Skip to comments.Why Should an Episcopalian Become Orthodox?
Posted on 11/10/2004 8:12:49 AM PST by sionnsar
I appreciate the Pontificators invitation to write on this topic. Please forgive its autobiographical character, but its the best way I know to approach the subject.
In February, 1998, after 18 years of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church. That decision was not primarily based on a need to leave the Episcopal Church so much as a need to be Orthodox, for want of a better expression.
My first introduction to Orthodox theology came in the mid-70s, before I entered seminary. A Christian friend gave me a copy of Vladimir Losskys Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, one of the seminal works of 20th century Orthodox theology. I was active in a charismatic house-church at the time, but was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the experience (subject for a different article sometime). Reading Lossky was part of a series of things that made me understand that Christianity without a grounding in Holy Tradition was deeply lacking. That realization sent me back to the Episcopal Church. The year was 1975, and nothing noticeable had changed in the parish I had wandered out of to explore the charismatic experience. The prayerbooks were the same. The hymnals were the same. The sermons were the same - not always exciting, but solid and sound. The sense that Tradition was alive and well permeated things, and I enjoyed being back home.
In 1977 I entered seminary - and, of course, things were changing. My interest in Orthodox theology was not changing, however. One of my professors, Fr. Winston Crum, was on the Anglican-Orthodox Dialog group. He had done his doctorate at Harvard under Fr. Georges Florovsky, one of the great figures in 20th century Orthodox theology. Fr. Crum took me to a meeting where I heard Fr. Alexander Schmemann lecture. Fr. Timothy Ware (now Bishop Kallistos) came to our seminary as a guest lecturer. I met Anatoly Krasnov-Levitin, a close associate of Alexander Solzhenitsyn during this same time period. And all of these meetings confirmed what I found in books of Orthodox theology. Holy Tradition was alive and well, believed, practiced, and normative in the lives of these spiritual giants (or so I see them now).
None of that made me consider the idea of becoming Orthodox. I was an Anglican. I thought a great deal about Orthodox theology, and its kinship with much of Anglicanism and gradually became aware that the kinship was more than cursory. Reading Orthodox theology and mining it for its understanding of the faith seemed perfectly natural to me - in a way that reading almost any Anglican writer did not. I never felt the need to be on my guard or to second guess Orthodox authors. I rarely read an Anglican in that manner (with the later exception of things written by such men as Al Kimel).
My relationship to Orthodox thought changed somewhere in the course of the late 80s when I began work on a degree in Systematic Theology at Duke. The chairman of my committee was Geoffrey Wainwright, a British Methodist who had himself done doctoral work under Nikos Nissiotis (an outstanding Greek theologian who died far too young). Studying under Wainwright was similar to my experience with Winston Crum. I read Orthodox theology under his guidance and wound up writing my thesis on the theology of icons. I think that it was during that time that my inner attitude towards Orthodoxy began to change. I started running across articles about people who had converted to Orthodoxy. Their stories were as varied as their backgrounds and situations - but all had something in common - and I sensed a kinship with that common experience.
I had begun with an attitude towards Orthodox theology that said, This is reliable, and was coming to a deeper realization that said, This is the truth.
As strange as it may sound, I had been reading Orthodox works for 15 years - and had yet to step inside an Orthodox Church. I remember being in Washington, D.C. for a conference around that time, along with my wife. We made the obligatory visit to the Episcopal National Cathedral, for our first time. It was impressive, but mostly as an edifice. The Cathedral was gothic and grand, but empty. I was aware that the architecture said one thing, and that the services there and the clergy would say something completely different. Driving away from the Cathedral, we saw a sign for St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral (its just down the street a bit). I remember circling the block slowly. Our windows were down - it was afternoon - and we could here the music of a service inside. (I know now that it was Vespers). My wife enthusiastically suggested, Lets go inside! But I said no. Im afraid that if I go in, I wont be able to come out.
That was one experience among many of that time, revealing to both myself and my wife a hunger for less division in our lives between the Church we lived in and the Church we believed in. Within a couple of years we were attending Orthodox services when we were on vacation. I met Archbishop Dmitri of the Orthodox Church in America (my bishop today). I met priests, visited monasteries, and came to know that reading theology was a sad substitute for the life of living theology. Much happened over the next number of years. At the end of 97, a job offer came my way, providing employment apart from the parish Id been serving. We had already made a commitment to each other, to Archbishop Dmitri, and more importantly, a commitment to God, that we wanted to enter the Orthodox Church. I took the job, renounced my orders in the Episcopal Church, and entered a period of training and preparation. In November of 98 I was ordained deacon, and in March of 99 I was ordained priest. By July of 99 I had given up secular employment in order to serve the growing mission we had helped start in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.
This short account illustrates the only answer I can give to an Episcopalian (or anyone else for that matter). The primary reason that someone should become Orthodox is that they have come to believe that it is True. I think believing anything less than that is less than becoming Orthodox. I cannot say to someone, You must be Orthodox. Not because I dont believe its true, or that I believe its only true for some: I believe that God has to tell you that its true or it wont really matter. And only God can do that.
It is a simple fact of history that the Orthodox Church is continuous with the original Church. Indeed, no one really questions the claims that the Orthodox Church is what it claims to be, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Others will speak of it as one of the two lungs of the Church (thats one of Romes suggestions). Anglicans have said that Orthodoxy is one of the three branches of the Church. Orthodoxy, without seeking to unchurch anyone else, simply says that it is the fullness of the Church. On at least one level this is true in a way that can only be theoretical elsewhere. Orthodoxy is a Church without Reformation, Renaissance, Counter-Reformation, liturgical renewal, modernization, or much else that has made the Churches across the contemporary scene unrecognizable in their apostolic origins (if they even claim them). Not that Orthodoxy is unchanging. It is alive and has changed, though in that change, the Orthodox would say they have remained the same, and I believe this to be true. When I read St. Athanasius or other fathers of the Church, their works and the Church services I am in, week in and week out, are of a piece.
I was an Anglican because I was taught that it was part of the Holy Catholic Church - that Scripture, Reason and Tradition were its sources of authority. For some time Anglicanism nurtured a hunger for the reality that is Christs Church. I am Orthodox because it is the Holy Catholic Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth. It is a hunger satisfied.
An Episcopalian should become Orthodox if he believes Orthodoxy to be the Truth. Knowing that, or coming to know that, is a reality that has to come from God.
I think I can say very positively, that Anglicanism, at its best and in its finest historical moments, has always tended towards something like Orthodoxy, or even longed for union with Orthodoxy itself. It was and is a right instinct.
The battles raging in Churches today are not confined to Anglicanism. I have heard numerous theories as to why different groups are subject to these troubles. Some offer critiques of the Reformation or blame the rise of modernism on the intellectual history of the West. Apostasy and faithlessness are possible anywhere at any time. Orthodoxy is the 2,000-year-old communion of the faithful who have wrestled with heresies and persecutions and triumphed.
I expected Orthodoxy to be ethnically foreign and closed to the outside. I have found something quite different. Though Orthodoxy has its ethnicity (as does Anglicanism), it is by no means a closed group. Probably more than half the student body in the two seminaries of the Orthodox Church in America are converts - as are a majority of the Bishops in the Holy Synod. Converts are not second-class citizens.
Again, my thanks to the Pontificator for his kind invitation to write on this topic. I pray for you and encourage you to be faithful to Christ in all things.
Happy to be of service. I'll send you my email address via Freepmail.
When I think of the Orthodox Church, I think of the Greek Orthodox Church - is that what he is referring to?
Your comments and opinion please.
"When I think of the Orthodox Church, I think of the Greek Orthodox Church - is that what he is referring to?"
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the Orthodox Churches. There are also Russian, Serbia, Antiochian and Romanian Orthodox Churches. They are pretty much all in communion with one another, and someone who has been baptized in one is generally accepted by all of them.
They are run by autocephelous patriarchs, who are elected by the upper clergy. The patriachs are coequal, and church policy can only be changed at ecumenical councils with representatives from all the Orthodox Churchs. In reality the last one was held in the 6th or 7th century, and the churches pretty much go their own ways.
There is also an autocephalous church here, the
Orthodox Church in America of which I am a member.
In fact, there are fifteen canonical Orthodox Churches
around the world and may others that come under the jurisdiction
of one of those fifteen (e.g. Finland, Japan, Uganda, etc.)
We all share the same faith but different languages and cultures.
By the way, I am also na ex-Amglican. When I hear an
Anglican service with it's beautiful music and reverent
worship, I get emotional about the loss of that tradition.
I can never go back. It is all turning to dust due to the
contagion of unbelief and apostasy.
May God have mercy on the faithful still fighting for the faith.
There is also the Russian Orthodox Church. Neither of these two churches should be confused with the Eastern Catholic Churches.
BTW, for those Anglicans who may be in a similar situation, unsure of where to look or how to proceed, it may interest you to know that there are 22 different liturgies recognized by the Catholic Church, including the Anglican Rite Liturgy. The Catholic Church is both Western and Eastern. You can discover more about this diversity, at this link.
Here is the Anglican Use Rite liturgy:
It lives on in the Continuum.
There is also a Western Rite within Orthodoxy (under the Antiochian archdiocese) and there was a western-rite mission here in Oregon but it closed because its priest is in ill health.
Each year, on All Saints day (June in our calendar), our choir closes the service with Vaugh Williams' "For all the Saints". Many of us ex-Anglicans join in. I can hardly get the words out - it chokes me up.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a convinced Orthodox. I'm home. But I still feel the loss.
Oh my yes! When we (in our APCK parish) sing that one (#126, 1940 HB, "For all the saints, who from their labors rest...") I am sure the rafters are shaking; maybe it's just that that one stays well within the range most of us can sing, but we go full-throat with that one.
But I confess a weakness for Pange Lingua (#199, 1940 HB, "Now, my tongue, the mystery telling..."), and especially Adoro Devote (#204, 1940 HB, "Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen...").
It is funny. As a child I was bored stiff by the 1928 BCP liturgy, but now I am beginning to be aware of and awed by its beauty and majesty, even if the language is not exakly modurn Merican.
I once heard that it is a short reach from (pre-Fall) Episcopalianism to Russian Orthodox. I confess to a tremendous amouont of ignorance here, and especially in anything to do with the label "Orthodox." Is it that close?
Oregon. Um. Um. You will shortly have FReepmail!
Weeelllll... I don't want to say a short jump but it may be a shorter jump than from most other western churches. I'm assuming a high-church, fully sacramental Anglican rather than an Evangelical Anglican (not that I want to put them down).
What Orthodoxy is not compatible with is the deadly Elizabethan compromise -- a position which I really believe is responsible for today's apostasy (although that wasn't the original intent).
For those who don't know, Elizabeth I decided that the Church od England would be unified by common liturgy not by common doctrine. Grant that and everything else is downhill.
Paul (aka Newberger)
I think many people are hungry for a faith that DOESN'T adapt to the culture. We need a faith that is more anchored than the whims of the present day.
Thank you very much for posting this, sionnsar. It is very helpful to me.
I have promised to stay with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America until the "gay votes" next August. (This is mainly to help other orthodox/conservative Lutherans.) After that, I must decide whether to become Orthodox. I ask God every day to show me which way I should go.
Grace and peace!
I'm another ex-Episcopalian / ex-Anglican who ran to Orthodoxy in the wake of the BCP nightmare and the Priestess heresy in the late '70's. We've been Orthodox since late 1978. The only thing I miss is the body of Christmas Carols. The liturgical chanting of the Church, regardless of the jurisdiction, is so rich that listening to Protestant hymns is a "thin" experience, indeed.
If you want to hear the richness of Orthodoxy, tune in to Ancient Faith Radio - available 24/7 at:
You'll need RealPlayer, and a broadband connection makes it a much nicer experience.
"Let us make a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment, we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!" - St. Herman of Alaska
Is it a speculative wonder, or have they really thought about it? Have they written down their experiences? I'm curious.
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