He was the odd Anglican out, but he had a wonderful time. This past summer, the Rev. Craig Bowers of Ottawa, Ont. was the first Anglican to participate in a learning experience hosted by the Greek Orthodox Church. Set up in response to John Paul II’s 2001 visit to Greece, the program was designed for Roman Catholic clergy and laity to learn about being a Hellenic Christian. Traditionally the relationship between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches has been strained.
But how did an Anglican get involved?
It all began with the Olympics. The Rev. Bowers, a keen sports spectator, was curious about the chaplaincy set up for the 2004 Athens Olympics, so he struck up an email conversation with the Rev. Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, the Anglican Communion’s representative to the Church of Greece. The men were able to meet in person last year, and this was when the Rev. Bowers learned of the program.
It was his longstanding Orthodox links that made him a good candidate. As the Diocese of Ottawa’s ecumenical officer, the Rev. Bowers works frequently with local Orthodox churches, and earlier in his life, the native of Prescott, Ont., used to zip from his Anglican congregation, down the road to do the English readings at the Greek Orthodox church in Brockville.
After getting approval from the Holy Synod, the Rev. Bowers spent July and August immersed in Greek life. He stayed in an Athenian suburb, with a gorgeous view of the St. Barbara shrine, and a short metro ride away from downtown. In the mornings he studied modern Greek, and the evenings were for seminars on Greek life and liturgy. The afternoons were a time for the 20 men in the program to see the city, or worship together.
The Rev. Bowers was amazed to be so welcomed by his Roman Catholic colleagues, who came from as far away as Iraq, Colombia, and the Philippines, and used Italian as their lingua franca.
“They had the mass every morning,” he explained “And when I told them I’d be praying with them in spirit, one priest from northern Italy, who’s studying at an Orthodox Roman Catholic institute, said ‘Oh no, you have to be with us!’ He couldn’t imagine me not praying with them, because we are still brothers in Christ…I was absolutely touched.”
The Rev. Bowers was also moved by the hospitality of the Church of Greece. Not only did he eat plenty of delicious Greek food, but the Orthodox leaders went out of their way to welcome him and say they were praying for the Anglican Church in its struggles. “Their ministry of hospitality is immense,” he noted. “If you step out in faith to them, they will respond more than in kind.”
The Anglican Church of Canada and the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada (known as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto) have no formal dialogue, although both are members of the Canadian Council of Churches. There is also an international commission for Anglican-Orthodox theological dialogue.
Of course friendships have sprung up on the local level. For example, many Canadian Anglican churches opened their doors to Greek immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, lending space for services, or allowing a permanent set-up of the iconostasion (liturgical wall with icons) as in the basement of St. Paul’s, Cataraqui.
Now back in Ottawa, the Rev. Bowers is deepening relations with the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada. He hopes to co-host seminars in Ottawa on what is means to be the church in the Anglican and Orthodox traditions.
“In Greece, liturgy is written on your heart,” he said. “Seeing people that embrace their faith in that way moves me at a local level, when I see that my western journey is just part of the journey, and there’s such a big community of loving, faithful people in the wider world that I can learn from, that’s always humbling.”
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