Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Imagination in Prayer

“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.

“Using the imagination in prayer can lead to error of the gravest kind, when our own imaginative creations replace the reality, and we can even end up praying to our own mental fantasies.” – [source]

From the Philokalic Fathers:

“In the time of contemplation we must keep our intellect free of all fantasy and image…” – St. Diadochos of Photiki

“The effect of observing the commandments is to free from passion our conceptual images of things. The effect of spiritual reading and contemplation is to detach the intellect from form and matter. It is this which gives rise to undistracted prayer.” – St. Maximos the Confessor

“The fifth form of discipline consists in spiritual prayer, prayer that is offered by the intellect and free from all thoughts. During such prayer the intellect is concentrated within the words spoken and, inexpressibly contrite, it abases itself before God, asking only that His will may be done in all its pursuits and conceptions. It does not pay attention to any thought, shape, colour, light, fire, or anything at all of this kind; but, conscious that it is watched by God and communing with Him alone, it is free from form, colour, and shape.” – St. Peter of Damaskos

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.”

From [this comment].

February 16, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite -- Sacred Heart, Western Rite -- The Rosary, Western Rite Pieties, Western Rite Quotes | , , , ,


  1. Some people have seen me as a bit of an ogre, for opposing the Stations of the Cross so vocally. On the Occidentalis group, the largest internet group for discussion of Western rite Orthodoxy, someone asked this:

    > … Which leads me to another question: Do Orthodox use Christmas trees and Nativity scenes? Would these be in the same category as the Stations?

    Here was my reply:

    We had a Christmas tree in our church (narthex area) this year [Holy Protection ROCOR Church, Austin, Texas]. I’ve not seen a Nativity creche scene in an Orthodox church. But even if it were so found, it would seem to me NOT to fall in the same category as the Stations.

    To be analogous to the Stations, we’d have to have the Christmas Tree as a paraliturgical devotion. Here’s what you’d have:


    … Dec. 24th 10:00 a.m. Mass of the Eve of Nativity

    Dec. 24th 2:00 p.m. Stations of the Pine of Bethlehem

    Dec. 24th 7:00 p.m. First Vespers of the Nativity, with Compline

    Dec. 24th 11:00 p.m. Midnight Mass of Nativity …

    And you’d also need the text of the Devotion to the Tree:


    Second Station – The Lord blesses the Pine Tree of Bethlehem

    Anthem: Tree of beauty, tree of light, tree of royal beauty bright, gladly thee we greet tonight.

    V. Tell it out among the Gentiles.
    R. That the Lord is swaddled ‘neath the Tree, alleluia.

    Priest: Let us pray.

    O Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, Who didst with Thy tiny yet Divine arms bless the pine tree of Bethlehem which was brought Thee by Rambunculus, pious youth of Edessa: do Thou now bless Thy servants, the Orthodox faithful who assemble in Thy temple this day to keep vigil in honour of Thy saving incarnation, and restore them to the Tree of Life planted in Thy paradise of Eden, and bring them thereby unto Thine upper paradise, the very kingdom of Heaven. Who with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.

    …. etc.


    “Q.: Father, is there anything heretical in the Stations of the Evergreen, commonly celebrated on the Eve of Nativity in the Western rite churches of the Moldovan Exarchate?

    “A.: I’m glad you asked, since some provincially-minded Byzantine Orthodox simply assume that the devotion of the Pine Tree contains something contrary to Orthodox doctrine. It does not. All the prayers of the Pine Tree Stations, as they are commonly known, have been approved by Archbishop Thanovich. We are in communion with all canonical Orthodox Churches… … ”

    One might call it nit-picky for anyone to counter that the idea that the Christ Child ever blessed a pine tree brought by a youth named Rambunculus, first appeared in a private “revelation” to Sister Mary Margaret of Guerneville, California, in 1973. One could say that the origins are not worth jettisoning a local tradition beloved by many people. Instead, one might publish the quote of some parishioner, saying, “I have personally experienced a closer relationship with Christ, through the devotion to the Pine of Rambunculus. In fact, I think this devotion is now kept in most of our Western rite parishes of the Moldovan Exarchate. For me, it has been a godsend and a blessing. Many years to Abp. Thanovich!”

    Now, to return to the question, do Orthodox really employ anything analogous to the Stations of the Cross, when it comes to Christmas trees or Nativity creche scenes?

    No. Not even close.

    Fr. Hieromonk Aidan+ a sinner
    Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Austin, Texas

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | May 26, 2010 | Reply

  2. Christ is risen! Christus surrexit!

    If one does not engage in “holy daydreaming” on the “mysteries” of the Rosary, then one is avoiding the worst of prayer befuddled by fallen human imagination.

    A more serious matter is the devotion called the Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross. This devotion is based on the imaginings (called “visions”) of heretics in past recent centuries in the West.

    Before I lay out the concerns an Orthodox might have regarding this modern Papal devotion, I want to stress that I do not–for an instant–doubt the piety and love for God of my brethren in Christ who may still be using these Stations of the Cross. I express the following concerns to educate and to caution, not to condemn. God knows I will go into the kingdom, if I am even found worthy, only at the heels of my holier and better brethren who currently are praying the Stations.

    * NO ORTHODOX HISTORY. This devotion is only traceable to the 2nd half of the 15th c. This places the devotion far outside the historic life of the Undivided Church and the integrity of her Orthodox spirituality. It was the Franciscan Order which spread an [early form of] this devotion to parish churches. The pro-Jesuitical Clement XII was the first Pope to authorise a form of the devotion, in 1731.

    * HERETICAL VISIONS–THE SOURCE. The authoritative numbering of 14 stations (as opposed to five, or nine, or 23, which earlier versions had included) was not achieved till the 1800s. The first 12 of the modern stations were established in a book by Adrichomius, published at Cologne in 1590. This book claims the Virgin Mary revealed them exactly thus, to the R-Catholic St. Bridget of Sweden. To Orthodox Christians, of course, this is all highly dubious. (It might be pointed out that this same Bridget received revelations of the “truth” of the Immaculate Conception of St. Mary by St. Anna–something later dogmatised in 1864 by Rome.)

    * HETERODOX THEOLOGICAL EMPHASIS: Telltale of its late origin, the Stations end with the passion and burial of Christ; there is no Station to complement the Passion with His Holy Resurrection. This is consistent with late-Western theology. That theology emphasises that the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death fulfills the juridical requirements for the lifting of Adam’s curse, for it appeased the Father’s anger. In this non-Orthodox theological construct, Christ’s Resurrection is not as central to redemption as it is in Orthodoxy, since atonement was complete on the Cross. As Orthodox, however, we believe Christ died *not* to satisfy the Father’s offended justice but to slay death by death. This “slaying” occurs, of course, by means of His resurrecting. Thus, in the correct Christian understanding, the whole salvific work of Christ was not finished on the Cross; atonement reached a zenith at Christ’s death, but the work of our theosis reached a zenith in the Resurrection. Most Stations of the Cross don’t even mention the Resurrection at the end; from an Orthodox point
    of view, this is spiritually skewed.

    * DUBIOUS REALITY: DID CHRIST FALL THREE TIMES? Of the fourteen stations, four detail events that never happened (as far as we know). The falls of Christ are based only on visions “given” to heretics; there is nothing in either Scripture or Orthodox tradition Western or Eastern, to corroborate these falls. Three of the stations commemorate the supposed falls of Christ, but the number varied across Europe for a couple hundred years or more. In some places, Christ fell once; in other places more often, in certain places people prayed about Christ’s seven falls. The problematic nature of these inconsistencies made itself felt
    more strongly over time, so in the 18th century the Papacy fixed the number of falls at three. Is it not at least a little disconcerting for Stations-using WR Orthodox, that a heretical man is who decided Christ fell three times?

    * DUBIOUS REALITY: DID VERONICA MEET WITH JESUS ON THE ‘VIA DOLOROSA’? There is an apocryphal Gospel (“The Death of Pilate”) which is not accepted by the Orthodox Church. This book says a woman named Veronica planned to have a portrait painted of Christ. In the street, as she made her way to the artist’s, Christ met her. Hearing of her wish, He took a cloth from her, and commanded His features appear on it. (Later R-Catholic narratives have it that Christ did this by pressing the cloth to His face, but that may be a spill-over from the account of the Edessa vernicle, the “Not-Made-by-Hands.”) What does Orthodox tradition
    say? Only that there was a St. Veronica (the woman healed of an issue of blood) who after the Resurrection made a statue of Christ. Some say this venerable
    statue was destroyed by Emperor Maximinus before Constantine acceded, while others say Julian the Apostate was responsible, many years after Constantine. In
    any case, ancient Christian tradition has no “missing link” that would connect an image of Veronica’s with events of the Passion.

    Orthodox Christians who use Western rite should not take, as a basis for their devotional life, any heretical visions, strange fantasies, fabrications, questionable guesswork, or un-Orthodox theologies. There are plenty of excellent Western devotions to the Passion of Christ which have a historical basis with our Orthodox fore-fathers and -mothers in the West. These latter devotions are beautiful, theologically sound, and originate with our Orthodox ancestors. Why not use them, instead of borrowing questionable stuff from the modern Vatican?

    Hieromonk Aidan+ a sinner
    Russian Orthodox Church

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  3. What happens to the author’s main argument? It pretty much resolves it. If practitioners of the modern Western rosary in the Orthodox Church were taught clearly not to activate the imagination during their rosary prayers, there wouldn’t be the same urgency on this topic.

    There would remain the question of a post-Schism-originating prayer form, but the question would centre more on propriety than on the rule of faith.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | March 18, 2009 | Reply

  4. So what happens to the author’s main argument when an Orthodox Christian prays the Rosary without the use of imagination?

    As he states, “The problem with the Rosary is not the prayers being said or the events being contemplated. The objection is to a clear Patristic teaching that the imagination should not be used in contemplative prayer.”

    This is absolutely true. Yet, it begs the question, “Is the imagination necessary to pray the Rosary?” The answer is a pretty clear “no.” No prayer requires the imagination, and the Rosary is not an exception.

    If an Orthodox believer wanted, he could pray the Jesus Prayer with his imagination, and then become deluded with false signs and visions. Would that, then, invalidate the Jesus Prayer? Of course not, yet this kind of reasoning is applied by the author to the Rosary. His logic would go something like this:

    1. Roman Catholics pray the Rosary with their imagination.
    2. The imagination is not permitted in prayer.
    3. Therefore, the Rosary is not permitted.

    This argument would appear to be refuted each time an Orthodox believer doesn’t use his imagination when praying the Rosary, because the original objection is then absent.

    But I’m wondering, what’s all the hubbub about the Rosary, anyway, if the words are all true? What dogmatical error is expressed in the words of the Rosary prayers? Is the problem here the fact that Roman Catholics pray the Rosary? If so, what of it? The Latins also sing hymns and pray prayers that the East shares. Are those invalidated by their participation in them?

    With regard to the author’s secondary argument, that “cradle” Orthodox are equipped with a more Orthodox mindset than “converts,” I have to say I have yet to see this in actual fact. And I’m in ROCOR, LOL! 🙂 I am both amazed and amused whenever I hear converts talk like this, because the “cradles” really do seem just as clueless and confused as the “converts.” It strikes me as a kind of inferiority complex that passes for humility in many Orthodox circles, but is in fact just normal human insecurity. It’s no different than having a fear of spiders or heights, or being obsessive-compulsive.

    There are no “cradle” Orthodox, because nobody is born into the Church. We are all adopted into the Church by Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist. Christ receives the Jew as much as he does the Greek, and makes no distinction between the two. There are no Orthodox races or bloodlines, and there is no such thing as Christian DNA. We are all converts to the faith of Jesus Christ, inasmuch as we are all the adopted sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven.

    Comment by kyrieeleison82 | October 10, 2008 | Reply

    • Kyrieeleison82,

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. From what I can tell, there is nothing heretical in the prayers of the Rosary at all (excluding the later accretions like the Fatima prayers and the like – which again, may not be directly heretical but nonetheless from a dubious source). In fact, contrary to the original blog entry that we’re commenting on, the Rosary does have pre-schism antecedents (although perhaps a bit convoluted at points!), but the “mysteries” were not originally part of the Rosary. It simply was a rule of prayer, not unlike the 150 Pater Nosters of the Celts or the Jesus Prayer in the East. Keep the imagination out of it, and you’re on solid ground.

      In my opinion, anyway. Your mileage may vary. 🙂

      Comment by monachuscyprianos | December 9, 2009 | Reply

      • To follow up on my comment about pre-schism antecedents of the Rosary, it depends on who’s version of history you’re believing. If you think that the Rosary was revealed to Dominic in 1214 basically “out of the blue”, then, no it isn’t pre-schism. But, if one holds to the, probably more likely, idea that it evolved from the 150 Pater Nosters being used as a substitute for the recitation of the monastic Office, then there is indeed a pre-schism basis for it.

        Then, when one takes into consideration that the date of 1054 for the schism is mostly one of convenience, because the schism actually took centuries to develop, the waters continue to muddy. So, some things may be technically pre-1054 but reflect a heterodox spirituality, while others may be post 1054, but are completely within the boundaries of Orthodoxy. The Benedictines had a monastery on Mt Athos until sometime after 1287 which I doubt they would have been allowed to stay if they weren’t Orthodox.

        So the great schism was a process that took place over centuries, rather than a definitive moment.

        Sorry. I’m rambling.

        Comment by monachuscyprianos | December 9, 2009

  5. […] against one another in a as though we’re doing either Talmud or mediaeval scholasticism: Sts. Diadochos, Maximos, and Peter of Damascus on the one hand and Sts. Ephrem, Tikhon, and John Chrysostom on the other. It’s tantalizing […]

    Pingback by Meditation during prayer « Western Rite Critic | April 14, 2008 | Reply

  6. I would also like to add that the people I have met at the ROCOR parish I now go to are among the warmest and most welcoming. (I myself was received through the MP.)

    The notion that suburbanite culture is somehow that of an elite is laughable.

    The fact that many so-called modern parishes effectively assign greeters says something about what would happen if they did not.

    I prefer the “ignorance” of a peasant woman looking for the “right icon” for her intention to the polyconference attending workshop addict any day of the week.

    When it comes down to it, the teaching (and practice) of the Fathers on imagination in prayer don’t give people a whole lot to talk about as part of their “attainments.”

    Comment by publican123 | April 3, 2008 | Reply

  7. A young woman in my family is approached whenever she attends a GOA or AOA parish and told “We don’t cover our heads anymore. You don’t have to do that.” As though she’s “suffering under the veil”. 🙂 She just waves them off and tells them she’d prefer not to become a modernist and, if they persist, says she’d would prefer they direct any questions to her husband. Of course they usually can’t get past his beard and the fact that he never sits, so that’s usually the end of it. But this is what I meant in the other thread about the unholy marriage of Faith and the dominant culture, transposition of the two, and therefore the transformation of Faith into religion. It’s all of one piece, and that’s why we’ll dive into multiple topics here.

    Comment by tuD | April 2, 2008 | Reply

  8. Amen to that. I constantly run into people in my jurisdiction (GOA), who simply think I’m nuts for believing that the Tradition I absorbed in the ROCOR is more accurate than the book-learnin’ going on at Holy Cross. There’s very much this mentality of “those ignorant, legalistic Russian peasants can’t know more than our smart boys with their books and clean-shaven faces!”

    I even had an archimandrite (theoretically a monk) tell me that our “head covering” rule was invented by misogynist monks with such a tremendous sexual-repression issue that they couldn’t simply control themselves around women. Furthermore, monasteries shouldn’t insist that women dress appropriately because the parishes don’t, so how can we expect them to meet these standards?

    I was flabbergasted. We’re a monastery – surely that means we are allowed to insist on proper dress. That’s something the parishes should be doing anyway; their failure to do so hardly seems like a good reason for abrogating our own practice. If I didn’t believe the “gates of hell will never overcome Her,” I’d sometimes be worried for the Church.


    Comment by fatheraugustine | April 2, 2008 | Reply

  9. Yes, there’s goofy, kooky, misguideness everywhere religion occurs. I’ve seen it in ROCOR, in the OCA, in the AOA, the GOA, and pretty much everywhere. There are great people in all of them, and there’s nuts. We take all kinds. 🙂 Most of the mutual criticism seems to be about the wrong things: cradle vs. convert, ethnic vs. non-ethnic. Things that don’t have any real meaning. It’s Jew and Greek – meaningless in Christ. A well-known Orthodox speaker once gave a talk at an Antiochian Church lambasting the faithful in the OCA who cover their heads: “they look like a bunch of Russian peasants”. What’s wrong with Russian peasants or who THEY look like were never explained, but THAT’s his main criticism of the OCA?!? They must be wonderful, then! Russians get picked on for everything, and it’s almost always about the other guy’s failings, really – that’s why I like hanging with those folks – they take most of the flack and dish out less than anyone else, and they brought Orthodoxy to the West. I’d bet my soul (if we were in that business) on imitating any half dozen Russian babushki over following the advice of any two-dozen “scholarly” seminarians and Orthodox academics any day. It’s the guys that make their livings selling you the Faith, in one form or another, that are more likely to give you some kind of personally invented or heterodoxically-borrowed or culturally-determined religious mystery meat than someone who’s just trying to save herself.

    There’s no one right group of people to follow really, though, except for the fathers. Those who attained what we want, they can show us.

    Comment by tuD | April 2, 2008 | Reply

  10. That sounds wise. Just proceed wisely. St. John Maximovitch told the young Seraphim Rose, then a fresh convert, to avoid the Russian people in the community there. His concern, in this instance, was to protect him from the worldly, gossipy trapeza culture which then prevailed there. After last Sunday’s service we were talking about spiritual topics and the subject was brought up of misguided Russian Orthodox faithful. Apparently there is a priest in Russia whose last name I forget but his surname was Osipov (I don’t know of this priest but the Russians I was speaking with know of him.) He was explaining that a lady came up to him in a cathedral insisting he direct her to the appropriate Bogoroditsa for a particular intention. He was rather surprised, since both of them were standing directly in front of an icon of the Mother of God. He said, “Here, here is the Bogoroditsa.” She shook her head vigorously, saying, “No, that is the one we pray to for [some other intention]. I want to know the correct one to pray to for [my current intention.]” When the priest explained to her that all icons of the Bogoroditsa were of the selfsame person, the very Mother of God, the woman became more angry and more insistent, “No! I need to know the correct one!” Finally, Fr. Osipov said, he just gave up trying to teach or correct her. So it’s not only the Western rite faithful who can go off down strange and unhelpful paths…

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | March 31, 2008 | Reply

  11. This posting (like others on this site) confirms my decision to be around primarily cradle Orthodox in the ROCOR being myself a fairly recent convert.

    Comment by publican123 | March 31, 2008 | Reply

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