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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pascha in France




Continuing the paschal theme, the above is a video from the Western Orthodox Church, depicting some excerpts from their Good Friday Liturgy and Paschal Vigil. They are a communion of three churches in France, (though with a small UK presence), comprising a number of parishes and missions, and one coenobitic monastery. In the 1930s, the Russian Church received some former Old Catholic parishes into the Orthodox Church, with a charter to continue the ancient western traditions that had been practised by the first-millennium Saints of the Orthodox west. The original Ukase from Moscow named them Western Orthodox and called for them to be fully integrated into the life of the local church.

Sadly, this integration never really took place, largely due to a lack of understanding of the Western Rite among many Orthodox Christians of the Eastern tradition - including many of the hierarchs. That community has not always been well treated and has struggled over the decades with different local churches trying to force them to relinquish their western traditions, yet through all of this they have remained faithful to their original calling to bring the light of Orthodoxy to western people, using many of the prayers and forms of worship that would have been familiar to the Orthodox Saints of the west in the first millennium. Sadly, this has meant that they are currently not in communion with any of the mainstream Orthodox churches.


St John, serving the Gallican Liturgy of St Germain

Their only real period of active encouragement and support from the wider Orthodox Church was during the 1950s and 1960s, when they were under the care of Archbishop, now Saint, John the Wonderworker. He commissioned research into the ancient Gallican rite and restored this to use, with Byzantine interpolations, for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the French church. He himself served this Liturgy, and even had a bishop consecrated for the church.


The Consecration of Bishop Jean-Nectaire
The first Western Orthodox Bishop for 1000 years,
glorified as a Saint by the Western Orthodox Church



Today, the French church is generally bi-ritual. Their liturgies are mainly western where usable manuscripts of these services have survived though they are sensitively supplemented with Eastern liturgical traditions. This is no innovation as the Gallican rite always had strong eastern influences, the inclusion of the Trisagion being an ancient example of this. Their music is predominantly a develoment of ancient western plainsong, but harmonised, and supplemented by some Russian Obikhod chant. This combination of the best of eastern and western traditions, restoring the ancient and using it alongside that which has been continuous in the life of Orthodoxy, is really very beautiful. For example, the use of the trikiri and dikiri, now standard practice of Orthodox bishops, would have been just as alien to St John Chrysostom as it would to St Germain of Paris. However, it is a later development that has become standard in Orthodoxy and there is no reason why a Western Rite church cannot adopt it. The Church is a living organism, after all. Also, the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, depicted in the video above, will be recognisable to many western Christians but the more discerning will notice the similarities between the ceremonies of the Cross and shroud in that video and those surrounding the Epitaphios in the Byzantine Rite.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the French church, by this time called the Orthodox Church of France (ECOF), faced some very difficult challenges as certain revelations about its bishop came to light. This threw the church into turmoil. Three identifable groups separated from ECOF at different times. Of these, one has returned to the fullness of communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church and enjoys the care of the Church of Serbia, blessed be God! The remaining two have reunited with each other, and, having united with a third small church, have returned to their original name of the Western Orthodox Church. It is this reunited group that is depicted in the video above.

I pray for the day when they are once again returned to the fullness of life in the Church. They appear to do some good missionary work and spiritual development and their absence from our communion is a great loss to us indeed. Please join me in praying for restored communion with these churches. I leave you with a video of a diaconal ordination.

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.
Words of St John the Wonderworker,
spoken to Abbot Augustine (Whitfield) on the subject of opposition to the Western Rite within Orthodoxy


2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Amazing photos, Michael - thank you for posting them !

Michael said...

You're very welcome. I love that we live in an age where we hear about Saints and we can actually see photographs of them as we are. It somehow makes more "real" in my mind the idea that God can take little me and do something with me, if that makes sense.

I just can't get over how beautful that music is.