Why I Am Not Eastern Orthodox

From time to time I will get an email asking whether I considered Eastern  Orthodoxy when I left Anglicanism.

The answer is that I did not.

Here’s why:

I certainly learned a bit about Eastern Orthodoxy while I was at Oxford. Bishop Kallistos Ware lived around the corner in North Oxford. and I attended the little Orthodox church there a couple of times. I also went to some seminars there, and over the years scratched the surface of Eastern Orthodoxy.

What I found was very attractive. I loved the monastic tradition and the iconography. I loved the sacramental spirituality and admired the stout persistence of the Eastern Orthodox through so many trials and persecutions. I respected their quarrels with Rome and appreciated their rapprochement with Anglicanism.

But I never considered becoming Eastern Orthodox because it seemed to me to be too intrinsically interconnected with particular nationalism and ethnicity. I was done with that when I left Anglicanism.

In that respect there were many similarities between Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. To be really Anglican I think you have to be English. To be really Orthodox you have to be Greek or Russian or Bulgarian. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not slighting those who have converted to Orthodoxy. God bless them, and I wish them well.

I asked myself, “If fitting into the Church of England was difficult–(and I was always considered a ‘foreigner’) then what would it be like to attempt an even greater cultural jump to Greek or Russian Orthodox?

I was an American expatriate in England. My history as a Protestant and my adopted history as an Anglophile and Anglican priest was Western. My roots were in Rome, not Constantinople.

I had another observation and criticism of  those who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Not wishing to judge them, but it seemed to me that like the good Protestants they were, they were still choosing the church they liked best. There was something “denominational” about their choice. Was it really Catholic to choose “which” Catholic church you were going to join? Was it really Catholic to sniff around and pick the one you thought best? That was exactly what I didn’t want to do. I wanted to submit to Rome–warts and all. I wanted to be judged by the church, not judge the church.

It was interesting how some American Evangelicals read and prayed their way into understanding the need to belong to a church that had apostolic orders, liturgy and a Catholic spirituality, but instead of becoming Catholic they made up their own Orthodox Church and went scooting around looking for  bishop they could connect with. This so called convergence church has some admirable attributes, but isn’t it really just the foundation of yet another Protestant denomination? (Here is a longer article about “emergent church” and “convergence Churches”.)

This seemed bogus to me–just another example of Protestants trying to make their church seem more Catholic or trying to invent a new “Catholic” Church. Church history was full of these ecclesial experiments–the Catholic Apostolic Church. The long list of Anglican schisms, and the long list of Catholic “apostolic” schisms smelled too much like these “new” Eastern Orthodox churches.

In saying all this I don’t wish to pick a fight with anyone who has chosen the Eastern path. I pray for the day when the church breathes again with two lungs and hope to learn as much as I can from the venerable traditions and examples of the East.

All of these are reasons why Eastern Orthodoxy was never an option, but the ultimate reason is simpler.

I felt the call to be in full communion with the successor of Peter.


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