Anglicanism and Orthodoxy

A friend asked me a question through email:

“How do you view the Anglican church in relation to the Orthodox church? Historically do you see it as an English attempt to return to Orthodoxy after the Reformation, or just another diluted denomination that sprung up afterwards? What about any noticeable theological differences? I had a professor that went from Calvary Chapel to Anglican and he was the first to introduce me to spiritual formation through traditional liturgy. It really opened my eyes, and now saddens me that we see so little of the Eucharist in evangelical worship services.”

The following is an impromptu response, and I wanted to put it here to get some feedback. They are only off-the cuff remarks, and so there’s much to be nuanced and expanded. But I was curious as to any opinions that might contribute to the discussion. 

When I was Reformed I used to say that I’d be Anglican if the Anglican church still existed. Of course, I wouldn’t say that now, because I believe I have found the fullness of the apostolic Church in Orthodoxy. But I’ve always been an Anglophile in many ways and levels.

I don’t think the Reformation in England, whether political or ecclesial, had any intention of returning to Orthodoxy (as in communion with the Orthodox Church). The moment Henry VIII (for political and personal reasons) told Pope Clement VII to mind his own business (to put it politely) , there were all kinds of currents in the English church that sought to gain upper hand, with different theological visions. Cranmer got to be the one to lead the church, and, while doing a superb job in compiling and smoothing out prayer books with wonderful and memorable English, he was a puppet of the State and himself often confused about how Christianity should or should not look like. It was a kind of self-styled hodgepodge of the Christian tradition. This kind of disorientation in inherent in Protestantism.

Of course, many of the reasons for the Protestant Reformation (not all) had to do with Papal abuse, and when you remove that, then you begin to see some similarities between the historical Protestant bodies and Orthodoxy. But they are by and large superficial. The theologians at Tubingen did have formal correspondence with the then Patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah II. The Orthodox Church eventually told Melanchthon and his peers that inasmuch as they supported them against the abuses of the Bishop of Rome, as well as against some theological innovations from Rome, at the end of the day the Protestants were going in a direction away from the Church. The material is widely available on the internet.

Canterbury never had such dialog with the Orthodox Church, but if it had, it would have ended up the same way, in my opinion. That was then. Today, there are all kinds of Anglicans attempting dialogue with the Orthodox church, but it’ll will never work while they continue to go downhill in theology and practice. Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA kindly told them (the Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America) so as recently as 2009. Many Anglicans are finding a home in Rome, and the Pope is actively promoting provisions to that end.

There is wonderful, rich material in ancient Anglicanism, and in liturgies that follow it (hard to find, but there are a few dissenting Anglican and Anglo-Catholic bodies that still want to preserve that). One of my best friends, who is Orthodox, and a professor at Biola (imagine that) told me that before he entered the Church he was a member at St Mary of the Angels in Hollywood, for, “if you wanted to experience the historical Latin Mass, you could not find it in a Roman Catolic Church, but it is there at St Mary’s.”

Like me, he is Western through and through, and found great beauty and spiritual richness in that setting. No wonder today he is a sub-deacon in a Western Rite Orthodox church. He realized that ultimately, even at a place like St Mary’s, where they were attempting to follow the apostolic tradition as closely as possible, they were suffering from not being able to be in communion with it.

Every time I drive by one of the beautiful old Episcopal/Anglican churches I have to resist not stopping and going in to pray. Sometimes I do. I remember when I was taking Latin at Fuller for my Claremont program, I would go to this Episcopal church in Pasadena during lunch time to pray. I was absolutely moved every time I was there. But then I went there one day when there was a small service. The lady priest seemed puzzled when I declined to receive communion from her hand (and it was not just because she happened to be female).

I love many things about the Anglican tradition. But it was doomed to failure from the start.

Of course, this is in relation to the institution, not the individuals who are there. If God extends his grace to any group of followers of Christ (including Calvary Chapel), how much more to a body of believers wanting to worship him as closely to the apostolic tradition as they can be, and centered around the Eucharist.

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3 comments on “Anglicanism and Orthodoxy

  1. Of course I should have made mention of Bishop Grafton’s relationship with St Tikhon in the 19th/20th centuries. The following page has great videos of a very informative recent conference:

    http://www.anglican.tv/category/tags/events/anglican-orthodox-conference-2009

  2. David Gilchrist says:

    Greetings from England!
    I was an Anglican priest for 33 years, and was received into Orthodoxy 5 months ago.
    Have you seen this?
    http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2014/05/27/a-letter-to-episcopalians/

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