The Western Rite and the Flow of History

A minor debate within Orthodoxy has concerned what has been called “the Western Rite”. By this term is meant an (often doctored) version of the text of the Roman Catholic Mass or the Anglican Communion Service. Is the substitution of this Western Rite in place of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy advisable for Orthodox churches? Is it even legitimate? I would like to examine this question as dispassionately as possible, keenly aware that some Orthodox clergy currently using the Western Rite might take the matter personally. I would ask for understanding since I am here intending no personal insult or condemnation of anyone, but am simply trying to disentangle some threads which often have become very tangled indeed.

The question of the Western Rite and the Eastern Rite cannot be adequately understood apart from a look at their historical development. In the early days of the Church, there was no single rite dominant in either the west or the east. Indeed, originally there was (to our modern mind anyway) an astonishing and bewildering diversity, for each pastor (i.e. each bishop) invented his own anaphora, and each church had their own distinct way of offering the Eucharist. (Scholarly types might want to read all about it in Bouley’s From Freedom to Formula: The Evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer from Oral Improvisation to Written Texts.) As the years progressed, pastors would borrow prayers from each other, so that several anaphoras and sets of prayers came to dominate an area. Rome had their distinct Liturgy, as did Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, as well as the churches of the West such as those in Gaul, North Africa, and Spain. Yet even after certain centres came to exercise a wide influence on the churches around them, a variety of rites still persisted, in both the East and West. Eventually, due to the many and varied exigencies of history, two rites remained standing at the end: the Roman rite and that of the Great Church, Constantinople. But originally there were many eastern rites and many western rites.

Time marches on (as the cliché has it), and in the West time marched on into the sixteenth century cataclysm known as the Reformation. One thing that the Reformation accomplished (apart from the sundering of western church unity) was the creation of radically new forms of liturgy. Some of them (such as Anabaptist and Reformed liturgies) mutated so thoroughly that the original Roman Mass was entirely overthrown; others (such as the Anglican liturgy) retained as much of the old Roman wording as possible. But all of them broke decisively with the Roman (and Orthodox) understanding of the Eucharist, denying emphatically that it was a sacrifice in which the true Body and Blood of Christ were orally received by the communicant.

It is hard to overstate this. For all of the early Protestants the Roman Mass was an abomination, a blasphemous parody of what Christ intended for His Church. There might be occasions where a Reformed cleric from the Continent might substitute for a Church of England cleric if needs be, but having a Roman Catholic priest substitute for the Anglican cleric was out of the question. For all concerned, this issue of the Mass was literally a matter of life and death, as the executions of Ridley and Latimer and of Campion attest. Rome, for its part, reacted to the Protestant revolution by battening down the hatches, both administratively and liturgically. The so-called “Counter Reformation” introduced a number of features aimed at solidifying past liturgical customs and introducing new ones. The war was on.

On the Protestant side, the Anglican liturgy was the closest to that of the Roman rite, and this underwent its own development, with the 1662 Prayerbook eventually becoming the final product authorized by Parliament and used in the Church of England until 1980. The C. of E., being a state church, included a variety of theological types, usually categorized as “high” and “low”, with the High Church Anglicans using their Protestant Prayerbook and reading into it their own catholic theology. (Or at least trying to; people like Henry Newman saw the irony of the whole thing and left for Rome.) But it should be noted that, despite Tractarian revisionism, the Communion Service of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was originally written to oppose and refute the theology of the Roman Mass.

This makes it all the more interesting that the Western Rite in use today in some Orthodox churches consists of a version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, or a version of the Roman Mass. The Western Rite of course comprises more than simply the text of the Eucharist, but also includes in some places such western liturgical usages as the use of unleavened wafers, the feast of Corpus Christi, the adoration of the Host in a Monstrance, the service of Benediction, the use of the Rosary, and the use of statuary. (For these terms, see explanatory note at the end of this article.) And of course, western liturgical vestments. We return to the question: is all this legitimate for congregations claiming to be Orthodox? (I of course assume its legitimacy for western churches.)

One must ask what is meant by “legitimacy”. No Orthodox should dispute the fact that Orthodox churches using the Western Rite still perform the Eucharist and that this Eucharist is “valid” (to use unhelpful western categories). I would therefore like to approach the issue by asking three different questions: 1. Is the creation of a self-contained liturgical subset like the Western Rite ecclesiastically wise in terms of unity? 2. Is the creation of this subset helpful in terms of facilitating a conversion of the heart for those who are a part of it? 3. Is the creation of this subset historically genuine in terms of organic growth of church life as a whole? I would answer negatively to all three questions.

First of all, the question, “Is the creation of a self-contained liturgical subset like the Western Rite ecclesiastically wise in terms of unity?” The Orthodox parishes of the Western Rite (belonging to either the Antiochian jurisdiction or the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) comprise an exceedingly small percentage of all Orthodox parishes world-wide. This is so much so that when one speaks of “the Orthodox Liturgy” everyone understands the speaker to mean the Byzantine Liturgy (as in the book The Orthodox Liturgy by Hugh Wybrew, which details the development of the Byzantine Eucharist). I suggest that the aggressiveness with which proponents of the Western Rite sometimes attempt to make their case for the legitimacy of their project stems from a defensiveness in the face of this common assumption that Orthodox=Byzantine. The Western Rite parishes often feel a bit besieged, and need to constantly defend their Orthodox identity.

The clergy—and especially the laity—of these parishes often do not know how to serve or function liturgically in a Byzantine Liturgy. I am told that in some cases the Western Rite clergy are forbidden to serve with their Byzantine Rite brother priests, though this may not be so now. What remains clearer is the fact that Western Rite laity have difficulty feeling at home outside their Rite. In the old days of the early church when every bishop had his own anaphora and when his laity rarely travelled far from home to visit other churches, this was not an issue. In our day, when people routinely travel far from home and when liturgical standardization has become a part of ecclesiastical identity, this difficulty of fitting in and non-conformity is more problematic.

Part of the strength of Orthodoxy today consists in a unity of liturgical tradition, which mirrors and expresses the unity of our faith: wherever an Orthodox may go in the world, he or she can expect to find a church confessing the same faith and expressing it in the same liturgical tradition. Rightly or wrongly, the strength of our unity depends upon our liturgical unity. It was otherwise in the early church, but it is different now, and there is no sense in denying it or trying to turn back the clock.

This is not just the case with the Orthodox, but with all Christian confessions: a Baptist expects to find every Baptist church believing more or less the same thing, and worshipping in more or less the same way. If a Baptist from England enters a Baptist church in Vancouver, B.C. and finds them saying the Rosary and offering the sacrifice of the Mass, they will feel they are not in a real Baptist church. The modern reality is that liturgical consistency and a certain homogeneity in liturgical tradition have become a part of ecclesiastical identity. This means that one expects to find in an Orthodox church in Vancouver the same kind of worship found in other Orthodox churches throughout the world. An Orthodox parish worshipping in a way radically different from every other Orthodox parish impacts our unity whether one likes it or not. A liturgical subset, however authorized by ecclesiastical authority, makes unity more difficult. If you doubt this, ask the Uniates. It is too easy for a Western Rite Orthodox to identify not so much as Orthodox like the rest of his or her Orthodox compatriots as Western Rite and to feel at home only among other Western Rite Orthodox, or—as in some unfortunate cases I have known—among Western Rite Anglicans.

This observation leads to my second question, namely, “Is the creation of this subset helpful in terms of facilitating a conversion of the heart for those who are a part of it?” The matter of conversion from one faith or church to another is a complex one, and pastors know that genuine conversion is a matter of the heart. If one converts only to please one’s grandmother or to impress one’s girlfriend or because all the cool kids are doing it, that conversion is not entirely genuine, and may not last. So, a good pastor will always ask the potential convert, “Why do you want to convert?” and probe a little into the question of interior motivation. In the question of the Western Rite, I always wonder why a person who chooses the Western Rite over the Eastern Rite does so. What is it in the Eastern Rite that is the deal-breaker for someone born and formed in the West?

Sometimes one receives the answer: “It is the icons on the walls, the absence of pews, the fact that everything is chanted, and the use of incense”. This is very odd, for none of these things are specifically eastern. In fact, they are specifically Christian, and so were once found in the West as well. If one entered a church in England in 1400 one would have found icons on the walls, no pews, and discovered that the entire service was chanted from top to bottom (including the lessons), and that incense was used. Abundant art, chanting, and incense were dumped by Protestants at the Reformation, and by Roman Catholics after Vatican II, so that now such things appear specifically eastern, but that is only due to changes in the West. These things are found in Orthodoxy not because they are eastern, but because Orthodoxy is conservative and never dumped the things that were once found everywhere. There is no reason that Christians in the West cannot appreciate them now, because Christians in the West once appreciated them for centuries.

So, what is the real reason for choosing a Western Rite over the Eastern Rite? Why do some Anglicans say (as I have heard them say), “I could never attend an Eastern Rite church, but only a Western Rite church”? The answer is one of familiarity. Or, to put it differently, because the experience of getting used to a different liturgical tradition can be initially uncomfortable. Or, to put it differently again, because they are unwilling to change.

It is just here that the Western Rite can become problematic. Conversion to Orthodoxy inevitably involves change, and it involves an inner revolution. It is not like switching from Anglicanism to Lutheranism, or from being a Baptist to being a Pentecostal. It involves moving from a schismatic church to the true Church, and therefore rethinking everything. It involves a humility which takes the Church on its own terms. Conversion to Orthodoxy is not so much like choosing a prom-date as it is like surrendering and laying down one’s arms, and this surrender must be unconditional. To say, “I will surrender to the Church, but only if it uses a Rite with which I am already familiar” is to not really surrender at all. I am not saying that all Western Rite Orthodox are like this; I am saying that the temptation to short-circuit the conversion process is built in to the Western Rite. And this is problematic.

Finally, I would ask, “Is the creation of this subset historically genuine in terms of organic growth of church life as a whole?” By “organic growth” I mean that liturgy is rooted in and flows from the life of a living church, and that churches cannot be divorced from the flow of history. As said above, time marches on, and the churches of the West changed their liturgies to the point where they eventually adopted the Roman rite, just as the churches of the East changed theirs to the point where they eventually adopted the Constantinopolitan rite. How the churches worshipped in the East and the West is of historical interest, but a genuine contemporary liturgical praxis will be rooted in the church’s life now.

It would be—well, odd—if a church started using the old eastern rite of Antioch (recovered through scholarly archaeology) and called it the “Antiochene Rite”. The church in Antioch is part of a living church and so now uses the same Constantinopolitan eastern rite as everyone else. To use a long-dead rite and attempt to base one’s liturgical legitimacy on the fact that it was once used in Antioch is somewhat unnatural.

It would be even odder if one resurrected from its historical grave the old fourth-century Antiochene liturgy and added later elements used even now like the Byzantine cherubic hymn, the Byzantine three antiphons and the Little Entrance, modern vestments, and modern church architecture—and billed that hybrid as “the ancient liturgy of Antioch”. It would be no such thing. A more honest approach would be to bill it as “the ancient liturgy of Antioch as revised with many additions from the succeeding centuries”—not as snappy a handle, I admit, but more accurate. Genuine liturgy arises from the accumulated experience of a living church with a continuous life behind it, a church living in the flow of history. It should not be the artificial creation of scholars who tinker with it according to preference. When they do, certain problems arise.

In particular, one will have problems with the heterodox elements artificially grafted on from a later time outside the flow of history. Things such as unleavened bread, statues, the use of the Monstrance and the Feast of Corpus Christi, for example, were part of a living church within the flow of history. That church had errors, since it was in schism, and these liturgical elements were expressions of those errors. They cannot legitimately be now added to an Orthodox church where they are alien to its life and history and are expressions of an erroneous liturgical tradition. These things only find their place in the Western Rite because they were part of the experience of the convert’s life in his former church. The question of doctrinal or liturgical legitimacy seems not to have been raised or it was deemed as less important than that of the convert’s comfort with his old ways. The reproduction of former experience seems to be more important than the issue of organic growth and liturgical legitimacy. This too is problematic.

What then can we conclude? How are we to regard those worshipping in Western Rite Orthodox churches? I suggest that we must regard them as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and as fellow-Orthodox. But this solidarity does not mean that the Western Rite project was a wise one, or that it is not problematic. Brethren dwelling in unity (Psalm 133:1) should take care to speak the truth in love.

(An explanatory historical note: the western Feast of Corpus Christi, which emphasized that the Eucharist was the Body and Blood, the soul and divinity of Christ, was added to the western calendar by the pope in 1264. The Host is the wafer used in the Mass after its consecration. A Monstrance is a liturgical vessel used for containing and exhibiting a consecrated Host. Benediction is the service whereby the faithful sing to Christ as exhibited in the Monstrance and are blessed by the priest holding the Monstrance.)

Next: An Orthodox Organic Western Rite?

75 comments:

  1. Fr

    I look forward to your follow-up post.

    I expected my first visit to an Orthodox Church to be unusual, I wasn’t wrong. It happened to be Antiochian, and I could download services from the Department of Liturgics, and follow along with the text. It seems to me that the text considers, and is sensitive to English liturgical language as evidenced in the KJV Bible, and the Book of Common prayer. My Paschal Book is the Antakya Press version, 3rd Edition, and I grew to love the language and the services.

    I was somewhat shocked when I attended my first all English speaking Greek service. It seemed as though the language was more casual, and I couldn’t follow along – the familiar patterns were “wrong”. Maybe its just an impression. I’d gotten used to the Antiochian services and was resisting something new. That seems to have been the impression the priests I spoke to about it seemed to have regarding my thoughts.

    Thank-You for addressing this topic.

  2. Thanks, informative. The few times I have visited a Western Rite Church, I did feel like in some wayI had retreated to my Protestant days. Having said that, I would have no qualms or doubts about making a Western Rite my church home.

  3. I was received into the Greek Orthodox Church this past Easter after Catechism Classes with a priest. This search and I will say hungering for the Greek Orthodox Church began approximately 18 years prior. My reason 18 years ago which never changed, was that I preferred and felt called to be part of a community and Div Liturgy which had not changed over the course of time and dated back closer to the time of Jesus and the Apostles. This demonstrated more authenticity to me as well as Truth and Tradition – from the early times – the beginnings. This was very important to me. As time went on, being in the RC Church for many years, I noticed of course non-stop changes, watering down, elimination of words, rites, prayers and still more subtle changes. I knew something was very wrong and I never could feel settled in peace. This is when I took the final step to conversion. While my conversion had nothing to do with the changes per sei, it was the changes that were taking me farther and father from the early Church and beginnings. I was very involved in the RC Church both in worship and ministry however this desire was always with me. I have also come to realize since my conversion, that the Orthodox Church if one is living the sacraments, calendar of saints, and fasts, is living a penitential life! In the RC Church, one has to go looking for a group or Order within that takes this on as something extra. So, this brought me a lot of joy to know I am a Penitent in the Orthodox Church simply living day to day following the calendar. Now I am praying the Akathists/Jesus Prayer at home, have incense and candles for my daily prayers and yes, icons in the corner – but that is not why I became Orthodox. I like to say I was “called” to Orthodoxy, not that I chose it – but God chose me to be on this path and it was a blessing. (I have had to explain to some people that I did not convert due to the scandals in the RC Church; I converted to be on the path Jesus and the Apostles left for us from the beginning.) I must say though that even if one does convert to Orthodoxy through marriage etc., it can still be God’s way of calling them to the Orthodox Church. They can end up being more committed and devout in their faith also. It’s important to remember, one is not necessarily running from something, but to something. A good book on Ancient Faith is Finding the Ancient Path (or similar) which I read and yes, God told the Israelites, “When you have lost your way, return to the Ancient Path.” God bless! (sorry I was so long-winded!)

  4. A small addition to my previous comment – the Orth Church says the Creed at every Div Liturgy not just on Sundays. Even with that (just being on Sundays) the RC Church keeps changing back and forth from the Apostles Creed to the Nicene Creed. Then there is the Filioque. Thankyou! God bless…..

  5. It is also worth mentioning the difficulties that two rites existing side-by-side (as opposed to expressions of geographical catholicity) pose for those coming into the Church as converts. Near where I live, there is an OCA parish nearly across the street from a WR Antiochian Parish. Someone coming into the Church in such a place has to make a choice as a “consumer” based on how they prefer to worship.

    I come from a very traditional Baptist background. When I attended my first Divine Liturgy in a beautiful OCA cathedral (now my home parish) I was blown away. I immediately found that, like the emissaries of St Vladimir, that I did not know “if I was in heaven or on earth.” I knew exactly what I was seeing–I was seeing the worship of Almighty God that Isaiah and St John had seen and described. Some time after we’d been inquiring, we decided to visit the Western Rite parish (which is Anglican use). My wife afterwards made the comment that she “didn’t like being able to see everything.” There was a sense of mystery preserved in the Divine Liturgy which she found important, and which she found missing in the Anglican-style WR service.

  6. Scanned through the article very cursorily, but one emendum: it was not Thomas Aquinas who first proposed Corpus Christi as a feast. That had been done by Juliana of Liege (based on a strange vision with troubling implications) long before him.

  7. Reverend father, let me disagree with the entire point of the article. To clarify one thing, I am Russian, born and raised in Moscow, and adopted Orthodoxy through the eastern rite (or, better say, it’s Russian iteration). That said, I am a very strong proponent of the western Rite in our church. I’d like to respond in details to your points on the rosary (adopted by St. Seraphim of Sarov, who also easily used the Old Rite), unleavened bread accusations (incorrect), and the entire approach based on the notion of cultural familiarity and uniformity rather than on the Church’s ability to speak the languages (cultural and liturgical) of the people and countries it serves. Another strong pro-WR point is that I know at least 3 saints who supported the WR (two of them – specifically for it to be used in the Americas). I know no saint who objected the usage of WR in the Orthodox Church.
    The fact that St. Tikhon and St. John Maximovich both blessed the WR, and prominent church leaders like Philip Saliba facilitated its growth in the church, prove to me that it’s a right direction to take.

    1. The question involves the WR as it is currently practised today in North America, so that the endorsements of past hierarchs on a future project are irrelevant to the current situation. The question of speaking the languages of the people is also not the issue, as long as a vernacular is used; ER parishes also speak the language of the country in which the ER is served.

      1. All due respect father, how exactly is it that several Orthodox saints endorsed the Western Rite irrelevant to the current situation?

        Can I ask another question? What prompted this?

        1. Their blessing of the WR took place before our current day, when they were not in a position to observe the current situation and discern the present difficulties attending the WR. What prompted my words about the WR was a discussion on a FB clergy forum discussing this issue. It seemed to me that the WR issued was subject to so much fuzzy thinking that a longer discussion was required than could be given in a FB exchange.

    2. Vasily, I am also of slavic/Russian Orthodox background and I too could not disagree with this article more strongly. There are as you note a number of errors in this – some that require nothing more than passing acquaintance with the practice: no Western Rite parish uses azymes for example.

      I wonder, though, if this doesn’t raise a deeper question about the problematic of the narrowing of Orthodox liturgical expressions, something that has plagued the Church over the centuries. Far from a positive, it is a source of deep impoverishment for the faithful, most commonly a sign of a kind of cultural imperialism, and has itself been a source of schism – for example in the Nikonian reforms in Russia. There appears to me to be a particularly malevolent force in the development of this monoculture: a drive to dominate and control, as in the suppression of the traditional Liturgies in the middle east by Greek hierarchs. In the new world, Orthodoxy institutionally has more often than not been focused on closing the wagons around the tribe, so its no surprise that the Western rite has been met with hostility in some corners. Whatever problems there may be in that context, I’m quite sure they pale in comparison to unresolved pathologies common to normative Orthodox experience in North America.

  8. Fr. Lawrence, I don’t have the time or energy to make a full, respectful response, but I would leave you with some things to ponder: Ignorance leads to a false sense of knowledge; and have you taken the time to get to know these Western Rite brethren you claim to be loving?

    1. Yes, I have. One of them (formerly WR) wrote me a private letter in response to my piece which was far more severe and damning of the current WR than anything I wrote.

      1. Father, I know a couple former WRO presbyters who either left the priesthood or who joined the Byzantine rite.

        I’d hardly call disgruntled ship-jumpers a good source of “damning” information on something you seem to hardly understand.

        Have you, for instance, read the liturgies celebrated by the WRO communities?

        Have you attended a mass?

        Have you engaged the scholarship behind it?

        This whole article is a needless hit piece saying, “I’m not calling them heretics but they’re heretics.”

        As a longtime fan and someone who supports your work as an author, I’m quite frankly disappointed by the low effort of this libelous attack on the catholicity of the Orthodox Faith.

        1. Thank you for your (possibly former) support. I did not call them heretics, but “our brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow-Orthodox”, and still regard them as such. Suggesting that the WR experiment is unwise does not constitute denouncing it as heretical, much less as libelous. It seems that any critique of the WR is considered out of bounds. And I deplore criticism from former WR brethren as the work of “disgruntled ship-jumpers”. Why should their first-hand experience and testimony be so rejected and denounced? They have read the liturgies celebrated by WRO communities and attended masses. Why is their voice rejected out of hand? It seems that if one has limited experience of WR parishes one’s words are rejected as based on ignorance, and if one has extensive experience of WR parishes one’s words are rejected as those of disgruntled ship-jumpers.

          1. My dear father Lawrence, I hope my previous comment was not so harsh as to seem like a barb to you rather than an expression of frustration with common but incorrect criticisms of the venerable Western Rite. I bring in my support of your work here to show that I know you to be a thoughtful and considerate thinker. This is why this particular piece feels out of order compared to your general approach to handling matters of the Church. I will continue to enjoy your scriptural commentaries, blog posts, and other work as before. I hope you forgive me any impudence.

            Indeed, it would be prudent to take the point of view disgruntled former WRO people into account, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to take that line of reasoning alone. Would it be more proper to compare that to the testimony and lived experience of those who are in the Western Rite communities?

            I, like you, am a strict byzantinist in my own liturgical and devotional life. I chant in the laudable Byzantine manner. I participate in the immaculate Eastern liturgies as a chanter, reader, and acolyte, as poor as my service may be. I surround myself in the rich iconography of our eastern tradition (in particular, the high expression of the Moscow school of the 14-16 centuries). I read the Eastern Fathers in their own Greek.

            And, like you, I previously made these same charges against the Western Rite. The capable hierarch I voiced my concern to suggested I spend some time learning about the Western Rite in the terms of those who are really leading this glorious effort here in the mission field of pagan America.

            I did.

            What I found was not what I understood the Western Rite to be. It was not the banal effeminacy of the Novus Ordo Roman Rite worship of my youth, nor the perverse episcopalianism of my 20s. It was not devoid of grace or thought. It was, in short, the full expression of our Western patrimony.

            The parishioners, presbyters, deacons, and subdeacons I encountered were not out of step with the tradition of the Orthodox faith. They are faithful stewards of this pearl of great price. They are not out of place when they visit my own parish (which happens with some regularity). They are not “unia for anglicans” despite the efforts of one particular ROCOR (former-WR) priest to popularize that expression.

            The strength of Christian unity has never depended on liturgical unity, but on fidelity to the apostolic deposit. The glorious but misguided Patriarch Nikon’s slaughter of the old rite adherents is an instructive anecdote here. The divine rite we see in our Western masses are absolutely faithful, though you directly state that they are not (while simultaneously saying they’re “valid”—an interesting westernization of your own in your dissection).

            You may not have said they were heretics and you were very careful to couch your criticism in such a way as to prevent an explicit charge, as in the above example, but that’s the subtext here. “They didn’t really convert so they don’t really share the same faith.”

            God forgive me for this, but the moment we ought to speak up no matter what, our holy father John the Golden-Mouthed tells us, is when blasphemy happens. If the denigration of the catholicity of the Church isn’t blasphemy, then few things are.

            If nothing else, spend some time in discussion with your brother priests of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, spend some time reading the Orthodox West blog, and spend some time in the liturgical and devotional life of Western Rite Orthodoxy.

            I ask your forgiveness and your blessing as a son of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who’s cross and resurrection is our only hope and weapon. If I am in error, please continue this conversation for the sake of teaching all of us a surer way to Christ.

          2. Thank you for your kind and irenic response. Just a quick reply in the same spirit. My piece was not aimed at the quality of life experienced in WR parishes, but at the wisdom of the experiment as a whole–i.e. the notion that one could transfer the liturgical life of one tradition to another one and not bring along with it the spirituality which produced those liturgics in the first place. I find in much of the WR material the unstated (and sometimes emphatically stated!) idea that there was nothing wrong with the liturgical life of the RC or Anglican churches, so that as long as it doesn’t contradict the Creed and it has the bishop’s blessing everything is fine and authentically Orthodox. These problematic elements are not “heretical”–but it is possible for something to be unwise and unhelpful (e.g. the use of pews, found in churches of the ER also) without being heretical. Also, I never said that all those in the WR “didn’t really convert”, but that the experiment has been set up in such as a way as to allow those not actually converting to make the switch without converting. The blessing of former hierarchs (such as St. John Maximovitch) is irrelevant. He could not have foreseen the modern situation and its challenges, and his generous spirit should not be used as a kind of secret weapon to silence modern critique. Anyway, let’s continue the dialogue, if you like, dear brother.

  9. Father, I am a seminarian at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in NY and have loved much of your work for a while – including your book Feminism & Tradition!

    However, I must point out that some of these Rites you claim don’t exist still do – the non-Chalcedonians have 4 distinct Rites, including what are more or less the original Rites of Alexandria and Antioch. Do you not think if they were to reconcile with us that they should be able to keep their Rites?

    also, as someone who has been to and even served at plenty of WR parishes in both jurisdictions, I can attest to the fact that are always icons and incense…plus plenty of our Constantinopolitan Rite parishes have pews, and I’ve also been to some Western Rite ones that don’t! So I don’t know who would ever say, “It is the icons on the walls, the absence of pews, the fact that everything is chanted, and the use of incense” as their reason for picking the Roman Rite over the Byzantine within Orthodoxy since it’s just not accurate…

    1. Thank you for your comments. The Coptic rite (with which I am familiar) has also undergone the usual development since the 5th century schism. However, I agree that the Coptic rite which I have experienced is not in need of the same drastic surgery which the WR would require. Regarding this WR, I also agree that icons and incense are often used. My main point revolved not around these details but around the underlying notion that a schismatic WR should be retained because of its familiarity to those previously using it. The difference between the ER and the WR is clearly palpable and significant, otherwise this issue would not arise. I personally know of persons who did choose the WR over the ER because of these differences.

  10. Father,

    I’m curious how this should tie into the revival of the veneration of pre-schism saints from Western lands. If their veneration was also not part of the “experience” of the Eastern Church, then where do we land on the Venerable Bede, St Aidan of Lindisfarne, etc?

    1. I would suggest that there is little tie in; people like the Venerable Bede and St. Aidan would feel estranged from the post-schism WR.

      1. And yet their liturgy was closer to the modern Roman Rite than the liturgy St John Chrysostom served is to the one that bears his name.

  11. Today’s Epistle – Paul to Galations – 1:1-3, 20-24, 2:1-5
    …..”false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Jesus Christ – that they might bring us into bondage – to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the Truth of the Gospel might be preserved for you.”

    (this can apply today) God bless!

    1. Thank you for the blessing, but I don’t see an application to our WR discussion. I think that the WR experiment is unwise, but they are not false brethren. I regard them as true brethren with whom I happen to disagree about liturgy.

      1. I was really just mentioning today’s readings as a caution because there is so much going on in terms of the world and Church. Not pointing fingers per sei. Hope that’s clear….

        God bless!

  12. If I may Father, ask that you take into consideration a few things. I should say first that I don’t see this article as an attack necessarily, and would caution my fellow WR advocates to be careful in their words here, no one is throwing the “h word”(heretic).

    For you Father, I wish to ask: (1) How many members of the Byzantine Liturgy would be familiar with the Western Rite in return? It has been my experience that a larger percentage of the WR is familiar with(or even involved in) both than the Eastern Rite. I say this as someone who attends an Eastern Antiochian Parish, and who is helping to form a mission Parish in the Western Rite(the decision of our Eastern Priest). Whereas most Eastern people I have received questions from are entirely unaware of our liturgical practices, and I’m often forced to answer questions which are not relevant to the WR(example: Why do you use unleavened bread? Or why do you only use bread, not wine?).
    (2) In response to your thoughts on the Liturgical unity, I would say it’s along similar lines. The WR Mass is really not structurally different from the Byzantine Rite. At least, no more so than the difference between the OCA, the Greek Liturgy, and the Russian liturgy. All of which share the same root, but have purified aspects of the culture in which they reside. The music is different, the iconography is different, and the manner in which the prayers are said is different. But none are so different they are unrecognizable. The only time I have discovered this kind of trouble is in WR parishes which have not devoted themselves to the full restoration of the Roman Rite. Then they begin to look more Protestant in nature.
    (3) Concerning things which can or cannot be purified through Church life. We can remove both unleavened bread(not in use in WR), and statuary(the latter since it has been in use in Russia as well, so we would need to remove it from them too). With the Monstrance and Corpus Christi I ask, what is it that prevents the Church from functioning in its normal method when it comes to the West? The Church purifies aspects of culture which can be saved and purified. So that all nations learn to praise God in their own expression, following the central structure of liturgical worship. The Monstrance is foreign, but not unrecognizable to the East. Even in the East I have seen people praying before the Tabernacle. Corpus Christi I am not as well versed in, so I will not debate it fully. The vision is questionable, but the feast as a reverence and celebration of the Eucharistic triumph is wonderful in principle.
    (4) Finally, I ask that you consider the impact the WR can have on combating the culturalism found in Orthodoxy so often these days. The idea that we should all follow the Greek liturgy, or all follow Russia, has been slipped in under the guise of liturgical unity far too often. If the WR maintains the same structural format as the East, while allowing for the purification of a dying culture, does this really damage the unity of the faith such that no one could understand it? Or can we perhaps attribute to the East also a desire to avoid change, change which has been promoted by several Saints, and some of the greater voices of the last century. And which has organically found itself growing despite all signs that it should be failing now.

    If the standards here are applied to the East, how many pass the test? This is my question. And for a person like myself, in an area where the Greek Churches are not interested in evangelizing at all, and have other grave matters within their parishes. An Eastern Antiochian Church growing rapidly, and evangelizing in the West, a few hours away from one of the healthiest parishes I’ve seen, also growing(St. Patrick’s in Bealeton) is hard to understand as being the problematic sect of Orthodoxy.

    Looking forward to your response,
    Jeffery

    1. Thank you for your irenic response. Answering it fully here would involve something like another blog piece. But to attempt a brief reply: I cannot tell how many ER parishioners are familiar with the WR; my Anglican and RC converts certainly are; the ones from Evangelical Protestantism less so. But the WR is indeed very different than the ER, despite the similarities of underlying structure–if it were not dramatically different, then what would be the point of the WR? The jurisdictional differences between the ER of the OCA and of the GOA (I apologize for so many acronymns!) are as nothing compared to the differences between the ER and the WR. I do take your point about the culturalism/ ethnicism of Orthodoxy today. But that is just where I see a problem: a Russian or a Greek share the same Liturgy, calendar, liturgical practices, vestments, fasting, etc. etc. The ER thus does not help them emphasize their own ethnic identity as Russians or Greeks, since both Russians and Greeks share the same things and feel at home in each other’s churches. But the WR does help those within it to emphasize their ethnic identity as westerners/ English/ etc. That does not mean that everyone in the WR falls prey to the temptation; but it does mean that the temptation is there.

      1. Respectfully, while I agree that there is a danger there, I don’t believe it is one which is exclusive to the WR. I wouldn’t even venture to say it’s more pronounced. And I’m sure those who converted from the West are familiar, but I highly doubt your Eastern parishioners have any idea what the WR entails. The WR in all cases still holds that it is Orthodox first, then Western. Anyone who believes differently is not following the Church. There is a danger of consumerism in every sect of American Orthodoxy. I know many who have chosen the OCA over the GOA because they prefer the hymns and style. And especially in America, Eastern Orthodoxy has been used to emphasize culture. I have seen plenty of Greek Churches who have Priests expressing concern when non-Greek members arrive. This doesn’t of course mean all Greek Churches are this way, but it’s the same with the WR. I mean no disrespect in my answer here, but it seems as though much is being applied to the WR based on individual parish(partly based on your comment below) and whether they follow the edicts or not. Which is of course a standard I hope we never apply to the East, because there would be drastic failure.

        1. I agree that ethnicism afflicts (e.g.) Greek parishes; difference is that the ER in which the Greeks worship was not constructed with a view to preserving Greek identity, whereas the WR was constructed with a view to preserving a western identity. That is why one often hears the argument from WR advocates that westerners can more easily convert to a WR than an ER.

          1. Perhaps Father, but at the end of the day, the Orthodoxy is uncompromised, and the problems you find are prevalent in the East also. The WR developed to restore the culture that developed around Orthodoxy, not to mold Orthodoxy to our personal preference. My main point is that this article seems to unfairly target one side for things which are found on both sides. If our focus is unity, perhaps the best method is to focus ourselves on the Orthodoxy of such an endeavor, rather than protesting it based on oddball cases. You can believe as you wish, but please refrain from implicating us as heterodox without perhaps sitting first with some WR priests, visiting some Masses(which really aren’t very different in form), and really learning what we believe and do, not what is practiced by Priests who circumvent Bishops. You and I would both agree, they are not in good standing, East, or West.

          2. In my opinion the WR was developed largely to facilitate the conversion of Anglicans and RCs. This was well-intentioned, but ultimately unwise, in that the broader implications of lex ordandi lex crendendi were not sufficiently thought through.

  13. Some problems (of many) with this article:
    1. It doesn’t raise any concerns that haven’t been raised extensively before.
    2. Most, if not all, of the concerns, have been rebutted at some point. If he could not have found answers to his concerns on his own, he could have contacted one of several WR priests to get answers. There is also plenty of content available on https://www.orthodoxwest.com/.
    3. Despite him likely thinking that he was impartial in his research and writing of this article, he clearly was not given his lack of interaction with pro-WR material.
    4. The author does not recognize that several of his criticisms can be easily reversed. For instance, the claim that some who convert because of the WR may be insincere in their conversion. How many people converted in an ER parish were partially or largely influenced by the very fact that it was foreign and exotic? That has the “temptation to short-circuit the conversion process” in an even more dramatic and spiritually damaging way. It can easily serve as an outlet for rebellion in that the convert is running from their previous religious and/or cultural identity rather than toward the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (and often does).
    5. This article contains false information (unleavened bread).
    6. Several of the criticisms actually bring the author’s own theology into question. (i.e. Adoration of the Body and Blood of Christ).

    1. Just a quick reply, since a point by point response would required yet another post of similar length. Some WR parishes do indeed use unleavened bread. Azymes are admittedly not the hill I would want to die on, but saying that unleavened bread is used is not “false information”.

      1. From the Western Rite Edict and Directory:

        “4. The bread used for the Mass shall be the leavened hosts.”
        – Page 8
        “The bread used for the Mass shall be leavened hosts used for the past twenty years.
        Pastors may be supplied on application to the Vicariate.”
        – Page 15
        “The bread used for the Mass shall be leavened hosts made of pure wheaten flour, water
        and yeast. Other forms of leavened breadlettes are forbidden. The Wine must be made of pure grapes for sacramental use only. ”
        – Page 21

        http://ww1.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/western_rite_edict_and_directory.pdf

        1. I do not dispute the directives, but sadly not all directives from bishops are assiduously followed. I am credibly informed by a WR source that some priests do use unleavened wafers. If the prescribed discipline is now being more faithfully carried out, this is good. But would the dissidents make themselves known?

          1. Father,
            With all due respect, Western rite parishes either bake their own leavened hosts (like we do) or they buy them from Charis Bread (charisbread(dot)com). They make make leavened Communion hosts for us and most parished buy them to use. Go to the order section and see. They look just like the unleavened ones. Did you know this? So is this “source” a WR cleric or a layman who is clueless about this sacristy management and just assumed that Father XYZ is slipping in unleavened hosts and celebrating the Liturgy with them. Please get the facts straight on this with better research than a he-said/she-said. Disappointing to see from something as distinguished a priest as you would author.

  14. Father,

    I am a recent convert, and I am sincerely sorry that our first interaction will be mostly negative.

    I am a student at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, having previously studied history and theology at several Protestant institutions. In my opinion this article is historically inaccurate, and rather unfair to our Protestant brothers and sisters who I only recently left behind.

    “But all of them broke decisively with the Roman (and Orthodox) understanding of the Eucharist, denying emphatically that it was a sacrifice in which the true Body and Blood of Christ were orally received by the communicant.”

    Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans have always maintained that the true body and blood of Christ are received in the Eucharist. Calvinists have been historically shaky on their willingness to affirm that they are received orally, mostly as a reaction against dogmatic transubstantiation rather than a denial of the reception of the true body and blood. It is true that, at first, there was a serious reaction against the Roman use of the term “sacrifice”. This was due to a misunderstanding that has since been corrected. It was commonly perceived by many Reformers and laity in the Western church that the Mass constituted a “re-sacrificing” of Christ, a re-offering of Christ as another atonement, rather than allowing us to participate in the one atonement made on Calvary. Those three traditions have since corrected themselves on this point, and many have readopted the language of “sacrifice”.

    It also comes as news to me that post-schism Western developments are inherently bad and should be rejected outright. Can we not accept Western developments that are genuinely Orthodox in spirit and content? Consider the NKJV, which serves as the New Testament for the Orthodox Study Bible. The KJV was translated by English Calvinists. Naturally Calvinists believe in many things the Orthodox reject. But the KJV project not only provided an acceptable translation the Holy Scriptures, but was thoroughly Orthodox in it’s goal: to allow the laity to hear the Holy Scriptures proclaimed in a language they could understand. That is something the Orthodox Church has always stood behind: the Cyrillic alphabet was invented for precisely the same reason.

    Why can the same not be said of medieval Western chants? Or the Psalms set to more modern Anglican chants? These are the same psalms, but the music has been adapted to a new cultural context. Why can’t Western Hymns, perfectly Orthodox in content, be used in Orthodox worship? If these things are so Unorthodox, I and the dozens of Orthodox students before me should not have been allowed to attend this school. I would even say we need not institute a complete “Western Rite” for this. Such Western hymns and psalms could easily be worked into the existing Eastern Liturgy. I myself am not super attached to the BCP as much as I am the hymns and psalms I grew up hearing and singing, none of which are anymore Unorthodox than my Orthodox Study Bible is.

    That being said, I think it is unfair to refer to the Divine Liturgy of St. Tikhon as “a version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer”. The Western Rite is, in many ways, the direct result of decisions made by Orthodox Bishops who wished to see communion with the West restored. That includes cultural expressions of the one, True, Faith that fell out of use after the schism and in many ways continued to develop after.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on some of these questions. Again my apologies if this was too forward. I find myself struggling to find my place in the Orthodox Church. On one hand I desire to submit fully (I even attend an Eastern Rite Parish). On the other, I find that this is a controversy ongoing, and I feel like I have a “horse in the race” so to speak.

    1. Thank you for your comments and for your irenic spirit. I think, however, that you are too kind in your assessment that Anglicans now accept a sacrificial view of the Eucharist. Anglo-Catholics certainly do, but most Anglicans do not–e.g. J.I. Packer and other Anglicans of more Reformed persuasion–to say nothing of Lutherans and Calvinists. I know Calvinists quite well, and they are quite emphatic in their repudiation of the Eucharist as a sacrifice in any sense. Also, the “St. Tikhon’s Liturgy” is rather mis-named: St. Tikhon simply approved the Liturgy pending further study and correction of errors by the Holy Synod in Russia, which never occurred due to the Bolshevik Revolution. The whole question of the use of hymnography is so complex as to require a separate blog piece, but it is at least worth pondering that our current use of a Hymnal with the choice of hymns based on taste and whim did not arise until well after the Reformation. There is a reason for that–but, as I said, that would require a separate blog piece. And please note that I did not say that everything in the post-schism church was equally bad; only that they arose in schism and therefore needed to be sifted. Gregorian chant, for example, is not problematic; church organs are.

      1. I appreciate your insight, I’m just not sure I agree. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer explicitly states that the Eucharist is a sacrifice twice in the liturgy, both Rite I and Rite II. At the same time I have only interacted with Anglo-Catholics, it is perfectly possible that some celebrants ignore those lines, and if so I would be unaware of it. But I think the term’s use in the only approved liturgy for The Episcopal Church is telling.

        I make no disagreement with your assessment of Calvinists and Lutherans. However, speaking as a former Calvinist, you might be interested to know that my former Calvinist denomination, the CRCNA, has struck Q&A 80 from the Heidelberg Catechism and no longer officially denies the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. Without getting to specific, I can assure you that I previously attended a Reformed seminary where I was taught to view the Eucharist as a sacrifice. I admit that in the broad scheme of things, and especially attitudes in the laity.

        Without getting too entangled in the issue, may I ask what the problem with church organs are? In brief? I think I understand why they are inappropriate for use in a Divine Liturgy. I just don’t see how any instrument can be completely ruled out for use in devotion and praise. Surely an instrument so adept at leading congregations in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in unison cannot be universally rejected in all circumstances can it?

        1. I was referring to the BCP, either the 1662 version, or (in Canada) the 1962 version. These were set up precisely to exclude a sacrificial understanding. Is the 1979 Book the so-called BAS (Book of Alternative Services)? If so, it rather proves the point that classical Anglicanism repudiates a sacrificial Eucharist, since they had to create an entirely different service to include a sacrificial view of the Eucharist. Regarding organs, the Church regards such instrumental music as inappropriate for the services, since their function is to create an emotional response. For a brief historical overview, see: https://www.orthocuban.com/2009/07/why-do-the-orthodox-not-use-instruments-in-worship-part-01/

  15. Let’s imagine a time where a bishop of the RCC, or an entire order of Catholics wish to come into communion with an Eastern patriarch. Could you not imagine an accommodation for this large group to retain much of their heritage that can be baptized “Othodox”? Isn’t this kind of situation what the current Western Rite is made for?

      1. Sure, why not? You would expect an entire group to drop their entire Western heritage completely? I feel like the Orthodox hierarchs who approved the WR were prophets and anticipating such a thing.

  16. In New Zealand where things may be different. I have come across the kind of service which you describe as Western Rite but in an Anglican Church. I think they thought of themselves as AngloCatholic but I may be entirely wrong. I was not welcome by the congregation The priest didn’t mind
    My own congregation is Antiochian of Australia New Zealand and Pacific. We have the rite which appears to have been formulated by Saint John Chrystom but large parts of the service are in Old Church Slavonic. so is the singing of the ad hoc choir ( anyone who turns up on the day)
    Our Bishop in Australia is, of course, a Syrian.
    I recently went to a British Antiochian Church in England where the Antiochian churches are wide spread ,.https://www.antiochian-orthodox.co.uk/
    The service was much the same but instead of a choir there was a magnificent soloist who appeared to be Russian. (I think he was very much a purist in keeping to the Liturgy. and admonished the presiding priest occasionally. )
    Yes , I have been to a Greek Orthodox Church but was asked to leave by that congregation ,too.
    Odd behaviour among Christians is only to be expected. as we all have different backgrounds. I feel that I belong in the Antiochian Church as we have so many different nationalities not just one

  17. Dear Father,

    As a Western Rite priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese, may I say how saddened I am by this article, especially since, hitherto, I have been an admirer of your work – henceforth, of course, you will be to me ‘as a heathen and a publican’ – and because I have almost always and everywhere been well-accepted not only by our brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese, but by Orthodox of all jurisdictions, laity, clergy, and, indeed, hierarchs.

    There are several points I would like to raise. One concerns the Eucharist. It seems, when pushed, you can only adduce a single, anecdotal, instance of unleavened bread being used, so this hardly counts, does it, as a major indictment of the Western Rite? As regards Eucharistic Adoration , is Christ Our God not to be worshipped and adored? ‘Not only,’ says Blessed Augustine, ‘our adoration is not sin, but we sin if we fail to adore.’ Augustine may, perhaps, be too western a Father, so let me quote the 1718 reply of the Eastern Patriarchs to the Non-Jurors: ‘To be against worshipping the Bread which is consecrated and changed into the Body of Christ, is to be against worshipping Our Lord Jesus Christ Our Maker and Our Saviour.’ I have in my possession a note – alas, I do not know by whom, but clearly a person of authority – it was something I inherited amidst the parish papers. It states: ‘His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius and His Eminence Metropolitan Philip desire that the Western Rite liturgical practices in no way lead to a diminuation of reverence and love for the Blessed Sacrament,’ thus implicitly sanctioning the western practice of Eucharistic Adoration.

    The practice is sanctioned by our hierarchs, and this is what gives the western rite its legitimacy. Sanctioned by our hierarchs, and by our saints, both those who in the past both celebrated and were sanctified by these rites, and by those who later approved them, such as St Tikhon and St John of San Francisco.

    Rite, per se, is no guarantee of Orthodoxy. Just look at the Unia; to paraphrase Bishop BASIL, their churches may look like ours and sound like ours and smell like ours – but they are not our churches (even though, we might note, both in the Middle East and Central Europe, Byzantine-Rite Orthodox often don’t, seemingly, mind going to Uniate churches). There is even in the Episcopal Church a Society for the Celebration of the Rite of St John Chrysostom, patronised by several female bishops. So, as I say, rite is not what makes us Orthodox, but communion with the Church and its Bishops.

    You mention, dear Father, the issue of unity, but may I just note that, in my own experience, at least, this is not an issue. Twice since becoming pastor of this parish in August I have concelebrated with my Eastern Rite brethren down the road; they and we ‘share’ a deacon; their parishioners come to our week-day services; our parishioners go to theirs. My own dear wife, who is living with her mother in Missouri, as we look for a house here, happily goes to an OCA mission, her only regret being that they don’t sing hymns. So, again, I am not sure this is really an issue. In fact, it only becomes an issue when people make it so.

    You raise, too, the issue of why on earth people should want to keep their liturgical heritage. Why can’t they just accept the Eastern Rite? Well, this is not the policy of the Apostles, for whom conversion was to be made as easy as possible. I am sure that you have written a commentary on Acts, so you will not need me to remind you of the decree of the Council of Jerusalem, that no burden should be laid on converts beyond that which is necessary (Acts 15, 28). ‘Who are you to judge another’s servant?’ fulminates St Paul. ‘To his own master he stands or falls’ (Romans 14, 4).

    But why is rite so important? The answer, I suggest, is this. Unlike Baptists, say, or Pentecostals, who have no liturgical background, for many Anglicans and Roman Catholics their spirituality and piety is inextricably linked to the liturgy. This is what, above all, unites them to Christ, so that, like St Benedict, they ‘prefer nothing to the Work of God.’ To ask them to repudiate that by which they have been all their lives inwardly nourished and fortified – that by which, indeed, they have been brought to Orthodoxy – is to demand a very great, and a very unnecessary, sacrifice.

    And this leads me to my final point. You speak, dear Father, of the Western Rite as a ‘project,’ as an ‘experiment,’ with the implication, I glean, that it has failed. But to my mind, in bringing people to Orthodoxy, in bringing people to Jesus Christ, in bringing people to eternal salvation, it is an experiment which is a glorious and wonderful success!

    1. Dear Father: I am tempted to reply somewhat to your critique, but if you were serious in deciding to treat me “henceforth as a heathen and a publican” it is hard to see the point. I post your comment nonetheless as a courtesy to a brother in Christ and a fellow-priest.

      1. I was, in fact, not speaking seriously – discernment of genre is so important, isn’t it? Anyway, that cleared up, please feel free to cede to temptation! Genuine love can admit of differences of opinion – as differences of rite!

        1. Oh good! I am relieved to hear it. When no happy emoticon followed your words, I felt I had to receive them at face value.
          To reply just a bit: I did not cite the use of unleavened bread as a major indictment, but mentioned it in passing as an example of the wholesale importation of western liturgical tradition. It is the commenters who have seized upon it as if it were of major importance and insisted that no one used unleavened bread. It is this wholesale importation of western liturgics that I regard as problematic, for the liturgics bring with them their own alien theology. It is precisely because we are taught by our hymns more than by books that Protestant hymns are problematic, for these will eventually result in a Protestant spirituality. I do indeed ask Protestants to repudiate the things in their former theology and practice which are incompatible with the historic Orthodox phronema. The question at hand is: which Protestant beliefs and practices are incompatible? That clergy and laity in WR churches are devout I never questioned. What I question is the ability of the WR to inculcate a truly Orthodox phronema given its western liturgics. The protest sometime heard justifying Protestant hymns, “But the words are true!” is irrelevant: the words of the praise band hymns heard in Evangelical churches and sung to guitars are also true, but have no place in an Orthodox liturgy, for they bring with them a rival phronema.
          It is true that the sanction of hierarchs bestows a canonicity upon the WR churches; what I question is not the canonicity, but the wisdom of the decision. The example of St. John Maximovitch and St. Tikhon, often cited, is here irrelevant, since they were working with a situation far different from our current one, and they had no crystal ball. Besides, St. Tikhon blessed the use of the WR provisionally, referring the final decision to the Holy Synod in Russia for further study and correction of errors–a decision which never came, due to the Bolshevik catastrophe that engulfed the Russian Church soon after.
          One last thing: my use of the term “experiment” did not imply I considered the final results “in”; only that such an wholesale importation of liturgical tradition is new. The fact that so many have jumped to conclusions in this instance (as in many things in this comment section) reveals a certain defensiveness on the part of those defending the WR. We are all brothers in Christ. I would call for more calm.

    2. Eucharistic adoration is, if not heresy, then misguided.

      The only reason it exists, theologically speaking, is due to the Roman Catholic concept of divine simplicity, and a rejection of the Essence/Energies distinction of Orthodoxy. This concludes that if the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, it should be worshipped as Christ. But that is not how Orthodoxy sees the Eucharist. It is Christ’s Energies, not His Essence. Otherwise, how could we become one with Him through partaking?

      This was nowhere better illustrated than on an online forum where a RC Priest was asked how long the Body of Christ remained the Body of Christ after swallowing. His answer? Fifteen minutes! It’s *God* until it dissolves in your stomach acid! What a nonsense!

      We don’t worship God’s Energies, but become One with them through partaking in Christ’s saving acts. That’s Orthodoxy. If your church does something else, then it’s not Orthodox.

  18. To be honest I’m a bit disappointed with you for using your position to discourage a group of approx. 40 canonically Orthodox Churches and monasteries with their clergy and laity (not to mention their bishops). If your claim to being fair minded and dispassion is really true you would seek out and publish a response to this article from Fr. Edward Hughes, Fr. John Fenton, Fr. Mark Rowe or other priests in the Western Rite, who would, I think, gladly counter much of your opinions. The problems facing Eastern Rite Orthodox Christian jurisdictions have nothing to do with the Western Rite movement. I’ve said this before and will say it again, Orthodox leaders need to stop bashing Protestant and Western Rite folks, and instead follow the example of Orthodox saints and affirm what is good, true and beautiful within their traditions. St. Herman pray for us.

    1. On the contrary, no person or group is beyond challenge. Regarding seek out responses: you are confusing a book with a blog post. If I was writing another book, such research would helpful, but this is only a blog post, subject to all the limitations of time bloggers face. I am calling attention to problems with the WR apparent to many people; it is defensiveness bordering on paranoia to refer to such critique as “bashing” and “discouraging”. When (e.g.) the autocephaly of the OCA is sometimes attacked, one does not protest that those disagreeing with the bestowal of autocephaly are “discouraging” the churches and monasteries of the OCA with their clergy and laity. One simply answers the challengers, assuming that they are polite and civil. Many of the comments here seem to assume that any critique of the WR is out of bounds or motivated by ill will. It is simply not so.

  19. As one who has little experience with the WR, reading through this article and subsequent comments leaves me with one over riding impression: confusion. Confusion of purpose, confusion of what even the WR is.

    It apparently does not create unity of mind and heart within the Orthodox community. It seems to create suspicion and doubt on both sides. Is whatever other value the WR has worth that?

    Are Fr. Farley’s list of reasons for desiring a WR correct? That is where I would start. Unless I missed it none of the comments addressed the validity of the reasons given.

      1. Zach, care to rephrase that. I never said I was confused. I never said the WR should be abandoned.
        It just seems that there is confusion concerning it’s nature and purpose. Care to answer my questions which are sincere or would you rather just be assumptively aggressive.

  20. Dear Fr. Lawrence, please excuse the overly defensive nature in regards to this topic. Many have spent the last 5, 10, 20, even 30 years defending their right to exists within the Orthodox the Church. Your words can be easily misinterpreted as dismissive, even belittling of WR and those who attend such a parish.

    I would disagree with your assessment that the WR will not produce a Orthodox Phronema. On the contrary, I would argue that the Orthodox faithful are in desperate need to be reminded of the Western expressions of our faith. When you have Orthodox faithful who show little to no regard for such great saints as St. Augustine, or who don’t understand what original sin is, or who think in order to be Orthodox one must be “eastern,” then something has gone terribly wrong. I believe the mission of the WR is to reintroduce those expressions that have been lost to the Church because of schism. To restore a “binocular” vision of the faith that’s rooted in both the eastern and western liturgical expressions as well as both eastern and western saints.

    I would encourage you to research more about the WR from sources other than those whom you’ve been speaking to. As others have noted, some of the information you gave is incorrect. I would recommend:

    https://www.orthodoxwest.com/

    There is also a video that was recently produced for the Antiochian convention, about the mission of the WR. You or your readers may find it interesting

    https://youtu.be/pQcWpnRdR9Y

    1. If, as I assume, the classic Anglican Book of Common Prayer is used as the primary liturgical text and Protestant hymns such as those written by Charles Wesley are used, I cannot see how these can produce an Orthodox phronema, since these were never “a Western expression of our faith”. If, however, a translated text of (say) the Latin Mass was used and Protestant hymns were excluded, this would be less problematic–though I still question the wisdom of the transplantation. The aim is not to be binocular, but Orthodox. A Protestant liturgical expression cannot restore anything that was lost, for such things were never a part of Orthodoxy. The question is–too often evaded in these discussions–is: does Orthodoxy retain the fulness of the faith or not?

      1. Yes! Of course the Church retains its fullness, but I would argue the Western expression is a part of that fullness whether it’s celebrated or not.

        Keep in mind, the Western Rite uses two liturgies. One with the Anglican patrimony (liturgy of St. Tikhon) and one with the Roman patrimony (liturgy of St. Gregory). It’s seems most of your criticisms are directed at the St. Tikhon liturgy, in which you won’t find much argument here 😉 I think it is to Rome and the liturgy of St. Gregory we need to look to for our western orthodox expression. I’m sure others would disagree, but that’s a debate I wouldn’t mind having.

  21. Father, I was going to keep quiet, but you say so many things that are open to question!

    First, in the Antiochian Archdiocese the Liturgy of St Tikhon is not the same as the Book of Common Prayer. In this connection, it is worth looking at what the Committee tasked by the Synod of Moscow wrote on this subject: http://anglicanhistory.org/alcuin/tract12.html. The Committee ‘allowed in general the possibility that if Orthodox parishes, composed of former Anglicans, were organized in America, they might be allowed, at their desire, to perform their worship according to the “Book of Common Prayer,” but only on condition that … corrections were made in the spirit of the Orthodox Church.’ These corrections were then listed, and it is on the basis of them that the Liturgy of St Tikhon today is based. Thus, it does not reflect a Protestant mentality, but an Orthodox one. If one disagrees, one must show in what particulars the Tikhon rite departs from the mind of the Church.

    I don’t know about Protestant hymns. Certainly, we don’t sing any in our parish. As a note, though, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves (since you bring him up) that Charles Wesley drank very deep indeed from the Greek Fathers, and that many of his hymns in fact reflect their doctrine, albeit expressed in a language more congenial to the sensibilities eighteenth-century English men and women. In this regard, of note is the little book ‘Weslyan and Orthodox Spirituality’ published a few years back by SVS Press. More generally, it is worth recalling that there has never been a ‘pure’ Orthodoxy; that Orthodox have always been influenced by the west – influences accepted and ‘Orthodoxized’ by the church. Look for, example, at the icon of the Theotokos, Softener of Evil Hearts, which is a copy of the very modern post-schism image of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows; or at the use in the Orthodox confessions of the term ‘transsubstatiation;’ or at St Nicodemus the Hagiorite’s reworking of Scupoli’s ‘Unseen Warfare.’ ‘Whatever was ever said that was true, is the property of us Christians,’ says St Justin refering to the pagan philosophers, an adage that Orthodox today can apply to their borrowings from ‘heterodox’ sources. As St Augustine says in words quoted by Florovsky in his ‘Limits of the Church,’ even those who have broken from her unity, ‘in quibusdam rebus nobiscum sunt.’

    But back to the Orthodox phronema. The Orthodox phronema is the mind of the Fathers that we make our own. And the Fathers quite unanimous that, in St Gregory the Great’s words, the ‘una fides,’ might be manifested in ‘diversae constitudines’ – a thought we find expressed by Augustine, Ambrose, Basil, Irenaeus – all the way back to St Paul, who was willing to be all things to all people, so that by any means he might save some (1 Corinthians 9, 22). The western rite is not an innovation, it is a restoration, a return, albeit small-scale, to the situation which existed for a thousand years in the church of the Fathers.

    1. I am heartened to hear that you do not use Protestant hymns in your Eucharist. What do you sing? Regarding the Russian work cited: I would suggest that it needs to be contextualized. At that time, Orthodox-Anglican relations were at an all-time high, with at least one Orthodox theologian even suggesting that a limited inter-communion was possible between Anglicans and Orthodox. It was a time when ecumenism was in the air. I think it savours of proof-texting to appeal to a paragraph in their century-old work as a justification for liturgical norms today.

  22. A few observations, from a convert of 25 years who has been happily formed in a Slavic expression of the Byzantine rite, but who would never have been open to Orthodoxy but for exposure to Anglo-Catholicism:

    It seems to me that The One necessary question that needs to be asked in regards to a WR in the Orthodox Church is:

    Is a WR needed in order for the Orthodox Church to make manifest Her inherent Catholicity?

    I think all debates about the need and legitimacy of a WR need to have the foregoing question at the foundation. Over the decades, I have read both good and bad reasons for fostering a WR in Orthodoxy, as well as good and bad reasons for believing that a WR is a misguided diversion of Orthodoxy’s mission. To drill down, how would a WR embody Fr. Georges Florovsky’s call for a needed synthesis of both the Latin and Greek fathers? Would role would WR play in a TRADITIONAL Orthodox response to ecumenism, for example?

    Lurking underneath the questions posed about the purpose and rationale of a WR is, at least to me, an apparent difference, in how the Antiochian Archdiocese views and implements a WR and how ROCOR is implementing a WR. It seems to me that the Antiochian version is more ready to baptize anything in traditional Roman- and Anglo-Catholic piety if a plausible reason can be offered for the compatibility of the practice with Orthodoxy. By contrast, from whatI can observe (at a distance) of ROCOR’s project, there is a determined effort to exclude any practice in liturgy and devotion that arose after the Great Schism. The practical result is that, to me, the Antiochian version looks to me to be quite western, while ROCOR’s version looks heavily Byzantinized. I may be mistaken, but I think that this is one of the big issues that WR leaders of both jurisdictions need to address.

    The foregoing leads me to my final observation. Much of this discussion is preoccupied with the eucharistic liturgies used in the WR; but WR would also be about employing the Hours of Prayer and/or Daily Offices. These breathe a distinctive spirit, traditionally Latin; and apart from their dependence on the Psalms, this spirit is different from the florid exuberance of the Byzantine Offices. It is a spirit that I would characterize as somewhat austere, terse, etc. Ideally, this is the spirit of St. Benedict.

    My own unworthy opinion is that the Mass and the Hours pose less of a challenge in discernment per se for Orthodox bishops and priests confronted with the WR than the piety and paraliturgical devotions that multiplied in the post-schism Latin church. This piety is ‘affective’, focusing very much on our Lord’s Humanity; and can be quite foreign to the phronema of Orthodoxy as canonized in the hesychastic experience. Underneath the layer of what the WR faithful are doing when they gather in Church is the equally important substratum of domestic prayer and devotional emphasis.

    1. Thank you for your comments; I quite agree–and especially appreciate your opening question of whether or not a WR is needed to manifest the Church’s catholicity. This seems to be assumed by many commenters. But if that is so, has the Church’s manifestation of catholicity been absent since the Great Schism? Thank you again for your contribution.

  23. From my perspective as a non-wr, and having attended a wr service before, I must agree with Fr Lawrence’s original post. I have traveled much of the world and visited Orthodox Churches in those places traveled. There is a distinct uniformity from place to place regarding worship and piety. The phronema, or mindset is more or less one. The Liturgical tradition is one. I am speaking as a priest who has served all over the world along side other clergy in their various traditions. Yet even with all that uniformity, each nationality has its own distinct personality. A Romanian or Antiochian or Greek Church in the USA (only experience is one Church in Canada and it was the same as USA) is much different from those oversees. This is because for the most part, they are an organic extension of our local Church culture. After a short internet search, I found only 58 WR Churches globally including both Antiochian, ROCOR and their combined chapels and monasteries. While I believe them to be valid Orthodox and nothing short of that, their presence is both minuscule (not being condescending, just factual) but even more important, a confusing stumbling block. In every conversation I have every had with those of the WR, there is a defensiveness and red-headed-stepdaughter attitude. I have never been meet with a humble attitude towards the WR but an in your face defence of it. This is from both clergy and laity. From an outsider’s perspective, the humble thing would be to join the 99.9% of the Orthodox works in one’s liturgical tradition. It is a stumbling block rather than a uniter in my opinion. This is my observation as a pastor and one who has had to deal with the fallout of this issue.

  24. “Why is this red-headed step-child behaving as a red-headed step child? The solution is to completely abandon your identity.”
    OK, Father. ’nuff said

  25. Father,

    I am writing this out of love. I wish you could come and join our Western Rite ROCOR church for Devine liturgy. We are blessed to live in an area where the ER priests and churches (ER ROCOR and Serbian church) have welcomed our new WR church with open arms and love and vice versa. We have been guests to each others liturgies and feasts. It is like a very large family. Honestly, had I read this article before meeting our ER family here, I would have felt almost unwelcomed or scared to be seen as the “ugly step child” of the Orthodox church. I love our Orthodox community because WR or ER, Serbian or Russian, we can all go to each others church, know what is happening, follow along and be welcomed with opened arms. I can only hope and pray that all Western Rite churches have the same relationship that we have.

    Please consider going to a WR Devine liturgy, speak the the priest and members.

    1. I have had some WR people tell me of their experience and someone has kindly sent me a video of their WR Liturgy. It confirms me in my assessment of the WR. I say again that I appreciate the devotion and sincerity of WR clergy and laity. I do also appreciate the irenic spirit of your comment.

  26. I could not disagree more with this article. The WR is not divisive. If you believe that, you are the issue, not the Holy Tradition of our Fathers. This is a western land, and we should not HAVE to become Byazantine to be Orthodox Catholic. The Church is UNIVERSAL not BYAZANTINE. Liturgical “unity” is an 18th century innovation, and the Church never saw herself as needing it to be Unified. The unity is in Orthodoxy, the unity is in Christ, the unity is in the Creed. If a Lutheran or RC wants their Gregorian Mass and still be Orthodox, thank God!

    The point that they are not actually converting is very spiteful. Do Greek Catholics become “Orthodox enough”? We shouldn’t be questioning motives, we should be thanking God that people are coming under Christ’s mantle. We need to catechize of course! Someone can be Byzantine and convert for the exotic experience too.

    I just ask that the OP consider that these “criticisms” be tested on their own rite. A Uniate can convert in Ukraine, is it genuine? Should he use the Roman rite now because it’s different so we know he actually converts?

    Deo Gratias the West is finding it’s home. May all come to the Lord’s Table in the Unity of Christ, in their own liturgical tongue! (Especially when it is as venerable as the Roman Rite)

    1. The universal Church has been “Byzantine” for a thousand years, and the liturgical diversity of the early years also has lapsed for about as long.

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