Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Bishop Anthony’s Concerns


The concerns of Bishop Anthony of San Francisco, expressed in an encyclical to his diocese, have been dismissed, attacked, and ignored, rather than listened to for their pastoral concern, their substantive evaluation (expressed and hinted at) of the implications of the Antiochian WRV, and so deserve quotation and explication here, with commentary, rebuttal, riposte, etc. Likewise, it should be presented, if for no other reason than that the mere expression of an “unfavorable” commentary on the Western Rite is so often treated as unacceptable in the midst of a fever of uncritical enthusiasm and this particular piece is not merely an opinion but an episcopal decision and so should give the more perceptive reader greater circumspection and hopefully, more pause.

October 4, 1995. Protocol no. 3.

To the Reverend Clergy of the Holy Diocese of San Francisco
Dearly Beloved,

The current existence of “western rite” parishes in California, Oregon and Washington within the Antiochian Archdiocese has recently been brought to my attention by a number of clergy seeking direction regarding our relationship as a Diocese to these communities.

These parishes use, as a basis for worship, modified versions of the old Anglican missal or the pre-Vatican II mass. This is, at best, liturgically unsound and pastorally unwise: liturgically unsound because these rites are not in direct continuity with t he worship of the early Church in the West, but are primarily the result of 16th century Reformation and Counter-Reformation debates; pastorally unwise because this adds still further to our fragmentation as a Church in the Americas and creates a tiny grou p of missions and parishes that are liturgically isolated from the rest of the Church.

We are thus placed in the awkward position of having to accept the “western rite” vicariate of the Antiochian Archdiocese as belonging to the canonical Orthodox Church while at the same time recognizing that this is a foreign element within the Body of Christ, analogous to the creation of the Unia by the Roman Catholic Church.


Because of the ambiguous and experimental character of the “western rite” within the life of the Church, the following guidelines are to be adhered to:

1. “Western rite” clergy of the Antiochian Archdiocese may not serve or receive communion in the parishes of this Diocese unless vested in traditional, “eastern” Orthodox vestments.

2. Clergy of this Diocese may not serve or participate in “western rite” liturgies.

3. The participation of our laity in any pan-Orthodox liturgical activity specifically with “western rite” parishes is to be actively discouraged.

These guidelines are important in order to maintain the integrity of the ministry of the Church, and they are to be uniformly applied throughout the Diocese. Naturally, we need also to be sensitive to the pastoral issues that may result from the applicati on of these guidelines, bearing in mind that our ministry to individuals should never be antagonistic. However, clear thinking on this subject, and a clear expression of those thoughts, will help people understand the issues which are involved in this com plicated and anomalous situation.

Praying constantly for your continuing ministry, I remain,

Paternally yours,
+Bishop Anthony
of San Francisco

A response was issued by Fr. Schnierla, the Vicar General of the Western Rite, and it makes eight points in summary:

  1. The Bishop’s encyclical has caused confusion since Fr. Schneirla administers the program and has been asked to protest.
  2. The Bishop lacks credibility, because he gave communion to someone of dubious character.
  3. The WRV is not in the Bishop’s jurisdiction.
  4. The WRV is 100 years old and was founded by a Saint.
  5. The WRV “is an effective source of grace for many incapable of adapting to alien ethnicities”.
  6. The Bishop should focus on the problems of the Greek Orthodox.
  7. The Bishop’s encyclical is is a gross attempt to sow confusion outside his diocese.
  8. The Bishop’s encyclical contributes nothing to harmony and unity among the Orthodox.

Most of these points are easily ignored as rhetoric, straw men, ad hominem, and other non sequitur. On point 6, the encyclical was indeed addressing a problem among the Greek Orthodox, which it expressed as concisely as possible. On point 4, Fr. Alexander Schmemann has already pointed out that this isn’t actually true. Point 5, though, is really an interesting statement since it claims that one purpose of the Western Rite Vicariate is aimed at “many incapable of adapting to alien ethnicities”. If this is the truth, indeed we are given much reason for concern, for it means either that the Antiochian Archdiocese’s non-WRV parishes are places of such astounding phyletism and ethnocentrism that large numbers cannot possibly adapt, or else that large numbers of those in the WRV suffer some defect of ordinary adaptation. Which one is suggested is ambiguous, provided one actually believes this statement in the first place.

What follows is the priest’s letter and the Bishop’s response:
January 5, 1996

Bishop Anthony of San Francisco
372 Santa Clara Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94127

Your Grace :

Your encyclical on the Western rite project of this Archdiocese has caused considerable confusion and inasmuch as I administer that program I have been asked to protest.

At first I had some misgivings as to the credibility of a bishop who, for political advantage, certified as Greek Orthodox communicant a woman disciple of a New Age guru and the daughter of a life long supporter of Krishnamurti, but that does not detract from your unwarranted assault on a movement that is no part of your Archdiocese or the Patriarchate in which it is located but is an official expression of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

The Western Rite vocation of the Church is over a century old and was founded on this continent by a bishop since canonized as a saint by his branch of the Church (which also happens to be the most populous Patriarchate) and is an effective source of grace for many incapable of adapting to alien ethnicities. You might well focus on the well known problems of the Greek Orthodox community, over a portion of which you preside.

You have reasons for shame but this gross attempt to sow confusion outside of your diocese contributes nothing to the hoped for harmony and unity of the Orthodox presence in America.

Faithfully,
P.W.S. Schneirla
Vicar General of the Western Rite

cc. Metropolitan Philip and various clergy

January 22, 1996

P.W.S. Schneirla
Vicar General of the Western Rite
8005 Ridge Boulevard
Brooklyn, NY 11209

Dear Father Schneirla :

Thank you for your letter of January 5, 1996.

I am at once shocked and saddened not only by the tone of your letter – which vacillates between the superciliousness of the insecure and the arrogance of the ignorant – but also by the fact that you should address any bishop of the Church in such a rude and condescending tone. I assume by your title that you are a priest, though your letter does not state that you are. Surely you must be aware that within the Orthodox Church a level of politeness in addressing one’s fellow priests – let alone bishops – is considered mandatory. Were you to write to one of your own bishops in such a tone, you would deserve to receive his censure in an ecclesiastical court. Nevertheless, I forgive your attack on the grounds that you are obviously not well-versed in politeness, nor in the practice of our Church. However, I have to point out that you do yourself and your movement a great disservice by writing as you do.

Let us clarify a few points. The letter which I issued on October 4th, 1995 regarding the western rite parishes within the geographical confines of my own Diocese, was addressed to the clergy of this Diocese. You, or some of your friends, intercepted the letter which was not addressed to you and now I find that you are attacking me because of its contents. That you accuse me of interfering in your own affairs is both unwarranted and blatantly untrue. By what authority do you dare to challenge my right to give instructions to the priests of my own Diocese?

On another level, you seem to have missed the entire point of what I was saying. My letter was conciliatory in tone and pastoral in its content, aimed at giving a balanced viewpoint regarding what I see as a pastoral problem. Your reply, apart from its rudeness, is aggressive in the extreme, and in no way causes me to think that it will ever be possible for me to change my thinking on this matter. Rather, by choosing to lecture me in such an undignified fashion, I am more than likely to be confirmed in my present opinions. Your claim that I represent some sort of “alien ethnicity” is a cheap shot – you know very well that our holy faith is above the demands of nationalism. I have great respect for the liturgical integrity of the Tridentine rite and the Book of Common Prayer, within their respective traditions – but not even the most crazed xenophobe would claim that they are native to these shores. Your mind-set is alien to the Orthodox Church and you would do well to become acquainted with the thinking of the Church.

For my part, I am prepared to move on in coming to some understanding of your position. However, before I can do that, I expect a full and complete personal apology from you. Your reckless slander is highly reprehensible and quite unfitting for a priest. May God forgive you.

Paternally yours,
+Bishop Anthony of San Francisco

The Priest. A Newsletter for the Clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco. Issue No. 5, May 1996

Father Steven Tsichlis, Pastor, Church of the Assumption, Seattle, WA: While Father Michael Johnson, pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Tacoma, WA has written the main article for this issue of The Priest , there are two assertions in Father Schneirla’s “response" to Bishop Anthony that I wish to comment on. First , the assertion that the “western rite vocation of the Church…. was founded on this continent by a bishop since canonized as a saint by his branch of the Church (which also happens to be the most populous Patriarchate)”- in other words, St. Tikhon – is historically false. While it is indeed true that St. Tikhon sent the 1892 edition of the American Book of Common Prayer to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church for a critical evaluation in 1904, it is wholly inaccurate to state that he “founded” the “western rite” in America. In 1906, a response framed by a subcommittee of the Holy Synod was approved and sent to St. Tikhon for his guidance. This response, which was published in English as Russian Observations on the American Prayer Book , translated by Wilfred Barnes and edited with notes by Walter Frere (Alcuin Club, London) in 1917, found many problems with the BCP. There is no documentary evidence whatsoever that St. Tikhon authorized the use of a “western rite” for Anglican converts based on the BCP. Any assertion to the contrary simply flies in the face of the facts. Second, Father Schneirla’s assertion that Bishop Anthony represents an “alien ethnicity” speaks volumes about the deep psychological springs and perhaps even genuine prejudices that underlie what he calls “the western rite project of the” Antiochian Archdiocese.

In the original 1958 edict authorizing the “western rite” within the Antiochian Archdiocese, the late Metropolitan Bashir stated that it was his hope that the existence of a “western rite” within 20th century Orthodoxy “might serve the purpose of facilitating the conversion of groups of non-Orthodox western Christians to the Church.” One can only hope that in our current evangelical zeal, our willingness to “cross land and sea (and even rite?) to make one proselyte,” we do not end up making those who may be genuinely seeking the truth of Orthodoxy “twice as much a son of hell” as ourselves (Matthew 23:15). – The Priest. A Newsletter for the Clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco. Issue No. 5, May 1996

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January 17, 2008 - Posted by | -- Anglican, -- Ecclesiology & Ecumenism, Western Rite -- Pan-Orthodoxy, Western Rite -- Tridentine Mass, Western Rite Liturgics, Western Rite Seminal Material | , , , , , , , , ,

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