Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Celtic & Anglian



by Fr. William Olnhausen

From the now defunct periodical "Anglican Orthodox Pilgrim", Vol. 2, No. 1



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 in America?

Or 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 [English] pottage"?

(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:

"...the Church, 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 Church.

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.

Is 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.



Article published in English on: 14-8-2010.

Last update: 14-8-2010.