Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Quick Fix to Correct the Rite?

Fr. Alexander Schmemann: Assuming the wrong idea of a fundamental Eastern versus Western liturgical dualism, Dr. Sopko is inescapably led to a wrong answer to the question, essential from the Orthodox point of view, of what makes a Western rite Orthodox? For him, as indeed for many proponents of the Western rite, all it takes is a few deletions and a few additions, e.g., “striking the filioque” and “strengthening of the epiclesis.” This answer implies, on the one hand, that there exists a unified and homogeneous reality identifiable as the Western rite, and, on the other hand, that, except for two or three “heretical” ingredients or omissions, this rite is ipso facto Orthodox. Both presuppositions are wrong.

Indeed, one does not have to be an “authority on the West” in order to know that the liturgical development in the West was shaped to a degree unknown in the East, by the various theologies, the succession of which, as well as the clashes of which with one another, constitute the Western religious history. Scholasticism, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, etc., all have resulted in sometimes radical liturgical metamorphoses, all have had a decisive impact on worship. Therefore one should speak today not of the Western rite, but of Western rites, deeply, if not radically differing from one another, yet all reflecting, in one way or another, the Western theological tragedy and fragmentation. This does not mean that all these rites are “heretical” and are simply to be condemned. It only means that from an Orthodox point of view, their evaluation in terms merely of “deletions” and “additions” is, to say the least, inadequate and cannot resolve the tensions mentioned above. And even if in the past this method had a semblance of justification, the acute liturgical crisis that encompasses today virtually all Western confessions, makes it obsolete and irrelevant. For the irony of our present situation is that while some Western Christians come to Orthodoxy in order to salvage the rite they cherish (Book of Common Prayer, Tridentine Mass, etc.) from liturgical reforms they abhor, some of these reforms, at least in abstracto, are closer to the structures and the spirit of the early Western Rite and thus to the Orthodox liturgical tradition, than the later rites — those precisely that the Orthodox Church is supposed to “sanction” and to “adopt.”

All this will probably appear as another example of Eastern “arrogance” and emotional anti-Westernism. I count on Dr. Sopko to help me dispel this unfortunate impression. In having honored me by attending my lectures, he certainly knows how critical I am of our own liturgical situation, how many defects and deviations I wish to see corrected in our liturgical life. It is true, however, that this criticism itself is rooted primarily in my deep conviction that the Eastern liturgical tradition is alone today in having preserved, in spite of all historical “deficiencies,” the fullness of the Church’s lex orandi and constitutes therefore the criterion for all liturgical “evaluations.” Yet the true cleavage today is not between the “East” and the “West.” It is between those who seek in the liturgy the essential food of their Christian life and those for whom it is a matter of “attachment” or “allergy.” The Orthodox Church is full of people “allergic” to this or to that. Some are allergic to English and some to Church Slavonic. In some, liturgy is identified with Hellenism and for some others with Russia. And all these tensions which probably are also inevitable cannot and will not be solved except by an ever deepened interest — not in “liturgies” per se, not in “rites,” but in the Orthodox faith these rites reveal and communicate. 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 Orthodox in the deepest sense of this word. – [ full article ] (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 4/1980, pp. 266-269)

December 28, 2007 Posted by | -- Anglican, -- Phyletism, Western Rite -- Tridentine Mass, Western Rite Liturgics, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best argument for the Western Rite so far

Best argument for the Western Rite so far: “My greatest awareness of being an Orthodox Christian did not come when I first started coming to Church as a zealous convert with all the answers. It came when I saw those pious old Ukrainian and Slovak people who instinctively made the Sign of the Cross when they heard an ambulance siren or a bit of bad news. It is more real for them than it is for me because they don’t have to remind themselves to do it. For them it is life. And like it or not, the Western European and Northern European descendents of most Americans received Trinitarian, “little ‘c’” catholicism centuries ago. This cultural memory stays with them even if they are un-churched. Little girls in America dream of growing up, meeting a nice boy, and saying their vows at the altar. Read it again. They do not dream of and will never dream of exchanging their crowns at the wedding table. We may have a bunch of converts in N. America running around with a fetish for 19th century Russia, but we are deluded if we feel like we are going to uproot a cultural memory which stretches back, in some cases, to the point where the East and West were still in communion. After the recent convert has finished convincing himself that he is in the right Church, there comes a point where all those troparians, metanias, and sleepy Sunday mornings at Orthros seem, well, just a little forced. The West knows what Church is. In the West, Church has “Sunday Service” or “Mass”, not Orthros and Liturgy. It has steeples and stone bell towers, not onion domes. It has pews, kneelers, and hymnals or missals. It has King James English, not Slavonic or Greek. They both may be almost as hard to understand for the uneducated masses fed on MTV, but even they recognize that only ONE of those is our liturgical language. If our Orthodox Churches put Pope St. Gregory the Great on the calendar and commemorate him after Presanctified Liturgy, then they shouldn’t have a problem with Orthodox Christians praying the way that he prayed. If we say that praying the way that he prayed is not allowed, then I say we are hypocrites.” -[source]

He’s sadly wrong on these things, but it is a compelling emotional argument.

December 28, 2007 Posted by | -- What is Western?, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Key Questions

Although the “western rite” of the Antiochian Archdiocese continued for years as a mere handful of parishes, it has recently received a “shot in the arm” with the reception into Orthodoxy of a number of disaffected Episcopalians – sometimes including entire parishes. It is argued that the existence of a “western rite” within Orthodoxy offers these Anglo-Catholics a virtually perfect solution, since they can enter the Church without substantially changing their way of worship.

After all, why should “unnecessary barriers” be placed in their way? Furthermore – so we are told – these “western rite” communities represent a return to the Orthodox Church of the authentic, pre-schismatic Orthodox worship of the ancient Christian west and therefore enhances her catholicity and appeal to all people.

Compelling as these arguments may seem, the presence of a “western rite” within Orthodoxy represents a change from the way things have been since the Western Schism of the 11th century (or at least since the Fourth Crusade). As such, this innovation needs to be examined very carefully. For the sake of brevity, we will confine ourselves here to “western rite” Orthodoxy as practiced in America and examine it with regards to four fundamental questions:
1.) Does the reconstituted “western rite” actually represent an authentic return to the pre-schismatic Orthodox worship of the ancient Christian west?
2.) If there were a mass return of western Christians to Orthodoxy (say, union with Rome or Canterbury), would this “western rite” provide a workable precedent?
3.) Does the Orthodox Church need a “western rite” in order to evangelize Americans?
4.) Does the “western rite” serve the internal needs of the Orthodox Church in this country today?
Does the reconstituted “western rite” actually represent an authentic return to the pre-schismatic Orthodox worship of the ancient Christian west?

December 28, 2007 Posted by | Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: