VERY ONCE IN A WHILE I craft a phrase that keeps getting hits. “Eastern Rite Anglican”, mentioned only once on this blog (and rather deep in a post) is one of those phrases. Seems a lot of people like the idea and keep Googling it.
OK, so off I go. For this purpose we pull out the rare, and esoteric HTML coding of the Definition List!
- What are Eastern Rite Anglicans or Anglo-Byzantines?
- Essentially the idea is to do with traditional Eastern liturgies and theology what Anglo-Catholicism did, via the High Church, Ritualist and Tractarian movements, to traditional Western liturgies and theology.
- Um… Why?
- A couple of reasons. Three, maybe. And one bad historical pun:
1) The English tradition has often felt closer to Byzantine and Russian practice than Roman. This is seen even in the venerable “Sarum Rite”. When performed with a “Latin liturgical idea” in mind it is very exotic, but very easy to do. It has some eccentricities, but ok. Yet when performed with a “Byzantine liturgical idea” in mind, it is neither exotic nor eccentric. It is simply the local form of the liturgy.
2) The Anglican mindset fits well with the Byzantine tradition of multiple patterns coinciding in a non-linear liturgy. The claim is, essentially, that Eastern Liturgy is more Anglican than Western Liturgy, that Roman liturgy at its most traditionally ornate and “baroque” is not as Anglican as a full Russian rite with choir and tinkling censor bells.
Maybe 3) The claim of traditional liturgy to be incarnational – involving all the person, mind, spirit and flesh (all the senses) seems to be not as well manifest in Western liturgy with its robes, postures, colours and incense, as it is in Eastern liturgy with its robes, postures, colours, incense, non-linearity, (traditional) lack of seating which moves the laity closer to the rite and (archaeological) lack of division in the worship space which is restored in more recent practices. This is, however, a subjective point rather than an objective one. More on this below.
Optional Bad Historical Pun: for a certain school of Uberfrum Orthodox, the Holy Spirit lived in the Holy Orthodox Church of the West, prior to the Great Schism. But in England, it lasted right up until 14 October 1066 when the Evil Schismatic Pope Alexander the II sent William the Evil Schismatic Conqueror into England to slay the Good Orthodox King Harold II. On that day the Holy Spirit left the Anglo-Saxon People, never to be seen again save by those who journeyed into enlightened Russia or Greece and found Orthodoxy. So this Idea of Eastern Rite Anglicans might just be the last sign of the Impending Apocalypse for this group of folks.
- Speak more of this incarnational issue
- Again, I want to be clear, this is a personal experience rather than a theological claim but during my years as an Anglo-Catholic (rosaries, statues, votive lights, etc) it all seemed rather stilted and “pious”, more like “Let’s be stodgy English people pretending to be prim French or Austrian Catholics. But upper class ones…” There were elements of misogyny and racism as well. When we really cut loose, we’d deck out a statue of Virgin Mary with twinkly lights and make jokes about “Mediterranean” or “Latin” piety. The official face was called “liturgical boredom”.
I never had this problem in Eastern Rite worship. Between kids running around on the carpet (I remember, especially fondly, my Godson learning to toddle back and forth in front of the candle stands) and the choir singing one thing while the priest was singing another and the congregation singing along (as and when they felt like it, with or without skill or even knowing the words) and the deacon censing the walls and the icons, and the adults moving around in the center of the room, and the monks making smirky smiles when the Abbot wasn’t looking…
Yes, everything was involved, and every part of Life was present (sorta).
It’s a personal bias: I think perhaps based in no small part on the mind I learned to have in such situations growing up. Yet even now when I go to WR Orthodox worship (at the Monastery in Hamilton), it’s theologically rich, mentally engaging, while the rest of me is bored. Again, your mileage w/ WR worship may vary. This is not a critique of Western Worship. But of an experience within western Worship.
As the assistant Bishop of New York once said to me, “The word became flesh, but Anglicans wallow in it.” I think we can wallow very much in an ER setting: we can be all that we can be. Yes, we can.
- So what kind of liturgy are you imagining?
- Well, to start off, the Antiochian Book Divine Liturgy for Clergy and Laity as it has easy-to-use music and all the words written out. Yes, yes, I know: it’s missing some of the litanies, but so what? The vast majority of ER worshippers in the world do not use those litanies any more. In the long run, however, I imagine using the books produced by the Monks of New Skete. They are more modern, less awkward and, to some extent, easier to use.
And there is a wealth of music out there – as well as a whole world of Anglican music waiting to be adopted and adapted into ER services.
- Where is this being done already?
- Nowhere. Some of my friends seem to have imagined that my former parish, St Gregory of Nyssa Church, in San Francisco, was doing Eastern Rite worship. No. They do have a very eastern flavour to their worship, but their words are (largely) right out of the BCP and the NRSV. Collects and standard Victorian hymnody make up their worship. Not a thing wrong with it – I go when I can, listen to the CD when I need to, watch the DVD when I need a fix and get the sermon podcast every Sunday. But not a thing ER about it (in the sense of this post).
- But you’re not Theologically Orthodox? And you’re gay?
- Kinda but Yes. And there you’ve hit on a point: I want to underscore again, Anglican theology and Anglican approach to liturgy plus Eastern Wroship. Heck, I could be a member of the United Church of Canada for all that the denomination is important. I do imagine we’ll read the Church Fathers more often, and the Synaxarion (or, more to the point The Prologue from Ohrid) but I do imagine some more theological play back and forth than most Orthodox or conservative Anglicans might like. I do imagine some debates about all the usual things that spark debates among Protestants, and, like the Good Anglo-Catholic divines before us, I imagine having people insist “that’s not Anglican” and “that’s not Orthodox” and “Neither Fish nor Fowl” and “neither Fresh nor Foul” and the like. And, joy, I’ll not care.
- Is this that “Emergent Church” thing I keep hearing about?
- No, not yet, anyway. But it could be. Later.
- Will you have “Russian Easter” and “Russian Christmas”?
- No and No. But the New Martyrs of Russian (including the later Royal Family) might be important.