The Anglican Convert Movement
Today Anglicans make up the largest single group of converts to the Orthodox Church. They are everywhere, and are found among the laity and clergy in both the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. Orthodox Archpriest Josiah Trenham, himself a former Anglican clergyman of the Reformed Episcopal Church writes, “It is my estimate that there is no heterodox body in America from which more Orthodox clergy have come than the Anglican Communion. The number of Orthodox priests in this country that were previously Episcopal clergy is certainly in the hundreds”(1). In the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) alone, we have many clergymen who are converts from Anglicanism, including two bishops: Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) and Bishop Jerome (Shaw), and the Dean of our Western Rite Communities, Fr. Mark Rowe, who is a former Anglican priest and Archdeacon.
There are more former Anglicans in the Orthodox Church today than there are Continuing Anglicans. This is true in both North America and the United Kingdom, and the Anglican convert movement is not just an Anglo-Catholic phenomenon. In the United Kingdom the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy movement that brought such a wave of Anglicans into the Orthodox Church was led by Fr. Michael Harper. Fr. Michael Harper was a Evangelical Anglican and served with the Rev. John Stott on the staff of All Souls parish, Langham Place. He had been a leader of the Evangelical movement and had been an Anglican priest for nearly forty years when he was received into the Orthodox Church. You can read all about Fr. Michael Harper and the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy in his book, “A Faith Fulfilled - Why Are Christians Across Great Britain Embracing Orthodoxy?” When I am asked, “Where have all the traditional Anglicans gone?” My answer is always the same: To the Orthodox Church!
A New Pentecost
The Anglican convert movement is part of the New Pentecost that began in the Orthodox Church with the fall of Soviet Communism.
On October 11, 2016, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke about religious faith in Russia, its history and revival in recent decades at a meeting with a group of professors and 250 students from Italy.
Metropolitan Hilarion said, “The epoch which we call ‘the second Baptism of Russia’ begun in our Church in 1988. The mass baptism of our population started in Russia in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,”
“Today we have 35,000 churches. That means that we have opened 29,000 churches over twenty-eight years, opening more than 1,000 churches per year or three per day… Earlier we had three theological seminaries or academies, and today there are over fifty,” the metropolitan stressed.
He said, Russian history has “never witnessed such growth in religious faith as we have seen in the past twenty-eight years.”
“More than that, I know no other precedent of this kind anywhere throughout the history of mankind. We are aware that the epoch of St. Constantine the Great in the fourth century was a time when churches were built everywhere and mass baptisms took place. But there is no statistics for that period, while we do have statistics for the epoch we live in,” he added.
Noting that today many say that modern society lives in the post-Christian era, Metropolitan Hilarion said that this is not felt in Russia. “With our own eyes we have seen the power of Christianity which enables us to open three churches per day today. We have witnessed how Christianity transforms human lives, to what extent Christ and His teaching are still important nowadays.”
This New Pentecost has spread throughout the Orthodox world and into America. Today in the United States 23% of all Orthodox Christians - about one in four - are converts, as are 30% of the Orthodox clergy and 43% of Orthodox seminarians. These statistics are staggering! This is a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit.
The restoration of the Orthodox Western Rite which was essentially lost to the Orthodox Church on the continent of Europe in 1054, due to the Papal Schism, and in the British Isles in 1066, because of the Norman Invasion and Conquest, is part of this New Pentecost. But the restoration of English Orthodoxy in our day is also a fulfillment of ancient prophecy.
Ancient Prophecy Fulfilled
St. Edward the Confessor was the next to the last of the Orthodox Kings of England. He died on January 6, 1066, and William the Conqueror was crowned a year and a day later on January 7, 1067. The last Orthodox King of England, the Royal Passion-bearer King Harold Godwinson, had died in battle on October 14, 1066 defending Orthodox England from the Norman Invaders.
St. Edward the Confessor had been given a prophecy on his death bed. Much of the prophecy was fulfilled soon after his death, but the last part, the most important part, is only being fulfilled in our day.
In early January, 1066, the holy King of England, St. Edward the Confessor, was confined to his bed by his last illness in his royal palace at Westminster. St. Aelred, Abbott of Rievaulx, in Yorkshire, relates that a short time before his death, this holy king had a vision and was given a prophecy.
St. Edward the Confessor said, “Just now two monks stood before me, whom I had once known very well when I was a young man in Normandy, men of great sanctity, and for many years now relieved from earthly cares. And they addressed me with a message from God. ‘Since,’ they said, ‘those who have climbed to the highest offices in the Kingdom of England, the earls, the bishops and abbots, and all those in Holy Orders, are not what they seem to be, but on the contrary, are servants of the Devil, on a year and one day after the day of your death God has delivered all this kingdom, cursed by Him, into the hands of the enemy, and devils shall come through all this land with fire and sword and the havoc of war.’ Then I said to them, ‘I will show God’s design to the people, and the forgiveness of God shall have mercy upon the penitents. For He had mercy on the people of Nineveh, when they repented on hearing the Divine indignation.’ But they said, ‘These will not repent, nor will the forgiveness of God come to pass for them.’ ‘And what,’ I asked, ‘shall happen? And when can a remission of this great indignation be hoped for?’ ‘At that time,’ they answered, ‘when a green tree, if cut down in the middle of its trunk, and the part cut off carried the space of three furlongs from the stock, shall be joined again to the trunk, by itself and without the hand of man or any sort of stake, and begin once more to push leaves and bear fruit from the old love of its uniting sap, then first can a remission of these great ills be hoped for’” (2).
After having heard these prophetic words, King Edward opened his eyes, returned to his senses, and the vision vanished. He immediately related all he had seen and heard to his spouse, Edgitha, to Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, and to Harold Godwinson, his successor to the throne, who were in his chamber praying around his bed.
The Norman Conquest culminated at the pseudo-council of Westminster in 1070, when papal legates deposed the Orthodox Archbishop of Canterbury Stigand, who had refused to crown the usurper, William of Normandy as King of England. Archbishop Stigand was replaced on the throne of St. Augustine of Canterbury by Llanfranc, another Norman usurper. All but one of the English bishops had been imprisoned and replaced by the Norman invaders, and on October 15, 1072, the last surviving English Orthodox Bishop, Ethelric of Durham, died in prison after anathematizing pope.
The interpretation of this vision is clear. St. Edward the Confessor died on January 6, 1066. Exactly one year and one day later, as foretold, on January 7, 1067, the Norman usurper, William of Normandy, was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. The Normans, who had already inflicted a great deal of destruction on Saxon England during the invasion, unleashed a terrible campaign of pillage, terror and death upon the English people, their Church and its clergy. This part of the prophecy was fulfilled long ago, and the suffering of the English people at the hands of the Norman conquerors is a fact of history. The last part of this prophecy however, is only being fulfilled in our day.
The severance of the green tree from its trunk signifies the separation of the English Church from the rest of the Orthodox Church by the papal crusade known as the Norman Conquest. This tree was to be separated from its life-giving trunk the distance of "three furlongs," Geographically, the English Church would be far separated from its Orthodox trunk. But, it “shall be joined again to the trunk, by itself and without the hand of man.” Despite the fact that there had been no organized outreach to them and no formal reunion discussions, traditional Anglicans are reuniting with the Orthodox Church as Western Rite Orthodox Christians, and this movement continues to grow and spread throughout what had been the Anglican world. This is a move of the Holy Spirit, not the work of man.
Having been restored, according to the prophecy, they shall “begin once more to push up leaves,” showing new life, “and bear fruit,” of sanctity and good works. How will this fruit bearing life be renewed? The prophecy is clear: “from the love of its uniting sap, then first can a remission of these greater ills be hoped for.” Its “uniting sap” is the Faith of the undivided Church, the Orthodox Catholic Faith, and the grace-bearing Holy Sacraments.
Western Rite Orthodox Christians hold the same Faith as Eastern Rite Orthodox Christians. There can never be any compromise in matters of the Orthodox Faith. It is this deposit of Faith, this “uniting sap” that binds together Orthodox Christians regardless of rite, jurisdiction or ethnicity.
The English Liturgy, commonly called the Liturgy of St. Tikhon in honour of the Saint whose efforts made its authorization by the Orthodox Church possible, along with the Sarum Usage of the Western Rite, and the traditional Roman Rite have all been restored to the Orthodox Church and authorized for use. In fulfillment of the prophecy of St. Edward the Confessor, the English cultural, liturgical and spiritual patrimony has been restored in full sacramental communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Church.
The restoration of Western Orthodoxy has been the culmination of a long journey home. The English Reformation which began in 1534, was very different from that on the Continent. In England the Reformation was carried out by the bishops themselves and no new Church was formed. The aim of the English Reformation was restoration - the restoration of the Faith of what is commonly called the undivided Church.
By 1534, the English Church had been separated from its Orthodox roots by almost five centuries; and England was geographically far removed from the Orthodox world, with hostile Roman Catholic powers in between. Reformation is never easy, and under these circumstances was very difficult. Mistakes and missteps were made, but much good was also accomplished.
The work of the English Reformation - really Restoration - was advanced in the 17th century by the Caroline Divines, and then in 18th century by the Non-Jurors. It continued to advance in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries with the Oxford Movement; and then in the latter half of the 20th and into the 21st centuries in the Continuing Anglican Movement. The St. Louis Church Congress of 1977, and the Continuing Anglican Movement that it gave birth to, brought the remnant of faithful Anglicans to the very door of the Orthodox Church, with large numbers of Anglicans stepping through that door and coming home.
You Can Come Home Again
The English patrimony has been re-grafted onto the Orthodox trunk. With the restoration of the Western Rite in general and the English Liturgy in particular, the fulness of the English cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony has been restored to the Orthodox Church - and it is growing and thriving, beginning “once more to push leaves and bear fruit from the old love of its uniting sap” as St. Edward the Confessor foretold.
When concerned Episcopalians left the Episcopal Church after the 1976 General Convention due to that body’s apostasy, they likened their Continuing Anglican Movement to Israel’s Exodus from bondage in Egypt. The St. Louis Church Congress in 1977, which gave birth to the Movement issued an historic declaration called, “The Affirmation of St. Louis.” In The Affirmation of St. Louis, acceptance of seven Sacraments, seven Oecumenical Councils, Holy Tradition, the Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins, and the Fathers and Doctors of the undivided Church was affirmed; and in two places in that Affirmation reunion with Christians who held the same Faith was called for. The Affirmation of St. Louis has been called the most Orthodox theological statement ever adopted by a non-Orthodox Church, and it is clear that the fathers of the Continuing Anglican Movement saw reunion with the Orthodox Church as their goal because only the Orthodox Church professes seven Oecumenical Councils.
Continuing Anglicans left their Egypt a generation ago and have been wandering in the wilderness ever since. Like Israel of old though, there is a great danger of getting used to living in the wilderness and becoming comfortable there.
Traditional Anglicans who have been praying and waiting for reunion with the Orthodox Church have had their prayers answered and need wait no longer. The Vision Glorious of the Oxford Movement and the goal of The Affirmation of St. Louis can now be fulfilled. You too can come home again with the fulness of your patrimony, and if you are a clergyman you can continue your ministry in the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Creeds. Many of us have already come home, and we have prepared a place for you.
The future of traditional Anglicans and of the English spiritual tradition is in full sacramental communion and visible unity with Orthodox Church from which our forbearers in the Faith were torn away against their will by the Norman Conquest. The Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are thriving and growing. With the fall of communism the world-wide Orthodox Church is experiencing a New Pentecost. You too can be a part of this tremendous move of the Holy Spirit. For more information please visit the website of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities: http://www.rocor-wr.org/ or contact me directly. You will be glad you did.
- Rock and Sand, An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Theology, by Archpriest Josiah Trenham, Newrome Press, c. 2015, p. 193.
- Vita Edwardi Regis, ca. 1065-1067, Nelson Medieval Texts, 1962; cited in Saints of England’s Golden Age, by Vladimir Moss, B.A. (Oxon.). Ph.D (Surrey), Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, c. 1997, p. 251.