a former colleague converts

I don’t know how to “link” yet. This is found at Brad Drell’s Descants…

7/11/2006

Why I Have Left Anglicanism for the Orthodox Church: Alice C. Linsley

I discovered the Orthodox Faith at the same time I discovered the Anglican Church. My earliest experiences of both came while I lived in Isfahan, Iran in the late 1970s. There I visited St. Luke’s Anglican Church and also the Armenian Orthodox cathedral in Jolfa. St. Luke’s had an English-speaking congregation comprised mostly of American and British expatriates. The Orthodox services were beautiful and moving, but I couldn’t understand a word. So, taking the path of least resistance I ended up an Anglican. The same situation arose when I moved to Athens in 1979. There was an English-speaking expatriate church and although I visited the local Greek Orthodox church, I wasn’t able to understand what was being said.

Although I didn’t join the Orthodox Church, I was nevertheless deeply moved by my experiences. I vividly remember the Armenian children’s delight at receiving their Pascua eggs so beautifully decorated. And I remember the white bearded Greek Orthodox priest standing in the street in front of his church with a torch that blazed in the night. He had just lit the new fire and was preparing to carry the Light into the dark church for the Great Easter Vigil.

Leaving Anglicanism has been a difficult decision and I believe that part of me will always be Anglican, but it is the part that embraces Orthodoxy. I can see how it was that the Anglicans and the Orthodox were once so close that they actually discussed being in communion. Of course all that changed with the ordination of women priests and the prayer book revisions in the USA, Canada and the UK. The classical Book of Common Prayer is something most Orthodox people would feel comfortable with because Thomas Cranmer’s liturgy is rooted deeply in the liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which is one of the liturgies used in Orthodoxy. Also, until recent decades most Anglican parishes offered Matins before the Sunday Eucharist, a custom the Orthodox Church has maintained.

My journey to Orthodoxy began by visiting both Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches where I found a striking contrast. I discovered that the ECUSA 1979 liturgy has the same shape as the Post-Vatican Catholic liturgy and I was at first very comfortable with that. I was less comfortable at first with the Orthodox liturgy, but I was spiritually fed by the rich Psalmic material of the Orthodox Matins (also called “Orthos”), and shocked that I could stand for the better part of 2 hours and not be tired.

I have great appreciation for the Roman Catholic Church, although I am not moved by most of the Vatican II liturgical reforms. I admire the depth of Catholic scholarship, but am troubled by theological arguments designed to reinforce innovative papal claims. It seems to me that the Roman Church has backed itself into a corner and now feels it necessary to pontificate more boisterously than ever. I sense some arrogance there. I also sense some suspicion of mysticism, yet the western saints that I identify with are mostly mystics: John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Aiden and Cuthbert. They were people of humility, and it is their humility that convinces me that they are God’s friends. I know that the Orthodox Church is not perfect, but I find in it a healthy balance of intellect and kenosis, of spiritual strength and humility. It is a church that has suffered and through suffering has wrought holiness, and its saltiness has been preserved through a lively mysticism.

The liveliness of Orthodoxy has been sustained also by a healthy monasticism. Recently a friend of mine visited two monasteries, one right after the other. One was Anglo-Catholic and the other was Romanian Orthodox. She found the experiences to be as different as night and day and said that she would never return to the Anglo-Catholic monastery. In her words, “there is a dark spirit there now.” I’m not sure exactly what she meant, but at the Anglo-catholic monastery she experienced harshness instead of kindness and a judgmental attitude instead of generosity.

I’ve been asked how I see myself serving in the Orthodox Church. I am not sure. Perhaps as a teacher, or maybe I will take up the monastic life. In Orthodoxy I have felt more affirmed in my feminine role by the Church’s teachings. I appreciate the Orthodox emphasis on the role of women in the church, and am deeply moved when I hear of the “apostolic women” and the “holy myrrh-bearers.” In Orthodoxy there is also talk of spiritual mothers and holy virgins, and through veneration of the Theotokos, the most blessed state of womanhood is esteemed. The Orthodox Faith affirms the value of women’s contributions without distorting God’s design. Orthodoxy makes it clear that women do not need to serve as priests to contribute to the life of the Church. They need only to be humble, holy and prayerful. (In the Greek Orthodox Church, the ancient order of deaconess is being restored under strict guidelines.)

Orthodoxy has preserved the teachings of and the traditions surrounding the fathers and mothers of Egypt, Syria and Palestine. For example, I had never heard of Saint Photini, the Samaritan women at Jacob’s well, until I began exploring Orthodoxy. In Orthodoxy Photini is a spiritual mother as are many others, even into contemporary times. I think of Princess Ileana of Romania who, as Mother Alexandra, founded the first Orthodox monastery for American women in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. She began her repose in the Lord in 1991.

The Episcopal Church is so removed from the Church Fathers that the word “tradition” on revisionists’ lips causes me to shudder. ECUSA’s new gospel is madness, and this same madness is sweeping through the liberal mainline denominations. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ once delivered to the Church. Many will be fooled by this counterfeit gospel, but in the end falsehood begins to stink like the rotten fruit it is.

As I read how people are being led astray, I am reminded of something St. Anthony of the Desert said that describes our day. He said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”

My dreams have been helpful in pointing me back to the Fathers’ teaching. Here is a dream I had on March 27, 2000. I was in an educational building and my old and very kind “husband” took me to a concrete wall. There we got on our knees because He wanted to show me something that was buried in the foundation. He told me that He had hidden riches for me and then lifted a thin metal plate from the ground. As He removed it to reveal the treasure, I noticed that even the metal cover was dotted with droplets of pure silver.

The Church Fathers are part of that treasure and they form a strong foundation for the Church’s teaching. Having said that, I should add that I remain ignorant of the patristic writings. I attended a Lutheran Seminary where the Lutheran Confessions were emphasized over the early Church Fathers. About 6 months ago I began serious study of the patristic writings. I recently finished St. Basil’s tract On the Holy Spirit and found it very profound. I am now reading St. John of Damascus’ On Holy Images. These fathers have opened new horizons before me.

Consider how apt for our present conflict are these words of John of Damascus: “I see the Church which God founded on the Apostles and Prophets, its corner-stone being Christ His Son, tossed on an angry sea, beaten by rushing waves, shaken and troubled by the assaults of evil spirits. I see rents in the seamless robe of Christ, which impious men have sought to part asunder, and His body cut into pieces, that is, the word of God and the ancient tradition of the Church.”

The teachings of the Church on the qualifications for ordination are clear both in the Bible and in the Tradition. The two are interwoven and cannot be separated without destroying the cloth. Jesus alluded to this when he spoke of putting new wine in new wine skins and mending a torn garment properly. We are to preserve things. We must avoid foolish actions that result in tearing things apart. Orthodoxy has preserved the Tradition. That is why there is continuity going back to even before the time of the Apostles, to the prophets and to the patriarchs. This continuity is not as evident in the western Church where the apostolic tradition came to be read through Scholasticism rather than through the Fathers.

Leaving the Episcopal Church became necessary when I realized how it had destroyed the Tradition. Imagine if the Orthodox were told they could no longer pray Matins. Now add to this a contemporary liturgy required to be used in place of the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil. Now place a women at the altar posing as a priest. You can see that the continuity of the Faith once delivered has been destroyed.

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