Why In The World Would An Episcopalian Become Orthodox?


Word Magazine  May
1993  Page 7-9

 

 

WHY
IN THE WORLD WOULD 

 

AN
EPISCOPALIAN BECOME 

 

ORTHODOX?

 

 by
Father Patrick McCauley

 

 

When I
first became an Episcopalian years ago, a friend facetiously told me that I had
joined the best church that money could buy.” 
In fact, another wag observed that the Episcopal Church is the Cadillac
of American Christianity’’ and the ‘‘Chevis Regal of
Protestantism.’’

 

These
attempts at humor, based on social and intellectual snobbery, have grown a bit
stale in the ensuing years, as the stately and venerable American version of the
Church of England has experienced wide-spread decline in numbers, theological
conviction, and social and political influence. 
The church that once was called “the Republican Party at prayer” has
now become little more than a coalition of special interests and would probably
be more accurately termed the “Democratic Convention in 1988 at prayer.”

 

With
bishops who declare the Bible to be little more than the prejudices of a group
of  misogynist,  homophobic
males, the Apostle Paul to have been nothing but a frustrated homosexual, and
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to be nothing but the rattling of old bones, it
is little wonder that the Episcopal Church in the United States has lost over a
million members since 1970. As if these “profound theological insights” were
not enough, the American branch of Anglicanism now has liturgies for the marriage
of two persons of the same gender and refuses to expect clergy to live morally
pure lives.

 

This sad
state of affairs has prompted some Episcopalians to seek a safe harbor outside
the Anglican Communion in which to live out their faith. Not surprisingly, some
have elected to leave the denomination for other more conservative, Protestant
groups. Still others have ‘‘swam the Tiber’’ for membership in the Roman
Catholic Church. A few others have formed “independent Episcopal”
congregations, and yet more have formed new ‘‘Anglican Churches’’ that
are in communion with neither Canterbury or the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.
Sadly, some have simply dropped their practice of the faith altogether.

 

Fortunately,
however, an increasing number of Episcopalians have looked to the historic
Church of Christ known as the Eastern Orthodox Church as a place of refuge. In
fact, many Episcopalians, especially those who come out of Anglo-Catholic
backgrounds, were taught that the church catholic exists in three historic
branches: Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

 

Sharing a
Common Faith

 

Old
fashioned, high-church Episcopalians have long held a close affinity with
Eastern Orthodoxy. In fact, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsay,
said as long ago as the sixties that Anglicans should be working toward union
with Orthodoxy because of the commonality of faith. Other Anglicans have said
that historic Anglicanism is simply a Western (meaning Western European)
expression of Orthodoxy.

 

Several
recent converts in my own parish have observed that Orthodoxy in no way is a
denial of what they have always believed as Catholics in the Anglican Church.
Rather, say these good folk, Orthodoxy is simply a fuller, richer expression of
the ancient faith of Jesus Christ.  The
same creeds, the same Scriptures, the same seven Sacraments, and the same understanding
of the apostolic ministry of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops are all valued and
affirmed as the foundations of the catholic faith in Orthodoxy as in the
traditional Episcopal Church of days gone by.

 

Forms of
Worship

 

Even more
fortuitous for Episcopalians who come out of the high church tradition are the
liturgical expressions found in Orthodoxy. While the great majority of Orthodox
Christians worship using the Eastern or Byzantine Rite, a growing percentage of
Orthodox Christians worship according to the Western Rite.

 

The
Western Rite is an approved adaptation of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. 
At least two Orthodox jurisdictions, the Romanians and the Antiochians,
have Western-Rite congregations in North America. The latter, in fact, has a
growing Western-Rite Vicariate, which has provided a safe haven for traditional
Episcopalians. Western-Rite congregations in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian
Archdiocese of North America exists in California, Illinois, Texas, Florida,
Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan and other states. 
As each year passes,  more
and more congregations of former Episcopalians are forming under the banner of
the Western-Rite Vicariate.

 

A Church
that Affirms the Gospel and is Willing to say “No”

 

The
Orthodox Church of God continues to proclaim the refreshing Good News that God
through His Incarnate Son Jesus Christ is reconciling sinful men and women to
Himself (II Corinthians 7).  In so
doing, she acknowledges that the new humanity created through Christ’s death
and Resurrection is the Bride of Christ or the Church. And, it is in the Church
that Christians are to work out their salvation by regularity of worship, living
lives of moral rectitude, sharing the Christian Gospel with nonbelievers,
building a Christian community, and extending a hand of help in the Name of
Christ to those in need.

 

All the
while, Orthodox Christians, unlike their counterparts in the Episcopal Church as
it now exists in many places in the United States, have the assurance of a
leadership of Bishops and Priests who acknowledge the centrality of Holy
Scripture, the divinely-given Tradition of the Church of the Apostles, and the
need of clearly defined teaching and instruction for the faithful.

 

Episcopalians, 
who have been received into the Orthodox Church, no longer have to wonder
what their Church believes or dread to see the morning newspaper to learn of the
latest scandal that, if not officially taught, is at least sanctioned by the
leadership of the national church’s Bishops.

 

Orthodox
Bishops, while not claiming for themselves individual infallibility, do indeed
act in presenting the Christian message in clear, 
understanding terms. Moreover,  Orthodox
clergy, with the support of the entire Orthodox Episcopate from the office of
the Ecumenical Patriarch through the Patriarchates of each jurisdiction to local
hierarchs, stand as one united witness to the faith of Jesus Christ.

 

In spite
of the anti-authoritarian age in which we all live, Orthodox Bishops, in other
words, can and do say “no” when necessary, to their people. This does not
mean that Orthodox Bishops are capricious, arbitrary, or not  pastoral. It does mean, on the other hand, that Orthodox
hierarchs love those in their pastoral care enough, as does any good parent, to
say “no” when a course of action, a lifestyle, or a pernicious belief would
be harmful to the faithful.

 

As one of
my own parishioners, an attorney  with
three sons, said, “I want my boys to have been reared in a church that has
some standards and gives them direction and guidance by which to live their
lives.  They can’t get that in the
Episcopal Church as it now exists.”

 

A Final
Word

 

Sociologist
Robert N. Bellah and several colleagues, in Habits of the Heart,   have
noted that contemporary American culture places such an enormous value on
individual freedom that many Americans find commitment to home, family, the
nation or even the church to be marginal at best. In fact, Bellah, who is an
Episcopal layman, says that most of us do a “cost-benefits analysis” of
nearly every situation we confront . So, if a marriage, citizenship, a
relationship with employees or employers or friends, or whatever costs more in
terms of effort, time, and commitment than it produces, then many of us feel
free to terminate the relationship.

 

This sort
of individualism-gone-to-seed is not only destructive on an individual basis but 
for the nation as well. Unlimited human freedom, without parameters, is
lethal.   As a nation, we are
not burying people, in fact, who declared that what they did in their bedrooms
in the 1960s  and 1970s was nobody
else’s business. Tragic as the result of that mindset is, Christian people
need to look anew at the concept of freedom in Christ.

 

For
Christians, whose bodies and lives were purchased with the body and life of
Jesus Christ, Christian freedom has limits and offers direction, guidance and
purpose to life.  Orthodox
Christianity offers reconciliation between God and man, between human fellow
beings, and direction and purpose for living beyond the thrill of the movement,
the vacuous chimera of materialism, hedonism, narcissism and individualism. 
One may indeed  be a thinking
woman or man and still be a faithful catholic Christian within the ancient
Church of Jesus Christ known as Eastern Orthodoxy.

 

 

 

Father
Patrick McCauley is pastor of the Orthodox Church of the Apostles in Ft. Worth,
Texas.