By Jay Mullinix I don’t care much for work travel. I am loath to be away from my wife and three children in Wichita, Kansas, for much more than a weekend, and on those few occasions when my work requires it I tend to approach the ordeal with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man approaching the scaffold. When I was sent in mid-December to spend 12 days in Dallas, however, a real measure of anticipation offset my usual sullenness. As a theological conservative, I was glad for the chance to worship in the Diocese of Dallas, a diocese not only founded and built by one of my heroes (Bishop Alexander C. Garrett), but one in which several contemporary leaders and writers I highly esteem are resident: Bishop George Sumner, Victor Lee Austin, William Murchison, as well not a few regular contributors to Covenant and The Living Church. I planned to spend my Sunday in town at Church of the Incarnation, a large parish near uptown Dallas. As a lover of the Anglican choral tradition, I had long wanted to hear its renowned choir. My excitement only increased when I found the parish would offer its annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols that Sunday. The service did not disappoint, and I called my wife afterward, flooding her with adjectives of increasing superlative intensity and insisting that henceforth we just had to make visiting Incarnation it a yearly occurrence. The liturgy that morning, though, occasioned a more visceral personal response. To hear traditional Anglican chanting of the psalm, something I so rarely have the joy of experiencing, was exquisite. I thrilled at the majestic cadences of Rite I and Cranmer’s matchless liturgy. And when we knelt before Communion and prayed the Prayer of Humble Access, I was so emotionally overcome that tears spilled from my eyes. Yet when we rose from our seats and walked to the rail to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I took from the priest only a blessing, obedient to what my church asks of me. I am an Orthodox Christian. My path into Orthodoxy was hardly unique. After a youth spent in the thick of American evangelicalism, I encountered liturgy and beauty in worship through the Episcopal Church, in which I spent six years before being chrismated, along with my family, into the Orthodox Church just over two years ago. I have met dozens of other Orthodox (including a half-dozen priests and one monk) who have made the same evangelical to Anglican/Episcopalian to Orthodox journey. Where I differ from every one of them is that on most days I still long for the Anglicanism I left behind. I am, you could say, a reluctant Orthodox Christian. It is not my intent to lay out the sequence of turns and circumstances that led us into Orthodoxy. At its core it was about our children: being in a parish environment where my wife and I could see those around us, who were helping us to teach and spiritually form our children, as alliesin handing down the faith once delivered and not as influences whose teaching we might need to counter or undo. My heart, though, has been stubborn in making the transition. It largely remains with the Anglican Way that so dazzled me from the moment I encountered it. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer first gave me a discipline and language of prayer that was rooted not in myself but in the ancient tradition of the Church, transcending the subjective moment. The Anglican Way introduced me to such spiritual guides as Cranmer, Andrewes, Taylor, Donne, Herbert, Traherne, Ramsey, Thornton, Stringfellow, Rutledge, and Radner. It taught me what Trinitarian worship is and, above all, that there is holiness in beauty. After we were chrismated, my family and I were engulfed in a sea of hugs, smiles, and voices exclaiming, “Welcome home!” My wife cried with joy and our kids beamed, as they are wont to do when people are excited and giving them attention. I was thankful that day for where God, in his mercy, had brought us, and I did a good job of matching the smiles. But I did not feel exuberant. I did not feel triumphant. I did not feel like I was home. Quite the opposite, I felt as though I was leaving home behind as I gave up something I so loved to follow what I believed God would have us do. Which is what now brings me back to my visit to Church of the Incarnation. In the wake of that Sunday, a cloud of melancholy fell and lingered about me for days afterward. It had all been so magnificent. Yet it also brought an acute awareness of the strength with which I still love Anglicanism. The sadness I harbor about giving it up came crashing over me with the force of a rain-swelled thunderhead unleashing itself on the Kansas prairie. Why oh why, I wondered, could I not have encountered Anglicanism in a conservative diocese or parish like this? All those people worshiping around me that Sunday morning — did they know the treasure they’d been handed? Because I knew. Our wider culture catechizes us to envision happiness and human flourishing as being granted what we want, the freeing of our desires from whatever it is that encumbers their fulfillment or exercise. True freedom, however, is found not in individual autonomy but in willing submission to God “in whose service is perfect freedom,” as the Morning Prayer Collect for Peace teaches us. The life and path of salvation, though offered freely to all, demands of us a perpetual self-emptying and self-giving, “costing not less than everything,” as T.S. Eliot puts it. And this is because there is no Christian life that is not pressed into the shape of the Cross. The form our self-giving will take and the crosses we will be asked to bear will differ from person to person, but to embrace and find life in Christ is of necessity also to embrace a crucified life, to confront the struggle and suffering that go with saying Thy will be done. This struggle is a mercy, for it leads to repentance. Orthodoxy places an enormous import on repentance, more so than any other Christian tradition I have observed. Indeed the very goal of human life, it is often said within Orthodox Christianity, is to attain a constant state of repentance. The word repentance is, of course, a translation of the Greek word metanoia, which rendered literally is usually given as a change (meta) in the mind (nous). In the Orthodox tradition the nous refers not to the seat of one’s intellect but to the inner core or spiritual center of one’s being, the “eye” or “heart” of the soul through which we experience communion with God. Repentance, then, is an inward change of heart, the aligning of our inner being with God. This is why Orthodoxy lays such stress on engaging in ascetic practices of disciplined prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. By their very nature these practices usher us into the Cross-shaped struggle of self-giving and self-emptying. And it is by this struggle that a changed heart — that is, repentance — will be formed in us, ultimately culminating in our conformity to Christ. I am realizing that the experience of struggle and pain I have encountered after giving up Anglicanism can, if I allow it, be a mercy that leads to repentance. It is not for me to question why God placed my family and me in Wichita and called us into the Orthodox Church and has not placed us somewhere else that better suits the devices and desires of my heart. Rather than considering our departure from the Episcopal Church as an occasion simply of loss and frustration, I can, by God’s grace, accept it as an opportunity granted for self-offering, for laying down before God what I love in obedience to him. Indeed, it is an opportunity even for learning, as the prayer book teaches, to “love the thing which thou commandest” and to say with Christ, our forerunner and exemplar in all things pertaining to the life of salvation, “not as I will, Father, but thy will be done.” A small cross this surely is compared to what many are called to bear. Of course none of this requires that I cast off my love for all that is so good and beautiful in Anglicanism. I still pray the morning and evening Offices every day and say bedtime prayers with my kids every night from my 1928 prayer book. I still cruise to job sites with Choral Evensong pumping from the truck speakers. And I’m already counting the weeks to April and my next trip to Dallas! Jay Mullinix lives with his wife and three children in Wichita, Kansas, where they attend St. George Orthodox Cathedral. He works in the insurance industry as a property claims adjuster. 3 Responses Benjamin Guyer January 30, 2019 Dear Jay – Thanks so much for this. I apologize for responding late. It makes me realize that the “Anglican diaspora” actually exists well beyond the various fragmented Anglican bodies that are currently strewn across the United States. Have you heard of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius? They are an East-West ecumenical group (although much of their work these days is more eastern, it seems). Regardless, they might be a group that you would enjoy looking into and being part of. (Now that I think of it, I need to renew my own membership!) If I might ask, what do you think Anglicanism has to offer those in the Roman or Orthodox traditions? As each tends to believe itself uniquely complete via some sort of divine charism, each has a relationship with Anglicanism that tends to be a bit lopsided. Thanks again for sharing and for your encouragement! Best, Ben Reply Jay Mullinix February 2, 2019 Hello Ben, My apologies for the late reply. Yes, I have heard for the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, though I have not looked closely at it. Perhaps I should. Here in Wichita we are very very fortunate to have the Eighth Day Institute, an ecumenical organization founded by an Orthodox Christian (my good friend Erin Doom – who got props for it in Rod Dreher’s latest book) which aims to bring Orthodox, Catholics, and traditional Protestants together for worship, fellowship, and theological engagement. (We just had Ephraim Radner and Hans Boersma, among others, in town last week for the annual Symposium) As for your question, I’ll consign my answer more to what I think Anglicanism has to offer Orthodoxy, as these are what I know. To keep my answer simple for the sake of the space here, I would say one of Anglicanism’s great strengths and something that I have often pointed to in discussions with Orthodox friends, is its humility about itself, its lack of triumphalism. Nowhere of course is this better summed up than in Ramsey’s famous quote about its credentials being its incompleteness, that it does not commend itself as the best type of Christianity but by its brokenness points to the universal Church wherein all have died. As a result of this self-awareness, at its best Anglicanism has bound into its very bones a deeply felt knowledge that it needs the wider Body of Christ. This is why, it seems to me, Anglicans are so keen on ecumenical engagement, especially with other Catholic Christians – both Orthodox and Roman. From my limited personal experience both within Orthodoxy and in reading Orthodox writers and theologians, the Orthodox Church does not seem to sense that it needs other Christians outside of itself. This is a rather basic outgrowth of its very ecclesiology which holds that Orthodoxy is itself the fullness of the Church Catholic. As such there is often the conviction that Orthodoxy does not lack anything in itself, that whatever grace and holiness and goodness may exist in other Christian traditions (and most Orthodox I know and have read are more than willing to grant that they do, and to praise individual Christians who exhibit these things) does so only as sort of greater or lesser vestiges of the fullness of grace which ultimately is found only in Orthodoxy. There is a LOT of triumphalism within Orthodoxy. A lot of proud chest-thumping about being “the ancient Church” or about how, unlike most contemporary American Christianity, it appeals strongly to men. And there’s the endless trashing of all things Western and the rhapsodic waxing on the superiority of all things Eastern which is so common within many (though not all) quarters of contemporary Orthodoxy. (but that’s a whole nother subject and a soapbox that once I’m on I’ll stay on for a while so I better just leave off letting my typing fingers crawl up on it) There is often a reluctance to acknowledge the warts in Orthodoxy’s history, or a tendency to downplay the reality of infighting and sometimes out and out communal division within Orthodoxy. (eg the whole Russia-Ukraine-Constantinople debacle, the refusal of the Antiochian Church to show up at the Great Orthodox Council in 2016, or the jurisdictional mess that is Orthodoxy in America) Not all Orthodox writers and believers are like this of course. The Russian theologian Georges Florovsky was a strong proponent of Orthodox ecumenical involvement and believed that Orthodoxy genuinely needed Western Christianity. The vision for the afore-mentioned Eighth Day Institute here is very much shaped by this “Florovskian” spirit. Dreher, likewise, is a strong proponent of all “small-o” orthodox Christians needing each other in our current cultural climate and theologian Bradley Nassif has pioneered Orthodox-Evangelical dialogue and written much on what Orthodoxy can learn and benefit from within Evangelicalism. What I’ve described is the general tenor I have often observed in certain popular Orthodox writers and theologians of the past century as well as “on the ground”, as it were, and for which I have endless anecdotal evidence from the past years of my engagement with Orthodoxy both before and after we were chrismated. Such self-assuredness about Orthodoxy as I’ve described is a sentiment I tend to be deeply uneasy with. Anglicanism’s humble self-awareness as broken, as untidy and clumsy (to again channel Ramsey), and as such to need the wider Body of Christ is something Orthodoxy itself could stand to learn from in my humble, layman’s view. There is a lot more that could be said or nuanced here. Reply Maggie Cornelius February 17, 2019 Hi Jay and Ben, I read Jay’s article with interest, and appreciated Ben’s pointed question about the incompleteness of the three catholic churches. The disarray in TEC also leads me to consider joining the Catholic or Orthodox Church, but their triumphalism and self-righteousness (as described by Jay) is the main roadblock to my conversion. I believe all three churches suffer from a culture of self-righteousness, which manifests itself in different ways (for TEC, it’s theological relativism, just as it is triumphalism for the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, which I hazard undermines the sufficiency of Christ and the universalism of the Church). If we’re in agreement about the incompleteness of each church, and it seems that we are, may I ask why you, Jay, are able to compromise this form of self-righteousness over the one found in TEC? Similarly, if you do acknowledge that the culture you describe within the Orthodox Church is detrimental to its mission, why did you move to Orthodoxy instead of the ACNA or the CEC? Or were you really not able to find a more traditional Episcopal Church in your area? Kansas does have a strong Episcopal presence, and even in highly liberal dioceses, I’ve always been able to find an Episcopal parish that quietly focuses on the important stuff. (I’m not trying to be accusatory — I’m just surprised by the situation given your context.) I ask these questions because what you described in your article and the comment thread resonates with me — a deep loyalty the Anglican tradition, and an appreciation for the devotion and traditionalism of the Orthodox Church, yet also a distaste for its singular culture. Yet you’ve gone Orthodox and I haven’t. I’m curious to learn more about what about the Orthodox Church outweighed (if that’s the right way to think about it!) the many other options you had. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.