Anglo-Catholics and Orthodoxy
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post called The end of an era -— Anglo-Catholicism rides off into the sunset, which has proved surprisingly popular, as it remains on the list of top-rated posts on this blog. In it, among other things, I explained why we left the Anglican Church and became Orthodox more than 25 years ago.
A fellow-blogger recently drew my attention to some research being done on Anglo-Catholics who have become Orthodox, or have even thought about doing so: The road less travelled: Anglo-Catholics who consider converting to Orthodoxy. Deacon John Saturus writes:
I am Deacon John Saturus, a deacon of the Orthodox Church, and am working on a Master’s degree in Theology. My thesis topic is “The Conversion of Anglo-Catholics to Orthodoxy”. If you have ever been an Anglo-Catholic who considered converting to the Orthodox Church(whether you became Orthodox, remained Anglican, or joined some other Church), I would very much appreciate your sharing some of your thoughts and experiences with me.
I have prepared a sort of questionnaire, which you can either fill out online, or have emailed to you. You don’t have to answer every question; if you do answer a question, you should feel free to answer as much or as little as you like. And if there’s anything I’ve forgotten to ask, where you think your thoughts or experiences might be interesting to me or helpful to my research, I’d be very glad to read and think about whatever you’d like to share.
It seems to be an interesting topic, and one that would be worth having more information on, so if you consider yourself Anglo-Catholic, and have ever thought about possibly becoming Orthodox, please take part in the survey. If you achieve nothing else, you’ll be helping Deacon John to get his degree! This is the kind of research topic where the more information is available, the more accurate the research becomes, so the more the merrier.
I’ll also, without, I hope, prejudicing the research, make a couple of observations of my own.
One of these observations is that, of all the Western Christians who might be interested in Orthodoxy, and try to learn something about it, Anglo-Catholics are among those least likely to become Orthodox.
This might come as a surprise to some. The Orthodox are, after all, “liturgical” like the Anglo-Catholics. There is lots of incense in the services, and colourful vestments, and to a casual observer there might seem to be a very close match.
The late Fr Alexander Schmemann once wrote that at some ecuenical gathering he attended he was seated with the groups perceived as “high church” and “liturgical”, because that was the dominant Western perception of the Orthodox Church. Yet he said that he might have felt just as much at home, or more at home, among the Quakers, with whom he, as an Orthodox Christian, felt he shared an affinity.
I have had similar experiences. I have sometimes been at ecumenical gatherings, among groups of Western Christians whom I don’t know very well, and the ones I have felt most at home with, as an Orthodox Christians, have been Mennonites and Zionists.
I was once involved with a quango called SAQA (the South African Qualifications Authority), working to develop standards for theological education, and the one I felt most at home with, and whom I worked with late into the night, was a Zionist bishop. I invited him to visit our church, and one Sunday he came, with his wife, white robes and all. He felt right at home. He later told me that a couple of weeks after his visit there was a thunderstorm in the middle of the night and he was awakened by a very loud clap of thunder, and he jumped out of bed and made the sign of the cross. His wife joked that he was becoming Orthodox.
Anglo-Catholics, on the other hand, often seem to be rather uncomfortable when they come to Orthodox services. It is the awkwardness of the almost-familiar. When Zionists or Pentecostals come, they come expecting everything to be strange, and are then surprised by things that are unexpectedly familiar. The scriptural imagery in the hymns grabs them, and they find the whole thing biblical, but in unexpected ways.
Anglo-Catholics, on the other hand, have the reverse experience. They come expecting things to be familiar, and suddenly unexpected things happen. At a point in the service where they might expect to genuflect, the Orthodox either do nothing, or might bow down rather than bending the knee. They tend to find this unsettling, and depending on the rigidity of their Anglo-Catholicism, might find it totally off-putting. Orthodox services are not run according to Ritual Notes.
Orthodox services tend to look untidy to Anglo-Catholic eyes, especially white South African Anglo-Catholics (if there are any left). Black Anglo-Catholics might find it more familiar.
An Orthodox Christian who lived a long time in England (he was an exile from Bolshevik Russia), Dr Nicolas Zernov, once remarked, “The Anglican Churches look like fortresses, and inside also it is very military.”
In England there are many Anglican Churches with battlements around the tops of square towers, and sometimes all along the sides of the nave as well. Inside, there are sometimes miliary paraphernalia like flags, regimental standards and so on, but even more, the congregation tends to sit, stand or kneel in unison. Altar servers move in straight lines, with military precision, and the server who carries the thurible handles it like a drum major’s baton. Orthodox services, to an Anglo-Catholic eye, tend to look messy, and in need of a good sergeant-major to get them to shape up.
But that is all based on my own subjective impressions. Perhaps it’s all quite wrong. To get a true picture, lots of people need to complete the survey, so, if you are or have been an Anglo-Catholic, and have ever thought about becoming Orthodox, click here to do it now.