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Anglicans to become Uniats

It has been reported this week that the Vatican is to make it easier for Anglicans, including married clergy, to become Roman Catholics. There is nothing new in this idea, since in the 1990s, several hundreds, if not thousands, of Anglicans became Roman Catholics over the ‘woman-priest’ issue and other matters. At that time several married Anglican clergy were ordained Roman Catholic priests and appointed chaplains and second priests in that communion.

What is different now is the numbers involved. It is said by some that up to 400,000 Anglicans worldwide could revert to Roman Catholicism. In this new disposition, any Anglican bishops who wished to become Roman Catholics would be ordained priests, as Roman Catholicism, still recalling vestiges of its heritage from the Orthodox Church, finds the concept of married bishops unacceptable.

All of the above, including clerical marriage, represents an extension of old practices. For over 400 years the Vatican has operated a policy of Uniatism among politically oppressed Orthodox Christians. This was and is so, especially in what is now the western Ukraine, the Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Providing that the ex-Orthodox confessed Roman Catholic dogmas, thus committing apostasy from the Orthodox Church, they were allowed to keep many Orthodox rites, even if often they were deformed and imitated Roman Catholic mentalities. (For example, beardless priests celebrating the liturgy in front of an Italianate iconostasis, facing the people with their backs to God!) Now the same principle is being systematically, no longer in a piecemeal way, extended to Anglicans.

As for clerical celibacy, this eleventh-century innovation has never been accepted, even in so-called Roman Catholic countries. In southern Italy, where ancient Orthodox influence is still strong, and in villages in France, Spain and Portugal, many Roman Catholic priests have always in reality been married, their bishops turning a blind eye to live-in ‘housekeepers’ and suchlike. As long as it is discreet, nothing is said. Roman Catholic clerical marriage is also widespread in former French colonies in Africa and throughout Latin America. Many ordinary local Roman Catholics, still thinking like Orthodox, are very pleased that their clergy are married. In this way the priesthood is freed of homosexuals and, worse still, pedophile perverts.

This Anglican Uniatism would seem in many ways to be positive for all. Anglicanism was after all a mere historical accident. Since the blood-stained ethnarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I have long been dead, it would seem logical that Anglicans return to what they came out of. As one Anglican commentator put it: ‘We worship the same (filioque) god as Roman Catholics’. In other words, even though some beliefs are different, both Roman Catholics and Protestants believe in a humanised and humanist god. Each Protestant, as the Russian Church thinker Khomiakov put it, is a Roman Catholic, for each can be his own pope, following, if he wants, his own opinion, creating his own manmade ‘church’. The difference is that the Roman Catholics have one human pope, the Protestants have as many as they want. The divisiveness of the Protestants is merely a reaction to the monolithic official position of Catholicism; two sides of the same coin.

However, it must be noted that any minor recomposition of Anglicanism has only been made possible by the protestantisation of Roman Catholicism since the 1960s. Moreover, there will be aggrieved Roman Catholic priests, long kept in the dark about married Uniat clergy, confined by the Vatican to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, who will increasingly protest: ‘If ex-Anglicans can be married Roman Catholic priests, why can’t we?’ Inevitably, some ex-Anglican Roman Catholic priests will be treated as second-class citizens – just as Uniat clergy always have been.

Others may recall when the former Anglican British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, accused by some of being a war criminal, became Roman Catholic. Then, some Roman Catholics commented that they were so disgusted that they would boycott their churches.

There is also the example of the Dutch Catholic Church. Having conquered Dutch Protestantism by forcing all who married Roman Catholics to adopt their religion, they found that instead of making Holland Roman Catholic, they had made their own Church into an organisation with Protestant values. The problem was that the Protestants had taken over from inside; the Dutch Roman Catholic hierarchy had stressed quantity, but forgotten quality. Thus, the ex-Protestants, forced into Roman Catholicism through mixed marriages, had not assumed and integrated it, but rather deformed it.

Frankly, the Vatican may well be making a stick for its own back in its present move. Some Orthodox, especially in North America, who may be thinking about receiving numbers of disillusioned Anglicans into their own jurisdictions, could learn from this. Is allowing them some special local rite and the Roman Catholic calendar, rather than the Universal Orthodox rite and Orthodox calendar, under some special regime of ‘economy’, really advisable? It was not Jonah’s destiny to be swallowed by the whale, but rather to prophesy. It is good to be ‘pastoral’, but we need to think in the long term and think of the vast majority, who are not Anglican, including in England. An Anglicanised Orthodoxy simply discourages the Non-Anglican majority and isolates its adherents from integrating the international Orthodox family.

How will such Anglicans join in with the real, mainstream Orthodox Churches? How will they take on the real Orthodox culture and mentality? How will they learn to think and spontaneously react in an Orthodox way? How will they learn that the Orthodox Faith is not a mere rite, but a spirit, the spirit of the Church of God? How will they learn to unlearn all their errors, if they are preserved in the aspic of some separate and isolated jurisdiction, deanery, vicariate or individual monastery, convent, church or chapel? We have seen so many disasters of this nature over the decades. Protestants who are not integrated into Mother-Church have always brought their inherent individualistic spirit of divisiveness into the Orthodox Churches with them, causing splits. These experiments are not be repeated.

The gap between Roman Catholicism and different forms of Protestantism, including Anglicanism, is not so great. Protestants have made many moons, but they simply orbit around a Roman Catholic Earth. But the gap between Roman Catholicism/Protestantism and the Orthodox Church is huge, for the Orthodox Church is the Sun, belonging to the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4, 2). As one respected and beloved Archpriest and father of twelve children, Fr Alexander Rehbinder (Eternal Memory to him!), said at a Roman Catholic/Orthodox meeting in Paris some forty years ago: ‘We do not worship the same God’. Indeed we do not. We do not worship the filioque god - for ‘our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12, 29).

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

9/22 October 2009
Holy Apostle James

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