Project Canterbury

Anglican Eastern Associations: A Sketch

By Henry R. T. Brandreth, O.G.S.

Oxford: no publisher, 1945.

The celebration of the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the Eastern Church Association provides a useful vantage point from which to look back at the strides towards Anglo-Orthodox rapprochement which have been made during those years. In this short article it is manifestly impossible to survey the whole field, and we shall confine ourselves to a brief account of the work of the Eastern Church Association, the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union and the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association which was a fusion of the two.

The E.C.A. was inaugurated in April 1864, and its purpose was to inform Anglicans of the state and position of the Eastern Christians; to make the doctrines and principles of Anglicanism known in the East; to take advantage “of all opportunities which the providence of God shall afford us for intercommunion with the Orthodox Church, and also for friendly intercourse with the other ancient Churches of the East;” to give financial assistance to the Orthodox bishops to assist in their efforts to promote the spiritual welfare of their flocks. [An account of the inaugural meeting will be found in The Union Review, Vol. II, pp. 319ff.]

The movers in this initial venture were all men of the Tractarian school and among the members of the standing committee we find such names as J. M. Neale, T. T. Carter of Clewer, George Williams, Dr. John Wordsworth and Dr. H. P. Liddon, while the Eastern Churches were represented by the Archimandrite Constantine Stratulia and Dr. Eugene Popoff, Chaplain to the Russian Embassy. The real initiative and driving power in those early days was supplied by Dr. Neale, whose History of the Eastern Church was the first large and sympathetic work on the subject to be published in English, and George Williams, of Kings’ College, Cambridge, and under their direction a valuable series of Occasional Papers was issued, containing translations of Orthodox writings, accounts of visits to Orthodox countries and accounts of the visits of Orthodox hierarchs to England. Ignorance on the part of each Church about the other was the main enemy to be fought in those early days. The Church Missionary Society and the Bible Society had for a number of years maintained missions in the Near East, and their constant attempts at proselytisation, coupled with the marked Protestantism of their views, had made the Orthodox authorities suspicious of all approaches from English or American Christians, while on the other hand, English Churchmen at large knew little about the Orthodox beyond what they read on the unreliable and often biassed reports of these societies. The work of education was indefatigably carried out and the Occasional Papers were widely read and did much to dispel the prevailing ignorance. Unhappily Dr. Neale died comparatively young: in 1866 and George Williams died in 1878, and during the next seventeen years or so the E.C.A. virtually ceased to exist.

In the early 1890’s, however, mainly through the efforts of Dr. John Wordsworth, who had then become Bishop of Salisbury, and the present Bishop of Gloucester, Dr. Headlam, the E.C.A. was revived and commenced the short period of its most useful work. Its committee at this time included such men as W. J. Birkbeck, Dr. William Bright, Canon C. E. Newbold, Canon T. A. Lacey, Mr. Athelstan Riley and Dr. Headlam as Secretary. In the Association’s Report for 1894 we find a most interesting consideration of the kind of work it felt itself called upon to undertake:

[2] “Two points are clear. First that there is a definite opening, and one which will not demand any large expenditure What is required is that at three or four of the more important centres of the East, at Jerusalem, at Constantinople, in Egypt and in Cyprus, there should be one or more students who should be able to study the history and present condition of the Eastern Church and other Christian communities, and who would assist locally if occasion arises in organizing education, and other similar work. ... A second point that the Association should keep before itself is that it should never attempt unauthorised work. Its representatives in the East must always go, not as representatives of a society, but directly or indirectly as representatives of the Church. . . . Probably the best scheme that can be suggested is that scholarships should be offered at the two Universities for men who have just taken their degree and are prepared to be ordained, in order that they may devote themselves to the study of theology, and of an Eastern language or languages. They would have to undertake in return to go to the East for a certain number of years in the service of the Association.” [Eastern Churches Association, Report for 1894, pp. 9-11.]

This excellent plan could not be fully carried out, but in 1895 the Rev. H. T. F. Duckworth was sent by the Association to Cyprus where he remained for a number of years and made a thorough study of the history and worship of the Cypriot Church. His valuable little book, published in 1901, Greek Manuals of Church Doctrine, is one of the fruits of his study there. [A valuable and interesting series of letters from him, giving accounts of his work, and general information on the religious condition of Cyprus at this time, is printed in the E.C.A. Report for 1896.] All through this period, too, the Bishop of the re-constituted Anglican See of Jerusalem, Dr. Popham Blyth, was working in close touch with the Association and giving his full support of its members in the Near East. A full life of Dr. Popham Blyth is a serious gap in the literature of our relations with the Orthodox Church, but if and when such a biography is written it will probably be seen that Dr. Popham Blyth had a very large share in the breaking down of suspicion and the erecting of trust between the two Churches. At this time, too, the E.C.A was receiving increasing support from the Anglican episcopate and in its Report for 1896 we find three Metropolitans and thirty-one bishops among its patrons.

In 1906 there was founded the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union, mainly through the energies of the Rev. H. J. Fynes-Clinton. This society had a somewhat different scope from that of the E.C.A.: “The Union has, in one sense, a narrower scope, as it is concerned solely with the Orthodox Churches in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople, and with the Anglican Churches; but, at the same time, seeks by its terms of membership, and by its varied methods to enlist interest and support more widely among the faithful. It is so constituted that its organization may be world-wide, and its work carried on wherever there are members of either Church, or such opportunities of intercourse and practical sympathy as are found very frequently in the New World.” [First Annual Report of the Anglican and Eastern-Orthodox Churches Union, 1906-1907, p. 7.] In its First Annual Report the Union was able to state that: “In the East the Society has been welcomed with real interest and pleasure; many high ecclesiastics have joined it, and several have sent us most encouraging letters. Several favourable articles about the Union, commending it to the support of their countrymen, have appeared in the Greek and Russian Press, with some criticism.” [Ibid, p. 10.] An American branch of the Union was organised independently in 1908, largely through the efforts of Dr. Arthur Lowndes and the Syrian-Greek Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn.

[3] The main work of the Union in all its branches throughout the world, as of the E.C.A before it, was educational; seeking by means of lectures, addresses, publications and personal contacts to teach the members of the two Churches about each other, and its most important achievement was to be seen in the growing feeling of friendliness and trust which the Anglicans and the Orthodox were beginning to entertain towards each other. The Union also, as far as possible, encouraged services of worship in which Anglicans and Orthodox took part because, as the Secretary of the American Union put it after describing one such service: “These details have been dwelt upon because the Secretary believes that no doctrinal debates, nor formal conferences, necessary as they may be before the desired end is reached, could so further the cause of unity and so produce the conviction among priests and people of both Communions of essential unity in Catholic faith and practice as such a service.” [A. & E.O.C.U. American Branch, Second Annual Report, 1910, p. 32.] But the work of the Union was immensely varied and it had members and friends wherever Anglicans and Orthodox were to be found. In its series of annual Reports are written an important chapter of the history of both Eastern and Western Christianity. [See particularly The Anglican and Eastern Churches: A Historical Record, 1914-1921, re-printed from the Association’s Sixth Report.]

In 1914 the Union and the old E.C.A., which by this time had become small and not very active, amalgamated to form the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association and from then onwards the Association has gone from strength to strength. The increased facilities for travel after the last war, meaning not only that Anglicans could visit the Orthodox countries, but also that an increasing number of Orthodox have been able to visit England, meet Anglicans and see the Church of England at first hand. So The Eastern Churches Broadsheet, in its issue for June-July, 1944, was able with justice to claim that “over a long period the Association has been the organ through which Anglican interest in the East and desire for closer touch with the East has been expressed. It has toiled on at the spade work of educating public opinion, and of bringing awareness of the Orthodox into the serried ranks of those to whom any other form of Christianity than Anglicanism meant either Nonconformity or Rome.”

So it has come about that the enthusiasm and devotion of a few great men such as Neale, Williams and Birkbeck, and those who followed them, has acted as a leaven in the whole lump, not only of Anglicanism but of Orthodoxy also; that what was once the ideal of a small group of men has now become the practical politics of the leaders of the two Churches. No one can read the succession of Reports issued by the E.C.A., the A. & E.O.C.U. and finally by the A. & E.C.A. without realizing that it is through these societies and their work that this happy result has been realized. Their work has seldom been spectacular but they have provided, and now joined into one society do still provide, that necessary background of continual prayer and study without which no official reunion work is possible.

So the members of our own younger Fellowship, who owe indeed to these stalwarts of the past the very possibility of our existence as a Fellowship, will wish to the A. & E.C.A., whom we may call our epitropos to christo, Is polla eti as it enters upon its eighty-first year.

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