04 September 2017

What the heck is an ‘Anglo-Orthodox’, anyway?


Given that yesterday was the day of the translation of the relics of Saint-King Éadweard the Martyr, it is probably high time to address the single most often-repeated question I get, on this blog and on Facebook. It’s some variant of the following: ‘What exactly do you mean by “Anglo-Orthodox”?’ As something of a public service announcement, then: allow me to attempt to answer that briefly, by examining the two elements in reverse order.
  1. Orthodox: ‘of right belief’. I am a member of the Body of Christ. That is to say, the continuous, organic community of single faith, united by conciliar and brotherly love, tracing itself back in an unbroken line to the Apostles of Christ, which is made up by those four of the five ancient Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem) who have held the ancient teachings intact, the five later Patriarchates (Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) and the five (or six, sort of) autocephalous Churches who dwell in unity with them. I confess entirely and without reserve the dogmas concerning the personality of Christ that have been established by the seven Œcumenical Councils. I take as my own the Symbol of Faith that was proclaimed at Nicæa and Constantinople, and which is held in common by all Orthodox Christians.

  2. Anglo: ‘a person of English ancestry’. Which I am, in addition to the odd Jewish, Danish, Yugoslav and German grafts onto that tree. My father’s family has its roots in Yorkshire; my mother’s in Worcestershire. Both of my parents – purely by accident, I must suppose – instilled in me a deep love and affection for the Mother Country. As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a particular affection for the poetry and prose literature and the history of Great Britain in general and of England in particular.

    I responded eagerly to attempts by my sixth-grade science teacher to interest me in the plays and poems of Shakespeare, and by my eighth-grade social studies teacher to sway me to a kind of Tory socialism. Upon moving to Rhode Island, I discovered Samuel Johnson and Charles Gore, and went easily from the Peace Church tradition into Anglo-Catholicism, and the litany of English poets, novelists, critics and moralists who have influenced me from that tradition should, by now, be one well-known to my gentle readers. The key factor swaying me into the Orthodox Church was no Eastern saint or Father, in fact, but rather the historical writings of a humble, kindly and learned English Benedictine who was heavily-versed in both.
That’s all I mean by ‘Anglo-Orthodox’: an Orthodox Christian, who is also a literary Anglophile and of English extraction. I can understand the reservations of my questioners, though; If I were to have called myself, say, a ‘Jewish Orthodox’, I could be justly reproached for using a language that might confuse me with Orthodox Jews! A similar principle may apply here. By ‘Anglo-Orthodox’ I do not mean anything connected with the schismatic-Miaphysite British Orthodox Church. By ‘Anglo-Orthodox’ I do not even mean anything even as relatively innocuous as a follower of Julius Joseph Overbeck, or an adherent of the Western Rite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. If anything, what I mean when I say ‘Anglo-Orthodox’ may be indicated by the religious understanding of the great philosopher Richard Swinburne when he said that joining the Orthodox Church was more an affirmation of every single one of the good and true things he had believed already, all along.

So, please consider this an official apology on my part, an explanation which I can only hope is not too self-serving, and a long-overdue clarification of an ambiguity I’ve been negligently perpetuating for far too long.

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