Anglicanism And Orthodoxy in an Age of New Ecumenism

I have often spoken of a hundred year cycle that can be explored in Anglican-Orthodox relations since the time of the Elizabethan Settlement. Richard Hooker, the great theological advisor to Elizabeth I, needed to make the case that one can be a Catholic Christian apart from the See of Rome. He found his source in correspondence with the Russian Orthodox Church. This is an area ripe for mining in our own day and Russians are taking this up. In fact, the young deacon who helped with hosting the recent Anglican Church in North America delegation to Moscow is doing his doctoral work on this very topic. 

The next cycle in the 1600s was, that of, the non-Jurors including such notables as Jeremy Taylor and Lancelot Andrewes, the later being highly praised by Nicholas V. Lossky a noted Orthodoxy theologian, and lesser known figures such as Thomas Deacon. It was Deacon who argued for infant communion to be restored to Anglicanism following the pattern of Christian Initiation as preserved in Orthodoxy.  Records show that he, in fact, communed his own son at the time of his baptism.

The connection between the non-Jurors and Eastern Orthodox Christianity is also a place where more serious study awaits. 1

In the 1700’s in the Church of England the efforts to revive the State Church through a series of “methods”, which would eventually create the Methodist churches, has a link to Orthodoxy. The Wesley brothers and others had exchanges with Orthodox Christians. The Methodist doctrine of “Sanctification” is closely aligned with the Orthodox understanding of  “Theosis” or “Deification”. 2

The 1800’s brings the Oxford Movement, beginning with the Assize Sermon preached by John Keble from the pulpit of St. Mary’s Church in Oxford. 

What is clear is that the assumed foundation of this movement was towards Rome. This is surely due the West’s fascination with John Henry Newman. What is often forgotten is the inspiration and interest of both John Keble and E.B. Pusey. Their desire was a return to the undivided Church of the first Millennium. These scholars were deeply immersed in the writing of the Early Church Fathers. Much of this is lost in the rise of ritualism within Anglicanism but this Patristic Foundation is, for the Orthodox, a place where true dialogue can be found.

In the last century there were what can be called the “golden moments” in Anglican-Orthodox relations. These include the formation of the Fellowship of Ss. Alban & Sergius; the bond of friendship between Bishop Grafton of Fond du Lac and St. Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, sometime Archbishop of North America, and the positive evaluation of Anglican Holy Orders by some Orthodox Patriarchates.3  

It is at this juncture that I want to make note of two things. The first is the intercommunion scheme proposed by John Douglas in 1923 and the Lambeth Conference of 1930. Douglas had great hopes that the Lambeth Conference would provide the path forward. As noted by author Bryn Geffert, the talks started where they have largely remained in our own day. He writes:

The Orthodox arrived (1930 Lambeth Conference) well-prepared with a list of pointed questions. Their opening query revealed nagging doubts about earlier attempts by the Church of England to describe Anglican theology in terms thought palatable to the Orthodox. Did the “Terms of Intercommunion” drawn up by the Eastern Churches Committee in the early 1920s, asked the Orthodox, express the mind of the Anglican Church? If not, “where and in what do they diverge from the mind?” The Anglican bishops responded (presumably with straight faces), that “The Terms” – while never officially communicated to the different provinces of the Anglican communion – nevertheless “represented the mind and doctrine of the Anglican Church.”4

Here is the problem – which Anglicans are the Orthodox engaging? Douglas, in his time agreed that: “if all Anglicans were Anglo-Catholics agreement would be easy.”5

Anglican comprehensiveness was always a problem in the dialogues and this would prove to be the source for the eventual collapse of any hopes for intercommunion. Beginning with the movements for abandonment of catholic priesthood with the ordination of women and the “adjustments” to catholic moral teaching, the goals were changed to acknowledge that any sort of mutual recognition was  now impossible from an Orthodox perspective. 

We are now in yet another hundred-year cycle. Within the Anglican Communion, through the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and other conservative provinces, there is a definite re-alignment. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was called out by GAFCON to create a new province reflecting Anglican orthodoxy. Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America spoke boldly at the formational meeting of this new Anglican Province. Shortly afterwards a new dialogue was formed between the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and ACNA. Once again, there was hope for picking up the historical work. The Holy Synod of the OCA has blessed this endeavor, along with the College of Bishops of the ACNA.

At Nashotah House in 2013, the members of this dialogue were challenged by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), of the Department of External Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, to focus much of our work on the vexing social issues of our day here in North America. Through his office, an invitation was given to send a delegation of ACNA bishops to meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in August 2015. His Holiness commended this work and once again stated that the local effort in North America is paired correctly between the autocephalous OCA and the ACNA. It was further noted that our culture is the same and our challenges and opportunities are the same. 

So how do we prevent another fruitless effort? The Orthodox are all waiting for the Great and Holy Council of 2016 for global guidance on ecumenical matters. Will the ACNA be able to articulate to her own members, and the members of the GAFCON provinces, the importance of this “new ecumenism” in our day? Where does it rank in importance for both ecclesial bodies?

Once again, I want to quote from the book Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans, by Geffert:

One might still legitimately ask – if only theoretically – whether a unified Orthodox Church could ever reach agreement on fundamental theological issues with a unified Anglican Church. The odds seem remote at best. What is abundantly clear, however, is this: so long as neither confession can get its own house in order, any dream of interconfessional unity stands no chance at all.6


1.  See for further reading Miller, E.C. Jr., Toward a Fuller Vision: Orthodoxy and the Anglican Experience (Wilton, CT: Morehouse Barlow, 1984).  
2.  See for further reading Kimbrough, S.T., Jr.,ed., Orthodox and Wesleyan Ecclesiology (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2007).
3.  Hatfield, Chad Richard, Nashotah House, Bishop Grafton and St. Tikhon of Moscow (Sesquicentennial Academic Convocation, Nashotah, WI, May 1992).
4.  Geffert, Bryn, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans: Diplomacy, Theology, and the Politics of Interwar Ecumenism (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010):187-188.
5.  Ibid, 185.
6.  Ibid, 272

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