Thoughts on ‘Western Rite’

“Never, Never, Never let anyone tell you that in order to be Orthodox you must also be Eastern.
The West was Orthodox for a thousand years, and her venerable liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”

– St. John the Wonderworker

Today is the feast day of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and on the occasion of the feast day I thought I’d post this article from Orthodox England (here) entitled. :

THOUGHTS ON ‘WESTERN RITE’

Introduction

All religions have rites. Rites are necessary because we are incarnate. The bodiless angels do not need rites, but we do. In other words, the outward structures of rites are necessary in order to hold the spiritual content of religion, just as our bodies are necessary in order to hold our immortal souls. It can be said that a rite is a glass; the content is the wine. It is clear which is more important.

But which rite or rites should we use to contain this wine? Clearly, they must be worthy. In the Orthodox Church we have four very ancient eucharistic rites: those of St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great, St James of Jerusalem (the most ancient of all) and the Presanctified Rite attributed to St Gregory the Dialogist. They all go back to the first century, but were not really settled until the fourth century and a few changes were made to them even after this. But beyond these, we have the rites associated with the many other services of the liturgical cycles of the year. Eucharistic rites are only part of the rites that we use. However important, the Eucharist is only part of Church life.

The question of a Western rite in Orthodoxy goes back generations and has a whole history in Western Europe, in North America and elsewhere. This question of a ‘Western rite’ seems to come up at regular intervals, every ten years or so, and well-rehearsed arguments are presented in favour of it. For the sake of those new to the Church, it would also be helpful to speak of the arguments against. These are not often expressed, all the more so when the arguments come from experience and observation of reality. What are these arguments?

1. Why?

The first argument against a Western rite is ‘why?’ Why have a ‘Western’ rite? Rites do not save souls, it is the spiritual contents of rites that save souls. Thus, Orthodox rites do not save in themselves: the case of Uniatism, which imitates Orthodox rites, proves this. Moreover, if great attention is paid to rites, this leads to ritualism, a particular danger in High Church Anglicanism or Anglo-Catholicism. After Anglicanism had lost continuity with Roman Catholic liturgical rites, this movement tried to recreate them in the nineteenth century.

Inevitably, this resulted in ritualism, the study of dead rites and attempts to revive them through a sort of artificial respiration. Most people find any ritualism irrelevant to their daily lives and boring. They say: Why have another rite in Orthodoxy when we have perfectly good ones already? Why try to breathe life into what has been long dead? Why such interest in the glass, when it is only the wine that is interesting?

2. Chauvinism?

In answer to this last question, we come to a second argument. This is the argument that ‘Western ritualists’ are placing their local culture higher than Church culture. Thus, the concept of a Western rite simply prolongs the East-West myth, beloved of the condemned Anglican branch theory, which heretically declares that the Orthodox Church is merely an ‘Eastern’ Church (and its rites ‘Eastern’ rites and not universal rites) and that the ‘other half of the Church’ is ‘Western’. The fact is that all rites come to us from the ‘East’, that is, from the Temple in Jerusalem through the New Testament and the Lives of the Saints. In other words, our rites come from the Holy Spirit, in Whom there is neither East nor West.

The concept of a Western rite suggests heretically that the Universal Orthodox Church is incomplete. The Western rite places a local culture, specifically a Western one, one which a thousand years ago fell away from the Church, above the catholicity and universality of the Church. Do we then reject Christ because He too came from the Temple in Jerusalem, because He was ‘Eastern’, an Asian, and do we try to replace Him with a ‘Western’ or ‘European’ Christ? Is this talk of ‘Western rite’ simply not all Western chauvinism, racism, the usual Western feeling of ‘superiority’ to the rest of humanity? Siberian peoples, Chinese, Aleuts, Japanese, Kikuyus, Indonesians and Thais all use the rites of the Orthodox Church. What is so special about ‘Westerners’ that they need some special rite?

The Fullness of Living Rites

Thirdly, any rite is much more than what is to be found on paper. Thus, a text of the liturgy of St John Chrysostom gives no idea of the wealth and beauty of this rite in practice. It gives even less idea of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly liturgical cycles. The paper text of a eucharistic liturgy gives no idea of the pattern of Orthodox Vespers or Matins, the Hours, of the Sanctoral (services to saints), of Holy Week, Easter, Christmas etc.

Furthermore, texts give no idea of the outward beauty of the church building, of singing, of vestments, of ritual actions and, above all, of the atmosphere of prayerfulness a worthy rite creates. Orthodox Christianity is a whole way of life, not a rite taken from a manuscript celebrated inside a church building for two hours a week. Orthodox Christianity has to be transmitted from generation to generation down the centuries by families and monasteries, it cannot be invented from manuscript studies of a dead ‘rite’.

Which Western Rite?

Fourthly, when the term ‘Western rite’ is used, of which Western rite is revival meant? The Roman rite? The Gallican? The Ambrosian? The Mozarabic? Or some later version based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer? The problem is that the ancient rites only survive in an incomplete manuscript form. Can they ever be restored?

Surely, any restoration would only be partial, leaving a danger for fantasy and lack of authenticity, as was the case with the much disputed revived ‘Gallican’ rite used by the group known as ECOF (‘l’Eglise Orthodox Catholique de France’) in France. How can a rite be restored anyway? Surely a rite must be living, practised in continuity? Would any restored rite not be artificial, self-conscious, unnatural?

Who for? Fifthly, even if it were possible to restore a rite, whom would it be for? In the year 2009, most Western Europeans never set foot in any Church and 99% of practising Non-Orthodox have no historic rite at all. The Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic rite was all but abolished at the Second Vatican Council in favour of a Protestantised rite. Since the 1960s Anglicans have only very rarely used their Prayerbooks, which retain vestiges of the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic rite and have swapped it for happy-clappy, ‘make it up as you go’ rites. Even Gregorian chant is largely an invention of nineteenth century Benedictinism. (And do any rooted Orthodox actually feel at home with that?)

For me, as for 99.99% of Western Europeans, though for different reasons, the term ‘Western rite’ is meaningless. I have never known any other rites than those used by the Orthodox Church, since I have never been Anglican or Roman Catholic. If I were asked to celebrate a service according to the ‘Western rite’, first of all, even before considering if I wanted to and asking my bishop for a blessing to do so, I would have to find out what it is. I would have no idea as to its practical implementation. For Western Orthodox like us, we already have ‘Western’ rites. These are the universal rites of the Orthodox Church, used in Western European languages and also in services to the local Western saints. We need nothing more, for us the ‘Western rite’ is already here and in regular use.

Theory and Practice

However fine the concept of a restored ‘Western rite’ is in theory, it seems not to work in practice. Certainly, the example of ECOF, the so-called ‘French Orthodox Catholic Church’, founded under Mgr Jean (Kovalevsky) and once several hundred strong, sends shudders down the backs of canonical Orthodox who had experience of it. Surely the fact is that ‘Western rite’ simply does not work in practice?

Surely a Western rite would only ever attract a small minority of old-fashioned Roman Catholics or Anglicans? They would be unable to integrate organic Orthodoxy and be unable to transmit anything to the next generation or anyone else outside their closed ‘ritual’ group. These would inevitably be cut off from mainstream Orthodox and find their services ignored by them, as if they belonged to an uncanonical sect.

St Tikhon and St John

Nevertheless, there is a strong argument for ‘Western rite’. This is that a form of the Anglican rite was approved by the Holy Synod of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Church and sponsored by none other than Bishop (later Patriarch and St) Tikhon at the beginning of the last century. And fifty years ago, Bishop (later Archbishop and St) John of Shanghai helped former Roman Catholics into Orthodoxy through Fr Evgraf Kovalevsky, whom he then consecrated bishop, launching a missionary ‘French Orthodox Church’, allowing it a ‘Western rite’ and the new calendar for the fixed feasts.

However, the fact that this small group later left the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in order to go onto the Roman Catholic Easter, sailed through many jurisdictions, causing many scandals, degenerated into ECOF and all but died out at the end of the twentieth century, makes for sobering thoughts. Above all, it has to be admitted that a century ago, Anglicans still had a rite and a sense of Tradition. And fifty years ago, in 1950s France, so did Roman Catholics. Therefore, pastorally, we could see what was done then as justified, even heroic. But surely times have changed? Today Roman Catholics and Anglicans do not have serious, historic rites. Time and again I meet Roman Catholics who come to the Orthodox liturgy and say: ‘At least you have ‘a real mass’, what we have is insulting’. Is there then any actual need for or interest in reviving a ‘Western rite’, even if it were possible?

Conclusion

Whatever reservations most Orthodox have, it must be said that bishops can give their blessing for the formation and practice of a Western rite in the Orthodox Churches. This is if they consider it pastorally necessary, if, in other words, there are people who can be brought into genuine Orthodoxy through it.

It may be that with the dissolution of Anglicanism in particular, there is now a place for a ‘Western rite’ in Orthodoxy. Despite all manner of disadvantages and difficulties, a ‘Western rite’ could perhaps fill a temporary pastoral need for some specific small groups.

However, it is doubtful if this need extends beyond a handful of individuals. In any case, whether we are for or against, interested or bored by the question of, ‘Western rite’, it is not up to us. It is ultimately up to those who have pastoral oversight, our bishops, to encourage or discourage a ‘Western rite’, according to whether they find anyone who needs it or not.

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16 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Western Rite’

  1. The “Orthodoxy is Hellenism and Hellenism is Orthodoxy” was stated by Archbishop Christodolous of Athens, along with some very ripe anti-semtic remarks as well. It has been repeated, several times, by the Greek bishop in Toronto as well. Of course, now we have the main Greek bishop in the United States stated that Greek DNA has something to do with being Orthodox.

  2. If “Dale” and the late “Metropolitan of Greece” (which one? a Greek Metropolitan is simply the ruling bishop of a diocese) were right, then it would negate

    the idea of a True Church, or even of a true faith. Did Christ come to Hellenize? Then why come to the Jewish people, instead of going directly to Athens?

    But since not everyone is Greek, and not everyone is capable of being Hellenized — that would mean one of two things: either a) the saved and the damned

    are predestined to their fate, or else b) “God is the same for everybody”, in which case any religion would do, for those who believe in it. And in that case,

    the Martyrs (Roman and others) would have suffered in vain…

    In Christ
    +Bishop Jerome of Manhattan

  3. I think that we all need to remember the words of the late Metropolitan of Greece who declared, “Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism!” How can anything as non-Hellenic as a western rite ever exist within the purity of Orthodoxy and Hellenism? Let us also remember the Patriarch Nikon of Moscow who by the very light of burning Old Believers (those who forgot the Hellenism of Orthodoxy) exclaimed: “My body is Russian but my soul is Greek!” The greatness of the Serbian Church is that it still is to its very soul Greek; its chants are Greek; its architecture is Greek; it is the Greek religion in Church Slavonic. Any so-called Orthodoxy that is not Byzantine is false.

  4. Father Augustine,

    Thank you so much for your gentle comments here. I, too, was drawn to Holy Orthodoxy through a study of history. I discovered there ws a Church that existed long before the Reformation. And how glorious and beautiful she was and still is!

    Oh that my husband would discover half of what you have…NO…a quarter of what you have. He was baptized and raised in the Anglican Church with all its pomp and circumstance. He said through all of it he “never knew Christ.” It wasn’t until he was born-again the Evangelical Protestant way that he then received the life of God. So, he abandoned all that he had learned in Anglicanism.

    For awhile he was being drawn to Orthodoxy, even saying that God was giving him the grace to receive many of the Church’s teachings on the Theotokos. He would ask me various questions about the faith, and whenever I couldn’t answer, I would direct him to other sources. He was visiting with the priest of my parish weekly. We would have deep discussions on various Orthodox doctrines and teachings. With all of this a closeness began to develop that we had not experienced prior to my entrance into the Church. Still, he wrestled intensely with the Eucharist being the Body and Blood of our Lord. Afterall, during all those times he had assisted the priest as an acolyte and partook of the Eucharist, he was still an “unregenerate” person. (his words)

    Then, just this past weekend, he called me from his work and said that he had finally had peace and that his struggles had come to an end. The peace came from him coming to the realization that he could not receive or believe the Orthodox teaching on the Eucharist and the meaning and importance of the Divine Liturgy. The next day, instead of attending Divine Liturgy with me like he had been doing for a few months, he attended an Evangelical Protestant church instead.

    Since then, a barrier has come between us. I can’t explain it except to say I feel as though I am in mourning. It seems as though we are detached from each other and he is keeping me at arm’s length. He expressed his longing for me to be the way I used to be before I was Orthodox. How can I deny all that the Holy Spirit has shown me, how can I abandon the One, Holy, Orthdox, Catholic Church for some Protestant Evangelical denomination which rejects the Holy Mysteries? I cannot.

    Forgive me…I just am feeling forlorn.

  5. Dear and esteemed Fr. Milovan,

    Thanks so much for your generous and warm-hearted reply! Thanks also for correcting my misunderstanding about the authorship of the article; I ask your forgiveness for expressing my disagreement towards you, personally, when I should have expressed it more generally.

    I also very much wanted to affirm your statement, regarding Orthodoxy being the thing of primary importance to us all, regardless of Rite.

    I came to dearly love the Western Rite, chiefly because I did not set out to become Orthodox – but rather, being a Protestant who was confused about where some kind of authoritative claim to an authentic Christianity could be found, I merely stumbled upon Orthodoxy in the course of several years’ searching and study. I had set out to simply find “the Church,” and initially had no idea that I would discover Orthodoxy. Idid come to recognize that the Faith had been preserved by the “Eastern” Orthodox Church, but in my exhaustive study of Church history from the Apostolic age onwards, I couldn’t help but discover the Church as the (Truly) Ecumenical Entity She is, and I especially marked how my own ancestors’ lands were part of this Church before the tragedy of schism.

    And what chiefly moved me about my own people’s Orthodox heritage was, as you note, the genuine unity of the Faith in antiquity, that predated any differences the West eventually came to have. I found a Papacy that was not monarchical; I found the exact same themes in homilies, exegesis and liturgical texts, as I found in modern day “Eastern” Orthodox contexts. When I could read homilies by the 11th century Anglo-Saxon priest-monk, Aelfric, and find the exact same things being taught today by our more saintly and profoundly Orthodox authors (St. Justin Popovich, St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, Fr. Seraphim Rose, etc.), I knew my ancestors had been Orthodox! I loved to hear sentiments now considered “Byzantine,” being expressed in Latin liturgy. The Sequence “Ave Mundi Spes Maria,” referred to the All-Holy Virgin as the “Unburning Bush.” An antiphon to the Virgin from Matins, calls her “Quae cunctas haereses interemisti” (“Lady, Who hast abolished all heresies”); the very Frankish St. Notker consistently refers to theosis in his glorious sequences, especially in that for Christmas, “Natus ante saecula” (“Born before the ages”). I noticed the exact same piety in the hagiography of St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, as I saw in contemporary Eastern hagiography, even down to the combat with the demonic in the aerial territories. Every recension I found of the Creed in the English Orthodox prayerbooks not only lacked the Filioque, but actually had a different wording from the curent Latin recension; the Orthodox version exactly parallels the Greek in grammar and syntax (rather than shifting from the accusative and subordinating all the subsequent clauses into nominative-case relative clauses). It had nearly identical architecture and art, and music based upon the same modal theories. In short, I saw how the early West, far more than the later West, clearly held the exact same Faith as the East continues to hold, and did so with remarkably similar terms and piety. This actually lasted all the way up until the Counter-Reformation, and typically Orthodox devotion can be found even in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Where the Prioress also refers to the Virgin as the “Bush Unbrent” – i.e., “unburnt”).

    And it is definitely the Faith, which is most important. Who of us is unaware of the varying liturgical uses of the Church? And who is not in silent awe of those holy strugglers and martyrs for our faith, celebrating Liturgy as best they could in prisons and concentration camps? They had no resources for perfect vessels, or music, or vestments, or even proper rubrical observance. But their service to God was very pleasant in His sight, I’m sure. Though I treasure the beauties of ALL the Churches’ Rites, we know where the essence of our Faith lies. I hope that, if I should ever be called upon to die for this Faith, that God’s grace would assist me to do so. And if the Western Rite ever became a stumbling block to holding the Faith or labouring for It, then I would gladly leave it behind. We should sooner lose our own limbs to enter the Kingdom, than perish while keeping them, right? How much more our particular forms of ritual! How vain, to be a martyr for Gregorian Chant and not for Christ! For Znammeny, and not for the Trinity!

    Please forgive me for another lengthy post – but, as I say, I did particularly want to affirm your sentiment, that for those of us in the Western Rite, the Orthodox Faith is, and always will be, more important for us than the Rite. God help any, who feel otherwise. Indeed, as St. Gregory the Great (Dialogist) told St. Augustine of Canterbury, specifically in answer to the question of what kind of Rite should be established in the nacent English Church (Roman or Gallican or a mix): “Things are not to be loved on account of the places whence they come, but places are to be loved for the quality of the things in them.” So, for us, the only reason to love the ritual of the West, is not because it is Western – but because it is thoroughly Orthodox in its character, and just happens to also be our own, Western heritage – an heritage of immense spiritual quality and saintly impress.

    Like so many Americans, it seems that St. John has been a constant help and companion, having a presence in every important stage of my spiritual life and spreading his paternal care over all my paths. Sincere gratitude to you for keeping his memory, and the memory of his works, on the occurence of his Feast.

    Honouring him with you,
    Fr. Augustine

  6. Dear Father,

    Christ is in our midst.

    The article on Western Rite is severely flawed in its fundamental grasp of its material. Let us, then, address the flaws one-by-one.

    Firstly, the author asks “why a Western Rite?” The comments that follow clearly indicate a lack of understanding that while indeed “rites do not save souls,” they are the way saved souls (well, souls on the way to final salvation, anyway) worship God in a way comprehensible to them, consonant with their cultural formation. The early Church used rites reflective of the Old Covenant, viz., a series of shorter prayers punctuated with “Amens,” as we can see from the Didache. And as a matter of fact, the Roman Canon (before Vatican II messed with it) reflected that ancient pattern exactly. But as the Church became more Hellenized, its manner of praying became more Greek: longer prayers and verbally more ornate. When Christianity became more rooted in the Latin culture (especially after the move of the imperial capital to Byzantium), the form of worship came to reflect the more austere and verbally economic Roman culture. In the Eastern part of the empire, the rite that developed at Byzantium was very much a Johnny-come-lately, one which tried to supplant older rites, and did so more by imperial will than Church conciliarity (rather the way the Roman rite ended up supplanting many of the venerable Western uses). Note the way the non-Chalcedonian churches retain pre-Chalcendonian rites much older and significantly different from the Byzantine. The point is that the Western Rite is, for some members of the Body of Christ, a more natural idiom for prayer, and not mere ritualism. (Any can anyone reading Bul’gakov honestly deny the presence of ritualism, yea, rubricism, in Eastern Orthodoxy? Or am I the only typikonchik on the planet?)

    As for “cultural chauvinism,” and aside from growled comments about pots and kettles, let us remember that in 1870 the Governing Synod of the Orthodox Church of Russia approved for use by converts from Roman Catholicism a Latin Mass that was, more-or-less, the Tridentine recension of the Roman Rite. This did not set one culture above another; it did, however, recognize, that historically different cultural groups within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Orthodox Church celebrated the same Sacred Mysteries with different rites.

    Which leads us to the argument about “living rites.” Agreed that “any rite is more than what is to be found on paper.” And that is precisely the point of Western Rite. What is on paper was, in its origins, shaped to articulate the Orthodox Faith; and the aim of Western Rite is to reclaim what is ours, in much the same way that we make missionary efforts to reclaim the descendants of those souls forced into the Unia by the Austro-Hungarian empire. Further, the rites never actually died. Those who used them may have been schismatics and/or heretics, in consequence of which the texts have to be examined for theologically dubious later accretions; but the rites (or at least the Mozarabic, Ambrosian, and Roman Rites, along with local uses of one or the other, along with various uses of both the Roman Office and the Monastic Office) themselves remained in use.

    Ah, asks our author, but “which Western Rite?” He argues that “the ancient rites only survive in an incomplete manuscript form.” Well, he’s quite wrong about that when it comes to the Mozarabic, Ambrosian and Roman Rites. And implicit is the faulty argument that only antiquity guarantees authenticity. If that be so, he cannot and dare not use the “faulty” recension of the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, both of which have changed significantly from the 8th-century use of the Great Church. And he cannot and dare not follow contemporary Russian practice of merely chanting what should be sung in its appointed Tone during Vigil. And he cannot and dare not serve with those who employ the changes made to the Typikon of St. Sabbas in the late 1800s concerning the serving of Matins, particularly the bizarre placement of the Gospel after the 7th Ode of the Canon. The reality is that the Byzantine Rite continued to evolve after 1054; yet we seem to have no problem with that development. Further, he asks “how can a rite be restored, anyway?” Good question. How can we restore the use of the full Polyeleon, now that it’s been chopped down to four or five verses? How can we restore the use of Ps.33[34] to places where it fell into disuse long before living memory? How can we even think of restoring the ancient practice of saying the prayers of the Liturgy in an audible voice after at least five centuries of saying them “silently”? [And just for the record, the 19th century Benedictines did not invent Gregorian chant; it was the chant used in monasteries in the West all the way along. What they did was rescue chant in the rest of the Roman communion from its captivity to polyphony.]

    And for whom should there be a Western Rite? The author seems to limit his view to disaffected RCs and Anglicans. Why? Why does he think that Western Rite would limit itself in this way and sell out on the Gospel imperative to proclaim the fullness of the Faith to every creature? Such an individious suggestion would seem to betray profound malice.

    Bottom line: less bile and more homework, please!

    Fr. Philip

  7. Thank you Father Augustine and Father Milovan. I have been blessed by the both of you here. Remember Blessed Augustine’s words, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

    What joy to to witness the charitable discourse between the two of you. Such is a testimony of our Lord Jesus when He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

    Kissing the right hand of each of you.

    Darlene

  8. Fr. Augustine, et al. > I’ve been enjoying the comments over the past few days. However, I feel as if I need to clarify that this article was not written by me. It was taken, as I noted, from the Orthodox England website.

    Though it is an interesting piece I’m not sure if I necessarily agree with everything in it. I posted it in on the feast of St. John the Wonderworker and if anything I agree perhaps more so with his view of the situation. I have always felt, and all of your comments have confirmed this, that those who belong to Western Rite parishes have a greater love for Orthodoxy than they do for their ‘rite’. Yet, it is your ‘rite’ (no pun intended) which, as St. John says, is “far older” than anything we might disagree with in the West.

    Thank you all for your comments. I know very little of the Western Rite, much too little to be able to write something in opposition to it. On the contrary, I’ve learned much from your comments and very much welcome them. I suppose I can, in part, thank St. John on whose feast I made this post, for enlightening me. Glory be to God for all things.

  9. I am myself a “Western Rite” Orthodox Christian, but I once felt exactly as you did, Fr. Milovan. I think there are several good replies to the objections and issues you raise. I should state up front that I am not a fan of the Protestant-derived rites within Orthodoxy (i.e., the rite named in honour of St. Tikhon), and that I deliberately and conscientiously sought formation *first and foremost* from solid figures in the Eastern Rite… not because I think the Eastern Rite is inherently “better,” but because I believe that, at the present time, the men who have deeply immersed themselves in the unquestionably Orthodox spirit, are in the Eastern Rite. The Western Rite will never succeed, unless it learns the heart of the faith at the feet of Eastern Rite mentors. This is because the Faith is bigger than the rite, and must be learned from people who know the Faith… not merely the Rite. At the present time, the Faith is basically expressed in only the Eastern Rite.

    To that end, I have been the spiritual son of Fr. Alexey Young for five years. It was he, who directed me towards this blog post. He was the spiritual son of Fr. Seraphim Rose, who was in turn was the spiritual son of St. John. I say this not to claim that I somehow speak for any of these men; rather, I want to emphasize that it is possible for men of good formation in the Eastern Rite, to take the Western Rite seriously. I am not an ex-anglican or ex-catholic who immediately entered the Western Rite. I am an ex-Evangelical Protestant, who understood the need to learn the faith from solid, well-formed men – and therefore joined an Eastern Rite monastery and was immersed in the full cycle of daily services and regular monastic life, for several years. Only now, after that formation, have I felt comfortable setting out to live in the Western Rite in an authentically Orthodox way.

    So, to reply to some of your points…

    In regards to “why.” You correctly observed that rites do not save souls… but, obviously, the Mysteries and the Grace of our faith, which do save souls, come to us in the physical forms of worship and rite. So, our recognition of the fact that the “core” is separate from the rite should not lead us towards an indifference to the various rites of the Church, but to a positive desire to conserve and be glad in them, in all their variety. St. Augustine interpreted the verse from Psalm 44 (“the beauty of the king’s daughter is within, in many colored garments”) as a reference to the Church… Whose beauty was singular within, but was expressed in many different beauties, without. The fact that the Church’s inner beauty is one and the same, does not mean that Her outer glories should be similarly singular. Indeed, that would be strange, given the universal and catholic nature of the Church, and the infinite creativity of Her Founder.

    And, relevant thereto, is the comment made by another Western Rite brother, above: the Western Rite is of tremendous importance to the cultural, literary, artistic, musical, etc., heritage of the West. I am currently studying Medieval literature, including much Old and Middle English literature. One often cannot understand what he reads, without being familiar with worship in Western culture, since the Church and Her rhythm were the beating heart of Western culture for over a millennium. It would be tragic, if the most definitive aspect of Western culture – and, incidentally, the most fundamentally Orthodox thing about Western culture – were to be lost simply because “rite is secondary.”

    To illustrate this, and to answer “why” in the simplest way, it is helpful to imagine the situation were reversed, and that the shoe was on the other foot. Imagine the West had adhered to the Faith, and the East had fallen away. Then, years later, some of the Eastern sectarians began to return to the faith. I would view it as my most joyful duty, to help them rediscover their own Orthodox heritage. Can you imagine, if we simply abandoned the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom? Of St. Basil? Of St. James? Can you imagine, if we said that the services composed in honour of St. Vladimir or St. Olga were not “necessary” anymore, that they were “secondary” to the faith, and that we would be happy to compose new, Western Rite services for Slavs – because the “rite doesn’t matter?” Can you imagine? No more pannakhidas, no more Litya, no more Polyeleoi or Akathists? I think it would be a tremendous loss, not to mention a very cavalier attitude to take towards such holy things, if we acted like this. Can you imagine saying the heritage of “Holy Rus” could just as easily be replaced with a Latin Mass? Well, my ancestral home was once called the “Isle of Saints,” and I think that heritage is worthy of preservation, too. It’s tragic enough that it was lost to heretics, once; must we abandon it a second time, now that the heretics are repenting?

    And this talk of the rite being secondary, is really a very modern way of thinking, anyway. Rite may be secondary in an abstract sense, but Rite is precisely what incarnates the faith in a primary and immediate sense. Its “secondary” nature, therefore, does not in any way lessen its primary relationship to a particular people’s salvation. It would be a tragedy if the heritage of the East were discarded simply because “rite is secondary.” It would be a tragedy for the West, too.

    In regards to “chauvinism,” I would say that valuing and conserving one’s cultural heritage is not chauvinism; it is gratitude to God for His role in our history and salvation. That’s the first thing for us to clearly understand: honouring and valuing one’s ancestral customs and traditions, kept within the proper bounds, is a good thing and is not chauvinism. Some people, to be sure, latch on to cultural differences and vault them to the point of becoming chauvinists. But, some Greeks and Slavs do this, as well. Should we eliminate the distinctive characeristics of every local Church’s ritual culture, on the grounds that they are mere acts of chauvinism? That is obviously outrageous.

    Chauvinism hardly requires a separate rite to exist; I often hear Greeks and Slavs argue over the respective merits of their liturgical traditions. I have heard Evangelical Orthodox insist that we must develop eight “American” tones, and “de-byzantinize” our American Churches. Chauvinism will exist whether there is a Western Rite or not… the question is, will we conserve an entire spiritual heritage of the Church and have chauvinism, or will we discard it and still have chauvinism? And again, we must not mistake valuing one’s cultural heritage for chauvinism. They are very different things, and perhaps a famous Latin phrase is appropriate here: abusus non tollit usus. “The abuse (of a thing) does not set aside the proper use (of a thing).”

    Regarding the fullness of living rites, I would concede that you have a point. I think the problem is easily answered, however. In the first place, there are massive amounts of information on how the ritual life of the West was actually lived out. It is not merely a matter of an “Eucharistic text on paper.” There are simply reams of witnesses in art, music, literature, etc., as to how the rite was celebrated – including official and unofficial customs, devotions, etc. There’s no need for concern on that part.

    I do agree that the Orthodox ethos of worship cannot be learned from such study, however. This is why I think the initial stages of the Western Rite must be led by those who have received solid formation in Eastern Rite contexts. They have to receive the faith directly, from men who really live and understand it. Then, when they know the faith and its ethos well, they are able to take the massive amount of extant information on how the West celebrated the Liturgy, and to celebrate it in a genuinely Orthodox way. Will it be a perfect, museum-piece recreation of 11th century worship? Not if they’re doing it right! Orthodox worship isn’t about the perfect recreation of historic rubrics! What it will be, however, is deeply Orthodox. Honestly, I’d trust the Orthodox ethos of a newly-ordained Western Rite priest with five years’ solid, Eastern Rite formation, before I’d trust an unmentored Evangelical Orthodox priest of 20 years.

    Regarding “which rite,” the answer is simple, to my mind. There is only one rite (or, more accurately, “family of rites”) that accurately reflects the development of Orthodox worship in the West, and is wholly intact. That would be the family of rites usually misnomered as “Sarum.” Sarum is one diocese, for which we have a full set of service books. But, the various available books from other European dioceses express an essentially uniform Orthodox worship of the West, with some local differences, at the time of the schism. This is not just a Eucharistic Rite, but all the hours and all the other services.

    My spiritual father tells me what Fr. Seraphim passed on to him from St. John. St. John said that he had blessed the Gallican Rite as a temporary measure, but that he felt it must eventually “phase out,” since it had been proscribed by an Orthodox council of the West prior to the Schism. He said a day would come when a more authentic rite could be employed, without the need for recreations or guess-work, but that the scholarship was not available yet. In the meantime, he saw value in allowing Westerners to become Orthodox without having to lose their Western heritage and identity, and so he blessed the Gallican Rite.

    It is my opinion, therefore, that the very rich and developed liturgy of the High Middle Ages – existing in numerous slightly different local usages throughout all of Europe, and definitively reflecting Orthodox worship as it actually occurred prior to the Schism – will form an ideal basis for any sort of permanent and ongoing Western Rite. In the meantime, I see great value in the forms of Western Rite currently blessed, and – as you rightly point out – I am not second-guessing the bishops’ judgment in approving of them. I think time will see most of them decline and fade away… but I don’t regard myself as infallible and I try to maintain a cordial and friendly attitude towards Western Rite Christians who may not feel exactly as I do. You see, there are many chauvinist parties within the Western Rite, who will do a fine job of destroying each other long before any Eastern Rite bishop decides to surpress them. So, I have my view, but I extend the courtesy of polite and civil disagreement to my other Western Rite brothers; I won’t militate about it. Time will tell, and the proper spiritual authorities will guide.

    In the meantime, I hope I’ve given you some things to think about, regarding your issues with the Western Rite. As I say, I once bitterly opposed the Western Rite on the same grounds as your current skepticism. But, I came to see that these things didn’t really amount to objections. Rather, they are excuses, which reflect a very natural desire not to see the added “complication” of the Western Rite, in an already very complex Orthodox world. Believe me, I sympathize; in all Christian truth, I sympathize. Belive me, too, when I say that it’s very easy for a Slav or a Greek to look at an entire heritage of the Church which is not his own, and to say, “We can live without this.” Of course we can all “live” without it. But, for those of us who are Westerners and have found the riches of our Orthodox heritage – not our heterodox, but our Orthodox, Western, heritage – it is harder to be as indifferent, and the excuses for dismissing it are not as satisfying!

    Much time and thought, and a bit of faith in the example of the Saints who supported the Western Rite (or some other form of Rite, such as the Coptic Rite with St. Nektarios of Pentapolis – no saint has opposed the adoption of these rites, but several have supported them), eventually convinced me that this was a good thing. But, time will tell – for now, I only hope I’ve contributed something to your thoughts on the matter.

    In Christian love and esteem,
    Fr. Augustine

  10. Aye, aye, Forrest! I, too, am nourished by the Divine Liturgy of St. John “the Golden-mouthed.” Yesterday, I went to an evangelical Protestant church after worshipping in the Divine Liturgy. I did so to be a support to my husband, who is very much of an Evangelical Protestant, and unable to grasp the Orthodox phronema at this time.

    Honestly, it could be compared to a schizophrenic experience, so incompatible are the two. At one point, I had to fervently pray inwardly just in order to get through the service. There is no Holy Mystery there, although the pastor mentioned that there is mystery in the Christian faith. The Evangelical church has been stripped bare of the Holy Mysteries. The experience for me was more likened to sitting in a college classroom to learn with the mind, such was the disconnect with my soul. No mention of the Trinity, Incarnation, or Resurrection. Rather there was an emphasis on the Rapture with a pre-trib/dispensationalist viewpoint. No creeds, no confessions, no Eucharist, no icons – only bare walls. Even though the people were friendly and welcoming, I felt empty inside while there. It was a distant memory of a past from which I have since departed. Yet, I weep inside for my Protestant friends and family. I yearn for them to partake of the life-giving mysteries within the Orthodox Church.

  11. On reading some of these comments, I thought of another take on this issue.

    It is helpful to remember that for those of us who have converted to Holy Orthodoxy from elsewhere, Liturgy for us was simply the words of the Mass or the Eucharist.

    To the Orthodox, the Liturgy is the whole package.

    A Western Rite might not have been necessary if those on the Orthodox side of things had considered the possibility of allowing christians converting from western traditions the option of making the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom the core of the service while allowing western forms to surround that core.

    The words to the Eastern Liturgy are indeed wonderful, but they have come “with the whole package” of eastern chanting and eastern forms.

    In the Western Rite, the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon and the Liturgy of Saint Gregory are the “skeletons” that support everything else: Western Music, Hymns, Collects, Blessings of Birthdays, etc.

    Western Christians were not presented with the option of having the words of the Eucharist be the Eastern Rite with everything else western.

    If they had been given that option, perhaps all Orthodox would be using the Byzantine words.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Columba Silouan

  12. Perhaps one way to respond to questioning the need for a “Western Rite” is to ask why those of us who have made the Western Rite our home wish it to be so.

    Quite simply, I desire a Western Rite because I don’t want to see the ecclesiastical heritage of my ancestors thrown away or forgotten. I wish to see my own cultural heritage redeemed, and not thrown in the garbage can.

    Also, I believe the language of the English Book of Common Prayer to be deeply meaningful, not to mention majestic. It isn’t just about the liturgy, it’s also about the music and the literary heritage of English Christianity.

    Or for those from the Roman Catholic or Lutheran side, it’s about the western cultural heritage of Roman Catholicism and German Christianity.

    Or let me put it this way: Forbidding Stained Glass, Pipe Organs, Hymnals, Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    I’ll throw you a bone, though. I don’t like the name “Western Rite” because it is confusing. It sounds like something out of a Masonic Lodge. I would rather we simply called these rites “Western Liturgy.”

    Many people have indeed gone the “happy clappy” route in Anglican and Lutheran circles, but there are always those who hold to traditional worship from each group.

    If I didn’t believe Eastern Orthodoxy was big enough to REDEEM the church cultures of the West, I would probably just become a Roman Catholic or stay an Anglican.

    I believe in the redemption of my own heritage and I believe in a God who was and is big enough to work through the western forms that lost their connection to Eastern Orthodoxy through the various schisms and divisions that most of the rank and file had nothing to do with.

    The Orthodox Church may be The Church, but God was at work in the lives and institutions of the West even though they had fallen from the grace of The Church.

    God was still gracious to them because of who He is. This is an optimistic, as opposed to a pessimistic view of God and His working.

    The seemingly endless debate over the Western Rite is a waste of time, truly. Those of us who are Western Rite and Eastern Orthodox have no intention of going anywhere, unless we’re tossed out by the rest of the Orthodox.

    Surely there is no danger of that happening?

    And we can “modernize” the Western Rite when the older generation of our leaders go on to their eternal rest.

    By modernize, I simply mean finding a way to use modern english as many in the Byzantine Rite do. I don’t mean watering down the content of our services.

    We are Orthodox, so we can be patient and wait for the “Western Rite” to develop into something very fruitful. We are in no hurry.

    Blessings in the Holy Trinity, one God

    Columba Silouan

  13. I also came from a low-church Protestant background. When my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I were looking into Orthodoxy for the first time, we eventually decided to visit an Orthodox church. We visited what was to become our parish on a Saturday morning, and we got there extra early for Matins as well (that was her idea, IIRC). Despite being half-asleep, distracted by trying to follow along in the booklets they had, and the fact that only a handful of people were there, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom made a definite impression on my mind.

    After my family freaked out about us visiting an Orthodox church, I decided to put Orthodoxy on hold for a while. But we couldn’t remain Baptist anymore, so we looked around.

    We visited Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, and even a Roman Catholic church. I think that, at least as far as Mass goes, I’ve seen a good sampling of Western Rite liturgies, and at every one I left unimpressed. Something was missing; something was lacking. After almost a year, I realized that, despite myself, I was measuring all those liturgies against St. John Chrysostom’s, and they all came up short. I didn’t leave the Orthodox liturgy quite like St. Prince Vladimir’s emissaries, saying, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.”, though I think, subconsciously, I had a somewhat similar sense deep within.

    An Orthodox liturgy with only a handful of people was greater, deeper, more *real* to me than any Western liturgy I’ve ever attended on a Sunday morning in a mostly-packed church.

  14. Perhaps the Orthodox Church could become a bit more relevant and have a “contemporary” rite as well as a “traditional” rite. For the contemp crowd there could be flag waving, liturgical dance, testimony time, and a chance to be slain in the spirit. The trad crowd could have crystal mind-melding, transcendental meditation and holistic healing of the pantheistic kind. And of course none of this would have to be written in stone. For a new and fresh perspective, innovations would be welcomed and encouraged by all the participants.

    Just imagine (John Lennon’s tune just ran through my mind), the possibilities – they would be endless. After all, aren’t living things always going through a metamorphosis? Why not the Church? Why should the Church be stuck back in the “Dark Ages?”

    “Imagine a new liturgy, it’s easy if you try….”

    🙂 🙂 ;=) :]

  15. Thanks for raising this issue on rites. I would agree with the question you raised- “Why?” I came into the Orthodox Church from a Protestant background which was devoid of any serious liturgy and my soul has been nourished by the common Orthodox liturgy of St. John. I believe, especially for here in North America, that we need to move away from this concept of East and West when it comes to the Church. We need to focus on the greater picture of who we are in Christ. Keep it simple, hold to the Tradition.

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