It is now fifty years since Anglicans began to convert to the Orthodox Church in this country. In that time most have failed to incarnate themselves into Orthodox culture and then transmit that culture to succeeding generations, children and grandchildren, instead forming only small, short-term, ex-Anglican ghettos. Now hybrid Anglican Orthodoxy is dying out and disappearing. What went wrong? We believe that we can see four reasons for this failure, two of which are sociological, two of which are theological. What are they?
a) Sociological Reasons
First of all, it must be said that only a relatively small number of Anglicans have entered the Orthodox Church in the last fifty years. I remember that at the Effingham Conference in 1975 I was told by one in authority at Ennismore Gardens (the jurisdiction of the late Metr Antony Bloom, who formed a self-justifying ‘mini-diocese’ out of ex-Anglicans) that 1,000 English people had been received by that date, the vast majority from an educated Anglican background. Since then, in the 1980s, a number of Anglicans were received by a dissident archbishop into the local diocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and, in the 1990s, some 300 were received into the Western European diocese of the Patriarchate of Antioch. But even so, it is unlikely that numbers of converts ever reached even 3,000, probably fewer at any one time. And this figure does not take into account numbers lapsing through being received prematurely, back into Anglicanism, into nothing, or else into Greek sects, or else dying of old age.
There have been several reasons for these small numbers. First, there has been the problem of language – most Orthodox use their native languages (i.e. not English) in Church services. This tends to create immigrant ghettos and does not reach down into English society, attracting only the well-educated and well-travelled. For example, some Greek parish priests, and in fairness representatives of all jurisdictions have done this, have shown hostility and sometimes downright rudeness to English people interested in the Orthodox Faith. Unedifying anecdotes abound. There is also the fact that after over some 900 years of being cast out of this country, the Orthodox Church has had to start here again from scratch as a poor immigrant Church, without funding, without church buildings, without infrastructure. This lack of infrastructure has discouraged many Anglicans because of the mentality described below
2. The Establishment Mentality
Anglicans generally suffer from an Establishment mentality. As an inherent and wealthy part of the Establishment, they usually expect everything to be done for them by their State authorities. As a State Church, they often suffer from the syndrome that expects everything to be provided. The problem of Anglican and Anglo-Catholic clericalism (‘the clergy will do it’) only makes the problem worse. This is utterly different from the Orthodox Church, where the impoverished faithful (priests and laity) have to do everything for themselves and can expect no financial or practical support from their impoverished bishops. This Anglican Establishment mentality, often public school and very patronising to ‘poor Eastern European peasants’, also leads to a class-based exclusiveness. This is basically racist and hypocritically but deliberately snubs those who do not belong to it, not only Non-English people, but also English people but who are not of Anglican and Establishment background.
b) Theological Reasons
1. A Weak Dogmatic Consciousness
One of the main characteristics of Protestantism (and clearly this includes Anglicanism despite its outward pretence of catholicity, as invented in the 19th century) is its weak dogmatic consciousness – in other words, its lack of faith and so lack of spiritual depth. Thus, it has a concept of God, but only the dimmest concept of the Holy Trinity and is not even aware that it confesses the papal filioque (as well as the papal calendar). Thus, it has a concept of ‘Jesus’ (the human nature of Christ), but not of the Son of God, not of the God-man, and therefore not of the Incarnation. In addition it utterly confuses the Holy Spirit with psychic self-exaltation (a confusion that underpins the ‘charismatic’ movement). Indeed, it is difficult to know if modern Protestantism, dependent on Western States and secular cultures, without the dogmas contained in the sign of the cross, believes in anything.
Thus, it is said that 40% of Anglican clergy do not believe in God, let alone in the Holy Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, Providence, the Resurrection, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, the Saints, the Sacraments and prayer-deepening fasting. Certainly, especially at Easter time, we are accustomed to State-appointed Anglican bishops, let alone the laity, regularly saying that they do not believe in the Resurrection. Thus, for many Anglicans and sadly, ex-Anglicans, the Orthodox Faith appears only to be an intellectual hobby, a piece of snobbish exotica for outward mimicking and ritualism, an upper middle-class debating issue, at best a personal and private theory, at worst pure fantasy. And this problem of a lack of commitment has only been reinforced by another difficulty.
2. Personality Cults
Sadly, the Orthodox Diaspora has been dominated and divided by a series of mainly Russian personality cults. Alpha egos, all claiming some unique revelation or access to Divinity, shrouded in absurd foreign jargon, have split relatively small groups of immigrants and even smaller groups of converts. Each personality, preaching some pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-mystical and pseudo-esoteric cult and claiming holiness, has attracted the inexperienced and, frankly, the ignorant. With most of the real Orthodox world inaccessible because of Communist persecution and most of the Church paralysed because of Communist captivity, and so no checks and balances, such personalities were able to dominate small groups of naïve and inexperienced converts and even hoodwink them, almost hypnotically. This was especially the case in insular Britain, geographically cut off from a sense of catholicity, the wider Orthodox Church world and an overview of the civilizational and cultural reality of the Orthosphere.
Although the above description of the past is pessimistic, we are optimistic about the future. In recent decades atheist regimes collapsed and Churches were freed from their feudal shackles; the old personality cultists with their absurd claims are dead and their books gather dust; masses of immigrants from Orthodox Europe have renewed Church life and the Faith; finally, today’s converts are coming from the vast mass of English people who are not Anglican. They have no cultural prejudices, no baggage, and are therefore receptive to and can commit to genuine Orthodox culture, without simply mimicking it, just as Anglo-Catholics have always mimicked Catholicism. Today, with the services translated and more churches, the Orthodox Church can reach further into English society, far beyond the spiritually superficial and elitist Anglican Establishment, than ever before. In this way, and in this way alone, can an authentic local Orthodox culture be produced in this country, by becoming incarnate in the roots of the land. Reality is taking over from fantasy.