A few weeks ago, some of the hosts from the Anglo-Catholic podcast, Quad Cities Anglican Radio (QCAR), were visiting a Western Rite Orthodox conference hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). One of the QCAR episodes recorded at the conference was an interview with Fr. Mark Rowe, a former Anglican priest. In the interview, Fr. Rowe shared four questions that an Orthodox monk had posed to him, which eventually led to his conversion to Orthodoxy, now posed to QCAR’s audience.
I have the utmost respect for our brothers and sisters in Orthodoxy, including those who are former Anglicans. Far be it from me to disparage or downplay another Christian brother’s convictions with respect to which ecclesiastical body he should belong. After all, my own journey has crossed several denominational fences over the years. Nevertheless, as a convinced, convicted, and confirmed Anglican (who has admittedly looked with some fondness from time-to-time at the hue of our ecclesiastical neighbors’ lawns), I believe it is worth answering Fr. Rowe’s questions one by one. Despite what we sometimes see in our pews or on social media, Anglicanism is more than a halfway house to Rome or Orthodoxy; we have a very robust tradition that has indeed thought deeply about ecclesiology.
Question 1: “Is your church currently producing saints?”
In the context of the interview, Fr. Rowe was referring to the formal process of canonization, usually referred to as “glorification” in Orthodoxy. As we study Church history, we see that the canonization process was not formal in the earliest times. Rather, it began locally and organically, honoring local martyrs and confessors. Unlike Rome and Orthodoxy, post-Reformation Anglicanism has not formalized the process. Rather, as each Province in the Anglican Communion edits and revises its calendar of Holy Days and Commemorations, a list of officially recognized saints is provided. In this way the bishops of each Province, while sitting in council, with advice and research from the clergy and laity do indeed canonize saints following a similar pattern to that of the earliest days of the Faith. Following long-established English custom, our calendars include “Red Letter Days,” which are major feasts and fasts commemorating biblical saints and biblical events, in addition to “Black Letter Days,” which are minor feasts and fasts commemorating extra- and post-biblical saints and events. The most recent calendar for Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) indicates which Black Letter Days commemorate saints particular to the Anglican Communion, and which are ecumenical from the wider Church. In fact, some of the Black Letter saints are from the 20th Century.
An obvious follow-up from an Orthodox or Roman perspective would be how we know these people are saints. Are there miracles ascribed to them? Is there evidence that their bodies remained uncorrupt after death? In some cases, there may be, but in others there is not. However, these criteria are not present in the Scriptures or early Patristic accounts. Rather, this points to the more biblical understanding of the term saint. Throughout the Scriptures, the word “saint” refers to someone who is among God’s people, a member of the elect, whether living or dead. The saints we commemorate are given that title because their often-sacrificial lives pointed to the Gospel on such a scale that they are worthy of imitation. Their stories are testimonies to the work of Christ and are therefore edifying to the whole community. They were martyrs and confessors of the faith, just like in the earliest days. We know from Scripture that they are praying for us as they worship Our Lord in Eternity. Partially by their examples and prayers, but certainly by the grace of God, we are currently producing even more saints who will likely never appear on a calendar, but will nevertheless enjoy the same eternal reward.
To summarize, we are indeed currently producing saints, and we are doing so in a manner that is closer to what we see in the Scriptures and in the early Patristic era rather than according to later developments.
Question 2: “If you could do, liturgically, for the most part, that which you do now, but do it within the Church that unequivocally is the Church founded by Christ, why would you not do it?”
There are, of course, two assumptions present in this question: a) that the Western Rite is “for the most part” what Anglicans are doing liturgically, and b) that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church, founded by Christ.
I would argue that there is more to Anglican liturgy than the surface appearances of language and style. The Book of Common Prayer is not just a script for formal prayer and administration of the Sacraments, but is also the main interpretive lens for the Bible and theology in the Anglican tradition. This is especially true when it is bound together with the Psalter, Ordinal, and Articles of Religion. In a single volume we have the essentials of our theology and tradition. Indeed, with just the Bible and the Prayer Book, an Anglican parish can theoretically do everything necessary for life in the Community of Faith. The genius of the Book of Common Prayer is its simple elegance, by which the complicated liturgical life of the Church is distilled into a single volume of majestic vernacular prose. Without a genuine Book of Common Prayer, the Western Rite can not be Anglicanism under Orthodox supervision. Even with attempts at proposed Orthodox Books of Common Prayer, such as the volume published by Lancelot Andrewes Press, the complexities of Orthodox piety demand a complex prayer book, marring Cranmer’s genius.
Furthermore, to conform to Orthodox theology, it is necessary for the Western Rite to edit Anglican liturgical source material. Even if the words and language are very similar, can it really be Anglican liturgy without Augustinian theology? Can it be Anglican without being a liturgical expression of Sola Fide? In both Western Rite liturgies and those from Rome’s Ordinariate, the richest theological prayers are changed and what we have is no longer Anglican, despite superficial resemblances.
As to the Orthodox claim to be the Church founded by Christ (to the implied exclusion of other churches), I would argue that it is hardly unequivocal. Rome’s claim to being the One True Church is based on its alleged succession of the Bishop of Rome from the Apostle Peter. The Orthodox claim is similarly based on succession of its bishops from the other Apostles. Anglicanism can make the same claim. I have personally seen the apostolic succession lists of ACNA bishops. Any questionable links in the successions were corrected decades ago. Furthermore, we uphold the Creeds and Ecumenical Councils. Our Reformers were steeped in Patristic writings and theology. English bishops were at Nicaea. If we can be accused of schism, it is the same basis as Rome would accuse the Orthodox, namely rejecting Papal claims to universal jurisdiction.
More importantly, we have maintained the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ultimate authority of Holy Scripture. We have maintained the Apostolic truth that all “must believe” issues are to be rooted in the Word of God. We have submitted the Church to the authority of the Scriptures. Therefore, rather than defining a true church by which bishops are in communion with whom, we define the church as “a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same” (Article XIX). Because the Scriptures set that ultimate standard, we recognize that any ecclesiastical body is subject to error, and must be from time-to-time corrected by the Word of God and brought back on the path of righteousness. Certainly, there are errors and even heresies in the Anglican Communion right now. But those of us who uphold the Scriptures and the Tradition outlined in our Formularies are fighting for the truth, even if it is an uphill battle. We are certainly in no worse situation than St. Athanasius, and we know that God will preserve the Gospel, even if the Anglican Communion must (God forbid) fall in the process.
To summarize, like the Roman Ordinariate, the Western Rite only superficially resembles Anglican liturgy because it departs from Anglican theology. Additionally, the Orthodox claims to being the One True Church are no stronger than Rome’s. Frankly, such claims are an exercise in futility, which is one reason Anglicanism never makes them, though we have the same qualifications as Orthodoxy or Rome. Rather, Anglicans recognize that the Church is in a similarly lamentable state as Judah and Israel in the Old Testament: the scandalous political division of a people who are nevertheless unified ontologically by our common election through God’s grace.
In the next post, I examine the final two questions.