Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

He’s not Crucified Yet!


Stations of the CrossIf you’d done a google search three years ago on Orthodoxy and the stations of the cross, you’d have found more material explaining why this post-schism Roman Catholic devotion, as part of a general distortion of the gospel, frames it too much as an obsession with Christ’s “passion” (or suffering). These days, it’s not popular to put up articles like that. Instead, you’ll get information on Orthodox adopting the devotion at ecumenical gatherings or as part of a Western Rite, which in some quarters is showing off its new Roman Catholic getup and gear and fitting in nicely as the ‘Catholicism’ of the golden age (i.e. the 1950s). You know – Catholics w/o all that Vatican II stuff, or a history of pedophiles. Or, if you will, Anglicans w/o women priests and homosexuals.

“The second thing to remember is that this is an imaginative exercise. Its purpose is not a historical examination of “what really happened” on that day in history. It’s about something far more profound. This is an opportunity to use this long standing Christian prayer to let Jesus touch my heart deeply by showing me the depth of his love for me. The context is the historical fact that he was made to carry the instrument of his death, from the place where he was condemned to die, to Calvary where he died, and that he was taken down and laid in a tomb. The religious context is that today Jesus wants to use any means available to move my heart to know his love for me. These exercises can allow me to imaginatively visualize the “meaning” of his passion and death.” – Filipino Chaplaincy, St. Joseph’s Parish, Penrith
“The central reason for avoiding exercise of the imagination in prayer is theological. God is present everywhere. Christ is present by His Holy Spirit in the depth of the being of every Christian living the reality of Baptism into the death of Christ. If we live our Baptism, sealed with the Seal of the Spirit, then the Risen Christ lives in us, by His Holy Spirit, and we live the Risen life in the Spirit. We do not need to imagine Christ as present: He is present: we need to remind ourselves of His presence.” – Orthodox Church of Estonia, Icons, 2/27/08
“The Catholic Faith is caught rather than taught. In this regard, it is vitally important to emphasise such devotions as Benediction, the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, devotions to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart of Jesus” – Western Rite Catholic Church
… in 1870 they unanimously agreed that the Pope of Rome is infallible whenever defining faith or morals for the Church… The Orthodox were aghast. Expecting some Catholics to seek refuge in Orthodoxy, the Russian Church approved a Western Rite Mass for them (their offer had few takers). – Pocket Church History for Orthodox Christians
Let us enter the Fast with joy, O faithful. Let us not be sad. Let us cleanse our faces with the waters of dispassion, blessing and exalting Christ forever. – First Friday Matins [The Lenten Spring]
Let us begin the Fast with joy. Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts. Let us cleanse our souls. Let us cleanse our flesh. Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods, taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit and accomplishing them in love, that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy. – Forgiveness Sunday Vespers [The Lenten Spring]

It’s an odd thing to watch, this clamour to adopt devotions not out of devotion itself, certainly not out of the heart of Orthodox feeling, but out of a desire to fit a mold. We need to start doing this, add that, and we’ll be having this on Wednesday. By the way, have you bought a rosary yet? At the moment, they’re gearing up for the Passion of Christ. One remembers a hideous film by that name, and we’re not really that far off: When you’d walk into one of the Roman Catholic churches they’d like to emulate, you were greeted with scenes of judgment, Hell, suffering, torture, and gore. And that was before the service.

While the rest of us are with Christ in the desert, battling temptation with him, sharing his fast, as expressed in our presanctified liturgies, the neo-Western Rite crowd, for that’s what they are, will already be going through something the rest of us reserve for the balance and dignity of Holy Week (i.e. Passion Week). While we wait for the sepulchre, they are already calling for the crucifixion, without even a triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. And they will not do it once, but repeatedly. For them, this is an extended time of agony.

Implicit in this mistaken obsession with the Passion is the notion that the primary work of Christ’s Incarnation is pouring out his agony and suffering as propitiation for the wrath of God – the very quasi-Calvinist and eminently Latin juridical approach to the Atonement that the Orthodox have rejected all this time as a facet of hyper-Augustinism. If the filioque were translated into a soteriology, it would look like this. In the same way, Orthodoxy has rejected the neo-Nestorian worship of body parts (e.g. the Sacred Heart). In the same way, the Orthodox have warned against the use of imagination in prayer (e.g. the Rosary). All we need now is a weeping Romanesque madonna and a teenager with a fatima-like vision, and we can scrap all this stuff about not being just the Roman Catholics’ kissing cousins.

Indeed, some Western Rite proponents cite building the Western Rite as an ecumenist bridge as their actual motivation – desiring to Give Rome a Home when they ‘unite with us’ – they fail to realize that, when that happens, the Roman Catholics do not become Orthodox, but rather we become Roman Catholics. Rather than giving them a home, the Western Rite finds it’s home in Rome. Perhaps that’s why they don’t yet have Western Rite bishops; they’ll be getting a new one, to put it mildly.

Statue from St. Augustine's Church in Denver (WRV)Then too, instead of an icon painter, trained in the ancient patterns, perhaps, as is now done, a local artist of any sensibility can be commissioned to carve the Madonna. It will not be long then before we can turn to modern composers, likewise, to do musical settings for our liturgies, for there is no difference. Besides, organ music could use the revival. Make no mistake, adopting Latin pieties is also a matter of also adopting the dominant culture, whether of the Renaissance or the post-modern. Sure, we’ll start out being 50 years behind – not the Church of Antiquity but the Church of Antiques, yesterday’s Rome, a living time capsule for the disenchanted contemporary. A museum of devotion from the most recent bygone golden age.

Let us ask: if we’ve no problem with all these heterodox pieties, not only post-schism but, if you think about it, Post-Christian, then why have a problem with heterodox mystics like St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, yea even St. Ignatius of Loyola? Why not? If you’re going to do it, do it boldly. Don’t be surprised when those books come out in “Orthodox” editions, with accompanying studies of their ‘benefit’ and ‘virtue’ – though, by then, there won’t be any need to publish Orthodox editions anymore. And if these Franciscan devotions are to be the norm, why not equip the churches with statues of Francis? Think it couldn’t happen? Don’t be too sure. In fact, why don’t we just make a list of post-schism Roman Catholic devotions, visions, mystics, saints – basically everything but doctrines (we’re saving those for later – though even then, not always) – put them in a book, and call it a manual for the new Western Rite? Seriously: why not? What, exactly is wrong with it? This is the question we put to Western Rite adherents.


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February 27, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite -- Sacred Heart, Western Rite -- Stations of the Cross, Western Rite -- The Rosary, Western Rite Pieties | , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. Good post. Of course, I say that partly because I agree with you. 🙂

    Comment by tuD | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. What many do not get is the essential “schism” or disconnect between public and private prayer in Roman Catholicism. The fact that there is in the Rosary a further disconnect between one’s words and one’s “meditations” also apparently eludes many who attempt to see it as Orthodox. One could also add the “mental reservation” of the Jesuits to the list of having one thing coming out of one’s mouth with something else inside one’s mind.

    The organic nature of Orthodoxy, the organic development of Orthodoxy escapes those who see paradigms and theoretical constructs as the way to proceed, the essential method. The role of monasticism? Also not much in the picture really, primarily in appeals to “contemplative life.”

    Aside from para-litugical enthusiasts in the lineage of St. Francis, there are those who whether they realize it or not consider themselves Subtle Doctors like Duns Scotus. The notion that a “smart guy” somehow validates Christian Faith seems empty to me, and apparently, and I have said this before, it seemed empty even to Thomas Aquinas at the end of his life.

    With respect to reading Scripture, more recent paradigm takeovers include liberation theology footnotes in Brazilian Bibles, which BTW, provided an exit ramp for many of Brazil’s poor toward more conservative churches where they discovered a greater emphasis on personal morality and ended up in better economic condition. Like the imposed, yes, imposed changes of Vatican II, where was the concern for the trajectory of everthing? Liberal impositions? Conservative impositions? Does the Idea of things matter most?

    To say that Orthodox and Roman Catholics are of a “different mind” is in some ways an understatement. The Orthodox intellectual, someone like Lossky, points beyond the mind to Mystery and the heart where all of us are peasants. There is not the romanticization of “what the mind” can do, especially when confronted with the Mystery of God. The notion that Catholic intellectuals especially in the last 40 years have drawn many into the Faith is also somewhat miseleading, since invariably there is some additional souce of zeal even primary focus, especially in the arenas of political conservatism, liberal activism, or an ecclectic sense of Christianity which includes forays into non-Christian Eastern religions and practices and psychotherapies of some sort.

    Ahistoricty serves many purposes in Western Christianity.

    Comment by publican123 | April 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. Two parts to this.

    1. Reproof: Do not drop in, toss around insults like suggesting we need to read more scholarly texts, and with pomp and condescension make little demands, and then play the victim – claiming it is we who have attacked you. Your future posts will be decent and carry a modicum of civility or they will be deleted and, if they persist, you will be banned. Whether it were a meeting of the Lion’s Club or Vestry, a private home or a public cafe, if you approached with that kind of attitude, you should quite reasonably expect to be rebuffed. Indeed, one would be surprised if you weren’t counting on it.

    2. Debate: Demonstrate the evidence you speak of, concerning the Rosarie’s ancient use by the Orthodox (in any widespread way if at all), and we will look at it; but appeals to prayers that you claim are just as good or the same thing do not amount to a sanction of the current practice among WRO people or the heterodox.

    Secondly, you miss the point, trying to shift the burden of proof to the Orthodox when, in fact, there is no need to have a negative consensus; it is enough that it is a foreign piety that did not grow among Orthodox people out of Orthodox Faith, but in fact took a very different turn. If that is so, we have no need to disprove it’s usefulness, but only to reject it out of hand. In a similar discussion elsewhere, a Roman Catholic is taking an Orthodox person to task for approaching such things with “What do the Orthodox believe?” rather than “Are the Orthodox correct?” It’s interesting to watch that debate because the Roman Catholics seem to think the Orthodox have to convert to their epistemology in order to be taken seriously, when the Orthodox in fact keep doing what they’ve always done – telling you what things we have done (more accurately) and believed.

    In other words, the Roman Catholic approach is ahistorical and akin to the approach of neo-Orthodox scholars who wish to construct a faith (in a protestanto-catholic manner) out of theoretical modules and components based on their conclusions. This parallels nicely the decisions Rome has made for a millenium and their impetus’ and has been analyzed elsewhere. The Orthodox on the other hand, are always speaking from an historical framework: what we have believed, what we have done – we have done this since we were Jews of the flesh, and we do it now as Semites of the spirit. Even our hermeneutics comes out differently because of it. We don’t read the scriptures in the same way.

    The classic example: when the psalmist says “If I ascend to Heaven, Thou art there; if I descend to Hell, Thou are there likewise.” the West typically reads this as a commentary on the omnipresence of God – a commentary on the divine attribute of ubiquity – a theoretical commentary. The Orthodox, on the other hand, read it as specifically a canticle on the Incarnation, for Christ descended into Hell and ascended into Heaven, and so on. The whole Psalm is about a historical event, recapitulated in Christ, in the Economy of His Incarnation. Amen.

    And so it is with the way we debate or think about what it is we do and don’t accept, in the way of doctrine or of devotion. We look back, where the scholars and the heterodox look inward; we look to what we have said before and what we have said all along, and so keep saying; the others look at the conclusions of their syllogisms. We are different minds.

    And so can you now see how when you land here and hurl invective about what we need to learn, study, read, and think, you are attacking the very thing that makes us who we are? And how would you feel if I sent a group of young, avid, zealous Orthodox to your Sunday afternoon gathering, or other such locale, to throw out such harangues. You are welcome, if you come to debate fairly and reasonably, but you must speak of phyletism and then do something far worse – namely, go after not the ethnicity of our flesh, but the mind of Christ in us.

    Comment by tuD | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. Once again, whoever you are, you completely avoid the actual issue and then proceed to attack me. That’s really dishonest, I have to say. And frustrating, too. I responded to the other post with a feeling of real provocation, and now I think I’m just feeling exhausted. Hopefully someone else can add to this discussion, who actually addresses the subject honestly and decently.

    There is a substantial amount of evidence not only of the Rosary’s antiquity, but also of its Orthodox praxis. There are the above-mentioned saints, as well as other saints, and the multitudes of Latin, Western Christians before the Schism who prayed the prayers of the Mother of God as part of their own prayer rule given them by their spiritual fathers. And historically, by the way, the prayers of the Rosary are nearly as old as the use of Canons and Akathists in Byzantine piety.

    There needs to be consensus among the saints on issues of faith. But what negative consensus is there from Orthodox saints concerning the Rosary? What canons speak on this supposedly innovative Latin practice? What body of writings are there that speak on this?

    Comment by orthomark | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  5. I’ve answered your nastier comment [here]. For the reasons cited there, I’ll simply break down your fallacies here:

    * x=y – tautological argument
    * not understanding – not our problem
    * St. Seraphim and St. Dmitri (already discussed on this site – you seem to have simply dropped in and popped off)
    * Western Captivity – we do not take attributions of ‘stupid’ from the denizens of midwestern colleges, but take our cues from those who consistently lived and died in the experience of the things you’re dismissing – this will receive no answer from us
    * St. Peter Moghila – widely discussed elsewhere – while I won’t take it up with you, perhaps someone else here will.
    * Liturgical practices – the rosary is not a liturgical practice – it’s liturgical in character, but devotional in kind – there are indeed saints who have done things in their private devotions that we do not, as a whole, accept. Indeed, contemporary bishops that I know personally have remembered names on their diskos’ that would shock a lot of people, and we’ve already seen one discussion of a priest who prays in tongues (privately). It is the consensus of Saints that we look for, and not the individual expressions of piety of only one or two saints.
    * x=y (x2) – argument by repetition – saying something repeatedly does not make it true. Besides, these are not things that are up to you. When we critique these devotions, it is from within the normative life of Holy Orthodoxy, and with concerns for things that clearly lead to perdition (such as imagination in prayer). What you are doing is citing well-worn arguments that offer the barest justification for practices that did not, quite clearly, develop as devotional practices until after the schism, and from within a culture of pietism that is not Orthodox, despite the residue of Orthodoxy that left intact their original inspiration. You use sophism to relate them to pre-schism and Orthodox devotions, but if that’s what they rest on, then you’re actually supporting our argument. We do not need academics to teach us the the way of theosis but the genuinely pious, despite the fact that you seem to have unwittingly walked in on a number of people who have extensive academic backgrounds (we do not laud them here by inviting you to “read more scholarly works’, despite what we may think). Your subtle blasts at ethnics tells me you wouldn’t know the difference.

    Comment by tuD | March 10, 2008 | Reply

  6. The Rosary is absolutely Orthodox.

    I really don’t understand why there are so many Orthodox who insist otherwise. St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Dimitri of Rostov both spoke on this issue. The Rule of the Mother of God that St. Seraphim gave to his spiritual children finds its origin in the same Rule known to Western Christians today as the Rosary. The recitation of the mysteries of the Mother of God are all pre-Schism in origin and taken directly from the Scriptures. The recitation with them of the Our Father and the Apostles’ Creed are also the same. And regarding St. Dimitri, he prayed the Latin version of it, and received a visitation not only of the Virgin but also of Christ, who promised to lead the souls of those who prayed this Rule heavenward.

    The Jordanville prayerbook used to mention St. Dimitri’s vision in its explanatory text. It no longer does, and I am convinced that the reason for it is this rather stupid idea prominent in some Orthodox circles of some “Western Captivity” of the Russian Church. Usually the men who bear the brunt of this criticism are St. Dimitri of Rostov and St. Peter Moghila of Kiev. The implication is that the testimony of these and other saints is suspect with regards to liturgical practices and Christian devotions because they were “tainted” with Latin influences.

    I personally grow very weary of the kind of misinformation that gets published abroad in the Orthodox Church concerning ancient and venerable devotions from the West. So I repeat, the Rosary is completely Orthodox.

    Comment by orthomark | March 10, 2008 | Reply

  7. I agree, it’s disturbing. We seem to be asking people not to convert but to affiliate administratively.

    Comment by tuD | March 7, 2008 | Reply

  8. I converted to Orthodoxy under a very compassionate, understanding spiritual father, who was a convert himself. He was very patient, yet very firm about prayer and praxis– what is Orthodox and what is heterodox. Rosary and stations were definitely NOT considered Orthodox.

    I think it really comes down to the mind set of conversion. In the recent post concerning Fr. Mark Wallace in AGAIN magazine, his wife’s previous story is referenced ”

    “The entire parish did without any sacraments from March 2007 until its chrismation in January 2008”

    In truth, according to Orthodox teaching, were they really receiving the sacraments before 2007? Now that Father Mark is a priest are they now receiving the SAME sacraments that they were before?

    Am I perhaps not reading this correctly? Maybe I am reading too much into the statement? Do they really have a proper understanding of the Holy Mysteries?

    As a Roman Catholic, I was very “Eucharist centered” in the I attended daily mass, made at least two holy hour visits to the church each week, and attended adoration and benediction whenever it was offered. Once I entered Orthodoxy I realized how misplaced my sincere devotion really was. But this was due to my spiritual father guiding me through the conversion process. The word conversion itself means to turn around or away (or maybe even toward). In so turning, toward the Faith, we are turning away from error, leaving the old behind us.

    The totality of the conversion has been discussed on here before, but the recent post brought these thoughts to mind.

    Comment by occidentaltourist | March 6, 2008 | Reply


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