Irvine’s ordination: another Episcopalian perspective

Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, 1905

Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, 1905

Very soon after his 1905 conversion to Orthodoxy, Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine wrote a letter to his archbishop, St. Tikhon, on “the Anglican Church’s claims.” It was, for Tikhon, a valuable document: a view of Anglicanism from one of its own, who had himself converted to Orthodoxy. Irvine, who retained a sincere affection for his old Church, was in the perfect position to outline the good and the bad of the Anglican Communion.

In 1906, Irvine published the letter as a small book, titled On the Anglican Church’s Claims. He contacted some of his old friends in the Episcopal Church, well-respected figures, to expand on specific aspects of Anglicanism, and their responses were included as appendices in the book. The preface was written by Rev. Daniel J. Odell, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Philadelphia. Odell, a longtime friend of Irvine, provides a perspective on Irvine’s ordination that differs markedly from the negative reaction of Bishop Grafton. I’m reprinting Odell’s preface in its entirety:

In view of the assembling of a council of the Holy Orthodox Russian Church for the recasting of its internal ecclesiastical affairs during the coming Autumn and the approaching Fourth Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in 1909, it would seem pre-eminently fitting that the letter of the Reverend Dr. Irvine, “On the Anglican Church’s Historical Claims, Doctrines, Discipline, Worship, etc.,” written to his Grace, the Most Reverend Archbishop Tikhon of North America and Aleutian Islands, shortly after the reception of Dr. Irvine into the Priesthood of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, should be reprinted; with the earnest hope that the cordial relations hitherto existing between the two Churches may be restored and, further, that something definite and explicit may be done by the Bishops of the respective Councils which, under the controlling guidance of the Holy Spirit, will make for righteousness and the reunion of Christendom.

The unhappy position of the Protestant Episcopal Church, as an integral part of the Anglican Communion, in allowing herself to be constantly and continuously classified with the Protestant bodies which have no Historical Episcopate, and scarcely ever, as she should, fearlessly asserting her Catholic and Apostolic heritage, has naturally permitted herself and the whole Anglican Communion to be grievously misunderstood by the Holy Eastern Church. And again, as Dr. Irvine most clearly points out, she has never zealously and unitedly “pressed her claims before the four Eastern Patriarchates” during the past “three hundred years.” The English Church and her daughter churches, with the Protestant Episcopal Church, after drifting along all these years, apparently content with herself in the self-depending knowledge of her own claims or, possibly in a spirit of indifference as to what others may think or say of these claims, finds herself to-day in the unique and notable position where she alone, amidst the entire religious world, Catholic and Protestant, acknowledges and maintains her historical claim of Catholic heritage and Apostolic continuity. She has been unjust to herself, and her Episcopate is to-day receiving the due reward of their own compromising weakness and failure in not safeguarding the Priesthood of their own Church, which looks to them for perpetuation and protection.

In ordaining Dr. Irvine to the Priesthood of the Holy Orthodox Church, his Grace, Archbishop Tikhon, acted, as he was morally and canonically bound to do, in strict obedience to the canonical and ancient usage of the Catholic Church, and the ordination has not been held sacreligious nor discourteous to the Anglican Church outside of one or more irresponsible Church newspapers and some individual ecclesiastics who wrote hastily and unfavorably of the action as doing harm to the cordial relations then obtaining between the Protestant Episcopal and Holy Orthodox Churches. Even the Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Tuttle, in his individual protest to the President of the Holy Synod, seems to have moved unadvisedly as judging the act of Archbishop Tikhon intrusive and tending to disturb ecclesiastical relations when, in fact, no inter-communion really existed at the time or had ever existed.

The act of Archbishop Tikhon in ordaining Dr. Irvine has fearlessly and clearly opened up all questions of difference between the Anglican and Holy Orthodox Churches and boldly brings the chief and leading issues straight before the Bishops of the Lambeth Conference and of the Holy Orthodox Russian Church.

The Roman Catholic Church denies, without condition, the truth of any such claims made by the Anglican Church, but has been irrefutably and successfully answered in the noted “Response of the Archbishops of England to the Apostolic Letter of Pope Leo XIII on Anglican Ordination,” dated February, A.D. 1897, and addressed to the whole body of Bishops of the Catholic Church. Yet it has not been followed up by any united organic action of the entire Anglican Church tending toward effectual inter-communion, and so long as the Anglican Bishops have not collectively and officially pressed her claims for recognition as “part of the Historical Catholic Church,” they cannot actively fault the Holy Eastern Church for not having full knowledge of her Catholic position; and until a conciliar and formal judgment and decision shall be given upon the facts at issue the Anglican and Holy Orthodox Churches will remain estranged and separated.

The opportunity for mutual investigation and explanation of all differences between the Anglican and Holy Orthodox Churches is greater to-day than ever, and he must appear blind who will not see the real bond of union now existing between the Churches made reasonably clear by the opportune and friendly letter of Dr. Irvine to Archbishop Tikhon on “the Anglican Church’s Historical Claims,” etc., in which he says:

“I would not do the Anglican Church a wrong. I would not any more than I would cut off this hand which holds the pen by which I communicate my thoughts to your Grace in black and white, withhold one truth or hide away one merit of which she glories. On the contrary, I trust my very frankness may be the cause of stirring up a spirit of interest on the part of the Holy Orthodox Church so that the Anglican claims may be fairly and quickly weighed and that the Saviour’s prayer so far as the Anglican Church and the Holy Orthodox at least are concerned, may be fulfilled — ‘that they all may be one.'”

God grant it, in His way and time,


Rectory, Church of the Annunciation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Eastertide, 1906.