Friday, November 03, 2017

Why I am Orthodox but not Orthodox

Oh dear. We all know that there are certain words that fly around whose meaning is disputed: Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox. Is "Anglican" a noun or an adjective? Does "Catholic" mean in communion with the venerable Bishop of Rome? Does "Orthodox" mean that we are in communion with one of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, or Antioch?

Properly speaking, "Catholic" and "Orthodox" should be two sides of the same coin. Both point to fidelity to the faith once delivered to the saints. In order to be Catholic, i.e. holding the faith of the whole Church, one is keeping "correct teaching" i.e. ortho doxia. Thus, as an Anglican Catholic, I must necessarily be Anglican Orthodox. Of course, there is already an Anglican Orthodox Church which is rather a different kettle of fish from the Anglican Catholic Church and actually pre-dates it as an institution by more than a decade. There is also an Orthodox Anglican Church which, I wonder, ought to be different, and yet seems to have very similar sets of beliefs. I'm a little confused as to why these and UECNA have not made a similar concordat as ours as their raisons d'ĂȘtre seems to be almost identical. Perhaps, God-willing, this is already in progress and will imminently happen. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the two words, "catholic" and "orthodox", if not actually synonyms, cannot be separated. I don't think I see anyone trying to do this, though.

My small readership will notice that I might appear, at times, to be more like a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church than an Anglican. Fr Chadwick says that I appear more "Roman" than he, while many others will say that I'm not a true Anglican. Well, so what? What does it matter who I am? Surely, I have to empty myself of everything in order to follow Christ truly, and that includes my identity. I must decrease so that He can increase.

The trouble is that, as a priest, who I am matters to those who need me. My existence as a priest is that I present to them the image that I bear as a result of my ordination. Many a time, all that I can think of is that I'm not presenting that image - that ikon - very well. In this time of lying fallow waiting for the time for me to grow into that image again, my vocation nags and nags and nags because I must be a priest for the good of others, their salvation, their encounter with God, and their reception of His grace that happens at the hands of every single priest who has ever lived, because there is only one priesthood, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The troll will say to me, "you're overestimating your importance." No. I may be the instrument of God's sacraments, but all I can ever be conscious of are my great failures to represent Him clearly.

But who I am does matter to people. The Roman Catholic will ask me, "are you Catholic?" and when I explain that I am, just not a Roman one, they will refuse the sacraments from my hands. Likewise, the Orthodox Christian will ask me whether I am Orthodox, and I will say that I am but one who has inherited his orthodoxy through the Church in England. Of course, the Orthodox Christian may have some inkling that I am not an Eastern Orthodox priest because I can't stand growing a beard.

It's actually harder for me to explain why I am not Eastern Orthodox because, unlike Roman Catholicism, I can't simply say that I am not in communion with the Pope. As it stands, like the CofE, I'm not in communion with any of the patriarchs. This is very, very sad, but it does not stop me from being part of the Church. You are probably fed up of my (over)use of the word "ikon" and my affirmation of not being very Augustinian, rejecting the filioque, and leaning more towards a doctrine of theosis that is still very present in Anglican thought.

However, I do appear to be very close to being Orthodox in belief. Like my communion, I affirm Orthodox Christianity. While the venerable bishop, Lancelot Andrews (who certainly expressed a penchant for the doctrine of theosis) may say:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.
 we go further and affirm ten centuries and seven oecumenical councils. It is no wonder that the Anglican Catholic faith should be in many ways very similar to Eastern Orthodox belief.

In that sense, if I am in schism with the Eastern Church, then that schism is not a schism of heresy, but of history. Yet, for me to be recognised as being Orthodox by the East, I must convert and deny what I have received from my history. That I cannot do. If I hold the same belief as the Eastern Church, then I need not convert - I am already there.

While the ACC may be criticised by Eastern Christians by being the product of division, it has to be said that the Eastern Church is not very united either. For example, what of the status of the Patriarch of Moscow? I recently unfriended an Eastern Priest who enjoyed throwing the word "schismatic" around like breadcrumbs - despite the fact that both he and I are very similar in our belief in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches which hold the same beliefs do need to reach out to each other, but we need to do so honestly and not assuming superiority or pedigree - that's rather against the gospel. Where there is true heresy, well that heresy must be removed before talks on unification can be arranged. However, the nature of that heresy must be discussed honestly as well.

As a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, I am as Orthodox as I am Catholic. You are free to reject the sacraments from my hands, but I believe that if you do, then you reject the grace of God. You need to be very sure, then, that you're right!

1 comment:

Fr Anthony said...

We seem to have a lot in common, priests in the Church but eschewed by various members of this or that institutional Church. This is how it is in France. The vocation of the priest, even many of them in the official RC Church, has changed. Many of my blog article deal with the questions of self-knowledge and acceptance, because it is only in this condition that we can do good to other people. Our priesthood, or rather our priestly vocation, will be conditioned by all the other things we know how to do in terms of arts, sciences and philosophy. Read and lead a good life as a contemplative, both with your family and when you are alone - and savour that alone time.

My having a Chaplaincy might seem to be something of a joke when no one comes to Mass or anything. Make your blog into a teaching apostolate - and aim high with its intellectual quality and the fruits of your reading in theology and philosophy. You are noble in spirit - that is obvious in your attitude to life and your vocation. Never be discouraged! Keep going and ever higher...