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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Concerns about the Western Rite

Something Joe said in a comment on the Britannic Orthodox Church? post got me to thinking.

I have heard a number of objections to the Western Rite from various quarters. Some have been from people from traditionally Orthodox countries where the way they phrase their objections has betrayed an ignorance of the history of Orthodoxy outside of their home countries. Others have been from a reactionary "East good: West bad" mentality that seems to exist among some Orthodox groups, where the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is viewed as having fallen out of Our Lord's back pocket at the Ascension.

However, other concerns raised about the WRite have been more reasoned than this, and do have some merit. I think that Joe's sentiment falls into this category.

It's either a stilted piece of archeology or a byzantinized form of Anglican or RC praxis. At least that's it in simple terms.

Before I continue, I must admit now that I don't have any direct experience of worshipping within the WRite in an Orthodox context, and so my knowledge comes mainly from discussing with those who do and from examining the rites myself, and discussing with those who have had a part in adapting them.

I'll take the first objection first. The restoration of the WRite is not intended to be an exercise in liturgical archaeology. That would be a grave mistake. Liturgy isn't just about words and ceremonial, but about the Faith, spirituality and piety that these rites sustain and are sustained by. The liturgy is only a part of the greater whole and develops and grows naturally within that context. I, too, would be wary of any effort at re-creating the Use of, say, York, as it was 500 years ago, for use in Orthodoxy today. I must admit that I love these forms of worship, but this is an idiosyncrasy of mine. Even while I was salivating over the text of the Old Sarum Rite Mass, translated and superbly produced by Monk Aidan (Keller), (whose excellent Chant Ordinarium I have), part of me was uncomfortable as I realised that it is something that, sadly, would not be of practical use today. That's the reality of the situation and, while there are a few of us who would be very comfortable in our worship if the Rite of Sarum were in common use, we need to realise that we are a very small minority. It's worth noting, too, (with respect to Monk Aidan, whom I know reads this blog), that no canonical Orthodox jurisdiction has authorised this for use, perhaps for the reasons mentioned above.

Within canonical Orthodoxy, a more organic approach has been taken to this. Instead of resurrecting rites long deceased within the Church, the approach has been to draw into Orthodoxy the liturgucal traditions that are currently used by Western Christians, which have developed and grown as living rites within a community of faith; rites which take one of two main formats: those with their roots in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the majority which follow the classical shape of the ancient Gregorian Mass. Of course, the doctrinal defects in these rites have needed to be corrected to restore their suitability for use within Orthodoxy. This has involved changes to the glaringly obvious differences (such as the removal of filioque), and more subtle changes (such as the restoration of the sung propers which largely fell into disuse after the liturgical actions they were intended to cover were either reduced or removed entirely because of protestant objections to them).

RCs, Anglicans, Methodists and others will be familiar with the classical Gregorian shape of the Eucharist, even if they are unaware of the fact. The Novus Ordo Mass and rites based on it (such as the Methodist Worship Book and Common Worship order one) are all developments of this to one degree or another, and while not suitable for Orthodox worship themselves (for other reasons), mean that this is the basic shape that many Western Christians are familiar with, and have been for centuries. Therefore, an updated form of Sarum would be appropriate, IMO, as would the Gregorian Liturgy itself, as it has lived on to some degree in the Tridentine Mass, still used by some RCs today, and by Canterbury & Continuum Anglicans of the English Missal tradition. In fact, the Scottish Episcopal Eucharstic liturgy of 1972 (still in use) allows for a celebration very much along the lines of the Gregorian Mass, with a few canonically-permitted adaptations, and from first-hand experience, I can vouch that it is so used in some Anglican churches in Scotland.

With regard to the byzantinisations that may have crept in during the process of correcting the doctrinal forms, I suppose this all depends on one's experience of the Western rite. With regard to the rites used in the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, I can't comment much due to having limited experience of them. I'm sure there are others better-placed to comment on those. My knowledge is based on the liturgies of the Russian Church Abroad, where one would be very hard-pressed indeed to find any Byzantine forms. The two main ones are the English Liturgy and the Usus Cascadae.

The thing we need to remember is that the Western Rite has its roots in Orthodoxy, and, despite having been outside of Orthodoxy for centuries until 100 or so years ago, is still proving itself to be a valuable part of the Orthodox tradition by the number of people that are brought, by their spiritual formation in the Western Rite, to the point of knocking on Orthodoxy's door and asking to be let in. For the sake of the salvation of souls, I do feel that we need to open this door up much, much more widely.

Just a few thoughts.


Ian said...

Very thought-provoking post. Thank you.

[The following shows how shallow I am ... as if you didn't know already! :D]
Any liturgy that contains Let all mortal flesh keep silence gets 110% approval. :D I adore that hymn. I know it is an Eastern hymn, but singing it in Byzantine chant at Holy Saturday (I think) wasn't quite the same as the glorious Western style with descant. Heaven.

I must confess to excitement of seeing [i]Holy , Holy, Holy[/i] as well.

Thank you for sharing the adapted Sarum Liturgies.

Joe said...

a very thought provoking post indeed.

I still object to the Western Rite on the grounds of what I said earlier. its either liturgical archeology (or an adaptation of a historical liturgy that has not grown organically with the faith--thus the WRite experiences I have had, attending occassionally the WRite mission in Wichita, seemed very stilted and not to possess the "natural" spiritual ethos of the Byzantine tradition). I also get this from reading the rites themselves and the accounts of them from various people.

I do think the WRite could have a place, as it was originally intended. It was orginally intended for an accomodation to a sizable group or the whole of a western Church converting to Orthodoxy en masse, as was a definite possiblity for ECUSA back in the day. In my opinion a few scattered parishes and missions does not constitute a sizable group.

I would also say it would be good if an entire religious order (say the Carthusians or similar) converted. Than it could work.

I thank God that it has brought people to the faith, but I just don't feel it should be used as the primary liturgical form for any national church.

Joe Zollars

Aristibule said...

Sour grapes. One should know better..

I'd refer to the recent post by Fr. Matthew Thurman:

And specifically the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

"Whatever the future of the Western rite, it depends, I am sure, on the thirst and hunger for the fullness of the Orthodox faith and on nothing else. Dogmatically, ecclesiologically—and I said this some twenty years ago on these very pages—Orthodoxy has no objection to the Western Rite as such. To have such an objection would mean the loss by the Orthodox Church of her claims to universality. The question therefore is not whether a rite is Eastern or Western. Neither Easternism or Westernism are important in themselves. The only question is whether a rite adequately embodies, manifests and communicates the eternal and unchanging Truth,—is it Orthodox in the deepest sense of this word."

Eric John said...

I agree with Ari. It is important not to get caught up in "surface" issues. The outward form or the point of origin tell us nothing of a liturgy's spiritual value.

St. John Maximovitch, while he was in France, was presented with a restored Gallican liturgy--a combination of ancient liturgy, scholarship, and some liturgical adaptation. To him, what made the liturgy Orthodox was not where it came from or how it was put together or the superficial impression it gave to people wanting to compare it to other liturgical rites. To St. John, it could only be tested through actual use. You have to pray it. If it "prays Orthodox" it is Orthodox. And so he served the reformed Gallican liturgy and edited it as he served it, in a spirit of prayer, asking for God's guidance and, of course, for the guidance of the Western Orthodox French Saints who served and wrote the Gallican liturgy of ancient times. As far as I'm concerned, that's the only way to do things.

And that's how the Western Rite today is doing them. The modern Orthodox Western Rite is only 150 years old. For this whole time, they have been praying according to their Orthodox Western Rite and it is evolving and being perfected, just as the Eastern Rite is today, even if some people don't want to acknowledge this.

Thus, we have to get to the heart of the Western Rite matter, which is, fancy that, a matter of the heart and God's dwelling therein.

Joe said...

Ari, I am insulted. it's not about sour grapes. I still attend western Chruches with a blessing from Father on days that I can't go to Orthodox services. It just doesn't feel right for me.

Eric, of course the Eastern Rite is being perfected today. That is the point of my argument against the western rite--its not growing organically from an organic start within the church.

I of course recognize that the WRite has a place within the church, I just don't think that it can be superimposed on people who do not normally worship according to that cycle. I for one would not be comfortable worshipping in a Western Rite, as I am wholly Byzantine Rite when it comes to personal praxis (occasional sundays at local ECUSA church besides). Orthodoxy is of course universal, and I rejoice that the WRites are there for those who are comfortable with them. However I think it would be wrong to superimpose that rite on a national church. The Orthodox practice of Oikonomia would seem to indicate that it should be a parish by parish thing (similar to the calander issue's resolvement in the OCA).

Joe Zollars

James the Thickheaded said...

"...I just don't feel it should be used as the primary liturgical form for any national church."

Did I miss something? Has someone suggested the WR become the primary liturgical form for a national church? Is there a national church? Seem to be barking about things that haven't and won't happen and aren't even being discussed. So why the animus?

For those of us anglocatholics, the suggestion that this rite is somehow an archaic relic ignores the fact that there are roughly 300 churches in the US using the Anglican equivalent. Many of the largest and richest churches in ECUSA also use this do the Anglican Use churches in the Roman Catholic church. With all due respect, I guess us dinosaurs ought to just rollover and continue to not exist.

The anglocatholic rite has always been and will always continue to be a minority rite. I am not aware that there is a case being made for this to become the rite of a USA unified orthodox church.....or for that matter that the unified USA orthodox church is really in the offing. If it is a form of worship meaningful to many - yes many believe it or not - why not simply go on your way and let them worship in peace? Anglocatholics have been persecuted for 150 years....but you can add to our pain if you want. :)

THere are a lot of things to worry about in this life, but WRO should really not be one of them.

Eric John said...


I would say that, since the WR has been a part of Orthodoxy for 150 years, that it IS organically a part of Orthodoxy now and thus there's nothing to worry about from that angle.

Joe said...

I don't know. It should be available, but I hardly think it should be the norm (unless a large group of western christians convert en masse).

Not to mention WRO if it were to become the primary rite of a national church would seem to say "Hey were just like you, so come on over" much like the UGCC does.

Then again it should be said I love the western rite, and do keep my BCP and old Latin Mass handmissal handy. I really do get a lot from the prayers at times, but in general--I am 100% Byzantine Rite.

Joe Zollars

Joe said...

Eric, I'm a gardener at heart, so have a hard time believing it is truly Organic at this point. In gardening terms, no matter how old the graft--its still a graft.

Anyways, all that aside, I was inspired to pu up my views on WRO as a seperate post on my blog. Y'all are welcome to correct me there if you wish, but I will speak no more of it here.

Jeo Zolalrs

James the Thickheaded said...

Pro or Con, guess everyone's entitled to their opinion. Joe's entitled to be Con if he wants to. Not sure what it certainly is not done "out of spite" as he suggests, but out of love of God and for love of his people. God didn't make either the world or the church into some sort of vast conspiracy intent on pulling the wool over folks's eyes. Fact is, part of being in the church is accepting that the church decides. We aren't making these decisions on our own. And the manner in which the church receives these decisions allows lots of time to pass and attest whether it is of God or not. Not my role to say...but if it's here, forgive me if I enjoy it. :)

Anonymous said...

"For the sake of the salvation of souls." Meaning that their souls will not saved if they remain Anglican or Catholic or Methodist? This really bugs me so, so much. How can the Orthodox deny the Christian baptism and Christian faith of so many faithful and devout Christians?

Joe said...

Metropolitan St. Philaret of Moscow said "I dare not call false any who confess Christ as God."

Also ultimitly, the Orthodox stand is that Orthodoxy is "The Church." However many are oft to point out that we know where the Holy Spirit is, we do not know where He isn't.

Joe Zollars

Michael said...

Hello, anonymous. Welcome.

I see that you've commented on quite a few posts, and I shan't be online much today, but I WILL reply.

I agree with Joe. Respectfully, I think that what you have said here and on the post about Baptism is based on a misunderstanding of what the actual Orthodox position is.

We believe that Christ founded the Church as a means of salvation to his people and that we that have this Faith to keep. He promised his Spirit to lead and guide us into all Truth and that this is what has been happening since Pentecost. The Sacraments are God's means of bestowing grace within the New Covenant, the Church. We also believe that a departure from that Truth is a departure from the Church. The branch theory is not an Orthodox position. See the section here entitled "May I receive Communion?" and have a look at the article that it links to for further information.

However, we most emphatically do not deny the faith of those outside Orthodoxy. We believe that they are faithful people, who, like the rest of us, are trying to work out their salvation as best they know how. That's all any of us can do - Orthodox or not - and although the Sacraments are God's means of bestowing his grace within the New Covenant, i.e. within the Church, God can bestow his grace by whatever means he chooses, including outside the Church. However, all we know is what has been revealed to us in Scripture and Holy Tradition in the New Covenant established by Christ, and so we stick to that and leave the rest to God. God can bestow his grace wheresoever he pleases to whomsoever he pleases outside the Church, but is not our place to presume to decide where and on whom that shall be. We just pray for God's mercy on all, for it's all that we can do.

Again, I emphasise that we do not deny your faith and we value you. I, for one, am glad to have you here. Do stay and post.

In Christ,

(If this seems contrary to anything I've said in a previous post, please understand that that was during my catechumenate where I was still hazy about many more things than I'm hazy abhout

Anonymous said...

Thank you Michael. You are very kind. (I suppose you get some sort of log of IP addresses, so you know that the recent anonymous comments are all from the same person (me)?)

I enjoyed reading your blog very much. I am still in a state of confusion myself, so perhaps I feel defensive about what looks like it will be my choice (Anglicanism). Never been baptized, so I can't be rebaptized. I just can't imagine getting baptized now, in my twenties, and then someone telling me my baptism did not count. I grew up in the anabaptist tradition and when I was around 12 a friend and I told a friend of ours, who had been baptized in the Lutheran church as an infant, that her baptism did not count. She was very upset, cried about it, and told her mother, and eventually my parents heard about it. At the time I was absolutely convinced I was right, that only a baptism AFTER repentance could possibly count. Now I think about that and I realize how much I must have her hurt her. She did later choose to have a "believer's baptism". And now I've changed my mind and believe infant baptism is justified!

Anyway, about my state of confusion. I believe the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. I worship in an Anglican church, and I pray with the Book of Common Prayer on my own also. I am really nurtured and fed by it. I want to be baptized into the body of Christ and be "officially" a Christian. I don't want to wait until I've got everything all figured out. I know that if I eventually decide the RCC is the One True Church that they would recognize my baptism. I know that my family and the tradition I was raised in will recognize my baptism (because I am an adult). But to think that there will still be this other large group of Christians thinking that my baptism doesn't count... well, it's difficult.

Michael said...

Thanks very much for your kind words, and for your explanation of where you've come from as well.

As an aside, would it be possible to include an initial or pseudonym at the end of your posts? Only, one or two people post anonymously here and I get confused otherwise. ;-) I only knew the recent posts were from the same person because I get e-mail notifications when someone comments here, and, unusually, I got a few of them arriving within a short space of time. Many thanks.

I can certainly understand your concerns. I know first-hand that it's often difficult to have a discussion about things like this without some degree of personal feelings coming into it as well, which why it's always worth our being careful how we phrase what we say. I try but often fail. Some viewpoints, no matter how charitably put across, will be, by their nature, offensive to others. I think that issues surrounding Baptism certainly fall into that category, because it's such a personal thing that means so very much to the individual concerned.

You're certainly right about not having to understand it all before taking the plunge (literally, for some of us :D). The wonderful thing about the Sacraments is that they are primarily God's. They are God's means of imparting his grace to us and he doesn't make it conditional on our understanding of them (otherwise we'd all be in a sorry state indeed, for none of us ever fully understands, and we never will until we see face to face, and are known as we are known).

I suppose that for me it was quite different. Rather than leaving Anglicanism and coming to Orthodoxy, and then being saddened to learn that my Anglican baptism could not be accepted as the Sacrament of Baptism instituted by Christ, it happened the other way round. The article I linked you to on the website was actually written by me. It's the conclusion I arrived at after prayerful study and discussion about the nature of the Church while I was still an Anglican and being drawn to Orthodoxy. I just couldn't convince myself of it anymore. The branch theory, which was actually quite a late development (19th century?) began to look more and more to me like an attempt at justifying the divisions that existed among Christians without actually acknowledging the real ecclesiological difficulties that it caused.

I've said elsewhere before that it got to the point where, no longer believing myself, as an Anglican, to be part of the Church, I sometimes found myself at Mass kneeling at Communion, and shedding tears because I could see the priest approaching, and I didn't know whether what he was bringing to me was actually the Blessed Sacrament. Should I receive it and adore what may just be a piece of bread or should I not receive and risk turning my back on my Lord and my God? Was rthe priest even actuall Ordained as a priest? Had I actually been Baptised? I couldn't do it anymore, and it was at that point that I knew I had to come to Orthodoxy, which had been beckoning for some time.

So for me, being told that I had to be baptised was neither here nor there, because I already had serious doubts about my Anglican baptism anyway, and so it's something I just embraced. In that respect, I suppose I ought to be thankful that this aspect was easier for me than it is for many.

But as I indicated in my earlier comment, while my beliefs won't allow me to say that my Anglican baptism was definitely Baptism into the Mystical body of Christ, the Church, at the same time, my beliefs won't allow me to say that it wasn't - I just don't know and it isn;t my place to judge - and the same holds true for the bapsitm and other sacraments that my Anglican (and other non-Orthodox friends) take part in in their spiritual lives. As Joe said, we know where the Spirit moves but we don't know where he doesn't.

I am sincerely glad that you are moving in a direction where you are feeling spiritually fed and nourished, and I pray that the grace of God may illumine your life. There is a rich spiritual tradition in Anglicanism, and I'm glad you've discovered the benefits of the Book of Common Prayer.

When's your big day anyway? Are you being done at Pentecost or next Easter? (If youre new to the Anglican tradition, have you experienced the Easter Vigil yet? If not, it may be worth asking your priest about the possibility of being done then. In addition to being the traditional time, it's the most moving liturgy of the entire year).

With prayers in Christ and apologies for a much longer comment than intended,
Michael x

Confused Rambler said...

Thank you again for your comments, Michael. I do understand why a person could be in doubt about the validity of Anglican orders and therefore about the validity of Anglican communion. I didn't read every single word of your blog, but I don't recall your saying whether you had considered Catholicism at all, or why it was Orthodoxy beckoning.

Although I have not investigated in detail, it seems to me that Catholicism and Orthodoxy both have more or less equally valid claims to being the One True Church (but then again, I live somewhere where you can't throw a brick without hitting a Catholic church... though you probably won't hurt anyone if the brick goes through the window!).

From my vantage point, Anglicanism has a lot more continuity with the pre-Reformation church than the tradition I was raised in. I am used to people believing that Christianity went seriously wrong within a few centuries of the Resurrection, and didn't get put right until the Reformation, and that it was only the Anabaptists that really got things right anyway. Sola scriptura versus man-made tradition. I first came across the Apostles' Creed in an encyclopedia (!), and I loved it right away. Perhaps that was when I started questioning things. To me it is a big change to be among Christians who actually *believe* something is going on in Communion other than just symbolism and remembrance! (Although perhaps they are mistaken, and only Catholic and/or Orthodox Communion is valid.) I sit in my pew and watch people going up and I long so badly to be able to take part.

I have been attending Anglican churches off and on for two years or three years, after several years of living as though God did not exist (though I believed intellectually in his existence and attended church at Christmas). I do not have a baptism date planned (I had one once but cancelled it). I have never attended Easter Vigil because my parish does not do one. Besides the cathedral, I don't know if there are more than a handful of parishes around here that do. :(

I keep telling myself to get baptised but then I never do it. Sometimes I think I should wait until I have things figured out theologically, or until I am living a better Christian life, but then I think those are crappy reasons and why am I denying myself the grace of baptism.

Then sometimes I think I should just stop thinking about theology and just concentrate on my spiritual life, prayer, closeness to God, etc.

Then I think I should do a Master's in Theology.

Then I think I should just get out of the damn hall and into one of the rooms (see Mere Christianity), because any of the rooms is better than staying in the hall.

Then I think why doesn't God just tell me what he wants me to do.

Anyway, thanks so much for listening and responding to my confused ramblings. I don't read very many personal Christian blogs, but yours is very good. (I read Titus One Nine, but although it belongs to a person it isn't very personal.)

Confused Rambler said...

Oh, and then another factor delaying my baptism is the current state of affairs in the Anglican Communion. I wonder whether my church will be kicked out, whether the Communion will split, and what would happen then. I hate this in-fighting and I don't want to pick a side, although I suppose I am a "reasserter" (according to Kendall Harmon's definitions of reasserter and reappraiser). And I wonder whether I should wait until this all gets sorted out. But that could take years!

Confused Rambler said...

By the way, this is the tradition I grew up in:

(So sorry for hogging your blog thread!)

Joe said...

Confused Rambler:

It should be noted that particularly in the area of the world you are in--you most likely would not be Rebaptized. I didn't completely peruse the site you provided, but I am assuming that that Church has a traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity and Baptizes using water and the "father, son and holy spirit" formula. I was Baptized a Southern Baptist for instance and was merely Chrismated in the Orthodox Church.

As an aside, I grew up near a large Beachy Amish-Menonite settlement (one of hte largest actually) in Arkansas. I also have a great many ancestors who were OO Amish (on my dad's side--they left the faith to fight in the war between the states). You may be interested to know that there are a great many similarities between the Anabaptist theological outlook and the Orthodox theological outlook. I can provide you with a very informative link if you wish. Also there is a former OO Amish bishop who is now an Orthodox Priest in OCA.

Joe Zollars

Confused Rambler said...

Hi Joe,

Yes, please provide the link. I would be interested.

However, note that I have not been and will not be baptized in any flavour of Anabaptist church. My future baptism would be Anglican. Anabaptism is what I am leaving (or rather, left years ago) and I haven't hung on to many of their distinctive tenets (except one).

Joe said...

Confused Rambler:

here are a few links where it was discussed by several people including at least one OO Anabaptist:

Those two are specific. If you peruse the various threads in the following link, you'll be able to glean more information as well:

In Christ,
Joe Zollars

PS: Long ago I gave away my copy of hte Ausbund (part of my creepy schismatic neo-Orthodox Old Calandrist days) as well as most of my old western materials. Would you know of a place where I could purchase said volumne? I'm also interested in purchasing the Martyr's Mirror. JZ

Confused Rambler said...

Thanks for the links, Joe. I will check them out.

I don't know about the Ausbund, but you can purchase "Martyrs Mirror" on the Mennonite Publishing Network's website. Just type it into the search box here:

Confused Rambler said...

Interesting threads, Joe!

My grandparents came here from Russia, where although they had separate communities, they were in contact with the local Russian Orthodox population. Their ancestors came to Russia under the condition that they not evangelize the Russians, so there was not much conversion going on. (Although I do know one elderly Russian woman who married into the Mennonites.) I do not know if there were any Mennonites in Russia who became Orthodox, have you heard of anything along those lines?

I must ask, is there a particular reason for the entire section on intentional communities? Is there some distinctively Orthodox take on that?

Joe said...

I've heard of hte Russian and Ukranian Anabaptist communities, but never heard of any cross conversions. IIRC they were invited their by the tsar in hopes that they would teach the locals their superior farming techniques.

Actually that forum, Orthodox Village, was initially started by a group of Orthodox Christians with the intention of forming Orthodox Intentional Communities. There is an interesting thread there entitled "Orthodox Apartment Building" where there was hefty discussion about it that came fairly close to panning out. AS it is there is a healthy e-Village there as well as a fairly large repetoire of info regarding such things as frugality etc. If you like, register and post a bit. There are Anglicans on there, as well as some under the RCC. We pride ourselves on treating each other charitably and cordially--heck there isn't a person on that forum that I wouldn't take out for a drink.

BTW thanks for info on the Martyrs Mirror. Do you know if the "modern retelling" version is any good or should I shell out the big bucks for the classical edition?

Joe Zollars

confused rambler said...

Catherine the Great invited them, as they were good farmers who were fleeing religious persecution. She said they would not have to do military service, but they had to agree not to evangelise.

I haven't seen the modern retelling of MM so I can't comment on it.

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