Eastern Anglicanism?

M mentioned to me that she’d seen something on Facebook about an Eastern-leaning Anglican group.

The Eastern churches are a very interesting bunch.

We—I—sometimes talk about the theology of the Undivided Church in a frequently simplistic fashion. Typically the phrase “the Undivided Church” refers to the things held in common by the churches East and West before the official never reconciled separation of the Great Schism in 1054. But dating the divide strictly at 1054 ignores the tensions between the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking sides of the church that existed almost continuously through the first Christian millennium. I have written on this before.

There are  interesting things that we can and should learn from the Eastern churches. Just as there are interesting things that we can learn from the pre-Reformation Western churches and from the Roman Catholic Church. Just as there are interesting things that we can learn from non-Christian Eastern and Western thought…

We are Anglicans, though. As Anglicans, we have committed ourselves to the belief that the Christian gospel is effectively and completely mediated in the habits and patterns laid down in the Books of Common Prayer. We are a Western church. Our liturgies partake of the Historic Western Liturgy grounded in the doctrine and practice of the Latin Fathers. There have been points of cross-pollination at various times both before and after the Reformation and I’m not trying to deny nor diminish these. On the contrary, I think a realistic appraisal of these serves to reinforce our ecclesial identity as fundamentally Western.

Learning about the Eastern churches and learning from them is good and important.

But we do this best and most faithfully when we are grounded in an understanding of who and what we are as Anglicans. We have to know who we are, what we believe, and where our commitments lie to get the most out of an encounter with any other tradition. While learning Eastern ways can provide a helpful alternative angle on the faith for those grounded in prayer book practices, all too often liturgical lingering looks over the Bosporus have more to do with a desire for exoticism than anything else.

30 thoughts on “Eastern Anglicanism?

  1. Joseph F

    The group is “the Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism”, and it seems that it was started by Justin Cannon, the priest who started the group Inclusive Orthodoxy (that group is focused on orthodox doctrine as a resource for LGBT Christians, not Orthodox Christianity).

    I share your concerns about this project. What makes it “Eastern”? Is it just the liturgy, or a spirituality? Why not just be Eastern Orthodox, then? Is this related to the Anglo-Catholicism that looks to Rome as the “authentic” expression of Christianity yet wants married priests and so stays within the Episcopal Church? Given that Fr. Cannon’s latest book focused on LGBT Orthodox Christians, I have a feeling that his heart is truly called to Eastern Orthodoxy yet he cannot countenance the anti-LGBT theology and practice of the Eastern Orthodox. Much like the Anglo-Catholics who stay in the Episcopal Church only because they can be priests without celibacy (but assert that Rome is right), I worry that Fr. Cannon is treating the Episcopal Church the same way (doesn’t want to have to give up same-sex partnership to be an Orthodox priest, so he’ll stay Episcopalian and mold the Anglican tradition into the Orthodox image he prefers).

    The more time I spend as an Episcopalian, I really treasure the Catholic, Reformed, and (yes) Orthodox roots of our spirituality and liturgy. There are many treasured to be had from these traditions, yes, but there is something about our Prayer Book spirituality that is authentically and specially ours to share! I wish other traditions had such an emphasis on one, solid book of prayer that unites people with its cadences. I wish other traditions gave the laity as much a role in the writing of the liturgy as our prayer book tradition! How awesome that the core of the liturgy is in the hands of the lay people and in the hands of the lay and ordained delegates to General Convention, not just in the hands of the priest.

  2. Victoria Geer McGrath

    And I think there is also a level of spiritual humility in us recognizing that in God’s wisdom (however that was mediated) we are here, in this Anglican expression of the Western Church – whether we were born into it, or led into it, or led back to it – and we should be faithful to that. The Holy Spirit may well lead us as individuals into new territories of tradition and spirituality that will ultimately bear fruit and give God glory, but that’s a decision for God. It’s also a decision “for” something, and not “against” something, or at least it should be. I suppose, Derek, I’m talking about the stability piece of the Benedictine approach. Sometimes the hardest way to be faithful is in one place, over a long period of time. I’m reminded of the title of Eugene Peterson’s book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” This hankering after an “Eastern Rite” Anglicanism seems like liturgical lust to me.

  3. Fr. Justin Cannon

    Many churches in the Anglican Communion use other rites like the Roman Rite, variations of a Celtic Rite, and others, as approved by their bishops. I am a cradle-Episcopalian and love the Spirit of Anglicanism as explored, for example, in Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s book “Anglican Spirit.” The Episcopal Church is my spiritual home and it would take a lot more than inclusion of LGBT folk and ordination of women for me to consider becoming Eastern Orthodox. Through SERA we are simply proposing inclusion of an Eastern Rite in our repertoire of liturgical services. Most importantly, we have noticed a growing interest online around the idea of “Eastern Rite Anglicanism” and we are seeking to launch the society as a venue for dialogue and exploration of this idea.

  4. Derek Olsen


    In your first sentence I’m not sure I’d use the word “many”… Of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church, how many bishops have authorized either the Roman or a “Celtic” Rite? (And the scare-quotes on “Celtic” are quite intentional—I have little patience for most of what passes for Celtic these days as explained here and here.) You say that the Episcopal Church is your spiritual home—but I don’t know what this means to you. The prayer book is at the spiritual center of our church and you took promises at your ordination to uphold its doctrine and worship. How do these fit in with this project?

    Liturgy and ceremonial are the kinetic expression of our theology. When we start doing different liturgies with different ceremonial then theological and doctrinal changes are occurring whether we intend them or not. What are the theological implications of the liturgies you wish to import and how do they accord with that of the Episcopal Church?

    If your intention is to stir thought, then that’s well and good—but I think you need some more robust explanations than pointing to other (Western) rites authorized and talk online…

  5. Fr. Justin Cannon

    I did take promises at my ordination to uphold the church’s doctrine and worship. I will not do anything through this society contrary to said doctrine and worship, but wish to work in and with the system and teaching of our church. I will also always act under the guidance of my bishop and the canons of the church. We are not seeking to uproot or undermine anything currently in place. The goal is, as I said, most importantly to gather people interested in these ideas together in a society to explore all the implications of an “Eastern Anglican Rite” and to seek “establishment” of said rite through the formal channels and structures of the church. We are committed to The Anglican Communion and I, as a priest, to my bishop and TEC. In terms of the theological implications of the liturgies, those concerns will be addressed and explored through the site and I’m most excited about the form as a place for all this dialogue to continue.

  6. Joe Rawls

    We Anglicans have always borrowed from other traditions; compare a typical Sunday Eucharist today with a typical service in 1830, which was almost certainly Morning Prayer in a surplice. My interest in Eastern Christianity focuses mainly on hesychasm and other aspects of its intentionally mystical spirituality. Liturgically, I actually prefer a good bells-and-smells Western Mass. But I would love to be able to attend the Divine Liturgy and actually receive communion instead of just the antidoron. I think you need to lighten up a bit on Fr Justin and his project. In my former parish the Jesus Seminar and Mary Magdalen (as the wife of Jesus) are all the rage. Eastern Rite Anglicanism would be a breath of fresh air for many of us.

  7. bls

    I don’t really understand why people can’t do this already, via “Rite III.” (i.e., “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” pp. 400-405 of the BCP.) Surely an “Eastern Rite” would fit nicely under those rubrics? So why not just do the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (or one of the others) in that context?

    The only stipulations are that “This rite requires careful preparation by the Priest and other participants” and “It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of
    the Holy Eucharist.” Saturday evening, then? Or at another Sunday service, not the “principal” one?

  8. Joe Mock

    Any body seen what I think was called the Bombay Liturgy from one of the old Indian PB? That’s modeled on the Easter rite – I dona’t know if is still or ever was used, but it’s interesting.

  9. Joe Rawls

    bls, I meant to include a reference to “Rite III” in my comment and I agree that the Divine Liturgy would fit into this nicely. Some Maronite parishes are “dual-rite”; they use both the Maronite liturgy and the Roman western rite. This could be a fruitful model for parishes wanting to use both eastern and western liturgies.

  10. bls

    Sure. This way, people who hanker for something Eastern can have it – and the BCP remains the “preferred” liturgy. That, I think, is a very good idea; it can serve to keep the peace at General Convention around the BCP. To my mind, it would really be nice for everybody to stop tinkering with everything all the time and to think about how to go deeper in using what we’ve already got. Shallowness the Episcopal Church’s biggest problem, as far as I can see.

    And this way, if locally there’s some really interesting service that people want to attend, they won’t care whether it’s on Sunday morning at 10 a.m.; I mean, look at all those people who go to Compline at St. Mark’s in Seattle every Sunday night.

    I don’t really know the Eastern liturgies, but I’m pretty sure you could actually “Easternize” Rite II, via music and liturgical action anyway! The speaking parts in Rite II are pretty minimal, after all. And we already have Prayer D – an Eastern eucharistic prayer. I know there are litanies and things, and the language is somewhat different. But what’s going on is exactly the same at base – isn’t it?

  11. Lee M.

    As a sympathetic outsider/sometimes-participant, it’s always been interesting to me how often Anglicanism looks outside itself to define its identity. Not sure what larger lesson to draw from that, if any.

  12. Derek Olsen

    Joe, thanks for chiming in—I specifically had both you and Fr. Marsh in mind as I was writing the post. My concern here actually does tie in with what you deal with in your parish now: ” the Jesus Seminar and Mary Magdalen (as the wife of Jesus).” I don’t know Fr. Cannon from Adam; he might be the perfect exemplar of the grounded Anglican priest who knows and lives the prayer book and for whom this is a helpful devotional add-on. However, I also know that many of the clergy I can see being interested in this sort of thing are not that type. One of our issues is clergy who use their position to inflict their own spiritual journeys (or meanderings) on their congregations. It goes back to the idea of the Book of Common Prayer as a contract between the clergy and the laity—in principle we’ve all agreed that this is what we’re going to use and that it will be our norm. Rite III is a framework that allows for more freedom and experimentation, but I will call everyone’s attention to what bls mentioned in passing: the rubric on page 400 explicitly states “It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist.”

    I do understand where you’re coming from. And I know that some change, variation, and experimentation is a healthy part of one’s spiritual diet. But knowing the state of the church, I fear that this would only contribute further to liturgical, spiritual, and doctrinal tinkering from those unequipped to do so.

  13. bls

    One of our issues is clergy who use their position to inflict their own spiritual journeys (or meanderings) on their congregations. It goes back to the idea of the Book of Common Prayer as a contract between the clergy and the laity—in principle we’ve all agreed that this is what we’re going to use and that it will be our norm.

    Amen, Derek. If it’s not one thing it’s something else; this, to me, is still another case of “moving the furniture around” as a distraction from what’s really at issue: our need for conversion (“of life,” if you like adding that on).

    That’s totally normal, of course; nobody wants to have to deal with that. What’s interesting in the case of the Episcopal Church is that people continually attempt to mess with the one and only thing we have – the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the basis of our religious life encoded as “liturgical formularies” – that can possibly help effect this conversion. Nothing at all subtle about that!

    So as I always say: if you want it, do it. Nothing prevents anybody from creating whatever kind of service they want, as a variant; it’s already allowed. The fact that many people seem to feel the need to do this “officially,” via our political process, is the issue that needs some unpacking here, I think.

    (I do sympathize with you, though, Joe; I’ve done time in the Jesus Seminar atmosphere myself…..)

  14. C. Wingate

    As someone who has done eastern liturgies from time to time, the part I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around is what it is that someone trying to construct an Anglican eastern rite would be aiming at. I mean, you could I suppose take the Antiochian prayer book, turn to the Divine Liturgy, and interpose one of the BCP prayers at the appropriate point in the rite. You would also really need to set up a liturgical space according to the Orthodox pattern, and work out all the chants (or use Slavonic or Byzantine music, and in the former case you’ll need to bring the choir up to speed), and acquire the appropriate altar hardware…and everyone would have to get used to the fact that the liturgy was going to run well over an hour no matter how few people showed up.


    Given that my personal BCP says “Proposed” on the title page, it isn’t as though I haven’t gotten to see a lot of different usage in thirty-five years, ranging from A-C to National-Cathedral-high to Wofford Smith and I standing on opposite sides of the altar in the UMCP west chapel. And I really don’t see anyone who really wants to do what a real eastern service looks like; if there were, there would be a heck of a lot more A-C parishes around. And as far as doing theology is concerned, well, I look at someone like Thomas Hopko and see someone whom I can interact with in modes that I interact with the more classically Anglican writers. But a lot of the Orthodox really don’t like Hopko because really, when push comes to shove, Orthodox theology sits far closer to anything Roman, even the Thomism which they despise, than to anything acceptable to a modernist Anglican.

    My snide opinion is that because far too many Anglican clerics these days cannot bring themselves to take their own worship seriously, they are drawn to dabble in any sort of exotic liturgical color in order to try to liven things up, denying the reality that the fault is in themselves.

  15. Derek Olsen

    And that’s only for the Mass, C. If the idea here really is a full-on rite then, as Christopher points out in his ruminations, it must include the Office too.

  16. Derek Olsen

    (Joe—should make explicit what I intended; I see you and Fr. Marsh as examples of Anglicans who have benefited from the study of Orthodoxy and used it for a helpful perspective on what we do.)

  17. Alex Scott

    As someone who is somewhat infatuated with orthodox theology, I suppose I’m less interested in a liturgy than I am in a more orthodox frame of mind. I love the idea of theosis; and I find the emphasis on Christ saving by becoming human, not just dying as one, to be an appealing antidote to penal substitution; and the prominence of prayer and sacrament and spiritual direction; and the less juridical, more therapeutic view of sin and repentance.

    None of that requires a new Anglican liturgy to me. It does inform my prayer life, and I’d love to see more of these things in the Episcopal Church. But other than that, I think I’m fine at my current incense-waving, Gregorian-chanting church.

  18. Finn Froding

    A very interesting thread here. I’ve certainly been attracted to the Eastern rites over the years, as well as to their theology, which however is clearly not my own. Theirs, of course is “right” (orthos) like no other, and they brook nothing like the dissent tolerated in our Communion. In 1968, after an 80-mile walk to the ROCOR monastery at Jordanville, and a highly illuminating weekend there, I began walking home. On encountering a village Episcopal church I entered, sat on the organ bench, and began playing hymns from Hymnal 1940, and felt home at last.
    As others have suggested, Anglican interest in Eastern prayers and liturgy dates back almost to the Reformation. And if Charles’s “Proposed” Prayer Book was one of the series of revised books from 1967-76, it might have featured the Nicene Creed without the “Filioque,” Here was at least an honest effort to get it “right,” but Convention retreated to Western error at the last moment.
    What nobody has mentioned is the interest shown by some English-speaking Orthodox in adapting the Sarum Rite. Why? Because it is a Western rite without the Tridentine and counter-Reformation elements? Because it allows (in some cases) for preparation of the Elements earlier than the Offertory or “Great Entrance”? Of course it is Roman in origin and outlook, and must be heavily revised for Orthodox use. Anglican interest in Sarum, however (the style, not the literal Rite), is usually held by those loyal to the BCP and the spirit of the Ornaments Rubric, who share an interest in the piety of the Middle Ages, and are drawn to the very attractive ceremonial and ornaments which offer a “high church” liturgy without baroque tackiness. For Blessed Percy it also meant deliverance from solo clericalism, be it Popish or Protestant.
    As for any purported “Celtic Rite,” I fully agree with our host. Its attractiveness to new age Christians is due solely to its poor preservation, which allows its devotees to project onto it anything they like.Still, the “Rite III” provisions of the BCP allow for occasional experimentation among sympathetic communities.

  19. Pingback: Eastern Rite Anglicanism? A huge task. | father christopher

  20. Rdr. James Morgan

    As a former Anglo-Catholic, now Eastern Orthodox for over 20 years, I feel a response is in order.
    I’m all for Fr. Cannon’s wanting to ‘go Eastern’. After all, both the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) and the Antiochians, have western rites, the latter even has provision for the Rite of St. Tikhon, which is a re-working of the 1928 BCP. I think one should be aware that the so-called Sarum Rite is basically the ordinary of the Latin Mass with additions and interpolations, and a distinctive ceremonial.
    And all that censing during the services….(mandatory for us guys)
    And as someone above has mentioned, there is the little matter of the divine office! Saturday evening Vespers normally will take at least 45 minutes, and Mattins is at least an hour.
    Then there are all the hymns asking the interecession of the Mother of God and the saints (and there is at least one of those for every day of the year.
    And FOUR fasting periods during the year….
    If you want a really Eastern rite, go for it!

  21. Rdr. James Morgan

    PS I have a copy of the Menaion I’km not using right now. Twelve volumes costing around $1300.
    I’ll make a deal and let them go for $1200. Then you can have all the services for the saints!

  22. bls

    And as someone above has mentioned, there is the little matter of the divine office! Saturday evening Vespers normally will take at least 45 minutes, and Mattins is at least an hour.

    ….And since we as Anglicans have Morning Prayer and Evensong every day of the year – well, we’re way ahead of the game already.

    Interesting about the fasting, though. Even though our BCP only asks for it on two days of the year, it’s perfectly possible to adopt it as a spiritual discipline during the whole of Lent; I do a Lent fast every year now. Because fasting, too, is part of the Western heritage; it’s not unique to Orthodoxy (although they are one of the few groups who continue to practice it, it’s true).

    And it’s true that the Orthodox fast a lot! About half the days of the year, in total, I think; that’s one way to go. I think I prefer the once-a-year version, myself; that way Lent has its own unique character (and Advent, likewise, has its own – a good thing, and another way the Great Church Year can be of enormous help to the psyche and soul). Actually, it seems to me that there’s been an uptick of interest in fasting lately, at least from what I’m reading online – even among Protestants!

    All this is to say, again, that I believe the attempt to achieve satori by always looking around for new liturgies to perform is really missing the point. The fault lies with us; there is nothing missing from the way we worship on Sundays. The real problem, to me, is missing that point almost totally – that we ourselves are the problem.

    I’m with Alex in finding Orthodox theology (what I know of it) appealing in its “therapeutic” view of sin and redemption – but that’s right there in the Anglicanism, too. Remember that it’s said that Anglicans particularly emphasize the Incarnation! In fact, I’ve just finished reading that Cranmer’s version of the Palm Sunday collect (for instance) amended the original Gelasian Sacramentary prayer by adding the words “that thou of thy tender love towards man…” Massey Shepherd wrote about it that “This Collect is the nearest thing to a statement of the doctrine of Atonement to be found in the Prayer Book, and It is significant that it associates it with Christ’s Incarnation no less than with his Passion.”

    I really do prefer having a variety of ways to look at things, in fact; I think that’s reality, in fact, and I do think Anglicanism is pretty good at keeping these sorts of tensions (we might go as far as to call them “cognitive dissonances”!) intact and working. To my way of thinking, that’s exactly what makes real growth possible – and why anything (including religion) becomes hideously boring when it’s removed by design….

  23. bls

    (Alex: once I heard a priest – a really low-church, Evangelical-type – stand there and read, with delight, from the 39 Articles during her sermon – something I’ve never seen before or since! She was particularly enamored of Article XI. Of the Justification of Man: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”

    It was the part I bolded above that made her smile, especially the “very full of comfort” clause. I have to say, the 39 Arts. aren’t really my cup of tea, in general – but I did take from that the realization that certain things really are meaningful as “therapeutic” to others, even if not in particular to myself. I’ve actually come to quite an appreciation of (most of) the 39 at this point, to my own surprise….)

  24. Rdr. James Morgan

    Well, as a former Anglican, I would define ‘Anglicanism’ as to adhering to at leat one of the many BCPs out there in the Anglican world. so Eastern Liturgies don’t enter the mix in some way. If there were an ‘Eatern Rite’ Anglican venue, it should probably come from one of the various Anglican provinces who see a need for it, in order to minister to people who are not ‘western’. eh? Of course, people can do as they want! There was at one time a publication that had an Anglican rendition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as ‘performed’ at St. John’s Cathedral in NYC. As I recall it was mostly in dark blue ink, and expunged the mentioned of Mary the Mother of God. anyone remember this? I had a copy but it went the ‘way of all books’ long ago.

  25. Rdr. James Morgan

    Posed again so you notice!

    Rdr. James Morgan says:
    April 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Well, as a former Anglican, I would define ‘Anglicanism’ as to adhering to at leat one of the many BCPs out there in the Anglican world. so Eastern Liturgies don’t enter the mix in some way. If there were an ‘Eatern Rite’ Anglican venue, it should probably come from one of the various Anglican provinces who see a need for it, in order to minister to people who are not ‘western’. eh? Of course, people can do as they want! There was at one time a publication that had an Anglican rendition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as ‘performed’ at St. John’s Cathedral in NYC. As I recall it was mostly in dark blue ink, and expunged the mentioned of Mary the Mother of God. anyone remember this? I had a copy but it went the ‘way of all books’ long ago.

  26. Mike

    Why bother remaking something? The Marthoma Syrian Church of India uses a protestant Anglicanized version of the Syriac Orthodox/Malankara Orthodox/Syro-Malankara Catholic Divine Liturgy. They omit all the Orthodox/Catholic prayers and made it Anglican in doctrine. Just borrow their books.

  27. Mike

    I forgot to mention, they are already full Anglican Communion members (the reformers were excommunicated from the Orthodox Church in India around 1850s).

  28. Raquel Bello

    As a former Roman, now Anglo-Catholic, i can see why many find Eastern Orthodoxy attractive for many reasons. I personally have not much appeal to it other than for education (Anglicans have some EO prayers lurking, and rood screens are very EO as well), but if it increases one’s love for the Anglican tradition and Daily Office to be Anglo-Orthodox, why not?

    As for Anglo-Catholicism, to me it is an expression of the same Ecclesia Anglicana, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Faith of the saints, prior to the Reformation. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin has given me that freedom, and there is a lovely Collect in the Canadian BCP 1962 for our Lady. It is not Romanism, but to me a valid expression of historical Anglican Christianity.

  29. Josh

    I am very interested in this society, though at present I am a Melkite Catholic. It should be noted, however, that the rite of St. Tikhon of Russia is an accepted Western Orthodox rite and it is grounded in Anglicanism. People saying “this is a Western Church” are missing the point. The Catholic church, for instance, is a unity of 22 Churches and one communion and thus one Church. The one mystical Church, the one Church we are all scrambling to reach through our various churches on earth, is tapped into in a variety of ways. There was at one time one Christian communion with various liturgies. Christianity is not exclusively Eastern or Western and there is no reason to not wish to experience the full beauty and depth of the Eastern rite if your Church has liturgical worship, a rite that touches the heart so deeply that it’s geographical origin is ultimately of little consequence. I pray people stay open to this possibility, as I believe it could go a long way for ecumenism and for anyone who hasn’t to have a powerful encounter with Christ through this most mystical form of worship inspired by the Holy Spirit.

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