Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Enemies, Opponents, and Brothers in Christ

Wool over one's eyes.Recently a Christian speaker stood before an audience desiring to gain acceptance for a path that conflicted quite clearly with their tradition. The technique he used is tried and true. He began to describe how there’s a difference between crazy and not crazy. Always he drew associations with his theoretical opponents and craziness, always with his own views and sanity. In other words:

  • He presented a false dilemma: Your choices are: my novel views or else these extreme and unpleasant attitudes and motivations; those are your choices. He didn’t define craziness, of course. You could insert the word ‘extremist’ or ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘liberal’ or any other undesirable buzzword. The important thing is to leave it vague enough, and to indicate, without indicating why or how, it is undesirable: You don’t want to be thought of as “x”, do you? Well then, the only alternative is my views.
  • He poisoned the well: Those who would oppose me are, by opposing me, demonstrating that their motivations are irrational. Of course, he did not have any actual opponents on hand to prove him wrong – the goal was to prevent opposition, and stereotype it in advance.
  • He mischaracterized his opponents, theoretical or otherwise. By attributing to them irrational, he easily escapes contest with the many rational books and articles that have been written to refute his position. He likewise, escapes having to engage such things, since a scholar needn’t, after all, debate with the irrational. [1]

In short, this speaker silenced opposition, embarrassed concern, and slid a pre-packaged point of view into the minds of those least educated on the matter, least versed in the relevant body of thought, and most likely to desire an easy avenue to intellectual status – namely, the mass of new converts and under-educated members of churches that cater to every novelty while fostering ignorance of tradition. He pled to dilettants.

These techniques are cited here, because they’re not uncommon among Western Rite enthusiasts. Frequently, those who express concern, potent questions, and certainly challenges to things done in the name of “Western rites” are characterized as “hysterical” [2], “raving”, “railing”, “polemicists” [3] “bashing”, “attacking”, “hostile”, “attempting to demean the rite” [4], and so on.

In other words, a variety of irrational emotions (rage, hysteria), evil motives (hostility, hatred, the desire to demean), and extreme actions (railing, raving) are attributed to those who would express concern over some of the enthusiasm being expressed, question the wisdom of some of the initiatives undertaken, or oppose the novelties introduced. The technique is the same, and it’s effects are:

  • Present a false dilemma: you must choose the “balanced view” of the enthusiasts, or the extreme emotions, motives, and actions presumably characterizing their opponents. There is no third choice – namely that of happy approval of what is good, and firm, even adamant opposition to what is not, coupled with cautious consideration of what is questionable. There is only, in this presentation, “us” and “them”, and “them” aren’t really an option.
  • Poison the well: when you see opposition, you must read it with the remembrance that it cannot come from genuine and legitimate concern, a righteous desire for fidelity and purity, and a human struggle to balance the need to admonish and sometimes correct one’s brother for his own salvation, for ours, and for the sanctity of the Faith, with the need to seek dispassion, find humility, and pray for the best. No, opponents must be ‘read’ with a certain pre-packaged hermeneutic – with eyes provided to you by the enthusiasts.
  • Mischaracterize opponents: you are encouraged to read opponents with prejudice and feelings, all the while being admonished not to read the enthusiasts with prejudice and feelings, except of course where prejudice and feelings are deemed to favor the enthusiasts. The first step in persecuting anyone (as the enthusiasts so frequently claim to be persecuted) is to dehumanize them – to make them into caricatures of honest, honorable, reasonable people. This is how you become the enemy of another, and not merely the opponent. Once you have decided that your opponents are not honest, honorable, reasonable people with whom you can seek and indeed find the truth together, you may feel safety from them, but in fact you are no longer safe from yourselves. The truth is, we all need each other, to challenge one another, question one another, admonish one another, and indeed to listen to us. Once we willingly decide to end that, no position we hold is worth having.

Opponents need not be EnemiesThis capacity, to treat opposition as warfare, which always reduces opponents to something less than our fellows, lies in wait as a temptation for any of us, and we are most vulnerable when wounded by one another. As St. Nikolai said, “Men can do me no evil as long as I bear no wound.” And likewise, he offered an entirely different way of looking at enemies in [this wonderful prayer].

So we must encourage those who are enthusiasts, those who are critics, and those who aren’t sure, to use moderation in characterizing opponents. The very caution that we use in examining these matters for approval or disapproval, let us use in choosing how we portray our counterparts, for agreement or disagreement. Let charity teach us to use more strictness with ourselves and more leniency with others. We who are writing this have often failed in this regard. We have sometimes let prejudice, defensiveness, and the desire to finish the course easily determine our words. We are resolved to do better. At the same time, we must, for the sake of the things for which we are striving, point out misleading and harmful techniques, when they endanger our brothers among Western Rite enthusiasts, our fellows anywhere, and ourselves in the temptation to respond in kind. We only seem to be opponents, after all, but to the degree we seek salvation in this striving, we are not opponents – not really. And just as we must acknowledge behaviour sometimes unbecoming, we must seek forgiveness, too, for driving our opponents to behaviours unbecoming fellows in Christ.

Let us love one another, that with one mouth, one mind, one accord we may confess, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the Trinity, One in Essence, and Undivided. Amen.

End Notes:

[1] In a classroom once, a young man was greeted with an ad hominem: “You’re a man, so your ideas on this don’t count.” The young man answered, “And what about all the women who disagree with you?” He focused on the reason the person was using an ad hominem, rather than dismissing, as he could have, the fallacy outright. Mischaracterizing one’s opponent, aims, like the ad hominem, at avoiding the need to truly answer opposition.

[2] Hysterical: ” Clergy and faithful report an anonymous blog with a hysterical attack on
Western Orthodoxy.”

[3] Ravers: “Wow, butchering two liturgical traditions at once; only in TEC. Still, some anti-Western Rite ravers may like this: it doesn’t encourage meditation on the Passion of Christ, and it does have (a form of a) Byzantine prayer.” Railing, Polemicists: “Certainly, at time some in the West have overemphasized the former aspect at the expense of the latter. In the present atmosphere, wherein Orthodox polemicists rail against the West whenever the opportunity presents itself, this balance is in danger of being lost on the other side. All such posts should be taken only in this context.” Railing: “Every year around this time, someone opines that meditation on the death of Christ is vile, heterodox, post-Schism, a macabre obsession with “gore.” They take particular offense at the Stations of the Cross, although they seem to regard any consideration of Our Lord’s suffering as part of the non-Orthodox approach to Christianity. As with so much of their railing approach to theology, though, this assertion contrasts sharply with the approach taken by many Orthodox saints.”

[4] Bashing, Attacking, Hostile, Demean the Rite: “in a polemical article he wrote to demean the Western Rite Orthodox” … “To my doleful surprise, I found — to the contrary — some Byzantines have applauded this liturgical deformation…in order to bash the Western Rite!” … “I wonder: have others encountered this sentiment from Byzantine Orthodox, or does it only rear its head when they’re attacking their own?” … “And as I always hasten to point out, not all Greeks, much less all Byzantines, are hostile to the Western Rite.”

April 10, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Questions, Western Rite Seminal Material | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Yes, the “modern Orthodox” I referred to I do not speak to speak to anymore, not with a sense of self-righteousness or after any hateful exchange but out of a need for self-protection and continuing my own sense of repentance. Did I learn some good things in that connection? Yes, but woven with the good… certain lights lit up on my dashboard.

    What concerns me as a convert to Orthodoxy is who is welcoming new converts so to speak, but I think, to be sure, there are converts themselves who enter with a sense of wanting to convert Orthodoxy.

    Comment by publican123 | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thank the Lord for our babushki and yiayias! They have nourished and guided our spirits. Only due to their powerless and mighty power did the Church of Russia survive the Communist Yoke. Their umbrellas have located and contacted our thick skulls, when necessary, and the umbrella of their prayers doth shield the whole Church of God from the fiery darts of the wicked one.

    In another vein, I see a trend whereby the sobering faith-problems of the heterodox Stations of the Cross are (seemingly) countered by references to the Holy Fathers who teach we should always meditate on the passion and wounds of Christ. I say “seemingly,” because the problem is NOT with meditating on the passion of our longsuffering Saviour, but with a heterodox set of Stations, some of which are “events” which never happened (for example, the papal pipe-dream called the “three falls of Christ”). It’s much safer to meditate on the real passion of Christ, with real events. These events are found in a book called the Holy Gospels, and in the rich Orthodox hymnody (Eastern and Western) whereby we call to mind the saving passion and death of the God-Man.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  3. The political view is called Progressivism. It’s religious counterpart is modernism. Each are utopian fallacies that seek to remake either society or the Church, respectively, in the image of an ideal, which is really either the personality of the maker or else the philosophy which has seduced them.

    Christopher Lasch’s books “The One True Heaven” and “Culture of Narcissism” are about these things in some ways.

    Someone’s always trying to fix Orthodoxy. When the last old lady dies, let me die too; I’m ready. Your friend can have this world and his vision of it. I don’t want to be clutching that when I die.

    But some of us are still generating new “old ladies” (babushki) all the time. They won’t have what they think they’ll have when they achieve what they think they’ll achieve, these reformers (renovationists). It’s not the Holy Spirit that such things belong to, but another spirit who (to quote Gandalf the Grey) “does not share power”. And since we’re going there, there is always a Saruman with a new age in mind, and a Gandalf who holds to the “dearest, deepest, deep down things” (to quote Hopkins), and who is regarded as quaint and out of step. But which one would you rather have tea with?

    I know a certain man, old, grandfatherly, ancient almost, and strong. He fasts like a champion. He stands in prayer when young men are passing out. He is still singing refrains when others have lost their voice. He is Moses. He is Elijah. And he says very little. He does not make great speeches. He does not control others. He does not wield power, or have an fascination for it, for that is witchcraft. When I see him, I see some of what heaven will be like, for there, if by his prayers I’m delivered from the doom of my soul and scourge of my body, I’ll be in the company of such men. I will step over and immediately know where I am and with whom, will know the place and the people, and believe me, if there’s still a world, there will be yet one more dedicated set of prayers adding to the last babushki.

    The Last Babushka. I like that. A great title. An epic. I may know a candidate for that position?

    Comment by tuD | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  4. I have encountered these techniques through previous and now discontinued contact with a particular “catechist” within the Byzantine Rite, a self-described “modern Orthodox” who targeted the Byzantine Rite this way and fancied themself a reformer. Interestingly enough, things could not really change, in their vision, until “the last old lady died.”

    Ironically and in retrospect, their vision of the future depended on a sense of “what we Orthodox do” stated as a matter of fact for all Orthodox, practices which in several cases were examples of laxity, even nominalism now taken as the standard of the future. Repackaged as “modern Orthodoxy” infrequent Confession for example was also deemed more historically “correct” with General Confession “available,” “meaningful.” Another particular target was those who follow the Juliam Calendar and the alleged “hypocrisy” of some who may have also exchanged or received gifts on December 25. I must admit I almost fell for some of this for a relatively brief time.

    Comment by publican123 | April 11, 2008 | Reply

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