Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

AA WR & Roman Catholic pieties (e.g. Rosary)


Initiation into the Piety of the RosaryFor those concerned about the replacement of genuinely Orthodox pieties with Roman Catholic mariology and pieties, take for example the [Instructions for Praying The Rosary] at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, complete with “history” and “how to”.

Likewise an article from The Walsingham Way (Vol II, Num. 1, Fall 99) instructs one that the Rosary is an Orthodox devotion. It makes reference, however, to perfectly normal venerations of the Theotokos, as presumably examples of praying the Rosary. This is the fallacy of equivocation. If one, for instance, compares the 15 prayers of the Elder Zosima to the 15 prayers of the Rosary, the Roman Catholic obesession with the suffering and passion of Christ (and the suggested hetereodox Soteriology if not Christology) becomes as evident as it is in contemporary Roman Catholic “iconography” and in the stations of the cross. Where the Roman Catholic Rosary concentrates on the agony and gore, the Orthodox devotion concentrates on the miraculous triumph of Christ, and on the Theotokos as such. Compare them, using the above two links, if you will.

The Rosary is not Orthodox Soteriology or Piety or DevotionFr. Seraphim Rose: Again drawing from the Holy Fathers, Fr. Seraphim counseled his spiritual children not to trust in or get carried away by their imagination, especially in prayer. Fr. Alexey Young recalls how, when he was still a Roman Catholic preparing to become Orthodox, he was given an important lesson by Fr. Seraphim: “I asked Fr. Seraphim about meditation, which my wife and I, still under the influence of our Roman Catholic background, had made part of our regular routine of morning prayer. We did not yet realize that the Orthodox understanding of meditation is quite different from the Western Christian view. In conversation, Fr. Seraphim explained that the use of imagination in Western spiritual systems of meditation—viz., while saying the Rosary, reciting the Stations of the Cross, or doing the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, etc.—was not compatible with Orthodox spirituality and was forbidden because imagination came into use only after the fall of Adam and Eve; it is one of the lowest functions of the soul and the favorite playground of the devil, who can and does use human imagination in order to deceive and mislead even well-meaning people.” – Fr. Alexey Young, Letters from Fr. Seraphim, pp. 12–13.


The weaknesses of traditional Orthodox societies were brought by emigrants to America, too. They brought with them a weakened Orthodox mentality and, in many cases, a knowledge of their own cultures in general that was not adequate. If this did not, in itself, augur well for a sound Orthodox spirituality in America, there was manifested the unfortunate process of accommodating this already diluted mentality with American culture. And the resulting melange, however disconcerting the fact, has, influenced the growth of Orthodoxy in America to no small extent. The resulting “cultural tradition” is thus spurious from its very inception. This spurious “tradition” is yet another danger to which we must attend, in our attempts to regain a truly Orthodox tradition. Suffice it to say that young Greeks often cannot distinguish a prayer rope from “worry beads.” And when they finally discover the difference, they hear the prayer rope described as a “rosary.” They make associations with a distinct western practice with no relationship to the “Jesus Prayer,” or the central practice of the hesychastic tradition, and thus create, from information resulting from ignorance of an ancient Orthodox tradition, a new and wholly improper understanding of an important part of Orthodox spirituality. The list could continue from the “Mass” through “last Rites.” The point is that we do not have an authentic Orthodox cultural tradition in America and that the so-called “traditions” that we do know come to us in distorted form. – Archbishop Chrysostomos, Cultural Paradosis and Orthodox America

The clamor to fill one’s personal or private devotions with those alien to Orthodox piety – the rosary, the stations of the cross, etc., – can only come from an existing absence of Orthodox devotional pieties, a deprivation of the fullness of Orthodox devotional life – the fasts, prayers, and the full range of the Orthodox prayer services, including the full range of Holy Week services, so-often under-attended and lacking in the consciousness of Orthodox faithful. It is these that teach us how to pray in the first place, and guide and fill our devotions every day on the full Orthodox calendar [with its scriptural readings, venerations, troparia, dietary pieties, etc.]. Again, we can only go chasing after an alien devotional life, if and when we have already deprived ourselves of the fullness of an Orthodox one. — Dr. Joseph P. Farrell, lectures

Though they resemble the Western rosary, prayer ropes should not be confused with this Latin devotional device and are not used in the same way as the rosary. To say a prayer rope, according to the simplest method, you merely recite the Jesus Prayer once for each knot on the rope, until you have used all of the knots on the rope. As the Jesus Prayer is recited, one settles into a regular rhythm. This rhythm will vary with each individual. – Orthodox Life, p. 17

The deliberate invention of symbolical gestures and actions and ceremonies in the liturgy to express and evoke adoration, purity of intention and so forth, is something which begins, as we have seen, in the fourth century with the transformation of the eucharist into a public worship. It is a subject with immense ramifications and fascinating bye-ways into which this is not the place to enter. But I think it can be laid down as an almost invariable rule that when each separate instance (e.g., genuflection, the lavabo, censing of the altar, etc.) is traced up to its beginnings, they have always the same history. They begin in Syria, usually in the fourth-sixth century, and radiate outwards, south to Egypt and north to Byzantium. In the West (to which they came sometimes by way of Byzantium, sometimes from Syria, and often first to Spain) the great Western center of interest in such devotional side-issues is always France, the first home or at least the chief propagator of so many modern popular devotions — the Rosary, the Sacred Heart, ‘Reparation,’ and so forth. From France they spread outwards to England, to Germany, to North Italy — and ultimately to Rome. – “The Shape of the Liturgy” By Dom Gregory Dix XII

The Orthodox Liturgy was never the exclusive domain of the clergy and learned, such as the Mass was in the medieval West — a drama, as it were, enacted by the priests for the people. The Liturgy was instead popular — that is, it was always the common possession of the whole Orthodox Christian people, and something which priests perform together with the laity. For this reason, among the Orthodox, one would never hear the expression so common in the West: to hear Mass. The idea of “hearing” a service came about in the medieval West, when services were performed in Latin, a language not understood by the people. Roman Catholics would attend church to adore the “host” at elevation, but they otherwise treated the church service as an occasion to recite private prayers and the rosary. This development did not take place in the East, however, for the Orthodox Liturgy never ceased to be the common act performed by the priest and people conjointly. Orthodox Christians come to church not to say private prayers (which should be done in private — cf. Mt 6:6), but to pray the public prayers of the Liturgy, and to become actual partakers of the rite of the Liturgy. – Apostolic Christianity and the 23,000 Western Churches, Steven Kovacevich

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January 17, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite -- Sacred Heart, Western Rite -- Stations of the Cross, Western Rite -- The Rosary, Western Rite Pieties | , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. The paragraph beginning “St. Seraphim of Sarov” is all about Fr. Seraphim (Rose), not St. Seraphim.

    Fixed. Thank you, kindly.

    The way the word “Mass” is put in “quotes” gives an impression that it is a non-Orthodox word. But Orthodox Christians were using the word “Mass” (Latin “Missa”) to describe the Eucharistic service, long before the word “Liturgy” was yet coined. St. Ambrose of Milan, for example, speaks often of the “Mass.” This is a proper and ancient Orthodox terminology.

    I’ve heard Orthodox use it piously; I think His Eminence is referring less to the word than meanings now almost universally ascribed to it from more than a millenia of misuse. I think this is his intent w. each of the terms.

    I was once part of a discussion on the use of Protestant hymns in mission environments. One bunch were arguing that there’s nothing wrong w. the words themselves, understood (as all things must be) in an Orthodox manner. The other, prevailing bunch, including myself, argued that the attitude or spiritual psychology conveyed by the hymns was embedded in their cultural significance. The hymn Amazing Grace may be devoid of erroneous content, and contain Orthodox content, but it is impossible to sing, for anyone used to its place in culture, without a whole host of associations and attitudes that may be as heterodox as it gets, despite their admixture with perfectly pious attitudes. The admixture itself is the most serious concern, rather than out and out wrong piety. Not to speak for His Eminence, but I suspect he’s following the same line of thinking.

    Other examples of historic Orthodox terms sometimes cast in an unfavourable light out of simple ignorance include “confirmation” as opposed to “chrismation” (confirmation is a 6th c. Gallican term for that mystery) and “Easter” (a word being used by Orthodox Christians to describe the feast of Pascha long before the baptism of Russia).

    I’d argue the same as above. Not as an absolute, mind you, but as a concern. In the end, I’m concerned less with whether it’s called confirmation, than whether the thinking is Orthodox or Roman Catholic/Protestant. With Easter, I really don’t like it – all these terms make me cringe – but I’m concerned less w. that bias than with the attitude toward the dominant culture and accomodation vs. war w. the world. I would not correct another Orthodox calling it Easter, if he will allow that when I answer him, I call it Pascha. If he makes a big deal of that, and takes offense, then I do become concerned that it’s a cultural/political posture rather than innocent. Same w. the other pieties. When someone doesn’t bow, or cross himself, or what have you, I say nothing, but if he then speaks up and says we shouldn’t be acting like a bunch of ethnics, and doing these silly things, because by golly we’re American, that’s when I speak up and repudiate that kind of thinking.

    we read that the same error was entrenched amongst the Russians in the 15th-16th centuries. They would face every direction except towards the altar, praying to the various saints whose icons were high up along the walls.

    Hmm. I read that as a pious and positive indication of the dynamism of Russian worship. I know that when standing for long periods, and my back starts to seize up, I’m a little nervous and self conscious about walking around – especially since no one else is doing it. Everyone is rooted to a spot and a direction. I’ve taken to remembering the Russian women (who to be fair don’t do it during the epiklesis, when a lot of non-Russians seem to be chatting or counting heads or what have you) as they venerate the icons around the Church (perhaps the only time they get any veneration of that type – who sticks around and lovingly venerates the icons on the back wall?) and so with that in mind, I take a stroll about the Church. Again, not at certain moments.

    I find it strange, this American fear we’re taught from childhood, of moving about and coming into someone else’s gaze. Some of us turn and follow the priest as he censes the entire Church, even reaching to touch his hem, and there are those who get this deer in headlights look, like what they heck are these wacky people doing – look away! look away! I think if it wasn’t for some little bit of movement, I wouldn’t be able to bend to kiss the chalice. 🙂

    That’s actually happened. I find myself stuck in place. Thank goodness for the Russians – there have been times I could barely hobble to the front, until I learned to move with them.

    It is not as if, the way Orthodox Liturgy is usually done around the globe, pious laity have much to sing or say or do, other than cross themselves and, er, hear the Liturgy.

    Well, I hear the subtext of that, and I agree. I will never depart from the way my first father taught me, quietly saying all the prayers, serving as the choir wherever I am standing, if I have no other prayers assigned to me. Using breath, and lips, and secret voice, to redeem those things. It’s horrible, frankly, not to be praying at any given moment in the Church. That’s when the enemy comes. That’s when temptations arise. But pray all the prayers, and stand, and let the body pray too, don’t reduce it to a mental spectation, while the arse gathers comfort from a pillow, and bow, and cross, and direct one’s eyes in keeping w. the prayers, and soon there is no way for the enemy to find a door, and he is obliterated. I would gladly call it the Mass, if I could go to more churches and not find that I am surrounded by little stalls and corrals, like hens in a coop – a sea of religious cubicles to break the hand, box the body, and encourage spectating. And if the box choir wouldn’t do all the praying for me, and the organ drown the words so I can’t hear them to pray along, and if they weren’t hidden so I could at least read their lips and follow their new translations. I’d call it a Mass any day of the week. Long as it isn’t a “low mass” (God forbid). I don’t think I could stand anything that low.

    A joyful feast of the Meeting of Our Lord to everyone.

    And to you.

    Comment by tuD | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  2. The paragraph beginning “St. Seraphim of Sarov” is all about Fr. Seraphim (Rose), not St. Seraphim.

    The way the word “Mass” is put in “quotes” gives an impression that it is a non-Orthodox word. But Orthodox Christians were using the word “Mass” (Latin “Missa”) to describe the Eucharistic service, long before the word “Liturgy” was yet coined. St. Ambrose of Milan, for example, speaks often of the “Mass.” This is a proper and ancient Orthodox terminology. Other examples of historic Orthodox terms sometimes cast in an unfavourable light out of simple ignorance include “confirmation” as opposed to “chrismation” (confirmation is a 6th c. Gallican term for that mystery) and “Easter” (a word being used by Orthodox Christians to describe the feast of Pascha long before the baptism of Russia).

    One may rightly decry the late-mediaeval substitution of private devotions by the laity present in church, for the simple act of attending to the service. However, we read that the same error was entrenched amongst the Russians in the 15th-16th centuries. They would face every direction except towards the altar, praying to the various saints whose icons were high up along the walls. That’s not far afield from the inattentiveness decried in the above article. It is also ironic that the expression “hear Mass” (cast in a negative light above) implies the opposite of the laity doing their own prayers. It implies doing exactly what pious Orthodox Christians do–attending to the service. It is not as if, the way Orthodox Liturgy is usually done around the globe, pious laity have much to sing or say or do, other than cross themselves and, er, hear the Liturgy.

    A joyful feast of the Meeting of Our Lord to everyone.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 15, 2008 | Reply


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