England and Orthodoxy in the 17th cent.

It is common to hear of ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox.  Today this usually means that a certain group of Anglicans are trying as hard as they can to become Eastern.  I have even seen citations of the Anglican Reformers’ dialogue with the Orthodox as evidence that the Anglicans were not “Protestant.”  The exact opposite is the case.

King James and his churchmen did indeed correspond with the Patriarch of Constantinople, however, the patriarch of the day was none other than Cyril Lukaris.  Lukaris was basically an Evangelical, and he looked to King James as an ally against the Jesuits.  Lukaris was in correspondence with James, as well as Archbishop Abbot, a man known for his Calvinism.  Lukaris sent two well-known students to Oxford: Metrophanes Kritopoulos and Nathaniel Konopios.  Kritopoulos would go on to become the archbishop of Alexandria.  James and Abbot established a scholarship program where they would agree to pay the expenses of students coming to England from Greece.

William Patterson describes this period of history with the following:

In about 1615, Cyril Lukaris, the Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria, then on official business in Constantinople, wrote a long letter in Greek to Archbishop Abbot.  The letter was in reply to one from Abbot, sent with the encouragement of King James I, whose interest in the Greek Church Lukaris found deeply encouraging.  Lukaris had evidently initiated the correspondence by asking if the English Church could assist in educating members of the Greek clergy.  Lukaris began his letter to Abbot by excusing himself for not answering sooner.  He had been called away to give aid to the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans and Poland who were threatened with an “anti-Christian tyranny” as a result of the “art and cunning of the Jesuits”- a reference to the vigorous effort being made in the those areas to bring the Orthodox within the jurisdiction of the papacy.  Under the agency of the Jesuits this same effort was being made in the city of Constantinople itself.  Lukaris noted that the two religions existed in single households and that conflict and argument were endemic among eastern Christians.  Under the circumstances Lukaris found the communication from England, containing an offer of help, to be heartening, and he expatiated upon the qualities of that monarch whose loving concern had been so expressed.  King James’s classical wisdom and charitable heart had made him unique among the then reigning monarchs- “a philosopher-king in every respect.”  James’s Christian qualities were no less evident than his generosity, and these attributes had carried his reputation to the East and across the world.  Finally Lukaris turned to the invitation which had elicited such an outpouring of gratitude.  Soon, he said, he would depart for Alexandria, and “from there I will gladly send to your piety men whom I select and judge to be pleasing to Christ as skilled in the service of the Gospel.”

~ King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom pg. 201-202

Patterson goes on to quote Lukaris describing himself as “Reforming,” and that the Reformed faith is “the pure and clear word of God.”

After completing his schooling, Kritopoulos toured Europe to study the Protestant churches there.  Patterson states that he:

spent eight months at Helmstedt in Germany as a guest in the home of Georg Calixtus, the irenic Lutheran theologian.  He also visited Wittenberg and spent almost a year at Nuremberg and the nearby University of Altdorf… At Berne and Geneva, he declared his hope to further the prospects of a union between the Reformed and Orthodox churches

pg. 213

The scholarship plan of Abbot and James did not last, however, one of their greatest acheivements in the ecumenical exchange did.  Lukaris sent the Codex Alexandrinus to England as a present in recognition of James’ support of the Greeks and Lukaris in particular.  It arrived in England in 1627 and continues to be an essential tool of textual scholarship today.