Project Canterbury

An Aid for Churchmen Episcopal and Orthodox
Toward a Mutual Understanding, by Means of a Brief Comparison of the Rites and Ceremonies of the Orthodox Church
with those of the Episcopal (Anglican Church)

By the Rev. H. Henry Spoer, B.D., Ph.D.
Sometime Lecturer at the Lichfield Theological College, England

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Morehouse, 1930.
London: Mowbray, 1930.

Chapter I. Fellowship and Co-operation

The purpose of this book is to bring about a clearer understanding between the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church and the clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church, and to indicate certain ways in which they may be of mutual service. Such understanding is a part of the friendship and hospitality due from our own Church towards those who have come as strangers into our midst, and which, we hope, may tend toward the solution of the problems of Christian reunion prominent in the life of the Christian world today.

Our Christian Lineage. In speaking, not of the union, but of the reunion of the branches of the Church, we are bearing in mind the fact that they have their roots in the same past, having been founded by Christ Himself. The Episcopal Church has a very ancient history, what we now call the Anglican Communion having had an independent existence, as the Celtic Church, since the end of the second century, and having sent missionaries, at a later period, to found churches and schools on the continent. In 597 it united with another independent stream, that of Rome, which did not separate from the Eastern Churches until 1054. This was only fourteen years before the time when, owing to the Norman Conquest, the Roman Church succeeded in bringing absolute papal authority into England. Against this the Anglican Church struggled, more or less, for five hundred years, throwing off the Roman Catholic influence finally in 1534.

Historical Contacts with the East. The Anglican Church has always stood in friendly relations with the Eastern Church. A learned divine of the Orthodox Church, Theodore of Tarsus, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 669. In relation to the twenty years of his wise administration, the eminent ecclesiastical historian, Bishop Stubbs, has said: "It is difficult, if not impossible, to over-estimate the debt which England, Europe, and Christian civilization owe to the work of Theodore."

Efforts have been made again and again to draw the two branches of the Church into closer union, notably by Cyril Lukaris (1572-1638), Patriarch of Alexandria, and later of Constantinople. He was in intimate friendship with Archbishop Laud of Canterbury, and with Charles I, King of England, to whom he presented the Codex Alexandrinus, which is one of the most treasured possessions of the British Museum. It should be noted that the Scottish Liturgy, from which that of the Church in America was taken, was sanctioned by Charles I in 1637. Changes were made from the year 1724 onward, notably between 1735 and 1764, and again in 1929, all tending to bring it into closer agreement with the ancient Liturgies, especially that of St. James.

In the United States. An earnest desire for reunion among the separated branches of the Church has been, for some years past, prominent in the sympathies of the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States, as well as in England, and the Orthodox Church has not failed to receive our overtures in a friendly spirit. The recent influx of hundreds of thousands of members of the Orthodox Church into this country has given us at once a motive and an opportunity for carrying this desire into effect, a desire which, we may venture to assume, would be even more widespread if both sides were brought into closer personal relation.

Nevertheless, organic Church reunion, while devoutly to be prayed and labored for by all, is not the primary or immediate object. The primary work of the Church is the care of souls. Here, throughout our land, are these fellow-Churchmen and their growing children, members of a great Sister Church. What can be done to preserve their faith and life in God through His Church? It seems that God is calling us to work this out together in confidence, love, and service.

Although the Orthodox Church numbers over a hundred millions in all parts of the world, probably over two millions in America, there are many among us who have never seized the opportunity of coming into personal relation with its members, many who know little or nothing of their doctrines and Church life, and who have never realized the inherent identity of the faith which they profess with our own. The Church of Christ has, even in this world, riches and forces undreamed of, privileges which she neglects to claim, responsibilities which she hesitates to assume.

Difference of language has always been, for most among us, an almost insurmountable difficulty, but the influx of large numbers of members of the Eastern Church, and their absorption into the American people, is giving us an opportunity which has never occurred before in the history of the world. It is inevitable that these people should acquire our tongue, should enter into our manner of thought, should identify themselves with our interests, and enter, as voters, into our political life, to our advantage and to their own. There will always remain differences of mentality, differences of what the past has brought to us, but in the approximation of soul-life, in the realization that we are members of one Household of Faith, we may all approach the mighty heritage for which we pray, "Thy Kingdom come."

Sympathetic Understanding. Our clergy have some knowledge of the history and belief of the Orthodox Church, at least in so far as it shares in a common past with our own. This knowledge, however, is often too vague and imperfect to make any claim upon their personal sympathy, and this is still more the case with the laity. As there are undoubtedly many, especially at the present moment, who would be interested in a closer knowledge of the Orthodox religious life, it has been thought useful to put together a succinct account of some of the Services, in which the reader cannot fail to observe such resemblances to our own as are evidence of their common origin. Much may be learned by attending the Services of the Orthodox Church; and by briefly describing their main features, it is hoped to make it possible to do so with increased understanding and interest.

There are, moreover, many of our clergy, especially in remote districts where an Orthodox priest is not available (there are only about six hundred Orthodox clergy in America), as well as among those who visit in hospitals and other institutions, who are called upon to administer certain Rites--Baptism, Unction, Marriage, or Burial--to members of the Orthodox Church. Some, perhaps, may be glad to read a brief account of customs and outward acts which are dear to those whom we are called upon to help, and which, while perfectly admissible on our part, may render our presence among them more welcome and consolatory, without arrogating to ourselves, in any degree whatever, the position of an Orthodox priest. Perhaps, also, this brief attempt to indicate agreement in various matters of detail, common to the two branches of the Church, may afford interest to the Orthodox themselves, both clergy and laity.

It is to be regretted that, from lack of knowledge, serious mistakes are made, not only by the laity, but even among the clergy, upon quite elementary points. One even hears such an assertion as that the Orthodox Church is "Catholic," using the word in the loose fashion, too often heard, as equivalent to "Roman Catholic." This is an implication which every member of the Orthodox Church would repudiate for reasons both historic and doctrinal. On the other hand, one frequently hears the statement made by members of the Orthodox Church, both lay and clerical, that our own branch of the Church is "Protestant," using the word in just as loose a sense, namely, as indicating a Church largely devoid of the teachings and life of historic Christianity as embodied in the Creeds and presented in the Sacraments. Every member of the Episcopal Church would repudiate this implication. Mutual misunderstandings of this kind cannot but act as a barrier between branches of the Christian Church which no protestation of friendly feeling, and no reciprocal brotherly services, will alone suffice to remove. It is not mutual toleration, but mutual understanding which we need to seek after, and the first step in this direction must be an understanding on the part of the clergy, and of the laity also, of both bodies, of the teaching conveyed by the Rites and Services of the Episcopal and of the Orthodox Churches respectively.

Fellowship of the Laity. The share of the work of establishing good fellowship, which remains in the hands of the laity, is important to an extent which cannot be over-estimated. We have to bear in mind that there are now, in this country, several millions of people who, although separated from each other by differences of language, of custom, often of race and national prejudice, are, nevertheless, bound together by the strong tie of their common religion, that of the Orthodox Church. The strength of that tie is so great that it is difficult for us to appreciate it. Apart from the fact of being sons and daughters of one Mother Church, a fact of which we, too, should feel the importance, the question of religious unity holds a special place in oriental life.

A man is classified less by his nationality than by his religion; he is regarded less as belonging to the Greek, or Russian, or Serbian People than to the Greek, or Russian, or Serbian Church. The giving to the laity, as well as to the clergy, both of the Orthodox Church and of our own, information which may serve to bring out the resemblances rather than the differences between the two Churches, has therefore a significance far stronger than that which rests on ties of toleration or even of sympathy.

Happily, a common ground is presenting itself in this country in the ordinary course of events, by the finding, in the English tongue, of a common speech. In the case of the rising generation there will be no difficulty on this point, but if the older people are to be amalgamated with those about them, whether those of their own Church or of ours, it must depend largely upon the laity to draw us all together. This can be accomplished only upon the common ground of human intercourse, which, needless to say, must rest upon a basis of social fellowship.

Unless our laity cooperate with them, any degree of welcome which the clergy of our Church may give to our Sister Church will be incomplete. The growth in recognition and sympathy must be individual, that of close personal intercourse among individual members, an intercourse in no degree less personal than that which we take pleasure in establishing among the individual members of our own Church. We must look to the sharing of social and community interests in order that those who have come among us may feel at home in our midst, and this implies something more permanent and personal than the mere offering of a welcome and the assurance of friendly sentiments.

It is a commonplace to say that what we need is to share and not merely to give, and this will come to us all the more readily if we bear in mind that the giving is mutual. As we come into touch with those of another culture and civilization we learn to look forth upon life with a wider outlook. The new impetus will act as a means of extension of an ever-widening circle, and will help to disperse the lingering remains of the narrowness and chauvinism of which the events of the last few years have made us more deeply conscious and which, in some respects, they have even brought into being. These are characteristics which should find no place in any humane culture, least of all in the Church of Christ.

A Spiritual Asset to America. The Orthodox Church in the United States, now developing in our midst, is a potential power for the extension among us of the Kingdom of God. It is ceasing to be merely a foreign Church worshipping solely in foreign languages, and is gradually developing into an English-speaking American Orthodox Church.

Moreover, these newcomers, our fellow-Churchmen, in increasingly large numbers, are becoming our fellow-citizens also. The future of our nation and of our Church will be affected largely by their attitude toward the country of their adoption. To remain in ignorance of their thought-life is not only a wrong to ourselves, excluding ourselves from many advantages by which we might benefit, but it is also doing a wrong to our country, and an injustice to the interests of our Church, by depriving ourselves of the moral and spiritual strength which the other has to give.


In regard to the administration of certain Sacraments to members of the Orthodox Church, our priests must bear in mind that no formal agreement has, as yet, been arrived at in regard to inter-communion, a circumstance which is due to the unfortunate political conditions which prevail in Russia, and the present situation of the Oecumenical Patriarch. This is in spite of the fact that the former Oecumenical Patriarch Meletius announced in an Encyclical to the other autocephalous Churches the acceptance by the Great Church of Constantinople of Anglican ordinations, and on July 28, 1922, communicated this decision to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Orthodox Church has always reserved to herself the exercise of "the power of Economy" which made it possible, in case of emergency, to administer the Sacraments to others, not members of the Orthodox Church as, for example, in certain cases during and since the late War. Moreover, it is known that during the twelfth century the Archbishop of Bulgaria justified the communicating of Latin captives at Alexandria (cf: Christian East, vol. ix, 1928, p. 18 f). A recent utterance on this point is to be found in an unsigned article in the official fortnightly publication of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, Patainos:

(January 19, 1928, quoted in The Christian East, op. cit., p. 2i.)

"On demand of occasion and at different times the Orthodox Church has given effect to her mind that under exceptional circumstances, and in emergency in countries where there is lacking either an Orthodox or an Anglican priest, economy is permissible, whereby the faithful of either Church may have resort for the invocation of grace through an available priest of the other Church: as, for example, in the case of the administration of the last rites {lit. the undefined mysteries, sc. the Blessed Sacrament) to a dying Christian, of the celebration of marriage, and of the burial of the dead. There exist many examples of such relaxation in recent years."

It is therefore on the basis of "emergency and the exceptional circumstances" which frequently arise in this country, with its widely scattered Orthodox population, its immense distances, and the insufficient number of Orthodox priests, that we feel that necessity has laid upon the priests of our Church the sacred duty of ministering, so far as it lies in our power, to members of our Sister Church who might otherwise be deprived of the consolations of religion.

Project Canterbury