Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

What will You Be doing This Lent?


March 2, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite -- Stations of the Cross, Western Rite Weirdness | , , , , , , ,


  1. Well, the FIRST error of number is to number God. The root of all theistic heresy, that, for unlike the new Jews, the Muslims, the Roman Catholics, and the Protestants, we are not monotheists. We do not believe that God is one in number, for what is one in number is not by nature unique. Rather, we believe God is one in nature, and repudiate monotheism as easily as tritheism or polytheism.

    — just as, unlike the aforementioned religions, neither are we “people of the book” as they like to insist. Rather, we wrote the books, for our own liturgical use, and only we may rightly understand them, properly use them, or grasp their place in reality – for they make no sense outside of the community by whom they were written, the use for which they were written, or the context of thought and experience in which they were written. If they are people of the book, then we are not, and vice versa.

    Comment by tuD | March 15, 2008 | Reply

  2. I ALMOST understood that.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | March 15, 2008 | Reply

  3. Well balanced thoughts, Father.

    The use of numeric theories in much scholastic thinking has always concerned me, because it is the construction of a consensual reality from philosophical precepts. In this, we get the monism of the neoplatonists, but not far from the tree is the alchemy and numerology of the occultists. The wholesale creation of a religious numerology (I use the term not in its full sense (no capital N) is not our way, but comes out of beginning with philosophical tenets/propositions, and designing ‘history’ (in an actually ahistorical way – which is quite a Latin thing to do) to suit.

    Likewise, I suspect an occult connection with the Holy Napkin. Not the real one mind you, or the presence of the Orthodox ones in every Church, but based on the Sack of Constantinople, and the known presence of the Napkin there at the time, combined with the Latin confusion over one/many and the quest for talismans of power that has typified the Western military diplomacy since the tradition of Solomon’s Temple in the Crusades, I get concerned when I hear of the creation or imagination of new talismans which aren’t rooted in the way we view history, if they’re rooted in history at all, and which then seem to take on a difference significance.

    I know it sounds like a rabbit trail, but the fact is that the marriage of philosophy and religion in the West produced some very unusual results for all religions in the West, religious traditions, and philosophical schools, not to mention the resultant political and economic traditions. You start with something simple like the belief in a different kind of potency (mysteriology) to certain symbols, and you end up in some really bizarre, if consistent, places.

    Comment by tuD | March 15, 2008 | Reply

  4. I have always been a little bit cautious about the way of the Cross because although most of the stations reflect events recorded in the Holy Gospels, some events in the Stations of the Cross (or “Way of the Cross”) are not found in the Scripture nor in Orthodox tradition of East or West. In fact, these events may simply never have occurred.

    One example is the set of three stations which concern Christ’s three falls to the ground. Did He really fall to the ground three times, or even once? The Gospels don’t say so. But I can’t find any tradition in historic Christianity (East OR West) that Christ fell down while carrying his Cross–much less that He fell down three times. Indeed, when we look at the evolution of this devotion amongst the Otherdox, we find that the earlier forms of the devotion had but a single fall. But by post-Reformation times, almost ALL places in Roman Catholicism which had Stations, had seven separate falls. So much did the idea of the Seven Falls of Christ enter into the thinking of Roman Catholics, that when one of the Baroque Popes (forget which) defined the number of falls in stations at three, people made all these elaborate attempts to reconcile the “discrepancy.” In other words, they said that in addition to the three fall stations, the Lord’s meeting with His Mother involved a fourth fall, the appearance of Simon of Cyrene was made at a fifth fall, Veronica wiped the Lord’s face at a sixth fall, that the women of Jerusalem were addressed at a seventh fall, etc., etc.

    But, wait, wait, wait. What if Our Saviour never fell at all? Nothing in Eastern or Western Orthodoxy says He did…

    Another example is the station where St. Veronica wipes the face of Our Lord and His face is wondrously imprinted on the cloth. The old traditions of the Undivided Church, Western and Eastern, do relate that there was an image of Christ not made by human hands (we know that it was kept at Edessa for a long time, having been a present of our Saviour to King Abgar), was lost, then was miraculously rediscovered inside the city wall, whereupon it was translated to Constantinople (I think this was in the 10th c.).

    We also know there was a woman disciple of Our Lord named Veronica, who is a Saint. It is known that she crafted a statue of Our Lord and that it had wonderworking properties (all this was related at the Seventh Oecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787).

    But as far as I am aware, the idea that Christ gave St. Veronica an image-not-made-by-hands first appears in the 15th century, outside Orthodoxy, and the idea that this formed a part of the events on the day of the Passion, is 17th or 18th c. in origin (it is absent in the earlier forms of the stations devotion).

    In other words, these ideas arose only very recently, and only within Roman Catholicism, never within Orthodoxy. To my mind, this would make these devotions questionable or awkward for use in an Orthodox parish. I am not attacking the devotion per se, only raising some questions about it from an Orthodox vantage point. Far less am I attacking those whose piety and love for our common Saviour leads them to pray these stations!

    While the imaginative events of the stations may not be antithetical to the Orthodox Faith, not being antithetical is not a sufficiently high standard for Orthodox devotions.

    In the past, in certain Orthodox monasteries, different trees or hills on the grounds would sometimes be identified, especially by monks who had travelled to Jerusalem, as memorials of the Passion events in the Gospels. Then monks would sometimes walk from one landmark to another, recalling the suffering of Our Lord. So the basic idea is not without precedent. But I can’t imagine this piety, in Orthodox circles, would exceed the bounds of tradition (including Holy Scripture) and tread into imaginative events. I can’t imagine Orthodox devising stations, for example, of the Tripping of Simon of Cyrene by the Bald Soldier; The Retrieval of the Detached Thorn from the Crown by the Samaritan Woman; the Public Denunciation of Pilate by St. Bartholomew, etc., etc.

    Look, almost a third of the Roman-Catholic stations of the cross commemorate “events” which are not a part of the tradition of the Orthodox Faith at all. It would be not in accord with Orthodox thinking in other areas, to arbitrarily separate commemorable events or things into Scriptural and Non-Scriptural. More natural a divison would be That Which Is In the Tradition and That Which Is Not In the Tradition.

    Four of the Stations in the Stations of the Cross fall into that latter category.

    As a Western rite Orthodox layman, I used to pray the Stations of the Cross too. But when I realised that one-third of it has no basis in Orthodoxy, I became a bit concerned. In the end the pastor, and the bishop, gave the devotion a second look and in pastoral sobriety decided to replace the Stations, in that parish, with other and more Orthodox forms of devotion to our long-suffering Saviour.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | March 15, 2008 | Reply

  5. [deleted] – future posts that scream, toss around hyperbole, etc. will likewise be deleted.

    Comment by orthomark | March 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. Your tone is a bit academico-snippy for a guest, so I for one probably won’t give you a lot, least of all do I feel the need to convince you – maybe someone else will. Instead, I’ll simply answer your fallacies, breaking down your query by points. Skipping the stuff about you and, as I say, your question:

    * phyletism – drawing a distinction does not equal phyletism – that’s like saying that if I like Chopin and not Dr. Dre I’m a racist. We don’t bother w. assertions like that.
    * scholarly information – most scholars that drop in and mouth off from the beginning have an elevated view of the importance of their reading. Time and poverty will likely erode this, but your assumption is that we are unread. Is it because this site doesn’t have an academic tone? Perhaps you’d be more comfortable visiting one that does. In the meantime, assumption rejected
    * origins – not that it takes scholarly reading to tell us the origins of the stations, we are all quite aware. The origins of papal supremacy are in the words of Christ to St. Peter – argument by origin is hardly relevant.
    * the epitaphios procession is not an exercise of imagination in prayer which, incidentally, our fathers condemn – your argument is not with us but with them. Are you impugning, as you seem to be, the Orthodox practice, or denying that the stations of the cross are designed to encourage the use of imagination in prayer? You ask for objectivity, but you offer none. This is a common peril, among the academic magisters of Ohio and elsewhere.
    * familiarity – you impute to us a motive of mere unfamiliarity (“not used to it in the East”) – this seems to be the place where your initial assumptions went off the rails – you have no idea what we’re familiar with – for all you know, each one of us is intimately familiar with the stations – we needn’t answer this assumption

    Comment by tuD | March 10, 2008 | Reply

  7. I would do BOTH, given the choice. The latter description of “ecumenist, post-Schism, Roman Catholic” is false, and I would assert that most strongly. What difference is there between the Stations of the Cross and the procession of the Epitaphios and other such Byzantine practices that we observe during Holy Week? Please someone give an objective distinction between them, because I see none to speak of. The only difference I see is that one is Eastern and the other Western, with a kind of phyletistic Orientalism standing between them. You might actually try reading scholarly information about the origin of the Stations of the Cross. The practice has its origin in pilgrimages to the Holy Land, where pilgrims would go from shrine to shrine commemorating the sacred acts of our Lord and Savior, and also of his Mother along the Via Dolorosa. Orthodox pilgrims do the same thing even today from all over the world.

    So again I ask, what makes the Stations of the Cross “ecumenist” or “post-Schism”? If one objects to the use of imagination or fantasy in its practice, I would agree. But then, the same caveat would also apply to Eastern devotions, like the above-mentioned procession of the Epitaphios. So that argument does not work. I would very much like for someone to give a well-reasoned and balanced explanation of WHY the Stations of the Cross is not Orthodox.

    So far I have seen only the usual “it’s not what we’re used to in the East” mentality. I would like to be convinced with something more substantive than that.

    Comment by orthomark | March 10, 2008 | Reply

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