I must precede this post with a double apology. First, I am sorry to have kept my readers waiting so long for this post. Second, I'm sorry that it isn't quite up to my usual standards. I actually began composing this one in my mind before I started the blog, intending it to be my second post. I finally began drafting it more than a week ago and have been editing it ever since. It still hasn't quite come together, but I need to let it go and get it off my plate. I can't continue working on it because it upsets me to dwell so much on these issues. But I don't think I can proceed with my apologia until this one is posted.
To summarize my post from earlier this month . . . To the extent that my departure from Anglicanism is a response to current events, I am fleeing more from Archbishop Akinola than from Bishop Robinson. The latter, along with the rest of the liberal leadership of the Episcopal Church, will soon be irrelevant. Unfortunately, the process of excommunicating them is likely either to 1) break up the Anglican Communion, or 2) marginalize Anglo-Catholics.
After I reached my decision and talked with Fr. Gregory about becoming Orthodox, I made an appointment with my rector to inform him of my decision. The very day before the scheduled appointment, I had an experience that induced second thoughts. I was going through my Orthodox links and clicked onto the Interfax religion page for the first time in ages. I saw stories that reminded me once again of my misgivings about the ambitions of the Moscow Patriarchate and its attempts to exert authority over the rest of the Orthodox world. Patriarch Alexy II reminds me too much of Archbishop Akinola.
Just as Nigeria is numerically the biggest Anglican province, Russia is the largest Orthodox jurisdiction. In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church claims more members than all other Orthodox jurisdictions combined. One would think the responsibility of overseeing such a large flock and rebuilding it after seven decades of communism would be more than enough to keep the Russian bishops busy. One might also make similar suppositions about Nigeria, where the rapidly growing church must deal with widespread corruption in society and conflict with Islam. The leaders of both churches, however, seem to think their churches' size and growth in the face of obstacles heighten their authority and responsibility on the world stage. Just as Nigeria sometimes seems to think it should displace Canterbury as the center of world Anglicanism, Moscow often appears jealous of the status of Constantinople as the senior Orthodox see. While some (including me) might dismiss both churches as young and immature, they see themselves, rather, as vital and enthusiastic, in contrast to the more cautious, established churches that have become comfortable and settled in wealthier, more stable cultures. And while some (again including me) see in both churches a dangerous hubris and knee-jerk conservatism, they see themselves as maintaining a purer, more traditional form of their respective religious traditions than the churches of other nations.
In 2004, at the Eighth International Assemblage of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy revived the "Third Rome" theory, a 16th century notion that, with the fall of Constantinople (the Second Rome) to the Turks, Moscow inherited the prerogatives and responsibilities of Rome. It was on this basis that the Russian rulers adopted the title Tsar, which derives from Caesar. Since then, Russia has always maintained an inflated sense of national destiny. We see this manifested today in Russia's ham-fisted attempts to dominate the neighboring nations that it formerly controlled under the tsars and the communists, as well as in the Russian OC's ongoing attempts to meddle in the affairs of Orthodox churches outside Russia. (Hierourgos notes several such instances in recent months.) In Constantinople, meanwhile, Patriarch Bartholomew promptly dismissed the revived Third Rome theory as "foolish, hubristic, and blasphemous."
So, as I was approaching Orthodoxy, I was reminded that I would not be escaping the sorts of political problems that were wreaking havoc in Anglicanism. In many ways, Orthodox politics are even worse than those of Anglicanism: in their romanticization of the past, and their fantasy-prone views of the present; in their knee-jerk conservatism masquerading as tradition; in the extreme positions of its partisans, as well as their immoderate ways of expressing these positions. It can all be rather upsetting to someone coming from Anglo-Catholicism, where we pride ourselves on the subtlety and understatement with which we express arguments, insult opponents, and issue threats. Unfortunately, the whole world can't live in the rarefied atmosphere of Anglo-Catholicism (though perhaps the Anglo-Catholic diaspora will influence the churches that receive us for the better in such respects).
But Orthodox politics have one major advantage: Orthodox conflicts rarely lead to long-term excommunications or schisms. We somehow remain in communion with extremists whose Roman Catholic counterparts would be sedevacantist schismatics. (Yes, I know there are exceptions. But you can nearly count the schismatic Orthodox groups without running out of fingers. In Anglicanism, on the other hand, no one knows how many break-away groups there are. By this point, I'll bet there are more varieties of Anglicans than of Franciscans!)
So I can look forward to a church with plenty of political conflict, just like Anglicanism. But while I have to be in communion with "those people," they will also be stuck with me; to an anti-ecumenical Russian devotee of the Julian calendar, I am one of "those people." But unlike Western churches, where unresolvable conflicts too often end in schism, most Orthodox will just keep arguing until Judgment Day or the next Ecumenical Council, without imagining there is anywhere else to go.