much good that comes of this that we could do with seeking to recover. You have clearly given this greater thought than I have.

As for my comments on Britain's Orthodox past, I hope you don't imagine me to inhabit some sort of anachronistic, romanticised world. :-) I know that the way of being Orthodox and the way of living Orthodoxy, in terms of worship, spirituality, and such like, is different from place to place, from time to time. I was the first to despair some time ago when there was a dig on the site of a pre-schism church in England and numerous artefacts were discovered, among them a spoon. In a discussion about this elsewhere, somebody asked whether this was a communion spoon and whether this could be seen as lending weight to the assertion that Britain was once Orthodox. Where does one even start in trying to bring some sort of clarity to the layers of misdirection and incorrect assumptions that form the basis of such a question? So no, when I say that the first millennium church in Britain was Orthodox, I don't mean that its spiritual methods and disciplines, ritual practices, administration, or even culture were necessarily what we think of today when we say Orthodox - indeed, we know that in many cases they weren't. Rather, I mean that this church was one in communion of faith and sacramental life with the Church that we, today, call Orthodox.

As for them not using the term of themselves, I grew up in the Caribbean, where the Anglican church is uniformly what, in Britain, would be called Anglo-Catholic. Yet the term is largely unknown among Anglicans there because there is no need for them to distinguish themselves from any other flavour of Anglican. The absence of their use of a name given to them in another time/place doesn't negate the fact of what they are, and it seems to me that the same is true of the first millennium church in the British Isles.

I'm sure there are things that I said first time round that I have forgotten now. :-(

Charlie Patseas said...

If the Greeks were such nationalists, why do they allow Southern Italy to call itself Magna Grece ( Because the Greeks know the Slavs are all coming from being Yuvrey with all their crazy books and fasts and stuff. That. is why we all marry Catholic Italian and stay away from Slav churches. OCA is Yuvrey!

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