Ecumenism

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In what appears to be a historic first, an entire Protestant prayer book, modified “for Orthodox usage,” has been released this month by a mysterious organization and approved by individual clergy of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate. Photos have appeared on the website of the new book, slated for release this month (the photo below, however, is a standard book of Common Prayer, not a photo of the much nicer looking new edition– for reasons of copyright, we won’t put those up till there are more “public domain” photos).

To understand the significance of this move requires a bit of history.

First, the History

The Book of Common Prayer, first released in England in 1549 after the secession of the Church of England from Rome to create the Anglican Church, has undergone numerous revisions both towards Romanizing and Protestantising influences. The mainstay of Anglican religious congregations, the book was presented to St Tikhon while he was Bishop in America for Western rite use. St Tikhon submitted the text to the Russian religious authorities, who were sharply disinclined to use a text so devoid of Orthodox devotions of any sort, and responded fairly negatively in 1904.

It is worthy of note, however, that just a few years before, they gave a nuanced approval of the use of the Tridentine Mass for precisely the reasons they found the Book of Common Prayer defective: Orthodox beliefs were still clearly expressed in the base texts of the Tridentine rite, but insofar as the BCP had been heavily infected by iconoclastic and anti-hierarchical thought, it was considered unsuitable for Western rite Orthodox usage because it lacked a clear proclamation of the Orthodox faith.

Despite the negative tone present in the Russian response, the Anglican Church in America continued to attempt to present itself as an “Orthodox Church” in the West, most notably North America.

By the time the Russian-American Church situation had gotten completely confused, a break-off “American” Church headed by Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh (who later married against the teaching of the canons– and was deposed) ordained an “Anglican-use” Bishop, Ignatius Nichols (who, having formerly been married, decided himself to marry yet again!) in 1932. In the whirlwind of events that followed, causing what was originally an American experiment to fail miserably as the jurisdiction fell to pieces (likely due to the incredibly obvious canonical infractions of its leaders), Nichols formed a group called the Society of Clerks Secular of St Basil before, according to some accounts, running a congregational church in 1942 until his death in 1947. A Western-Rite grouping using a modified Tridentine rite that would later be absorbed into the Antiochian Church by Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir) in 1961, they were introduced into Orthodoxy en masse, an unfortunate precedent that would become the basis for future receptions.

In this environment, the reception of the late Father Joseph Angwin and his parish in 1977 gives one room for pause. Father Joseph, the inventor of the “Liturgy of St Tikhon” (the attachment of the name given solely to the fact that St Tikhon sent the BCP to Russia for examination) and his parish were received in– again, en masse, or “whole and entire” as his obituary reads– into the Antiochian Archdiocese by Metropolitan Philip. The Liturgy of St Tikhon, as it is known among Orthodox of a liturgical mania, is a modified BCP rite with the modifications meant for the Tridentine Rite applied to it! This was unfortunate: the Tridentine rite required modification, while the BCP rite required considerable revision and addition of Orthodox devotions.

The debate only worsened from there. Immediately the Russian Church Abroad, which had already become suspicious of the Antiochian Archdiocese, issued a decree in 1978 that the Western rite in its present form was “not in accord with the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church with which it had been united for the course of many centuries. It does not reflect the Orthodox Church’s liturgical tradition”– and in one swoop, banned the use of the rite.

The Present Day– and Today’s Story

Unfortunately for both the Western Rite and Orthodoxy, this mass of disaffected Anglicans had other plans, as they campaigned wholesale for the full introduction of their “tradition” into Orthodoxy– and continue to this day. By the time the “Evangelical Orthodox Church” entered– again, en masse– into Orthodoxy in the 1980’s, the damage had already been done. Orthodoxy was now less than the sum of its parts in the Antiochian Archdiocese; some parishes used the Orthodox tradition, some the Anglican, some the Roman Catholic under the guise of the “Western rite”, and many had retained an essentially Protestant outlook.

Even worse, despite the attempts of Bishops in the Archdiocese to “regularize” the various parishes (this editor remembers being present at a horrified parish when one of the Archdiocese’s Bishops suggested– gasp— blessing the Church using the Eastern ritual he knew,) a corps of semi-Anglican clergy and laity determined to fight to the death to preserve their “orthodox” (read: post-schism, marginally heretical) devotions alongside their Protestant rite! This can be found in a number of sources, which “evangelize” more disaffected conservative Anglicans with the implied claim that “you don’t have to change a thing!” (A great proof of this is here on the “westernorthodox.com” site, where you can truly see the “two minds” we are discussing at work.)

While we at NFTU do not doubt the sincerity of any conversion, and we think (particularly among the “Tridentine use” folks) that in some quarters there is a genuine attempt to restore ancient Western Orthodoxy in the Antiochian Archdiocese, there is cause for what should be genuine concern in the production of this book.

The first problem is, of course, that it is an attempt to follow into a tradition created by a Protestant church in the 16th century still used today. There have been attempts (mostly failed ones) on the part of the Antiochian Archdiocese to have some editorial control over the work of these Anglican-cum-Antiochians (or, as we like to call them here, “Angliochians”) but such efforts are usually rebuffed and ignored under the usual catcalls of “they just don’t understand our ‘tradition’“(to what tradition they refer, indeed, is lost upon us: the Protestant tradition?)

The second noticeable problem is an outgrowth of the first– the fact that while the book is “published” by Lancelot Andrewes Press, it was “commissioned” by someone else– an unknown entity calling itself “English Orthodox Communications” (see here for website). Perhaps due to complaints that have reached the ears of those in the Vicariate, it has now officially noted by ranking officials within the Vicariate that only official documents of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate have standing in the same. Fair enough– and bravo! Unfortunately (remember the “fight to the death” thing?) it seems these loyalists are using a new tack– anonymity– to continue their work of morphing the Western rite into their own image.

Lacking official sanction for this and other work, they’ve proceeded to set up what may well be nothing more than a fund and a website, produce the text and commission Lancelot Andrewes Press. We have no idea whether or not Lancelot Andrewes Press, or even St Mark’s parish in Denver, their sponsoring parish– are involved. We at NFTU believe that this is precisely the intention of this mysterious group, “English Orthodox Communications”.

Add to that what is now becoming the common Antiochian practice of receiving in these Protestants by the parish, and you have a recipe for disaster in the story.

Certainly St Mark’s parish is advertising the text. But there is a difference between advertising a text you like and being responsible for it, of course– and that subtle difference absolves those who simply claim to like it from responsibility if they do not claim to be its authors. This is a very dangerous precedent in Antiochian Western Rite Orthodoxy. The introduction to this Book of Common Prayer sums it up nicely: “It has no official approbation and is not a publication of any Diocese, Church, Synod, Convocation or Parliament of any authority anywhere.”

What business do those claiming to be Orthodox have supporting it or selling it, then? Are they Orthodox? Why don’t they say who they are?

Needless to say, we are following these developments– and this company– with interest. NFTU

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