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Anglo-Catholic Clergy Hankering for Orthodoxy Beware: The Orthodox Western Rite Is Neither Orthodox nor Western nor English nor Permanent (Part II of a Response to Father Mark Rowe) 

This is the second part of a response to the ROCOR Western Rite Communities Vicar General Fr. Mark Rowe, a priest who left the Anglican Catholic Church to join Western Rite Orthodoxy (hereinafter "WRO").  Part I may be read here, ParI III here and Part IV here.

In the course of  his 2012 Journey to Orthodox article "So That God Would Give You To Us." ,  Fr. Mark sets forth four questions to Anglicans in this article that he believes cuts the legs out from under the Anglican raison d'etre, which led to his conversion to WRO and which he posed on a recent Quad Cities Anglican Radio podcast to two ACNA clergy, Fr. Eric Vowles and Fr. Tom Janikowski, who lapped up every word without challenging anything he had to say.  From what I have been able to glean and in their defense, it appears that Frs. Vowles and Janikowski had already converted to WRO at the time of the interview, which would account for their responses, or rather lack thereof.  The four questions that in Rowe's mind are devastating to Anglicanism came from an Orthodox monk he spoke with while on a visit to a monastery:

One memorable trip we made together was a day trip to two monasteries in the Ocala area. There was a female and a male Greek monastery. We visited both that day. I remember to this day how impressed we were with the humility, hospitality and love we were shown in these holy places. The monks were going about their daily business during our visit and I noticed that they were saying the Jesus Prayer while walking or at their tasks. At one point, a young Priest-monk and I began to have a conversation. He was interested in hearing about my background. After we talked for a few minutes, he asked me some very candid questions- questions that changed my life.

He asked me:

Is the Church that you are in currently producing Saints?

Are you truly in the Church founded by Christ Himself?

If there was liturgy and Communion at the Tomb of Christ, would you be admitted to Communion?

Why would you risk your salvation and not become part of the Church where you can still do everything you love about your liturgical tradition but within Holy Orthodoxy?

For once in my life, I had no answers.

As I noted above, these are the four questions Fr. Rowe repeated in the Quad City Anglican radio podcast, to which Fr. Vowles and Fr. Tom Janikowski had no answer.  Of course, the implication here is that because they had no answers, no one could have any answers.  This second installment of my response to Fr. Rowe will be devoted to responses that a couple of fellow Anglicans and I gave at my Discussion Group for Anglicans Considering the Anglican Continuum at Facebook.

I will begin by providing links to a two-part response from Fr. Isaac Rehberg, rector of All Saints Anglican Church in San Antonio. TX (ACNA).  Fr. Rehberg’s reply stems from a more Protestant understanding of Anglicanism, some of which I do not necessarily share, but which needs to be read and considered:

Saints, Structures and Salvation, Part I 

Saints, Structures and Salvation, Part II 

Next, I want to post the response of Mr. Louis Underwood, an very astute and well-read 18-year old gentleman who is considering Holy Orders:

1) Is your Church currently producing Saints?

The process of canonization does not produce saints, but rather God’s Grace by which they live holy lives. In this sense, saints have and continue to be produced in the Anglican Church; although the modern apostasy from true Anglicanism has reduced the number of saints considerably. However, the fruits of grace are still present throughout the classical Anglican-world. When thinking of those traditional Anglican missionaries in Africa, India, and the Orient who give up everything to preach the Word of God to the Heathen, and those who live simple and holy Christian lives in their homeland, my answer to this question would be a certain Yes, God does still produce Saints in the Anglican Church.

2) "If you could do liturgically for the most part that which you do it now, but do it in the Church that unequivocally is the Church founded by Christ, why would you not do it?".|

Because we are already members of that Church which is unequivocally founded by Christ. Our Church was established by Saint Augustine, and has continued in an unbroken line of apostolic succession ever since, always under the official title "Ecclesia Anglicana". Genuine Anglicanism is just as, if not more intimately connected to the teachings of Christ than any other Church in Christendom. I say this because we recognize and submit to the Scriptures as possessing the highest authority, and containing all things necessary for salvation. This is in conformity with the teaching of the patristic fathers. For Saint Augustine says ""Who but you, O God, has made for us a solid firmament of authority over us in your divine Scripture....There is a testimony to you, 'giving wisdom to infants'. My God, make perfect your 'praise out of the mouths of babes and sucklings; (Ps.8:3). We have not come across any other books so destructive of pride, so destructive of 'the enemy and the defender' who resists your reconciliation by defending his sins...the voice of your messengers flying above the earth close to the firmament of your book; for this is the authority under which they have to fly, wherever they may go" (Confessions, p.282-283,287).

3) "Why would you even take a chance on risking your salvation?"

Non Eastern Orthodox Christians are not risking their salvation by belonging to the Catholic Church of God. Classical Anglicans submit to the authority of the Word of God, have had a continuous succession for 1500 years, and are therefore apart of this Catholic Church. Besides, Salvation comes from God (Ps.3:8), not from membership in this or that portion of the Church. Although we don't merit salvation, we have faith in God's infinite Love and the Sacrifice of His Son. We believe that this will save us in spite of our sins and weaknesses.

4) "Could you take Communion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?".

The Church is not about the buildings, but about the Faith. We receive Our Lord in our churches just as surely as they do at Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem . We hold the Faith of Scripture, therefore we hold the Faith of Christ. God didn't establish the "ancient four" as the singular Church. To say that He did is just another form of Papism, but with four popes instead of one. The Church is founded upon Jesus Christ (1.Cor; 3:11), not the "Big Four".

Now, I find it just absolutely astounding that Fr. Rowe, who presumably was required to have some sort of divinity degree or taken some kind of Anglican studies course to be ordained, would "have no answers" to these questions when the answers more or less rolled off the tongues of Fr. Rehberg and a young man with no divinity degree but who has clearly bothered to read and know about the Anglican faith he professes.  I wonder if he would have been such an easy target if he had known some basics about the Anglican faith and how to defend them.

Well, whatever the answer, my tack was a little different.  Instead of responsing point by point to the four supposedly unanswerable questions as Fr. Rehberg and Mr. Underwood did, I decided to take the position that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and posed a few questions of my own to Orthodox Christians:

1) Why does Orthodoxy's view of free will and grace differ so dramatically from the view presented in Holy Scripture? Why do you stand so squarely against St. Augustine and the Augustinian orientation of the Western church here? Even St. Innocent of Alaska seems to recognize the issue:

"Now, in the work we wish to advance, this does not in the main apply. To be sure, we too will need (in addition to financial means) intelligence, knowledge, experience, ability and so on, but we cannot - and must not, even under the best of circumstances - count on these factors as a sure means of attaining our goal. And why not? Because man's conversion to the path of faith and truth depends entirely upon God. "No one can come to me", said the Savior, "unless the Father who sent Me draws him to Me" [Jn 6:44]. Therefore if, according to his inscrutable judgments, the Lord does not wish for a given person or nation to be converted to Jesus Christ, even the most capable, most gifted, most zealous of workers will not succeed in his task." (Address of Metropolitan Innocent Veniaminov to the Organizational Meeting of the Orthodox Missionary Society, 1868. Quoted in Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, ed. Michael Oleksa, p. 141)

Orthodox patrologist Peter Gilbert, who adheres to the Orthodox view of free will, nonetheless concludes that "St. Augustine is genuinely on to something in his interpretation of Scripture", and that "what actually brings a human being to open the door (to the Gospel) remains deeply mysterious", and "if for nothing else, Augustine should be thanked for pointing that out."

2) Why, in light of the argument Fr. Matthew Kirby makes in his article "Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room", should we take seriously your claim that the Orthodox Church is the "True Church"; that those not in communion with her are not in the Church?

3) A related point concerning one of Fr. Rowe's four questions: if your argument against Anglicanism is that it is producing no saints, how can you argue that the Roman Catholic Church is not the True Church, since it IS producing saints? And can you truly foreclose the possibility that once Continuing Anglicanism achieves the unity and stability towards which it is successfully striving it will reintegrate a canonization process?  (The fact that Fr. Rowe didn't see how Roman Catholics could use that question against Orthodox truth claims is simply mystifying.  For us Anglicans, however, it simply explains why we often jokingly refer to the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as the "Two One True Churches". ;) )

4) The nominalism problem: if Orthodoxy, the "True Church", is the spiritual haven you say it is, what do you say to Orthodox theologian Brad Nassif's lament that the Orthodox Church is plagued by the "lack of changed lives"; that it is overly sacramentalized and under-evangelized; that the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is there formally in your theology, your liturgy, your iconography and your architecture isn't being effectively communicated to the laity?

5) I once heard an Orthodox priest that hesychasm was sort of a "Christian Zen." Indeed, many have pointed the similarities, but this particular kind of mysticism finds no support from either the New Testament or the Early Church Fathers. Might Barlaam have been right after all?

6) What about that pesky Toll House theology problem? ;)

And Lastly, this response from the (Anglican) Barely Protestant blog.

In short, not only are Fr. Rowe's "Big Four Questions" unanswerable, Anglican clergy hankering for Orthodoxy ought to understand that they should answer a few hard questions too before they jump ship. 

Part III of my series of responses to Fr. Rowe's article will cover the remainder of his argument in the above-referenced "Journey to Orthodoxy" article.  It can be read here.

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