Anglican Communion

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The Anglican Communion is a confederation of national churches, each considered independent, yet sharing Full Communion with one another and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the spiritual (although not administrative) head of the Communion. The Anglican Communion maintains the traditional three-fold hierarchy of clergy: Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In some member churches, women have been admitted to one or more of these orders, whereas some member churches have maintained an all-male clergy. Beyond the three-fold order the administration and leadership of each national church is decided by that particular church. In the Church of England, for example, the Queen appoints Bishops. In the Episcopal Church (USA), on the other hand, bishops are elected by diocese and then confirmed by the House of Bishops.

Of particular interest to Orthodox inquirers is the current Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of Wales. Dr. Williams, an academic, has written two books on the spirituality of iconography (The Dwelling of the Light: Praying With Icons of Christ and Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin) and did his doctoral thesis on the theology of Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky.

Other major thinkers to come out of the Anglican Communion have been reformers John and Charles Wesley, convert to Roman Catholicism Cardinal John Henry Newman, social activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and authors Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis.

Anglican Theology

Within Anglicanism there is a wide variety of theological thought. Some Anglicans would be comfortable under the general heading of "Protestant" whereas others would shun this title in favor of "Anglo-Catholic." In actuality, Anglicanism has had a remarkable ability to hold together people of varying views on many theological issues, some of them quite major. Bishop Kallistos Ware, himself a convert to Orthodoxy from Anglicanism, writes in The Orthodox Church that "There are individual Anglicans whose faith is virtually indistinguishable from that of an Orthodox; but there are others within the Anglican communion, on the extreme liberal wing, who openly repudiate fundamental elements in the doctrinal and moral teaching of Christianity" (p. 321).

Among the more "orthodox" or conservative Anglican voices have been author and apologist C. S. Lewis and Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. On the other hand, Anglicanism has been the home of such extreme liberal theologians as Bishop John Spong, author of Why Christianity Must Change or Die.

All this being noted, however, there are a few things that can be said in a general way about Anglican beliefs.

First, Anglican doctrine in summed up in "the three historic creeds": The Nicene, The Apostles' ("The Roman Symbol") and the Quicunque Vult (or "Creed of St. Athanasius"). On advice from the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission, some national Churches have dropped the Filioque from the Nicene Creed in their liturgies, while others have not. The Church of England, for instance, maintains it in general, but it can be removed on occasions of ecumenical significance (such was the case at the entrhonement of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury).

Second, the major doctrinal statement of Anglicanism has historically been the 39 Articles. A product of the English Reformation, the Articles are no longer binding on Anglicans, though many traditionalists hold very firmly to them. These, among other things, affirm a belief in the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Christ. Protestan influence on the articles led to the inclusion of Article VI: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man..." This same article, however, contains certain Old Testament books that were rejected by most Protestants at the Reformation, namely the deuterocanonical or "apocryphal" books. Calvinist influences can also be read in the Articles.

Unlike other Protestant bodies, Anglicanism has also maintained belief in the historic seven Sacraments as understood by the Western Church: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony and Unction. However, the 39 Articles make the distinction between "two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel" (Baptism and Eucharist) and the other five, which it does not consider necessary.

A traditional means of explaining the way that Anglicans do theology has been called the "Three-Legged Stool". In this approach, Scripture, tradition and reason are the three ways in which Anglicans come to an understanding of the Truth. Classically, Anglicans would explain that Scripture is the prime authority, best interpreted in light of Christian tradition, in a reasonable way. However, the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission has stated, "We agree likewise in our view of the fundamental relationship between Scripture and tradition: they are not two sources, but correlative." (article 91)


Christianity reached England by the middle of the second century. As St. Bede relates in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in 156 a British King by the name of Lucius wrote to Eleutherus, bishop of Rome, asking to be made a Christian. (Bk 1, Chap 4) With the work of missionaries throughout the first few centuries AD, Christianity spread and took root.

In 596 Pope Gregory the Great decided to send a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles. He chose a to send a group of Benedictine monks, under the leadership of St. Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo). Augustine and his fellow monks arrived in Kent in 597 and eventually a see city was set up in Canterbury, Augustine being the first Archbishop. It is said that that when they arrived they were "carrying a silver cross and an image of Jesus Christ painted on a board, which thus became, so far as we know, 'Canterbury's first icon.'" (Lesser Feasts and Fasts p. 252)

With Augustine and those who came after him, the British Isles were slowly put under the authority of the Church of Rome. As with the rest of the Western Church, this authority increased over the next 500 years.

In the 16th century, as Western Continental Europe was struggling with the Protestant Reformation, the winds of change would eventually sweep England as well. However, as the Continental Reformation would begin in matters of religion and lead to matters of politics, the English Reformation would begin in matters of politics and end in matters of faith.

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Member Churches

The national churches below are all self-governing members of the Anglican Communion. There are Anglicans in other countries, however. In these cases, the parishes are under the jurisdiction of one of the national churches. The "Primates" (head bishops) of each national church meet periodically to discuss matters of faith and discipline. In addition, every 10 years (1988, 1998, etc.) the Anglican bishops from around the world are gathered to Lambeth Palace (home of the Archbishop of Canterbury) for the "Lambeth Conference." The decisions of the Lambeth Conference are seen as advisory, not binding, on the member churches.

(This list is not exhaustive)

  • The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
  • The Anglican Church of Australia
  • A Igreja Episcopal do Brasil
  • The Church of the Province of Burundi
  • The Anglican Church of Canada
  • The Episcopal Church of Cuba
  • The Church of England
  • Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui
  • The Church of North India
  • The Church of South India
  • The Church of Ireland
  • Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Holy Catholic Church in Japan)
  • The Anglican Church of Kenya
  • The Anglican Church of Korea
  • La Iglesia Anglicana de México
  • The Church of the Province of Myanmar
  • The Church of the Province of Nigeria
  • The Church of Pakistan
  • The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea
  • The Philippine Episcopal Church
  • The Lusitanian Church of Portugal
  • The Province of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda
  • The Scottish Episcopal Church
  • The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church
  • The Church of Sri Lanka
  • The Episcopal Church of the Sudan
  • The Church of the Province of Tanzania
  • The Church of the Province of Uganda
  • The Episcopal Church in the United States of America
  • The Church in Wales

Anglican Schisms

Several times throughout the history of Anglicanism, there have been movements which led to schism. The various resulting bodies have maintained their Anglican heritage to differing degrees. Among these groups are the various Methodist churches, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Anglican Catholic Church and the Anglican Church in America.

Relationship with Orthodox Christians

Anglican/Orthodox Organizations

Largely through the initiative and work of Oxford Movement figure Father John Mason Neale, in 1863 there was formed the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association. This organization publishes a journal (Eastern Churches News Letter)and encourages interaction of Anglican and Orthodox Christians, particularly through encouraging pilgrimages. In 1928 an organization with similar goals, the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius was formed and also publishes a journal (Sobornost). In the 1960s an international commission of Orthodox and Anglican clergy and theologians entitled the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission was formed and has issued two historic statements which will be addressed below.

Agreed Statements

In the 1960s, largely through the ecumenical work of Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Patriarch Athanagoras of Constantinople, both the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Churches established commissions to consider Anglican-Orthodox relations. Between 1973 and 1976 an "Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission" met which led to the Moscow Agreed Statement which dealt with "the Knowledge of God, the Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, Scripture and Tradition, the Authority of the Councils, the Filioque Clause, the Church as the Eucharistic Community, and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist."

In 1984 the Commission again produced a joint docrinal work entitled the Dublin Agreed Statement. This one dealt with the Mystery of the Church, the Holy Trinity and worship and tradition.

At the time of the first agreed statement, the hope of the Commission had been for the eventual reunion of the Anglican and Orthodox Churches. However, in between the two, a major development in Anglicanism changed the direction of the Commission. In 1978 both the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the Lambeth Conference put forth positions accepting the ordination of women. This drastically changed the understanding of the Commission. Following the Lambeth Conference in 1978, it had now come to be seen, in the words of co-chairman Archbishop Athanagoras, "simply as an academic and informative exercise, and no longer as an ecclesial endeavour aiming at the union of the two churches."

As there is much theological variation within Anglicanism, Bishop Kallistos Ware has explained rightly when he writes, "The Orthodox Church, however deep its longing for reunion, cannot enter into closer relations with the Anglican communion until Anglicans themeselves are clearer about their own beliefs." (Ware, p. 321)

Current Issues Within Anglicanism


  • Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue: The Dublin Agreed Statement 1984. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985.
  • Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. New York: Penguin, 1990.
  • Bernadin, J.B. An Introduction to the Episcopal Church (Rev. Ed.). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1983.
  • The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979.
  • Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2003. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993.
  • Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church (New Edition). New York: Penguin, 1997.

External Links

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