Tuesday, February 20, 2007

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.

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Blogger James the Thickheaded said...

Well said. It is a big step to conclude: 1) The Branch Theory is and was an illusion; and 2) The Anglican Church is inherently Protestant - even Anglocatholicism. Next, one has to conclude: 1) I am not Protestant, or I don't want to be Protestant for ______ (fill in the blank) reasons, and I am willing to give up my heritage, the hymns and prayers I know, the people I know in order to be something else I know only a small portion of. Having been through these steps, there is probably something close to a level of resistance inherent in this process that protects us from psychological suicide and insanity. These are not normal parts of the human psyche without a real cathartic event. And no matter what one supposes, on the daily parish level, seldom have the wayward events in the larger TEC reached this sort of experience at the individual common family church. Does this mean everyone remaining in place in the TEC consents to the doctrines and practices as they continue to evolve? Only in a passive sense. Most feel the wider politics of the church do not affect their worship...and whether they realize the implications or not, they are at that point inherently Protestant in this.

Been there, done that. Fact is, I didn't realize I was inherently catholic...until the series of events accumulated to a level that forced me to address the issues. At that point, it became clear....but many folks simply switch parishes or sit there and take it, or most commonly, quit altogether. I am happy to be Orthodox today, and blessed to be in the Western Rite especially. Yet I did not become Western Rite without first agreeing that I could be Orthodox period and worship in an Eastern rite parish, too. WR just made the practical everyday experience more proximate...and therefore I believe was less likely to lead to some of the zealous errors of the newly converted. ANd by this I mean that it would shorten the "settling in" period and perhaps speed the way to spiritual maturity. Too early to tell about this.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I'll just note that I made that comment from the perspective of a former Anglican. What's interesting is, the longer I was an Anglican, the more I took it seriously, the less I found I was able to remain an Anglican. I started out very much in the left wing of the ECUSA, but over time I drifted into Anglo-Catholic territory, and found that I couldn't believe what I had come to believe about the Church, the Eucharist, and the Liturgy and be comfortable affirming what even conservative Anglicans believe regarding ecclesiology, much less the very unChristian social activism preached by the left. To an extent, given my own journey through those parts, I have to wonder if Anglicanism ultimately proclaims an identity and not a faith. Not only that, but to the extent that there are Anglicans who are committed Protestants, Anglicanism allows them to have it both ways--they can be evangelicals who claim to have historic apostolic succession, in other words.

Two years ago, the Rt. Rev. Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet warned that he would leave for Rome if the Church of England started ordaining women bishops. I wrote him a letter telling him my story and asking him why Orthodoxy would not be an option for him; he was kind enough to write back, saying that, essentially, he believed that all other factors aside, Rome is the Apostolic See in the West, period, and as an Englishman he did not feel he could consider Orthodoxy to be an option from a cultural perspective. I note, however, that the vote that prompted his threats to leave passed, and he still remains in the CoE as Bishop of Ebbsfleet.


6:16 AM  
Blogger Ariston said...

Too bad there aren't enough WRite parishes. Too bad the WRite is a tenuous thing that could be destroyed at any moment--not exactly encouraging for people who want to keep their liturgical heritage.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Jim N said...

Don't also forget that Anglican/Episcopal bishops can be, and almost all are, married. To choose to leave their flock and leave the episcopate is something very very few will do, at least that this stage.


12:00 PM  
Blogger James the Thickheaded said...


Before I became Orthodox, I too, thought perhaps the Western Rite was tenuous. With every day since, there seems to be another WR mission. In terms of numbers of parishes, this would appear to be a very rapidly growing part of the Church. Numbers are still small, but I think refraining from becoming Orthodox because it is "tenuous" is a mistake. On the other hand, it would be great to have more WR parishes. Time is adding more and more.

4:43 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Great comments all!

James: Welcome home! You're right that natural human inertia causes most people to approach all change with loathing, even if they believe it would be for the better. I once told a WRV priest, "Normal people just aren't as driven by Truth as you are." Like you, I believe one important part of the Western Rite is that, though not identical to anyone's worship outside Orthodoxy, it retains familiar (legitimate) forms of Western piety; this allows new members to accept their new faith and practices without giving up the attitudes and practices they've had right all along. I agree this should increase spiritual maturity -- Godspeed yours, and please pray for mine.

Richard: I didn't know you were a fmr. Anglican. Another great insight: "Anglicanism ultimately proclaims an identity and not a faith." An affirming presence in the back of one's mind that occasionally warms his sense of self. Egads, a church brand. And yes, it seems as though Anglicans have enough idle "last straws" to start a broom factory.

Jim N: Another great point; this has been a sticking point in WRV discussions with other groups. Not everyone is a Bishop Robert, err, Fr. Alban Waggener. May God create more of them...and send them our way!

God bless,

4:47 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Oops -- Ariston, I missed your post. As for "tenuous," I would echo James' comments. Also, try this statement from Metropolitan PHILIP.

5:06 AM  
Blogger Jim N said...

Given ++Philip's much appreciated comments, does the discipline of celebate bishops have to be maintained, if the Western Rite has its own charism?

I know at least two Anglican/Episcopal bishops who would switch very quickly, but they feel a duty to God not to abandon their flock to apostates. If they could take their dioceses with them and continue to be their shepherds, it would make their decisions much clearer.

Please also don't dismiss lightly the feeling that one's vocation is to be part of the Faithful in the midst of vortex. If one loves the Communion as the anglo expression of the church, and takes an eschatological stance, then steadfastness is a virtue, not a vice.

Pray for us, who are trying to remain faithful,

Jim N

6:52 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Hi Jim,

Of course, the Apostles and other bishops in the ancient church were married. However, this quickly (relatively speaking) came to be discarded, and the established custom shows no signs of being modified (nor would I, personally speaking, desire it).

If one accepts that the Orthodox Church has preserved the true faith, one must subject himself to Her judgment in every matter, not merely those most amenable to one's vocation. The original vicar general of the WRV, Fr. Alexander Turner, was once a "Bishop," as was Fr. Alban Waggener, and others in the Evangelical Orthodox Church (chrismated into Antioch in the '80s). In these cases, a priestly vocation continued and could for those in the Continuum.

If these bishops trust the Church to preserve the Faith for 2,000 years under the oppression of Turks and Bolsheviks, they should trust Her to nurture their own flocks and make the right decisions on their vocations. I pray they will.

And God bless you personally, Jim.

-- Ben

9:45 PM  

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