The 1989 convention which formed the Episcopal Synod
of America was perhaps the last in a series of
gatherings which raised the hopes of traditional
Episcopalians. Here, it seemed to many, was an "ecclesial
structure", a kind of "shadow province", which
offered some chance either to hold traditional
Anglicans together till the Episcopal Church turned
around or else to lead them to a safe haven
elsewhere. Six diocesan bishops, out of the 95
Episcopal dioceses, appeared to commit themselves to
do whatever was necessary to maintain the
traditional ministry of the Episcopal Church, and to
cross diocesan lines (with or without the diocesan
bishop's permission) in order to minister to
traditional Episcopalians who so requested. The
bishops who stepped out to form ESA are to be
admired; they had been under almost unbearable
personal pressure to conform to the PECUSA party
line. They still have not sold out.
Nevertheless, three and a half years later, what has
the Synod produced? (1) One retired bishop who
bravely ministered to one traditional parish in
another diocese. (2) An Episcopal Missionary Diocese
headed by the same bishop, which established some
new congregations and then, apparently in
frustration, founded a new Episcopal Missionary
Church, leaving the Episcopal Church and the Synod
behind entirely. (3) A small number of tracts and
publications. (4) No further movement toward a new
province which can protect traditional Episcopalians.
(5) No perceptible influence on the Episcopal Church
or the Anglican Communion, both of which continue
down the path to destruction. Indeed, the decisions
to ordain women in England, South Africa, and
Australia appear to assure the victory of heterodox
religion in the Anglican Communion. (6) Most
disturbing of all, ESA has produced no clear sense
of direction. What does the Synod plan to do?
Our specific questions about the Episcopal Synod of
America are three-fold:
(1) What is the Synod's
vision of the future? The handwriting has
been on the wall since 1976. Where does Synod
leadership plan to go when life in the Episcopal
Church is no longer institutionally possible, as it
will likely become? If there is some plan for the
future, ESA has been remarkably successful in
keeping it secret.
Some ESA folk clearly hoped to maintain a
traditional Anglican province in communion with
Canterbury. With that option now closed, will ESA
join with other dissident Anglicans in the world to
become yet another "continuing Anglican"
denomination? This option is based on the assumption
that traditional Anglicanism (without Canterbury) is
viable. But will the real "traditional Anglicanism"
please stand up and identify itself? Is traditional
Anglicanism Anglo-Catholic? Evangelical? Liberal?
High Church? Low Church? Broad Church? Isn't it
precisely traditional Anglicanism's nebulous
definition of itself which has led to the present
chaos? Theologically and morally, Anglicanism has
failed. It contained within itself the seeds of its
own destruction. Are those who wish to return to the
safety of Episcopalianism as it was in, say the
1950's prepared to endure its collapse again - twice
in their lifetime? This is not the solution.
Will ESA go to Rome? But the Roman Church is as
deeply disturbed as Anglicanism. Is the American
Roman Church really interested in taking in
conservatives? How many Episcopal parishes have
found a genuine welcome there? Many old-fashioned
Anglo-Catholics still long for the Roman Church as
she once was in 19th century England—but have they
taken a hard look at her as she is today, especially
will ESA make the right choice and move towards
Orthodoxy? We see each of these tendencies among
various ESA folk. This is likely why the Synod is
unable to move. We suspect, therefore, that ESA,
despite its good intentions, is destined to become
what Bishop Terwilliger warned of years ago: a
splinter group that begets only more splinters. In
any event, "where there is no vision the people
perish", and ESA has had a hard time retaining
support without a clear vision of the future. In
fact "not to make a decision is to make a decision".
Present ESA policy appears to be to hang on till the
last traditional Anglican dies.
(2) Why do ESA bishops not
take the simple, obvious step of breaking
Eucharistic fellowship with bishops who
have consecrated or given consent to the
consecration of female bishops, and also with
bishops like John Spong who have publicly professed
non-Christian doctrinal and moral principles? To be
in communion with heresy is to participate in it.
Unity at the altar has always implied unity in the
faith. To withdraw from communion would set
boundaries, define terms, and require no complicated
structural break for now. For ESA to remain in
communion with those who are destroying the
Episcopal Church's faith and order seems
self-defeating and exceedingly non-traditional.
(3) Why is ESA still even
trying to remain within the Episcopal Church?
By its actions, Anglicanism has rejected its
Catholic identity and has forsaken the "branch
theory"—neither of which were ever accepted by
either Rome or Orthodoxy. The issues today all cut
across Western denominational lines, and the old
denominational structures no longer make sense.
There is every evidence, judging from membership and
attendance statistics, that God is destroying them.
Why are traditional Christians clinging to the
Episcopal Church? We former Anglicans who are now
Orthodox would like to say to ESA and its
beleaguered supporters: Come home!
How can the "foreign, Eastern, ethnic"
Orthodox Church be a home for Anglicans, you ask?
Let me tell you:
(1) Orthodoxy is no more "foreign"
than Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, and, yes, even
Anglicanism. Perhaps one of Anglicanism's
difficulties in the United States has been precisely
that it is "English ethnic", planted on foreign soil.
Have you ever considered that the Bible itself is an
Eastern document? That doesn't seem to be a problem
for Americans - although the Western presuppositions
which Western Christians have imposed upon the
Scriptures may help to explain their current state
of confusion about the Bible. Furthermore, the
Orthodox Church is not just ethnic but multi-ethnic.
Indeed Orthodoxy is Greek, Russian, Arab. It is also
American. In the United States, there is a rapidly
developing "American ethnic" Orthodoxy, within which
Americans can quickly feel at home.
There are many former Anglicans who are Orthodox.
Within my own Antiochian Archdiocese, well over half
the clergy are converts, and perhaps 20% of the
total are former Anglicans. Just in the last four
years, this Archdiocese has taken in Episcopal
congregations (or portions thereof) in suburban
Milwaukee, Denver, Boulder, Fort Worth, Concord
(California), Omaha, and suburban Baltimore. But in
the end the question is: which do you value more,
your Anglican ethos or your faith? If you had to
give up one, which would it be? Are you now
sacrificing your Christian inheritance and that of
your children and grandchildren for a "mess of
(2) Anglicanism's roots are
Orthodox. Many of us taught that early pre-Roman
Catholic British (Celtic) Christianity was "very
much like modern Orthodoxy", "Catholic but not Roman
Catholic". That argument can scarcely be made today,
but in the beginning it was true.
St. Irenaeus of
Lyons wrote that:
although scattered over the whole civilized
world to the end of the earth, received from the
apostles its faith... [and] carefully preserves
it, as if living in one house. She believes
these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had
but one heart and one soul, and preaches them
harmoniously, teaches them and hands them down,
as if she had but one mouth. For the languages
of the world are different, but the meaning of
the [Christian] Tradition is the same. Neither
do the churches that have been established in
Germany believe otherwise, or hand down any
other Tradition, nor those among the Iberians,
nor those among the Celts, nor in Egypt, nor in
Libya, nor those established in the middle parts
of the world." (Against Heresies: Book I)
That Church which has always been united in the
faith and remains so today, without addition or
diminution, is the Orthodox Church. In the days
before papal power and Western doctrinal innovation
divided West from East, British Christians ("the
Celts") were part of the primitive Orthodox unity -
for the British Church was united with the rest of
Orthodoxy in the faith and in Eucharistic fellowship.
I have discovered that all my early British heroes
and heroines were Orthodox! The Orthodox Church in
America today publishes a little booklet titled "Saints
of the British Isles". (Does the Episcopal Church
have such a pamphlet?) The official calendar of the
Antiochian Archdiocese of North America commemorates
the likes of Joseph of Arimathaea, Alban, Columba,
Aidan, Patrick, Brigid, David of Wales - and also
Aristobulus, the first Bishop of Britain, whom the
English have long forgotten, but the Eastern
Orthodox still remember! In this context, does
Orthodoxy seem like home? Indeed, it does.
(3) Most important,
Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of the highest Anglican
ideals. Anglican Catholics sought to be
patristic, emphasizing the continuity of the faith
throughout history, loyal to the "faith once
delivered to the saints", neither adding to it nor
subtracting from it. Anglican Evangelicals wished to
be true to the Scriptures, Christ-centered,
emphasizing personal devotion to the Lord. Classical
Anglican liberals (as opposed to the authoritarian
modernists now wielding power) wanted to avoid
legalism and externally imposed authority, but
rather to allow each person a free response to God.
All these ideas are fulfilled in Orthodoxy - but
brought together not in antithetical movements and
parties, as Anglicans often did, but in genuine
synthesis. Anglicanism failed not because its ideals
were wrong, but because Anglicanism did not know how
to recreate primitive Christian unity; because the
Church cannot be recreated but can only re-entered;
because Anglicanism was, in Bishop
Terwilliger's words, "not a church but a series of
movements"; because Anglicanism has been
part of Western Christianity, blown this way and
that by the winds of Roman Catholic and Protestant
controversies, reactions and counter- reactions,
reformations and counter- reformations. And now, as
the Roman and Protestant systems are collapsing,
classical Anglicanism is going under, too. But
Anglican ideals are everyday reality in the Orthodox
Let me speak of what I have seen in eight years of
close association with Orthodoxy, after three and
one half years as an Orthodox priest. Orthodoxy is
genuinely united in the Catholic and Apostolic faith.
I have yet to meet or hear of anyone in Orthodoxy
who denies any article of the Creed. Orthodoxy is
profoundly Scriptural. Orthodoxy is not only Christ-centered
but Trinity centered, with deep personal devotion to
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What holds Orthodoxy
together is not externally imposed authority but
rather personal conviction and conversion. But the
Orthodox have an aversion to ecclesiastical
movements; there are no Catholic, Evangelical or
liberal parties. In Orthodoxy the highest Anglican
ideals are harmonized and exist not as warring
factions, not just living together under one roof
but married, united in worship, in theology, in
prayer, in daily life.
the Orthodox Church the "perfect church"? Of course
not. It is filled with sinners. It has many problems.
But the faith is not one of them. Bishop Kallistos (formerly
Timothy Ware, a convert from Anglicanism and author
of The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way) writes
that as the Western denominations progressively lose
their grasp on the fundamentals of Christianity,
more and more people must turn to the Orthodox
Church to find "simple Christianity".
As so we say again to traditional Anglicans:
Come home to Orthodoxy! Why stay in Egypt when God
offers you a land where you can be free?
Why remain in a post-Christian denomination which
has failed, where you are not welcome, when you
could live in peace, propagate the faith, and leave
a Christian heritage to your children? Why cling to
the past, when you could bravely move into the
future? God bless you for your faith, your courage,
your hope and your intentions. Don't waste them.