Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

The First Denomination within Orthodoxy

First Orthodox Denomination?The Protestant impulse may be loosely defined as that tendency toward fragmentation over the desires, interests, beliefs, persuasions, passions, etc. etc. of religious adherents. There is substantial agreement on “the Faith” itself, but the very process being performed upon the Faith reduces it to a system of ‘essentials’ which are contrasted with non-essentials. In other words, those who disagree on essentials are of a different Faith. Those who disagree on non-essentials are of a different denomination.

Traditionally, of course, Orthodox Churches grew organically. They were planted by apostles and they were missionized among ‘barbarians’ by those “equal to the apostles”. The notion of programmatically ‘setting up’ a Church was more or less appropriate to the papal or Protestant ecclesiologies.

But what if it were otherwise? What if the Orthodox shared an essentially Protestant/Papal ecclesiology: Church by administration – church by fiat? At least two things would result, but two things, certainly:

1. The impulse and moral justification for creating a church would be “cultural” differences within the fold. This is the Protestant element.
2. The legitimization of this impulse would be juridical – something a hierarchy would sign off on but closely control. This is the Papal element.

And if these two things were to coincide, the result would be an organization within an organization, organism within organism, organ within organ: in short, a church within a church. Anyone else, of course, looking in, would term that a denomination. The basis for departure are the non-essentials, while the basis for administrative authority and control (simultaneously) would be the essentials.

And if this were all there was, these things in theory, we might yet be hesitant to refer to the Western Rite as a denomination within Orthodoxy. But then one reads Western Rite literature, and hears the call to go to one Church if you’re ‘ethnic’ and another if you’re white, to go to one church or another depending on which side of the Bosphorus your ancestry falls, which bank of the Mediterranean, which bloodline, which inclination, how you were raised, where you converted from, etc. This is the language of denominationalism.

Again, though, one might be hesitant to call it that, until one also reads Western Rite apologetics. The sometimes indiscriminate pilfering of the treasure houses of history, finding justifications, references, bloodlines, geneologies, and whatever bases one can for distinction, all the while demanding, often shrilly, recognition of union. This too, holding in constant tension the quest for objective authority in references and the demand for subjective authority in the recognition of others, is the Protestant impulse. And the method of handling texts is akin to arguing your point, and then finding the footnotes to back it up later. Substitute the ‘bible’, and you’ve got the fundamental Protestant hermeneutic, whether you’re doing ‘Orthodox’ hagiography or what have you.

If we took out the words “Western Rite” and inserted the words “Missouri Synod”, one might easily survey a number of “Western Rite” sites and be surprised if someone suggested the Westerrn Rite were anything *but* a denomination of Orthodoxy (aside from the absence of Western Rite bishops that could actually make up their own synod). We mean these observations not to belittle Western Rite endeavours, but rather to call adherents to awareness (no, not of how they look, but) of the religious sociology being introduced into Orthodoxy by the attitudes, mindsets, and resultant activities done in the name of “Western Rite”. A different rite, after all, needn’t be a different denomination, but when a rite is confused with a host of other things, and touted in a tribalist, multiculturalist way, a denomination is what you get, and denominationalism as an impulse – indeed a host of other things that are needed to prop up such an impulse, and which are actually foreign to Orthodoxy of any rite.

In seeking to accurately, adequately, and appropriately pursue a rite, one must not allow a quasi-Protestant, pseudo-Orthodox culture to be constructed that undermines these very efforts. This will prove worse than no effort at all, and what adherents will find themselves clutching in the end is not Orthodoxy but just another religion, whose claim to be the True Faith depends on cognitive dissonance – on saying one thing, and acting as though another were true.

That said, the Orthodox of the rite of St. John (called Eastern, by some), should cease all such denomination-inspiring rhetoric, whether this is making fun of the Russians (as is now popular where Orthodoxy has become an arrogant quasi-Episcopalian dilettantism), or else drawing illicit contrasts between ethnic and non-ethnic, cradle and non-cradle, parochial and monastic, this ethnic group or that one. All such work is the work of Protestantism, even when they call themseles Orthodox, and even when they are clergy or ‘famous’ Orthodox personalities. Many Protestants, in fact, are more Orthodox, when they cast off the very impulse that has so fragmented their Faith and which we now see at work wherever Orthodox has courted acceptance in the cultures in which the heterodox impulse is embedded.

We feel as much at home with those who pray the Western Rite as those who pray the Eastern, when either of them act like Orthodox Christians. But we are concerned that the very things ruining Orthodoxy by Anglicanizing it in so-called “Eastern-rite” churches, is actually generating the programmatic Anglicizing of Orthodoxy in so-called “Western-rite” churches. It’s not our only concern, but a thing seemingly yielding the fruit of Protestantism, and coming from its orchards, bears consideration in that light.


April 9, 2008 - Posted by | -- What is Western?, Western Rite Questions | , , , , , ,


  1. What’s also interesting but not surprising is the amount of money essentially asked for in the so-called more “progressive” places, the notion that Orthodoxy requires all these additional ministries and programs and of course proliferation money for building churches even in affluent communities that in short time show signs of wear and tear, with electronic bells and visible cinderblock. In my travels, these programs are a haven for those who need to be visibly part of an elite… as if the Liturgy was somehow insufficient. Ministries and programs hurray! Monasteries… fellowship… prayer with one’s family in one’s home before an icon… well, not very high profile, not much to talk about.

    The church I now attend has no pews and the warmest people I have met on my journey. Also, in short time, I was invited to join the choir.

    I can only say that God because of my sins and His Mercy led me to such a place, knowing that my particular soul needed the best and most effective medicine.

    I can honestly say that I arrived there not wanting “to show those Orthodox” but to repent and be transformed.

    Comment by publican123 | April 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. Well, personally, I do see some serious problems with the direction of the Antiochian Church.

    We make bones about saying such things now, but we forget St. Paul’s comments to the Corinthian and other churches, for all to see, or the Apocalypse. So I think the shyness about it is really a product of the dominant culture’s tendency to totalitarianism. We’ve gone through the 80s; the cultural critics are dead, this is is no longer the culture that challenges institutions of authority routinely, and to the degree they rule by fiat. This is the era of backlash – perhaps the most unquestioning era in recent history when it comes to propping up institutions and refusing to be critical.

    People stand in line with Christmas presents to return at a department store – defective from the box, but outside the “30-day policy” since they sat under the tree unopened as gifts, and when they’re told they have to abide by a policy they didn’t have a say in from an institution they don’t work for, they get a blank look in their eyes and comply. They seem bewildered about what to do. A husband and wife in the same store are debating whether some item is worth the high price. The argument of one party is “that’s what they cost”. In other words, other people, institutions, determine what is normal, real, standard, and ultimately how we should behave.

    Perhaps because I didn’t grow up in an era of lockstep acquiescence, I’m afforded the priviledge of seeing neopapism a little more clearly; it’s a conceit I have. And watching it used to insitutionalize the whims of clergy who mouth heresy, make exceedingly dangerous and unwise decisions under the guise of ‘economia’, I feel not only free but that it’s absolutely necessary to consider my Faith in contrast to their actions. Or else I surrender it without ever knowing it.

    There’s a point where the use of the term Orthodox no longer implies that we really share the same Faith, and this cannot be all swept together under the rubric of “the beautiful and glorious diversity of the Church”. We’re not catholic in the sense of either ‘universal’ or merely ‘consensus’. But there’s a point where, despite all our dancing around it and playing quaint little cultural mind games with the HR-lingo of a tedious and pathetic generation, we have really become different people.

    The original letter of Bishop Anthony, filed under ‘seminal material’, doesn’t go this far, but it does articulate the problem (and I contend this is the real reason for the vehement reception and invective it has received from opponents in some quarters) that things are done canonically in form which cannot simply be repudiated, but which nonetheless present a serious problem for piety, unity, and fidelity to those who love Orthodoxy. That assertion, more than any other, is a challenge to the entire polity that has been born in the Antiochian Archdiocese.

    Sadly, it is not well known to clergy outside that archdiocese, since, after all, when would they have the chance to spend any significant time in these communities, and get a substantive sense of ordinary life there over any prolongued period? They cannot, in fact. And bishops all know what to say to one another when they get together – it’s a matter of being polite and expressing the things presumably shared. But go as a layman, or disguised as a layman, and spend some time in various places, and participate in all their activities, and do this consistently across a spectrum of Orthodox churches, and you’ll get a very different point of view.

    Of course, with the running ad hominems, and the cultural baggage relegating all challenges to institutions as personal problems or coming from ulterior motives, and there’s no way you could tell anyone. If it were any other thing, I would say this culture has asked for its institutions, let them have them. Unfortunately, with the Church, we’re dealing with real life, so it’s not as easy as kicking off the dust.

    But yes, incidentally, what you’re talking about, the placing of different types of people in neat, ordered, categorized boxes, among various missions and parishes, is actually common. And there’s something in it akin to pews, and to the transformation of persons into categories. But the reason we don’t scream to high heaven and the broad earth about some of it is simply that not only do we think it’s the initial throws of the great apostasy, but we have an idea of how that comes out.

    The policeman who beats a man in an alley and breaks your camera – he doesn’t fear judgment. The corporate manager who embezzles, using the company budget for $500 bottles of champagne and Vegas shows, while the company goes with a cheaper health care plan that doesn’t take care of families – he doesn’t believe there’s a day of reckoning. Those who are trying to remake the Faith according to their philosophies, they believe they’re doing a service – mostly to man, ultimately to God, actually to themselves – and they don’t really see themselves as risking eternal fire for it – they think God will let them off. But none of these folk will win.

    Even in the short term, there will be a day when they proclaim the great union (of Rome and Orthodoxy, or Cantebury and Orthodoxy, or all of the above), and they’ll get a surprise. They will have converted to the other thing, and we will be taking Orthodoxy with us. They’ll call out our small numbers, our ‘unrecognized’ status, our non-‘canonicity’, but it is they who are small, unrecognized, and uncanonical. And those who have been prepared to flock to the crowd… baaa baaaaa… and to flee the minority, to flock to the safe legs of neopapal authority – they’ll go into those fences. And yes, they’ll try by various means in various places to stamp the last of us out, but we know something they will not know. There is a reality beyond institutions, and not in the Crowley-esque magic of religious philosophy; there is a thin, tenuous veil between us and the realm of glory, and this side will be trampled down, and ground as in a winepress, and ultimately folded up, and finally poured into fire. I don’t want to be clutching it, in the end, with my last breath, as the ultimate meaning of my life. They can have it. We’re not in the minority, when we cling to the True Faith. We’re in the glorious predominance of Saints.

    And this is why, when institutional orthodoxy sends harangues at the “uncanonical” I take it with a grain of salt. We’ll all be called “uncanonical” some day, if we hold true. Who is to say when that day began?

    Comment by tuD | April 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. First, the notion that a group of converts to Orthodoxy are somehow experts on what Orthodoxy should BECOME…
    Sound OK?

    Second, I myself was routed earlier in my journey to a “mission parish” in the Antiochian Archdiocese despite the fact that a parish with a Liturgy almost entirely in English was closer… more Slavic people at that mission?

    Third, the same individual who referred me to the boondocks also made a statement about how “the problem is, the Russians received the Faith intact.” His statement was related to pieties, the Liturgy… and made pejoratively.

    Let me state this bluntly: the Antiochian Archdiocese has emerged as the self-styled voice of the future of American Orthodoxy. The fact that retaining a famous personality within the Eastern Rite of the AA required a manipulation, playing with the Canons and a top down decree following what was essentially a parish scandal should put into perspective some of the AOK mentality in the Western Rite. Just another example of a personal inclination backed up by an authority.

    Comment by publican123 | April 10, 2008 | Reply

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