18 October 2011

Anglicans and the Orthodox: A view of the past and (hopefully) future

At Project Canterbury, there is an interesting collection of various historical documents related to Anglicanism and its history. One particular article caught my interest, written by the Most Rev. Archbishop Germanos, Metropolitan of Thyatira, dated 1929. He describes the history of relations between the Orthodox and English Churches, and interestingly seems to think of the English Church in the way Anglo-Catholics generally do -- as a church whose history was essentially independent of Rome and merely severed ties with the See of Rome, rather than founding a whole new church. In other words, the Church founded by the Irish missionaries and St. Augustine of Canterbury is embodied in today's Church of England. Henry VIII merely cut off that church from the Pope and didn't found a new church at all.

He also talks at some length about the Non-Juror bishops in Britain in the early 17th century. These bishops were the result of a mini-schism in the Church of England that arose with the deposition of the House of Stuart and the installment of the House of Hannover on the English and Scottish throne, which was codified in the Act of Settlement. These Scottish bishops wished to remain loyal to the (Catholic-friendly and Scottish) Stuarts, and thus were in essence "high church", perhaps forerunners of Anglo-Catholics in the modern sense. These bishops then contacted the Orthodox with a view to creating an Anglican church within Orthodoxy, and discussions were well advanced when the Archbishop of Canterbury became aware of them, informed the Orthodox patriarchs that they were not authorized, and the patriarchs in turn ended the dialogue.

The Non-Jurors went on to provide the fledgling Episcopal Church in America with their first bishop, Samuel Seabury, on the condition that the Episcopal Church use the Scottish rite for their ordinations, which was duly agreed. +Samuel remained high church, and ironically loyal to Britain (and thus to the Hannoverian George III) during the Revolution, but did in fact pass on his line of succession and the Scottish Rite to the Episcopal Church. One possible artifact of this is the "Old Scottish Gloria" in the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church, which I believe is clearly influenced by Orthodox solemn music for the Divine Liturgy, such as the Akathistos hymn to the Virgin Mary.

Thus there are long-standing connections between the Orthodox and Anglicans. On the face of it, there are some issues that are simply impossible to resolve, even back in 1929, before the issues of women's ordination or homosexuality were even on the radar screen. However, the author writes in closing:

On my last journey to the East, when the question of the reunion of our Churches was raised, an Orthodox cleric said to me: "It is evident that Unity in Faith is not a sine qua non in the Anglican Church; for in that Church different views are held, not only in secondary matters but in fundamental matters of faith. The appeal of the last Lambeth Conference to all the Christians and the conduct of the English Church towards ecclesiastical bodies which had severed their continuity with the ancient Church, and finally the well-known discussions at the time of the revision of the Prayer Book, show clearly how wide the conception of the Church is among Anglicans. What can further discussions avail, when there exists a radical disagreement between the two Churches on this fundamental point? If, on the other hand, the object of the discussion is to define the common teaching of the Faith, as a link uniting the two Churches to each other, and one of the debating parties has made advances to others on a much wider basis, does not any further discussion seem in vain? Let us therefore be content to cultivate friendly relations and intercourse with the Anglican Church also, and stop deceiving ourselves as well as others with hopes that Unity in Faith is possible."

I answered him thus: "I recognize in one way your doubts and I share your uneasiness, but I shall never reach your despair; you despair because you ignore the nature and constitution of the Anglican Church, and you have not followed at close quarters the slow but undoubted evolution of this Church. If you knew this Church from the moment of its emancipation from Rome; if you had studied the many struggles of some of its members to save what is truly Catholic in it; if you, through close touch, became persuaded of the sincerity of their intentions and the depth of their religious convictions, then despair would not have found a place in your heart. Why should we not think that a time is coming when the Catholic nucleus which always existed in the Anglican Church should not prevail over the whole body, so that it should appear in that form which would make reunion with our Orthodox Church possible? Meanwhile, the duty of the Orthodox is not to break the definite bond which binds us to the Anglican Communion, but to help in such an evolution, through friendly intercourse and in a spirit of peaceful discussion. And finally, since the work of reunion appertains first to the glory of God and the prevalence of His Kingdom on earth, why should we not lay our hopes on Him, who is everything and in this also, as in the work of our religious edification?" So then, "neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase" (i Corinthians iii 7). Oremus et laboremus. [Emphasis mine.]

For me, that is a remarkable way of looking at it, and I hope that his optimism will be rewarded, not just with Anglicans, but with Old Catholics as well. Even the most troublesome issues will surely be resolved if we prayerfully and genuinely want reunion between East and West, and above all we must remain in close contact for that to happen. One side or the other won't simply change to suit the other overnight, nor should they. But through common shared experience, each can learn to see, recognize and appreciate the holy in the Other, and come to see that they too are indeed truly part of God's one Church. Once that is achieved, all else is secondary. Oremus et laboremus. Amen.