The Irresistible Force and the Immovable Anglicans
The comments on the last post have driven home that this blog is blessed with some of the most perceptive readers anywhere. Richard brought up one (actually two) of the points I've always meant to cover but have not had time. (Eric Jobe brought up another.)
We in the Western Rite are often asked why, given its current in-fighting and fragmentation, we don't have more converts from the Episcopal Church and the continuing Anglican communion. As Fr. Michael Keiser has written, the premise seems to be since we "have not converted the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to Orthodox teaching, why bother to continue"?
Laying aside the fact that the Western Rite is a most fertile mission field, that is not its lone raison d'etre. As H.G. Bp. BASIL has said, "the worth and validity of the Western Rite do not depend on growth or numbers." However, let us be frank about why there aren't more Anglican converts (a point on which Richard hit on the head): many Anglicans are perfectly committed to being Anglicans.
For one thing, their ecclesiology, the Branch Theory, gives them no angst about their place in the Church. While Orthodoxy teaches the Church is One, constituting a theanthropic visible unity of Head and Body, Anglicans believe they are part of one of the three co-equal branches that parted ways, lo, in the misty fogs of the past. (They gloss over that this partition often came through harsh doctrinal disagreements, followed by mutual excommunications/anathemas, and occasion reprisals in which "leaves" of one "branch" had leaves of the other branches put to death.) Anglicans do not question the "validity" of Orthodoxy, but even if they come to believe Orthodoxy has preserved the apostolic fidei depositum sacrosanct from the patristic era, they do not feel they must leave their own communion or join the Orthodox Church to share in it. Since they believe they are already one "branch," they can simply bend the twigs of their doctrine eastward. Hence, the large number of well-meaning people (many of whom are friends) who consider themselves "Western Orthodox" in the Anglican communion.
Of greater consequence for the current TEC crack-up is this: not a few Anglicans are committed Protestants, even charismatics and evangelicals. Heading for alternate cover under the Global South, such groups as AMiA were never potential Orthodox Catholics. They would not be at home in Orthodoxy (and would not be ill-at-ease at Saddleback).
There is also, within the vestiges of the formal Anglican communion, an odd pathology bordering on spiritual masochism, in which some traditionalists believe they are actually triumphing by remaining under heretical bishops. These entrenched warriors have somehow managed to safeguard their own parish from the liturgical Revolution...and they're content with that. In fact, they believe they are showing valiant defiance in remaining in communion with Matriarch Kate Schori. "They can run the entire church," I have heard some Anglo-Orthodox say in this delusion, "but they can't force me to change!" They somehow believe by remaining in communion with, pledging obedience to, and financing heretical bishops, they are manning the forts in battle for TEC's soul. Little do they realize, they are...and that when their numbers sufficiently dwindle, their work, too, will be swept away like a grain of rice in an ocean of apostasy. Or, perhaps they will then attempt to jump ship...with their strength fruitlessly depleted.
Finally, as Fr. James Deschene has noted (and I've echoed), Anglicans always look to Rome. Fr. Michael of St. Petroc has added, this stems from the dirty word: orders. Some Anglicans point to individual statements of Orthodox bishops or churches that purport to recognize the "validity" of Anglicans orders. (Orthodoxy does not, and all the statements were at best tentative.) However, Rome maintains its position and hence, must be placated.
And many look Romeward because all they know of the Orthodox Church is the Byzantine liturgy. And as beautiful as it is, to us and even to many of them, they cannot bring themselves to jettison their western heritage, chant, and forms of piety (some of which, of course, are legitimately Orthodox, though Western). This is where the importance of the Western Rite comes in, and the its current obscurity discloses itself in its full tragedy.
What can Orthodox do to change this? For Anglo-Protestants, we must take the same tack as we would toward any other evangelical group, witnessing the ancient faith. For conservative Episcopalians rejecting TEC-cesses, we must applaud them where they are correct, offer our moral encouragement for their move outside TEC, and begin sharing with them our conception of the Church. For Continuing Anglicans and Anglo-Orthodox, we must continue to insist on our ecclesiology and bear witness to the inner life of grace that, we believe, makes our blessed communion distinct.
We must let all groups know the Orthodox communion has authorized Western forms of worship for use and not insist on a stumbling-block of one cultural expression of the faith.
When these groups, at various stages of growth, begin to explore Orthodoxy — because they at least know that we exist and present challenges to their epistemology they have not yet considered — we must encourage them in love, knowing that in their study will lie soul-searching, soul-deifying truths that, if accepted, will transform them and, though originally startling, will ultimately envelop them in the joy of Christ.