Crossing the Bridge

st augustine with iconThere comes a time in everyone’s life when they must evaluate where they are and where  they are going. Truth be told that probably happens several times in one’s life. I started a  journey over a decade ago with the Church Catholic which led me to what some call the  “bridge church,” The Anglican Communion. There have been ups and downs in  that journey but it has been good. I have learned a lot throughout my time as an Anglican.  It has been a very fruitful one. I have been confirmed, married, and ordained in the  Anglican Communion. Likewise, all of my children have been baptized in the Church and  have Anglican godparents. I have developed a lot of enduring friendships and have met  several people who I would consider mentors in the faith. Through all the chaos that is in  the Anglican Communion I can say that I have generally been blessed with faithful  leaders who have walked with me and taught me much about what it means to love and  serve the Lord. Among those mentors I count those who have gone before me in the faith,  men like C.S. Lewis, Fr. John Mason Neale, Fr. John Keble, Fr. Richard Benson, Fr. Percy  Dearmer, Fr. Edward Pusey, Archbishop Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop Charles Grafton,  Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, Archbishop William Laud, and many more. These names stand for men who were bulwarks of the Catholic Faith in a Communion that needed such voices in their times. It was always my intention to be a voice along with theirs in Anglicanism, defending and hopefully persuading the communion of her need for the Catholic faith. But as time has gone on and years have given way to a decade, it has became clear to me that the only way to be faithful to those who have gone before me in the faith, to be a faithful Anglican in the linage of such great men and saints as those mentioned, was for my family and I to be fully Catholic. It was not going to be enough for me to stand a bridge and point people in the right direction, I needed to finish crossing the bridge and be one of those who welcomed people home.

Being one with the pre-schism church has been the desire of Catholic Anglican leaders since the reformation. The architect of the English reformation Archbishop Thomas Cranmer saw himself doing this with his vision of a Prayer Book church.   In defense of the English Church during the time of its reformation Cranmer commented, “This is the true Catholic faith, which the Scripture teacheth and the universal Church of Christ hath ever believed from the beginning, until within these four or five hundred years past…” The time table, of course, which Cranmer was using would have placed the Church, for which he was advocating, in line with the Orthodox East. His reference to the “four or five hundred years past” was a reference to the pre-schism Church, when the Eastern and Western Churches possessed one and the same faith. Likewise, when Archbishop Matthew Parker, the reviser of the Articles of Religion under Queen Elizabeth I, commented on the Articles he reminded the Church that the only way to ‘interpret” them was in the “most Catholic sense.” Dr. Edward Pusey, a spiritual leader of the Oxford Movement in the 19th century, taught that the authority of the Anglican Communion lay with the Early Church saying, “reference to the ancient Church, instead of the Reformers, [is] the ultimate expounder of the meaning of our Church.” Reformation and post-reformation Anglican leaders have all pointed to the early Catholic Church and not the 16th century protestant church, as to where all Anglicans must return, not just in spirit, but in truth.  To go back to the reformers is not enough for they were always pointing beyond themselves the Church Fathers and through them to Christ Himself.

Part of that belonging to the Catholic Church is being in communion. It is no good to stand on one side of the pond and argue that people should embrace Catholicism when one lacks one of the key elements of the Catholic faith. That is why my family and I have decided to enter into full sacramental and visible communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which subsists in Holy Orthodoxy.  At the top of this post is an icon of St. Augustine of Canterbury carrying an image of Jesus. When St. Augustine, the Apostle of the Anglo-Saxons, reached the island of Britain in 597AD the story is told of how his company of men processed into King Ethelbert’s court with images of Christ painted onto wooden boards. Those images were of course holy icons of our Lord. Holy icons were present at the beginning of the life of the English Church through the missionary work of St. Augustine and they point to the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the Church on the British Isles almost a thousand years before the reformation. (Of course, St. Augustine was not the first to bring the Catholic faith to the British Isles that was St. Aristobulus in 39AD.) This was the Church which existed on the island prior to the reformation, the one to whom all post-reformation Catholic Anglican fathers point to as the Church to which Anglicans must return. The hope has been that this would happen through a mass conversion of the Communion back to the faith of their Fathers, but that reality has born no fruit. One only has to look at the angst of most Anglicans today in regards to the 7th Ecumenical Council, which defended the use of holy icons against Christian and Muslim iconoclasts. The failure of the Anglican Communion to affirm an ecumenical council and consequently reject their own heritage in this specific way, and in other significant ways, has led me to the conclusion that if one is to be faithful to all Catholic witnesses within and without Anglicanism then there can be only one answer: to convert oneself. As I have said to many before the only way I can see myself being a faithful Anglican is to be Orthodox or to put it another way, to embrace the historic See of Canterbury is to embrace the Holy Orthodox Church.

Of course, being a pastor this leaves me in a very difficult situation. As I could not make this decision on my own without talking with my family, I could not make this decision on my own without talking to the people in my own parish and to my Bishop. My own parish is now in discernment, thinking through what all of this could mean for them personally. And my bishop has been gracious through all of this time of discernment. None of this is an easy decision, but Jesus never promised that our life with Him would be easy. I don’t have all the answers and as I am journeying to Orthodoxy I can only pray that I can be faithful in small ways to Jesus. To my Anglican friends I would say there are many holy men and women in Anglicanism who point to the Catholic faith which is found in the Orthodox Church. Read them, study them, follow them as they sought to follow Christ. Seek the fullness of the faith which Catholic Anglicans have been seeking throughout the centuries. And as we all seek to be faithful to Christ it is my prayer that we all may truly be one, not just spiritually, but visibly and sacramentally one as Christ and the Father is one to the Glory of our Lord’s name. Amen.

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