Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Orthodox Mind: The Rites vs. Renovationism

Traditional “Renovationist”
The Church’s system of liturgical services (i.e., the Typicon) is the divinely inspired mature growth of the Apostolic embryo. The full flower of God’s revelation to His people—as embodied in the Divine services—organically emanated from the seed of the early Church. The Typicon as we know it today has become somewhat unintelligible and tremendously cumbersome; for it is encrusted with layers of extraneous and repetitive material that reflect a significant shift away from, and degeneration of, the worship forms of the early Church.
We should have faith in Divine Providence and that the same Spirit who “guides us into all truth” also ordains the Church’s order of worship (see quote by Fr. Michael Pomazansky, below). The liturgical services mainly represent the product of a “naked chain of events,” or historical cause and effect. The Holy Spirit does not ensure that our rites are kept pristine.
The fourth century (in the wake of the “Peace of Constantine”) saw a Spirit-guided organic development in the Divine services, as confirmed by the witness of the Church’s consciousness in the following centuries up through our present day. The fourth century saw a “break,” or “abrupt shift” in the system of services resulting in “deviations” from the purity of the Apostolic era due to the overlaying of Hellenistic “strata” and the synthesis of new and conflicting “liturgical pieties.”
Our Task: to understand and grasp this revelation of God to His people as contained in the Divine services. This requires humility and ascetic struggle with a view towards purifying our hearts. Our Task: to figure out what has gone wrong with our liturgical services and “fix the many problems” with them. This requires a spirit of doubt and suspicion, as well as heavy reliance upon Western scholarship.



February 11, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Liturgics, Western Rite Quotes | , , ,


  1. Hmm. I’m still uncomfortable with it. Very, actually. But these are academic terms, and the Church is the one that decides these things.

    I will say this: as Orthodoxy continues to illumine its own unchanging doctrine, we never replace doctrine. We never do away with what was before. This is a key difference between us and any other Christian religion.

    When I have heard a cleric dare to offer the theory that fathers simply didn’t have the understanding we have now, when they condemned monophysitism and other heresies, I challenged him immediately: “are you saying the holy councils are not infallible?” Of course, he withdrew, because to say that would be to depose oneself.

    Lots of people out there want to change our doctrine according to their private opinions or heterodox theories, and do so under the guise of “illuminating” the truth, while meanwhile dishonoring the Fathers who they claim did not possess the Wisdom these individuals now possess. Such are gnostics, not Christians, however much they may be Orthodox in good standing.

    Comment by tuD | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. I agree with you. I think that “Clarification of Doctrine” is a better way of describing the Orthodox approach. There’s never a genuinely new teaching – i.e., we can’t say that the Pope’s powers “develop” until he actually is the Successor of Peter and Peter becomes the Rock, etc.

    Rather, if someone says, “Well, isn’t Mary really only Christotokos?”, we would *clarify* and say: “Well, Christ is God, so Christotokos and Theotokos should mean the same thing, no? Therefore, if you refuse to call Her Theotokos, you are denying Christ’s Divinity.”

    It’s more accurate to say that this doctrine was clarified, not developed. But, in some limited sense it can be called development – I have simply found that Roman Catholics get the idea that our doctrine is so static, we can never respond to a need for new expressions of doctrine. By using the term “development” to describe the way in which we do address doctrinal problems, I try to point out that our doctrine is capable of necessary developments in expression, while also pointing out that we view and use the term “development” differently than they do. That, hopefully, makes them question their own terminology by a comparison with our Orthodox models.

    Still, it was good of you to press for a clarification.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. I only caution, in deference father, a careful expression of what you mean. The doctrine of “development of doctrine” is one of the very things for which Rome became a different religion. It is the reason for 1200 years or so of departures and alien development of piety and attitude and psychology – because they sanctioned as doctrine the development of doctrine as such, and indeed their entire apparatus depends on it. For if that fails, and they repudiate that one thing, then the entire apparatus comes tumbling down, taking them back tot the beginning of their departure from us. On that one doctrine depends papal supremacy, the filioque theology, and all heresies.

    Doctrine has not developed, but rather the fathers, over time have illumined the doctrine that has been “once for all delivered to the Saints”. There are more scriptures and statements of this, but I think you already well know, and I don’t mean really to correct you, but only to assist you by augmenting your words with language that makes the all important distinction very clear.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  4. Agreed that our doctrine does not “develop” in the sense of changing, or accruing truly new elements.

    However, the doctrine does develop, in the sense that important clarifications to Apostolic teaching may be made, as needed, over time. The dogmatic definitions of the Ecumenical Councils are examples of this: they did not add new beliefs to Christian teaching, but they did develop the clarity of the ancient and unchanging teaching.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  5. Father, thank you for the instruction. Excellent.

    I dare one expansion on what you’ve said, which all Orthodox must already know, but a number of heterodox read our site as well. For their sake, I say that doctrine doesn’t develop; the rest does, but never doctrine. But as for the rest, we are not the “frozen chosen” – that’s the Presbyterians. 🙂

    [Just kidding, you Presbyterians! But we do need to get you some Presbyters. We’ve got a recent surplus. :)]

    Comment by tuD | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  6. Two caveats here, on this eve of the Meeting of Our Lord, when the ancient man met the New Man, the New Adam, when the ancient of men met the Ancient of Days.

    The first regards the way in which services are done. The Holy Spirit is indeed free and strong enough to bend the church services in a certain way, to nourish the spiritual lives of the faithful. We therefore do not dare to take out our clipping shears and judge what is better and truer and earlier and authentic-er, and start snipping away at what is less so (according to our fallen human understanding). But if the Holy Spirit is able to change the services so that the souls of the faithful are nourished in every generation and circumstance, it must also be true that the Holy Spirit can CONTINUE to change and modify services for the needs of the people. There is, in fact, continued development everywhere in Orthodoxy. To be honest, it is always happening, in tiny increments, and there really is no way to stop it from happening. But barring the input of a great Saint, development must not be sudden and must never be according to techniques and ideas springing from our fallen nature (which is what we usually see when we see attempts to “restore” or “reform” the Liturgy). After nearly the whole of Orthodoxy had been steeped for centuries in a practice of extremely infrequent Communion, the Lord raised up Saints to be apologists for, to work for, a return to more frequent Communion. Therefore we can’t dismiss out of hand any and all types of liturgical changes, but must see them soberly and not simply take our cues from the fallen West.

    The second caveat is in respect to the Western rite. Some say that the Western rite disappeared from the Eastern Orthodox Church for a period of history, and this means that it was the will of God for it to disappear. But there are two problems with this latter idea. The first problem with it is a factual one. The Western rite did not, at any time in Orthodox history, die out entirely from the Church’s practice. The Western Canon of the Mass was kept up as a special Liturgy for St. Peter’s day, for example, amongst Russian Old Believers, until 1963. There are Greek and Slavonic manuscripts of the Roman Canon Missae on Mt. Athos which show that the Western Mass survived in the Orthodox East for centuries. The second problem is this: the sword cuts both ways. If the mere FACT of Western rite disappearing (or sunsetting) MUST therefore indicate that such was the will of the Holy Spirit, then the reappearance or rise of the Western rite in the Church MUST therefore also be the will of the Holy Spirit.

    A happy Feast to all.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 15, 2008 | Reply

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