The difficulty of the ‘high-church’ evangelical

I write this as one raised within the evangelical, ‘charismatic’ wing of Anglicanism who treasures the Prayer Book and the theology it and the 39 Articles espouse yet who finds himself at worshipping with Presbyterians at present.

I know of another evangelical Anglican, raised low-church evangelical, who attends one of the highest Anglo-Catholic churches I know of, and who sometimes wonders if he should leave — even mentioning a Baptist church in his neighbourhood as a possible destination!

What we two represent are the result of the tough choice that the liturgically-minded evangelical must face. I, personally, am more attuned to liturgical worship as the space where I can set aside my wandering thoughts and focus on worship of God and enter into His presence. However, I am also powerfully, inescapably, at times vehemently, attached to orthodox, biblical, ‘evangelical’ Christian teaching in line with the historic creeds as well as the Reformation principle of justification by faith.

What this means is that here, in Edinburgh, I have to make a choice. Worship in a way that I think brings great glory to God and where I am at my most natural in my response to His unchanging glory, or hear sermons where the Gospel is preached and orthodox doctrine clearly and unashamedly espoused and expounded.

I have chosen the latter, and chosen it outside of Anglicanism (there is one Anglican church here that might do the preaching [orthodox theology, but rumour has it shallow teaching] but misses the liturgy; it is easier for me to worship with non-Anglicans than Anglicans who don’t act Anglican). I use the BCP in my own private worship and sometimes turn up at Anglican churches for weekday services as well as my local Orthodox Church.

Other people I know choose the former; they worship with beauty and elegance and power. But they also read the Scriptures on their own and gather with Christians in the week. The person I mentioned above worships with the music of Palestrina and reads the books of J I Packer.

Why do we have to make this choice? I do not wish to abandon my evangelical theology and commitment to mission when I settle on a church home. Why must I abandon my love of liturgy that encapsulates that theology in ritual action and that ties me to a tradition over  a millennium long?

What times we live in!

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Vespers

Christ Pantokrator, Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens

The little chapel was lit only by ambient light from the sides, the chandelier from the ceiling turned off — this, of course, augmented by the lights on Fr. Raphael’s lectern and the glowing candles in the lamps before the iconostasis and those lit by the faithful before the icons near the door.

Icons hung on the four walls of the room as well as on the iconostasis, although not completely covering this piece of ecclesiastical furniture which was made from simple timbers and boards, no fancy carvings in sight.  Although the chapel had no dome (I believe Fr. John lives upstairs), a circular icon of Christ Pantokrator was mounted to the ceiling above the nave.

When the curtain in the iconostasis opened, I could see the Holy Table* with an ornate cross with two other ornate objects flanking it; they reminded me of monstrances, but I knew they couldn’t be since Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a western phenomenon associated with the 13th-century feast of Corpus Christi.

Fr. Raphael stood at his lectern in the back left corner of the chapel and chanted and sang Vespers.  There were Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, Kyries, and many others.  Amidst these beautiful hymns and chants were hymns for St. Ambrose of Milan whose feast was the next day.  These were beautiful and complex, verse homilies in miniature, teaching us of the life and teachings of St. Ambrose, praying that our faith might mirror his.

My Sundays of worship at Evensong at St. Alban’s in Ottawa as well as the many nights I have prayed Compline alone gladdened my heart when Fr. Raphael sang the Nunc Dimittis.  I mouthed the words silently along with him.

Every once in a while, I would see Fr. John behind the iconostasis, standing before the Holy Table, bowing, praying, and chanting a few portions of the order for Vespers himself.  At one point, Fr. John censed the Holy Table and then proceed out from behind the iconostasis with the censer.  He censed the doors, the icons of the day posted near the doors, Theodore, me, and Fr. Raphael, before proceeding back to his position behind the iconostasis.

Theodore, a young Romanian student of electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh, and I were the only two congregants for most of Vespers last night.  We stood at the back, crossing ourselves at the right moments and lifting up our hearts to God.  Using skills developed at Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic services, I kept half an eye on Fr. Raphael to know when to cross myself.  I tried to listen to the words of the service, but sometimes, especially when the chanting became singing, I got caught up in the melody and lost track of the words.

I prayed the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’) many times over.  My charismatic upbringing also manifested itself in the quiet praying in tongues through the movement of the Holy Spirit in that quiet, holy space.  At times, my mind wandered as I stood there, thinking about Eastern Orthodoxy, liturgy, and worship, as well as St. Ambrose.  Inevitably, my thoughts turned to the fact that my back was hurting.

I sat down.  Theodore had already done so, so I didn’t feel bad about it.

Within about a minute of having sat down, Fr. Raphael called me over to his four-platformed spinning lectern to read.

I read the Trisagion, the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer to St. Ambrose, and a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I may have prayed something else, but those are the prayers that stand out in my mind.  Fortunately, I know enough of Orthodox liturgy to have been able to pray the Glory Be without printed words properly.

After this beautiful service, we retired to the church hall for tea and cake.  I met Theodore and Dimitri, and had a conversation with Fr. Raphael about Pope St. Leo the Great and St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Then, as it was about 8:15 and I hadn’t had supper, I went home.

I’m glad I stopped in at the Orthodox Community of St. Andrew the Apostle.  The Lord blessed me through that visit, and I worshipped him in spirit and in truth.

*If I recall Fr. Alexander Schmemann properly, the entire space involved in the iconostasis is the altar.  Not knowing the Orthodox word, I give you the Anglican.