Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Transition vs. Overnight Institutionalization

roberto-ferruzzi-madonna-1897-venice.jpgWestern Rite churches, to be fair to all – those with concerns, enthusiasts, and simple seekers – are in a state of transition.

In some places, the need to “get something up and running” overnight will tend to result in inadequate conversion, insufficient catechesis, and the hasty institutionalization of heterodox pieties because they ‘look and smell’ Western “Orthodox” (statues, stations, sacred hearts) . In other places, the approach will be with more reverence and taste.

There just seems to be a different attitude at work between “We’re in transition.” and “We’re here, we’re near, and you’d better get used to it!” Looking at this, albeit poorly if not irreverently filmed, video of a Spanish Orthodox Church, you get the impression that the merely religious paintings (like this lovely Ferruzzi madonna, 1879, Venice – an admittedly beautiful piece in itself) are what they had, and will be replaced by real icons, and ultimately aren’t attempts at 1950s Latin/Anglican cultural archaeology. Says one comment at youtube: “One monk put together the church, a replica of the colonial style common when the Spaniards came here. Where old style icons existed, he put them up: where icons did not but the saint was important, the priest put the best he could.”

It’s hard to quantify a distinction in attitude, and we aren’t going to try. It is enough to point it out. Here’s the video, for the curious:


February 10, 2008 - Posted by | -- Catechesis & Conversion, Western Rite -- Sacred Heart, Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , ,


  1. Well, I think what he was saying is that much of what is done in the name of “Western Rite” – which I notice you produce here with a different meaning than you elucidated under the “Episcopalianism” article 🙂 – is done in the name of making a bridge from heterodoxy to Orthodoxy. Of course, the problem there is that it’s really a bridge from heterodoxy to a bridge. Ad infinitum. Once the goal stops being the fulness of Orthodoxy, it isn’t Orthodoxy anymore. It’s always a foolish and misguided (and, one should add, heterodox) form of evangelism to intentionally present anything other than the fulness of the faith. Good Orthodox people should shun the logic of transition.

    One can understand, for instance, the wearing of polyester instead of cloth vestments where a mission is tight on funds. But once it becomes, “the prospects we’re targeting are used to polyester, so that’s what we’ll use”, it’s no longer the Orthodox way. Same with reducing Holy Baptism to sprinkling, because it’s more familiar, or the Roman Catholic clerical collar, because Americans just can’t figure out what real vestments (the kind that have prayers for vesting with them) are. Or pews, because the Baptists are used to sitting. Or hallelujah choir robes, because alleluia we look like Orthodox, is just not scary disco Little Richard enough for the Methodist converts. And so on.

    Evangelization by dumping things that look, feel, smell, sound, and taste different yields no reason for evangelism at all, except conversion to a religious philosophy and a different diocesan treasury. Even selling indulgences wasn’t that ugly.

    To be clear, though, I didn’t get the impression that the various Mediaeval Western paintings and so forth adorning the inside walls of the Church featured in the video were either from indifference to tradition, a “it’s good enough” flippancy about piety, or meant as “buck-lure” for the heterodox. I got the impression they were pious people who mean to do the best they can with what funds they have. Of course, I don’t know; that’s just an impression.

    Comment by tuD | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. The comments on transition which becomes accepted as end-goal are well taken. But I think we need to guard against identifying one rite or another as a bride of any kind. The Church herself is the Bride, the Bride of Christ. If looking into a variant rite is tantamount to a married man looking at a woman not his wife, then we’d have to conclude (God forbid!) that the Church, inasmuch as she has at all times in her history fostered a variety of rites, is by nature polygamous. And piety rightly shrinks from that thought.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. Certainly my reception is no guarantee of my continued salvation, which is a continual synergy. I can cast it off. Unless I continue to convert (to be deified), I am certainly lost.

    Comment by tuD | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. Is Orthodoxy an imposed religion now in 2008 as in the history of Latin American countries where many natives retained their previous practices and beliefs under the guise of Roman Catholicism?

    Are those who “convert” to Orthodoxy frequently the “imposers?”

    Comment by publican123 | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  5. The notion of “both” often escapes those outside the Orthodox Faith, not only in discussions of the Eucharist with references to transubtantiatian.

    The schism is within Western Christianity which broke away from Orthodoxy, especially in the distance between public and private prayer.

    One could posit, as does Fr. Pomazanksy, even-handedly and I dare say compasionately as he does, that the West’s proverbial need to overexplicate gets Western Christianity in trouble with “superfluities.” But are they are “mere” superfluities? Or simply “mere” misunderstandings?

    Solving an internal schism in praxis through the appeal to an authority or hierarch? Facilitating transition (conversion) to Orthodoxy through the deliberate inclusion of heterodox devotions?

    It would seem that the external and formative aspects of praxis, liturgy, preaching, iconography, and yes private prayer of the Faith would be best presented as an ever present reality and as the destination, in short, “both.” To include and foreground the “transitional” elements especially in a deliberate external manner establishes the “transition” as the present reality and destination. To do so is not oikonomia but the philosophy and practice of Best Buy.

    One can not state that even after chrismation a convert does not on a deeper level continue to convert from an intellectually grasped distinction between an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox teaching, for example, on redemption/salvation (“satisfaction”)and the heart sense or effects of having experienced and held a non-Orthodox teaching for many years. Recall the Canons applying to converts of “five years” and also the prayer to the Theotokos from Morning prayer which begs ” deliver me from many and cruel memories and deeds, and free me their evil effects.” Does this deliverance apply only to “passions” of a more carnal nature? Were not some of those “memories and deeds” the result of pride and having never experienced the truly Merciful God, the Ever-present Christ but instead a “legalistic” deity with infinite demands? Is there not the provision of a discussion with one’s confessor or spiritual father and yes, Private Confession and Absolution?

    Should one facilitate the “transition” to married life by deliberately retaining and nostagically gazing at photos of a previous girlfriend?

    Comment by publican123 | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. Certainly the principal objection to the Roman Catholic rosary, from the point of view of Orthodox teachings on prayer, is the overlapping of discursive meditations or even visualisations with the words of actual prayers. If this unrightful element is removed, the only remaining issue is the propriety of using a form of prayer assembled by non-Orthodox Christians. And that is the point at which one betakes oneself to one’s spiritual father or father-confessor. He might bless the practice you, cantrix, mention (I have heard of it being done), or he might bless an Orthodox rule of prayer very similar to the Roman Catholic rosary in its contents (such as the rule of prayer for Diveyevo given by St. Seraphim of Sarov). My friends in Serbia tell me that some there have a practice of using a chotki (prayer rope for the Jesus Prayer) which has a large knot after every ten knots. On this large knot they will say an Angelic Salutation, so that the Jesus Prayer is made to include prayer to the Mother of God. In any case, it is good and warming to the heart, that people in these days of coldness towards God, still wish to stay close to Our Lord and His Most Pure Mother. Never have they let anyone down, not at any point in human history.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  7. Greetings! I would like to comment on a couple things. Firstly, I would like to say that I am very glad to be reading the posts and comments on this blog. Secondly, without disagreeing with the idea that using the imagination in devotions like the rosary is problematic, I would like to pose a question, though it is perhaps a bit odd. Fr. Augustine (I believe that is who it was, but if not, please correct me) said that there is nothing wrong in the prayers, the events being contemplated, etc. and that the issue is the inclusion of the imagination and the focus on image, form and matter. Therefore, couldn’t one pray the rosary with that element simply removed? It seems that this idea hasn’t come up, and to me, it seems obvious. I am blind and do not imagine any sort of image while praying the rosary (I cannot, in fact), nor do I imagine sound or anything else instead. What are people’s thoughts on this matter?

    Comment by cantrixcaeca | June 9, 2008 | Reply

  8. Some do, but yes that is a price we had to pay for creating a catalogue of concerns, which actually forms a great service to the WR folk and to Orthodoxy as a whole.

    Likewise, in order to keep it from being a verbal fist fight when trolls drop in to hurl invective, we had to have a policy of being very explicit on their logical fallacies from the start. We decided to maintain a place where reason can prevail and illict attacks simply fall short, however much more popular it is to witness such spectacles and look for a decisive, easy, emotionally persuasive victory, rather than do the harder work of reasoning together.

    The conversation with such typically goes like this:
    WRE: You people are disagreeing with something that bishops have supported.
    WRC: Appeal to authority. Not all bishops support it, but even if they did, think of Florence.
    WRE: Well, why are you anonymous. I’m betting if you identified youself, you’d be made to be silent.
    WRC: Why appeal to force? Do you have no other argument?
    WRE: You just don’t like us because we’re not Eastern enough for you.
    WRC: That’s a straw man assumption. We never said that.
    WRE: Well, you’re a bunch of uncanonical critics that no one has to listen to.
    WRC: Ad hominem. Besides which that’s untrue, it still would be irrelevant. What about what we said?

    And of course, the culture has infiltrated religious life to such a degree that a lot of people assume we’re unloving, or that these things cannot be reasoned about, etc.

    We can’t save everyone – people who don’t use fair, reasonable, ethical, and honorable thought to decide on what’s true can receive no real help from us.

    On the other hand, they’re not our audience. We’d be content to read these things into the record, so to speak, with no audience, and even no effect – we’re not in it to win, but to do what’s right – to be honorable, and save ourselves. The outcome is God’s.

    When St. John Chrysostom was preaching, the Empress had a statue of herself erected outside the Hagia Sophia. People stopped and didn’t go to Church but went dancing around the statue in celebration, and even those in the church ran out to join them. Only one woman remained in the Church in prayer during the service. And St. John continued with it all.

    If no one ever commented, we’d still do it, because we aren’t utilitarians or pragmatists. Take the Church or mission work – same thing – the moment the Church “needs” people to be members of it, in order to validate itself, it is not the Church of Christ, and has become a false religion. We do what we do because it’s right, and for no other reason. We could even market this site far far more effectively. We know how; we have skilled people standing by; we could make it so. But for now, it is enough that our voice can be found, and good, honorable, honest people who think through these things w/o so much prejudice can find us, and find our work a service in their thinking.

    And for our opponents, they are not really our opponents, even if they don’t realize it: We have done them a service, even if they don’t listen. If we are decrepit, ugly in the way we look, and seem to be sinners and enemies, nonetheless we’ve provided them an opportunity to love us as Christ loves. To love one’s enemies, not in theory, not with emotion, not as an intellectual position, but to actively, persistently, and intelligently commit the continual act of love toward us, will save them. And by their prayers, we will be saved.

    “Would you like God to hear your prayers immediately, my brother? When lifting up your hands up to Heaven, pray first and foremost with your heart for your enemies, and then God will grant you quickly whatever else you ask for.” — The Abba Zenon

    Comment by tuD | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  9. Your words are kinder than I deserve – it took me a long time to make a simple point, and I’m sure many men could have written it better. Nevertheless, thank you.

    I worry that not many actual AWRV are reading these ideas – or that they are so upset upon an initial reading, that they don’t care to read further. At least, I haven’t seen many other people commenting and discussing, even if only to disagree. But hopefully these dicussions are God-pleasing, and will bear good fruit someday. Maybe there are people reading and pondering privately…

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  10. […] From [this comment]. […]

    Pingback by Western Rite vs. Western Devotions « Western Rite Critic | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  11. As usual Father, your writing is so much better than mine, and makes the point so much more effectively. Excellent. Please continue your contributions to the site as it is helps like this that will accomplish its goal, which is to contribute thoughtfully to the discussions and thinking that people may do about Western Rites within Orthodoxy.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  12. I’d like to point out, that I don’t believe the Rosary, the Sacred Heart or “Transsubstantiation” are things that inherently develop from anything in the Pre-Schism West.

    The problem with the Rosary is not the prayers being said or even the events being contemplated. The objection is to a clear Patristic teaching that the imagination should not be used in contemplative prayer. That this is a clear part of the Western Patristic and even pietistic traditions, can be demonstrated by a reading of St. John of the Cross or the Cloud of Unknowing.

    The Sacred Heart has absolutely nothing to do with the pre-schism West. Sure, the West saw a mystical significance to Christ’s five wounds – but early on, considered this only as a mystery to be pondered – there was no devotion specifically to the wounds apart from Christ as an Whole. Anybody who reads the history of the Sacred Heart devotion and Margaret-Mary Alacoque’s visions, would clearly see that this is a disturbing, unorthodox devotion.

    Trans-substantiation is more a development of post-schism, Aristotelian fancies being applied to an Apostolic doctrine of East and West.

    But, to be fair: yes, it is inevitable that some Eastern Orthodox – perhaps even very spiritually mature belivers – will reject certain Western devotions and practices because they are Western, not because they are unorthodox.

    But that means, that those of us who want to see the Western Rite succeed, can offer an important olive branch. In the first place, we must admit that we are not formed in the Orthodox mind, if we have simply been received as Episcopalians or Roman-Catholics turned Orthodox, while making only minimal changes to our spiritual life. Therefore, while it is theoretically possible that our practices are Orthodox, we would hopefully have the humility to admit that we may be poor judges of the matter.

    Secondly, we would hopefully admit that the Eastern Rite faithful have an intuitive grasp of Orthdooxy, that we don’t. So, some degree of defference to them is appropriate.

    So, the olive branch we can offer: by standing upon the firm foundations of pre-schism, Western Orthodox piety and practice, we cleanly avoid the accusation that our spirituality is influenced by Roman Catholic and Protestant strains of thought. We can then, without having to dissemble or take anything for granted, be quite clear that our practices are different only insofar as they are Western, no insofar as they were developed outside of Orthodoxy.

    And when it comes to those few pre-schism practices that scandalize Eastern Rite faithful (and really are not normative even for the pre-schism West – I speak primarily of unleavened hosts, mandatory clerical celibacy and things like bishop-only confirmation), we really should have the humility and wisdom to submit to the more Catholic practices, preserved to this day by the East.

    In short, I agree that some Western things may be rejected because of Eastern prejudice, and not because of any true lack of Orthodox piety. However, I also feel that WR converts need to pay more heed to the more refined, Orthodox sensibilities of lifelong Orthodox Christians – and admit that unless we return to pre-schism practices, we are always going to be suspected of “Papist” or Protestant tendencies. The only way to avoid this, is to go back to the Orthopraxy of the West, before Papism and Protestantism existed.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  13. Well, the site is for encouraging discussions among people in person or in other venues; it’s not primarily a discussion board in itself, but a consolidator of constructive criticism.

    I’m sorry you don’t like the answers. Your post was a straw man; how anyone could be expected to defend an argument he didn’t make. You start by saying, “here’s your argument, according to your logic” and the proceed to say what’s wrong with it. My response is simply that I didn’t make that argument.

    Yes, discussion. That is discussion. You may be looking for a different kind of discussion, in which case feel free to look for a discussion board; this is not that.

    Comment by tuD | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  14. It was my understanding that the whole purpose of this blog was to encourage a respectful discussion of the problems involved with the western rite. Judging from the responses to my original question, I realize a) I was wrong, and b) the mystery of why there are so few comments on postings is solved. I might be mistaken, but I believe Father Seraphim Rose’s characterization was “Super-Orthodox.” Have a great life, guys.

    Comment by tawser | February 14, 2008 | Reply

  15. Well, I suspect he’s arguing fallaciously but, you’re right, it’s hard to tell until he satisfies that burden. It’s not as though you can get transubstantiation out of Orthodox thinking – we believe in miracles as the deification of nature, not the obliteration of it. So instead of the gifts ceasing to be bread and wine and being replaced by the divine (transubstantiation) or remaining always bread and wine, but merely representing w/o being divine (Protestantism), we insist on a true miracle, namely that they are BOTH the bread of the baker and the Body of Christ worthy of worship and that very same body that was in the womb of the Theotokos, flesh of her flesh. When I read the miracles of Christ, it is this that I see.

    The Sacred Heart was clearly a post-schism invention; there was always a sense that to be Christian is to love with Christ’s love, but even the seating of that in the heart figuratively, let alone in a particular anatomical organ, I think would be quite strange and foreign to our fathers.

    Comment by tuD | February 14, 2008 | Reply

  16. “it seems a stretch to me to argue that if it were not for the schism, the rosary and the cult of the Sacred Heart and the doctrine of transubstantiation would not have evolved, since all three can trace their roots to pre-schism western doctrine and devotion”

    Could someone please tell me how these trace their roots to pre-schism western doctrine? And for that matter was it doctrines developed in the northern frankish/german speaking holy roman empire or further south in the more latin derived south?

    Comment by ordoromanusprimus | February 14, 2008 | Reply

  17. Ah, if you were coming for a feeling, then I can’t help you. You initiated the discussion with the approach of one seeking to discuss the issues according to “logic”. That was how you began. To switch to an appeal to emotion in midstream, when logic goes against you, is simply dishonest. It’s like starting an arm wrestling contest and then crying out what a terrible person your opponent is, mid-match, and how your feelings are injured. There are no wet hankies in a discussion based on logic.

    Comment by tuD | February 13, 2008 | Reply

  18. If “much of the pre-schism west is under anathema,” then what is left but “orthodox = eastern?” “Do what you will.” I can just FEEL the love!

    Comment by tawser | February 13, 2008 | Reply

  19. I specifically stated that it’s not merely a matter of dates, so no that isn’t my argument. Straw man.

    I don’t agree w. you analysis of the schism, and you well know that there is more than one historiographical school. Your premise is not a given.

    We do not sanction pieties on the basis of speculation (“well, it might have evolved if history had been different”). According to the Fathers, and this is the Orthodox mind on the matter: hypotheticals do not exist.

    Much of the pre-schism west is under anathema – that isn’t my judgement – there are ACTUAL anathemas; we don’t decide these things by ourselves. Read the entirety of our synodikons (not that they exist in English, except in abbreviated and excerpted forms), and you will see this is so. Anathema to the heresies of the West prior to the Schism. Anathema to the heresies of the East prior to the Schism. Time does not change doctrine.

    Your final argument, that I’ve indicated Orthodox = Eastern is patently not so, and the burden of proof falls on you to demonstrate that that is the outcome of my reasoning, taking into account not only what is here but throughout the site. I do not concede that point, and the burden falls on you to demonstrate the full equation.

    As for your choosing the Papacy, that’s as may be. Do what you will.

    Comment by tuD | February 13, 2008 | Reply

  20. So, according to your logic, everything western post-Schism is un-Orthodox. The first problem with that is that there is no hard and fast date for the schism. 1054? Every recent historian of whom I am aware argues that no one in either east or west regarded the events of that year as decisive. 1204? But that was more a political than a religious event, rooted in the greed of the Venetians and the ambition of the crusaders. And even if you could date the schism with any accuracy, it seems a stretch to me to argue that if it were not for the schism, the rosary and the cult of the Sacred Heart and the doctrine of transubstantiation would not have evolved, since all three can trace their roots to pre-schism western doctrine and devotion. It seems to me that if you are going to anathematize the post-schism west, then you are also going to have to anathematize large stretches of the pre-schism west, and then what happens to the idea of the un-divided church? You end up asserting that Orthodox = eastern and the whole idea of the church’s universality is gone. Faced with that sort of parochialism, the claims of the papacy start to sound pretty plausible.

    Comment by tawser | February 13, 2008 | Reply

  21. How would we know it was Orthodox “outside the experience” of Orthodoxy? You create a false construct: Orthodox but outside Orthodox experience: our Faith teaches us there is no such thing.
    You qualify the question w. the word “Eastern,” but of course no one has argued that only Eastern devotions are Orthodox. That’s a straw man.

    It’s universally acknowledged that there have been differences in devotion, and not only between East/West, but among the many peoples who get painted as the supposedly monolithic “East”. Devotion is here distinguished from doctrine, for there is no difference at all in doctrine among the Orthodox. The moment that one says there is, we’re having a very different discussion.

    Remember, too, that East and West really aren’t comparable in this way – as though both were equally monolithic. The West had the single patriarchal see whereas, in the East, where the Apostles actually trod all over the place, there was a see of the Apostles at every watering hole. We’ve far more diversity of devotion in the remaining Orthodox world than the one See that went into schism ever had. And while it was of first honor, it really began to become a backwater, *relatively speaking*, when the seat of empire became Byzantium.

    Also, St. Augustine was, arguably, far more influential among the Eastern Orthodox, if not better known, than in some circles in the West. That may be a stretch, but I say it to make a point that St. Augustine certainly is no wedge. Says Patriarch St. Photios, ‘who can speak against the great man, who dares say he teaches falsehood.’ In the East was a love and reverence for St. Augustine that only began to have a similar sound, for very different reasons, in the West, with the apologists of the filioque, the spectre of schism, and the rise of scholasticism.

    As for the rosary and sacred heart, these aren’t Orthodox not because they are Western, but because they never were Orthodox in the first place. They’re recent developments of the West of schism and have nothign to do with our people of East or West. When a canard like “western devotion” is used, as though it too were monolithic, the rest of us have to unpack that, the point of critique being whether the writer means Roman Catholic or in fact Orthodox. I would argue, too, it’s not merely a matter of dates, but that’s a separate issue. By your logic, we have to deal with transubstantiation (you cited doctrinal development in the West, as well), and Fatima, and a whole host of other “western devotions” and innovations; I think not.

    Lastly, the “criteria of discernment” have already been established by our Faith, tradition, and various wonderful writers on these subjects. The only reason it’s an issue is that there are those who like to maintain the pretense of “re-creating pre-schism Western orthodoxy” while reaching for all manner of things they well know have nothing to do with that – Roman Catholic fasting rules, fake ‘ancient’ rites, heterodox mariolatry, worship of body parts… It is the absurd pretense that this is somehow the ancient Faith that is the easiest point to critique; until that is addressed with actual honesty, who needs criteria for authenticity?

    To expand on Bishop Anthony’s encyclical, we are facing the very real prospect of people who are ‘canonically’ Orthodox but who are engaged in the practice of, devotion to, and propagation of a different Faith. One interesting outcome of this, that I think a lot of its proponents haven’t forseen, is that the very notion of “canonical” or “canonicity” is quickly becoming up for grabs. It’ll have lost all meaning, if things go on like this. That may not be a bad thing, but I suspect the very people responsible for it won’t like it, or the results, because their own claims to authority are based on it. When it’s gone, there’ll be no reason to take them more seriously than the next minister.

    It is interesting that the Evangelical fundamentalists also try to ‘recreate’ an apostolic Christianity out of a mixture of their historiography and their latest innovations too. One might fairly contend that precisely the same impulse is at work among those doing it within their neighborhood of Orthodoxy.

    Given that the first group likewise employs a false opposition of doctrine and piety, allowing that they needn’t be in union, it is then doubly telling that this would be precisely the character of recent WR creations. Do we not see a pattern? Protestodoxy, indeed. A gospel that once again divides soul from body (e.g. intellect-doctrine from devotion-piety) – a gospel of non-union – one that untramples Death. The warning that has been repeated risks becoming prophesy: when you create a place in your communion for adherents of another Faith, you do not convert them, but they convert you.

    May God grant true conversions.

    Comment by tuD | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  22. How does one tell the difference between a doctrine or practice that is un-Orthodox, pure and simple, and one that is simply outside the experience of the eastern Orthodox churches? Even if the schism had never occurred, it seems clear that there would have been differences between east and west, liturgical, devotional, and even up to a point, doctrinal differences. After all, even without the schism, Augustine would still have been enormously influential in the west. Frankly, I am a bit skeptical when Orthodox believers state emphatically that a characteristially western devotion, like the rosary or the Sacred Heart, is un-Orthodox, when a good case might be made that all it really is is un-eastern. It seems to me that at some point criteria of discernment are going to have to be established.

    Comment by tawser | February 11, 2008 | Reply

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