As much as I make fun of Episcopalians who invoke via media in solemn tones, sometimes it's apt. However, I think that often times modern Episcopalians - with the exception of the very low church evangelicals - are often between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics, especially when it comes to spirituality and worship practices. I know I feel that way.
This was brought home to me this Sunday at the altar rail. I was kneeling beside a couple and their delightful toddler son who is the cutest, happiest baby in the universe. (He also loves church because his parents have been wonderful in that regard - I watched them lighting candles at the Virgin icon as he climbed onto the kneeler and gestured towards the icon and flowers. He especially loves the music). The priest asked if the child was receiving the Eucharist or a blessing, and in this case it was a blessing. I have also seen babies and toddlers receive a drop of wine from the priest's finger after baptism. The official stance is that all baptized Christians are welcome to partake, but that it's up to the parents as to whether their babies should partake. In some parishes, like the one my husband is called to, the children wait until they are about 7 to do a Western-style first communion in white dresses etc (though I rarely see this). In this case, it seems that some parents feel an Eastern tug towards the idea that babies in a family are seated at the table and eat with the family, and so should infants in Christ. Others feel the Western tug towards having at least a cursory intellectual understanding of the Eucharist before partaking. There's no animosity on this issue, but there's no standard approach either.
Our liturgical calendar matches the West, as do most of our Lenten practices (I get woozy just looking at the Orthodox fasting schedule. They're made of sterner stuff for sure). This makes sense - we split off the Western church, not the Eastern one. However, more and more I see theological and spiritual practices that look more Eastern. Moreover, the Episcopal attitude towards sacraments is much more Eastern - they are "mysteries," and while one can say many things, perhaps the best response is simply participation and wonder. Most Episcopal theologians these days hearken to the pre-Augustinian theology of atonement: that is, they are discovering that not all Christians believe in the theology of satisfaction atonement that Protestants - and to some degree Western Catholics - believe. This enormous paradigm shift was one of the greatest turning points in my own faith journey, and if I had been forced to believe in Augustinian atonement theology I'm not sure I could even be a Christian.
This really came home to me when I was doing a fun and intellectually thrilling exercise of writing up a daily prayer liturgy based loosely on the Liturgy of Hours. What I say next may sound offensive, but I truly don't mean it to be: the Eastern Orthodox version captured the beauty of prayer in a way which the Catholic one simply did not. I also found more of a kinship, a similarity in language, style, even cadence with the Book of Common Prayer; it seemed like an old friend but in grander, deeper style. When reading the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the House I felt like an outsider looking in, saying another's words; when reading the Eastern liturgy, it felt like home.
At the same time, we do technically have more kinship with the Roman Catholic church simply because of our history (though perhaps more latent animosity as well, which I pray will get better in my life-time). Culturally, we share the same Christmas and Easter, the same Ash Wednesday, the same All Saints' Day. We both stop saying Alleluia and offer Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent; we both consider all Sundays a feast day and let our penances lapse. And yet, when I need to pray silently on the Metro I find myself thinking Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner....