Not a little noise has been made about The Secret to Preserving Anglicanism by Fr Anthony Bondi of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. I’m sure our friends Michael Frost and Dale will make much of it, and there has already been a thread of e-mails started by Dr Tighe.
Fr Anthony Bondi is a good and kind gentleman with whom I have had correspondence over the years. Myself, I thought about the Western Orthodox idea from my student days in around 1988 when I met men like Dr Raymond Winch in Oxford and Dr Jean-François Mayer of Fribourg University, my own alma mater. I posted my translation of Dr Mayer’s magisterial article from 2002 in Western Rite Orthodoxy.
I became friends with Dr Ray Winch and went to see him in his Victorian terraced house in Oxford from time to time. He said the Office according to the Benedictine Breviary and worked on the The Canonical Mass of the English Orthodox, an attempt dating from 1988 at reconstructing the Mass of Ordo Romanus Primus and the Gregorian Sacramentary for use in a western rite Orthodox context. We had long discussions about how Orthodoxy could “protect” what is left of pre-Reformation western Catholicism.
I saw Dr Winch less frequently towards the end of his life in 2002. He occasionally wrote to me, and explained his growing disillusionment with the various Orthodox jurisdictions present in England. He quietly went to Mass at St Aloysius, the former Jesuit church which is now the Oxford Oratory and drifted away from his former dreams without ever truly re-embracing the Roman Catholic ideology. When he died, he was buried without any ceremony. It seemed sad, but there was an inner logic to it all for those able to see it.
In theory, for a university student aspiring to the priesthood and some stable ecclesial solution as an alternative to neo-Tridentine RC traditionalism, western rite Orthodoxy seemed appealing. One thing that I noticed is that it remained as marginal and “odd” as Germanic Old Catholicism. It appeals to intellectuals but has very little to propose in terms of pastoral ministry to ordinary Christians. For example, there is no “open communion” – anyone who wants to receive the Sacraments has to be fully received into Orthodoxy. It means a commitment for which most western Christians would not be prepared. That is from the pastoral point of view. There are many other considerations.
At the time, I wrote to one of the priests of the Antiochian WR vicariate, which was much less developed and communicative that it is now. For me to follow up this possibility seriously, it would have meant emigration to the USA. That is where it stopped for me. I continued in the RC Church for another seven years, not really “all there”. It will be seen that Western Orthodoxy occupied a large space in my mind, but it was never a reality with which I would ever connect, let alone commit myself to whether as a candidate for the priesthood or as a layman.
I believe Fr Anthony and his superiors are obviously sincere in their pastoral outreach to Anglicans and other western Christians who for one reason or another can no longer relate to their Churches of origin. I believe there has been some success in the USA with the Russians “in exile” and the Antiochians. They have established parishes and it all looks attractive. The Russians and the Antiochians have a slightly different approach about what they are preserving. The latter caters more for former Roman Catholics with an attachment to the Tridentine liturgy (in English) and some Anglicans using an Orthodox version of the Prayer Book. The Russians seem to be more interested in referring to an earlier period, completely bypassing the Reformation, something with which I sympathise, but historical restoration can be quite “sterilised” and inappropriate in pastoral terms. Where is the balance found?
Some have left Western Orthodoxy very embittered, a few resorting to “hard” Protestantism and the Continuing Anglican Churches. I have not gone into all the reasons, so I will not come anywhere near to daring to make judgements. In Europe, if there was anything worthwhile, I would know about it. There are various communities using Gallican and Celtic reconstructions, nothing that would interest me. The Russian western riters in England have a public profile that compares with our Anglican Catholic Church, just as fragile and marginal as we are!
So my fundamental attitude is to be kind to Fr Anthony and see the best in what he is trying to get over. His subject of discussion is Orthodoxy being the best solution for Anglicans. Whether Orthodoxy is the best way to “preserve Anglican patrimony” is open to question. It might be a solution for individuals and groups looking for a spiritual expression close to their culture, and to their liturgical and social preferences. No one is blaming anyone.
Over the last few years, I have seen the weakness and fracture lines of the Continuing Anglican world. The TAC thought Rome would make it into some kind of “uniate” Church, and the ambiguity of Rome’s response destroyed it. Many became Roman Catholics by joining one of the three Ordinariates, and the rest would try to reconstruct a “TAC without Hepworth” or enter into alliances with other Continuing Anglican Churches. Despite these moving boundaries, I see no large-scale movement towards Orthodoxy, at least on anything like the scale of the Ordinariate-bound movement of a couple of years ago. There are strong parallels between Anglicanorum coetibus and what is being offered by Western Orthodoxy. Some could do very well out of it and others would become seriously unstuck.
What kind of Anglicans are attracted to Orthodoxy, albeit with a western rite? Certainly those “classical Anglicans” who like a strong dose of Calvin in their 39-Article soup are unlikely to consider Orthodox as any less an idolatrous abomination than Rome. Some of the “old high church” might idealise Orthodoxy in the manner of John Mason Neale and William Palmer in the nineteenth century. The more “Roman” Anglicans might be more attracted to the Ordinariate through the idea of being in communion with a billion Catholics in the world and having a chance to be exempt from the sappy and goofy Novus Ordo liturgies on offer in most parishes. The Orthodox Church has a sounder theological basis for the liturgy, but it is hard enough to build up a WR congregation in the USA, let alone Europe or England.
The biggest obstacle to overcome is closed communion. It is more rigorous in Orthodoxy, though the Roman Catholic Church still has laws against allowing other Christians to receive Communion except in the most unusual situation. We Anglicans will willingly give Communion to Roman Catholics and Anglicans from other ecclesial bodies. We don’t require an immediate all-or-nothing commitment. It seems to be how I started this article – a pastoral problem. If the Orthodox Church were a little looser on this point, perhaps that would make things more practicable, but would also take away the appeal of a Church that has resisted liberalism at all costs, so us outsiders would be inclined to believe.
For the clergy, there is a more or less radical discontinuity in their priestly vocation: they have to be chrismated and almost certainly reordained. There is no question of loose ties between the Churches or a smooth transition. Perhaps the Russian Church outside Russia is making adaptations to smooth the way for those going over.
I’m not against it, the suggestion and this priest’s invitation. Those who feel they should go that way will follow their consciences. Perhaps Orthodoxy could to an extent play host to the “pre-Reformation” Church – though one would be encouraged to go back to the eleventh century as the “cut-off” point.
The article is worth reading and much can be learned.