Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Western Rites and the “Episcopalianizing” of Orthodoxy

Lambeth - Orthodox - AnglicanThe Marcionites would be happy with what the Western Rite enthusiasts have been trying to achieve. A church within a church, a confession within a confession. This pattern – this template – is the gnostic/masonic/revolutionary template from of old. It creates “unity in diversity” by creating within a religious body another religious body that cannot exist outside it but is in contradiction to that in which it inheres. This has been done to every major religious confession. It’s essentially the translation of universalism and the filioque into an ecclesiological expression.

Observe how it was done with the Episcopal Church. The 1979 prayer book gave us not just two different rites, as the 1928 continued to be used simultaneously in most churches (though, as in this case, proponents kept claiming it was all about rites and rites alone); what it did was elucidate, exacerbate, and continue producing two religious cultures, one within the other, but each in contradiction to the other (despite the harmony the enthusiasts would claim). Even the most optimistic glossers of those events now can scarcely deny that the chickens of contradiction have come home to roost. In the early morning hours, the high-church protestant wing, adhering to the ’28 books, would show up to say the spoken prayers. In the later hours, the quasi-catholic wing, to whom the ’79 book and its culture were now effectively glued, showed up with its charismatic converts to sing the new writ (the former would show up to vigils and such, too). And so the holders of the old way were forced into an ever more Protestant mold, while the holders of the catholic way were melded to the new movement. Effectively, this coopted, compromised, and weakened both.

And so tensions that were already there were exacerbated in the extreme, leading to the present troubles. The 28ers began to lose their catholicity for the sake of their Anglicanism, as they left in droves for Continuing groups. The 79ers, offering the heroic myth of a return to ancient practices, found their “catholicity” in indeed embracing all, but therefore putting them at odds with their own moral standards, and so further dividing them. You can’t embrace everything without becoming nothing. When you’re self-definition is open-ended, people will throw a lot of garbage into it. Defections from each ‘canonical’ group to the other became rampant, satisfying neither the leaving nor the receiving parties. The “Continuing” solution, of freezing the religious assets, as it were, simply created little museums dedicated to a myth of purity and the golden age. Now two great myths collided and fed on one another.

In effect, the complete fragmentation of Anglicanism we are currently witnessing is leading not to the end of Anglicanism, but the transformation of it into a faceless goo that is the raw material to be reformatted into something altogether new – something that prepares it for a more global apostasy. And none of its splinters, or splinters within splinters, whether they be in communion or contradistinction, admit fully what has happened.

It’s not a long leap to looking at the same template in relation to the Western Rite and so-called Byzantine Rite. The ’79 and ’28 prayer books overlay quite neatly. It’s “just about rites”, right? We even have the attendant claims of “returns to more ancient practices” and “embracing the culture that surrounds us” – same things the Episcopalians were saying and many now rue – when they’re dealing in reality at all. But one doesn’t even have to squint to see all the rhetoric about a shift in religious culture being trumpeted by Western Rite enthusiasts in one place while simultaneously denied with shrugs and protests in another. This template is that template. The necessary stages in the preparation of any amalgum include a distillation, a simplification, and extraction of the right isotope to define the necessary parts going into the new whole.

One needn’t even mention that this same alchemical process went to work on the great Protestant confessions, and didn’t have far to run to distill them into elements more akin to an ultra-fragmented fundamentalism in some cases, something like episcopalianism in others, and an ultra-refined generic mega-church (a kind of religious androgyny) in the rest.

If you want to see the future of “Orthodoxy” in the vision of those making the most enthusiastic noise about “Western Rites”, you have only to look around you at the crumbling pillars of Rome and her children. The very religiosity into which they wish to initiate us is being boiled down, and our participation will be courted as the ‘recovery’ of something lost (merely an earlier stage in the process) and the ‘purification’ of what was fundamentally fine (a different stew than our fathers ever knew). We are being asked to embrace a new Orthodoxy, a traditional Orthodoxy, and a continuing Orthodoxy, all within the same confession. We are being asked to become Episcopalians in culture and Orthodox in name.

So-called “Western Orthodoxy” is merely a symbol of this process and a symptom of the new order being formed, a different ecclesiology, a pseudo-ekklesia. In and of itself, it certainly has significant problems, many of which have been rather universally recognized [survey]. In terms of what its progress is telling us about the contemporary Orthodox movement (and the very fact that it is movement, and can no longer be considered static or a state – and so now has much in common with the Episcopalian experience) — in those terms, it points to much larger problems that are as yet, just as with the Episcopalians, not widely or fully acknowledged. This despite the countless warnings of monastic communities, ascetic saints, Orthodox prophets, and holy martyrs. Lord have mercy.

You’d think the Episcopalians would like what these folk are up to, but anyone that has suffered what many of them have, through this process, could only look at it with sadness, and perhaps a will to help us fight it. The ones chasing it like a grail are those ‘true believers’ who still think the key problems are gays and women priests, and miss the point entirely. For them, an Episcopalianized Orthodoxy, especially a Western Orthodoxy, is a mirage, and they’re greedily gulping down what many of us recognize as sand. The sad thing is that we are feeding it to them, in the name of disseminating the Faith. This can only happen when we have begun to lose our Faith the same way they did: Quite literally by losing The Faith.

The Marcionites, Masons, and Revolutionaries should be happy, but no one else will be. Not when, instead of coming home to roost, our dove departs for the last time.

June 9, 2008 - Posted by | -- Anglican, -- What is Western? | , , , , , ,


  1. I am offering these comments from over 32 years of experience in both Western and Eastern Orthodoxy both as laity and clergy. At the outset I need to state that I am a proponent of correct Western Orthodoxy. That being said, I can appreciate the intent of this blog, while adding the caveat that it should be balanced — the positive as well as the negative should be expressed. There have been a number of issues raised thus far in this blog, however at the outset, the great unstated reality is that there are many reciprocal criticisms that could be leveled about Eastern Orthodoxy. While not universal, many of the SCOBA jurisdictions exhibit disturbing tendencies. Some of these include, liberalism and protestantizing tendencies, unilateral liturgy reformation or cutting, a lax attitude toward fasting, an incorrect revisionist understanding of the canons, a complete ignorance of Holy Scripture in complete contravention of the Fathers, failure to understand basic Orthodox evangelism, ethnic tribalism and either the inability or unwillingness to live the truth of the faith in every day life.

    In one blog entry, the simple question was asked whether there really is Western or Byzantine Orthodoxy. The answer to this is that there is Western and Eastern Orthodoxy and neither is monolithic. In its full expression both have an equally full and developed liturgical and sacramental life. Historically, there were many different Rites or liturgical expressions in the West and in the East. The issue that legitimately comes up and should be answered is where is the line drawn between liturgical reconstruction and continuing a living tradition and should any liturgical expression developed post-Schism, i.e. derivatives from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. In my opinion, and in the opinion of may other liturgical scholars, the line should be drawn between living traditions that are legitimate and which can be purged of non- Orthodox elements and reconstruction of an extinct tradition which is illegitimate. Further, it is believed that Orthodoxy should not permit Western liturgical Rites from the Reformation in any form. Having said this, there are only a few living ancient Western Rites. These include the Sarum, Ambrosian, Gregorian or Tridentine, Glagolithic, as well as certain monastic Rites such as the Dominican or Carmelite. Use of any of these Rites avoids the pitfalls of liturgical reconstruction. While recognizing that there is vibrant life in the Western Rite of the Antiochian Archdiocese, half or more of its parishes use a modified Reformation liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. This fails to meet the “red face” test for legitimacy of a Western Orthodoxy Rite. The only advanced work that has been done in this area is with the Sarum Rite, where there exists one proper setting that was done using original texts, translated from Latin over a number of years by a priest who has extensive knowledge of Western liturgics.

    Finally, it is often believed that Eastern Orthodoxy does now, and has always consisted of one form of the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and occasionally St. James. Not so! Not only are there local village variants in the Typikons but use also varies by country. Moreover, in Russian use there still exists a pre-Nikonian (Old Rite) and post-Nikonian (New Rite) expression of the liturgy and sacraments. Finally, the liturgy of St. Mark is still used sporadically in some churches in Russia.

    In conclusion, while constructive criticism is and should be well taken, criticism for its own sake fails its purpose. I am not espousing the abrogation of the Western Rite in all jurisdictions where it is celebrated with reconstructed or modified Reformation liturgies. However, I am asserting that the proper way ahead for these parishes is to adopt a living pre-Schism liturgical tradition. There are four of these – the Gregorian, Sarum, Ambrosian and Glagolithic. All of these are related in some ways except for the Ambrosian. Now, in adopting a realistic and practical stance on this issue, the Ambrosian and Glagolitic have too few adherents to effectively evangelize and rebuild Western Orthodoxy. The Gregorian has and will continue to draw disaffected members from Rome and Sarum will serve to draw Anglicans, Episcopalians. If presented correctly, both of these should also draw converts from other traditions. What must be avoided at all costs in Western and Eastern Orthodoxy is ethnic tribalism. While our Lord created us all with one ethnic identity or another, He did not deliver the truth and restrict it to a particular ethnic expression nor did he die and rise for one or another ethnic group – our Lord died and rose for all creation that we all may participate in the divine life eternally.

    Comment by worthodox | October 31, 2010 | Reply

  2. I haven’t noticed that the Episcopalians have a monolithic religion to speak of. There’s so much diversity there, that I think it’s hard to nail down on any one persuasion. If anything, the principle of open-endedness seems to be their hallmark, and has led to the current troubles. Within the Episcopal Church, I’ve found people I identify with far more than my Orthodox brethren when the latter are being particularly “Episcopalian”. When the heterodox behave in an Orthodox manner, and the reverse is also true, do we resort to defining Orthodoxy as mere affiliation? In that sense, we descend into the error evinced among some Western Rite enthusiasts.

    What’s needed is the honor and integrity of holding to one’s confession with neither apostasy nor subversion. And when anyone is being honorable in that way, other considerations aside, we believe they are being Orthodox, and that it is by the Holy Spirit that they are able to stand. I would rather honorably represent heterodoxy than dishonorably subvert or apostacize from Orthodoxy.

    Comment by tuD | June 13, 2008 | Reply

  3. I am not sure I totally agree. My reading of Episcopal Anglo-Catholic writers appears fundamentally dishonest, a sort of “well, we don’t have this anymore so let’s put it back or make it up. I cannot forgot Dr Overbeck of blessed memory’s comment describing these high-churchers in *1866*….”Neale’s ideal English Church is equally opposed to Popery and Protestantism. Would it were so in the real English Church. Let a Broad-Churchman of very advanced principles approach Dr. Neale’s communion-table–will he be able, lawfully, to refuse him the communion? Let the Bishop of London enter his chapel and see his half Eastern, half Western sarcerdotal garments–what do you think would be his episcopal verdict?”

    So far advanced is this behavior among their people I tend to believe this is not an innovation infecting their religion but an integral part of it.

    Comment by joesuaiden | June 12, 2008 | Reply

  4. Just a note about Episcopalians, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with being Episcopalians (except for being Episcopalian, which is something they have to deal with, and not us).

    There’s something deeply wrong with being Orthodox and trying to live as an Episcopalian or try to create a haven of Episcopalianism inside Holy Orthodoxy. Besides it being dishonest, despicably parasitical, and inherently cacodox, likewise the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and fathers all spoke against the confession within a confession heresy. Our fathers battled the gnostics over just such a strategy. Israel was more than once smitten by God because of it. We too have been warned by the later prophets that we can be cut off as a branch.

    It would be equally dishonest and wrong to go join the Episcopalians and try to create a quasi-Orthodox (semi-uniate) environment in their midst. That’s the work of devils, and no Orthodox person could countenance it any more than any honorable Episcopalian could countenance the reverse, despite their ecclesiological differences.

    There are decent people in both places. Let them behave decently and with honor.

    Again, too, we’re not saying that Western Rite initiatives in general have anything to do with Episcopalianism. We’re saying that the Episcopal Church has experienced a process that is quite clearly at work in Orthodox communities, and it must be regarded as alien; there seems to be a trend among some Western Rite initiatives to foster and encourage that process and indeed inculcate it into subsequent generations of Orthodox. That’s religious subversion, and that must have the light of day shined on it. Adherents are not truly loyal to any one confession, but only to their agenda, and are only ‘committed’ to a particular confession, Orthodox or heterodox, to the degree it doesn’t soundly spank them for their impudence.

    Comment by tuD | June 12, 2008 | Reply

  5. Whoa, Father A, I have to disagree. I am not part of DBJ’s Anglican sub-total. I am a member of the Orthodox Church, and we preserve the tradition of the Orthodox West. I am not “Western Rite” because I am not a rite. I am an Orthodox Christian. I use the term “Western Rite” as a convenience for understanding. But I think that this article is talking about people who believe in Orthodoxy as “divided up into rites”. Not only do Orthodox of Eastern or Western extraction not believe that… but they shouldn’t!

    And ecumenism is less publicized in the Orthodox Church officially because of the witness of those guided by the Spirit to condemn ecumenism, which usually occurred outside the official body for decades. Remember that the largest growth in the Church Abroad was under Metr Philaret as people looked for a safe haven against ecumenism.

    And then it shrunk again after the 80’s. And again. And again.

    Comment by joesuaiden | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. Well, first, I don’t agree on your statement that “the Western Rite is something”. The very thing I was disagreeing with is reifying “The Western Rite”. You’ve tried to begin with that reification in order to demonstrate the reification; that’s begging the question. One of the illusions/delusions conjured up by Western Rite enthusiasts is a monolithic “The Western Rite”, by which in one place they mean one vague collection of disparate things and ideas, and in another place they mean a different vague collection of disparate things and ideas. In one place they refer to something altogether fantasy, and in another to something merely demographic and statistically measureable. Even they don’t know what they mean, but they want us to accept “the Western Rite” as a reified monolithic category out of hand. It’s one of their unaccountable absolutes and, frankly, it’s easily recognizable as a common marketing ploy in any ideological factory – political, social, or religious.

    I still say, there is no “The Western Rite”. There are various disparate initiatives, various actual rites of varying pedigree and venerability or lack thereof, various widely divergent religious and psychological milleu’s among differing communities doing something they refer to as “Western Rite”, and various divergent initiatives with quite different goals, norms, presuppositions, and expectations. To me, to conjure up the myth of “The Western Rite” is like referring to “The Black People” or “The Indians” or “The Communists” or “The Liberals” or “The Americans”, or, dare we… “The Christians” or “Christianity”. Almost anyone involved in any real analysis of those categories decries them as anything from slander to myths to outright lies. Elaborations are abundantly available. What they aren’t is anything specific to everyone. There is no x=y in those terms. One might as well ask what makes a Jew – is it a national distinction, a biological one, or a religious one?

    By acknowledging that there is no definitive correlation between term x and reality y, we’re acknowledging that we don’t mean the same things, we aren’t speaking the same language, and thing x has no shared reality for us. There is no x that we can agree on, nor should we blindly assert the reality of x, nor half hazardly accept someones claim that x is this or that, here or there.

    That’s the fallacy the West followed in talking about “God” and deciding that no one agrees on what we mean, really, but that in the absence of positive statements of God’s reality, still “God exists” (which is just another positive statement). That’s religious philosophy, not piety or faith. It’s more Orthodox to say that God does not and cannot either exist or not exist, in any sense that I could possibly mean or refer to as existence or non-existence, than it is to say that the minimum we know about God is his existence. The latter is heresy and heterodoxy; the former is apophatic faith. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we’re merely saying different things *about* “The Western Rite” – I’m saying there’s no such thing as “The Western Rite”. At least not as a reified category or monolithic reality. There’s what you may mean by it, and what someone else means depending on how they use it here or there, and that’s all there is that we can know of. It’s not a revealed personal truth but a rhetorical invention.

    On your other note, I’ve read these things before, but I disagree. Orthodoxy, you’re right, is immune. Orthodox communities, Orthodox people, and that which is done in the name of “Orthodoxy” is not only not immune but already deeply infected, if not in many cases mortally so. We all believe, if we are Orthodox, that the Lamb is spotless and without blemish, but we can also look around us and see the stench of death eating at us, in no small part because we are indeed following the same pattern that, in the political, social, and indeed religious spheres is typically called Westernization, Latinization, acculturation, gnosticization, revolutionization, etc.

    In the end, we *needn’t* be subject to the same dialectic, but in fact we are, because we have made ourselves so.

    Comment by tuD | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  7. Also, I must say, in a very respectful way, that I don’t think Orthodoxy is subject to the same developmental dialectic by which collisions between timid Western heterodox bodies and modern post-Christian culture have resulted in strange religious manifestations. What I mean is, having a variety of rites in Orthodoxy (her historic model unto theosis for man) need not lead to the same results as such variety has led to amongst the Otherdox. Discussions on the ordination of women to the priesthood, which have been quite vigorous in the Orthodox Church over the last 15 years, need not mean the same or portend the same as such discussions would in heterodox bodies. Same for the canonical (celibate) episcopate of our Church, which is often discussed as dispensable. The Holy Spirit has a unique way of protecting, guiding, and delivering our Church which I do not see in the case of heterodox groups. One need only look at what has happened to the ecumenical movement in Orthodoxy over the past 40 years. It has been largely defeated and discredited, though just a short space of time ago it seemed destined to prevail nearly everywhere. Ecumenical excesses occurring in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s would be unthinkable today, even in the most susceptible jurisdictions. Do not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to fix things that go amiss in the Orthodox Churches. Without this trust in His sovereign abilities, we are perilously close to feeling as if we need to advocate and promote traditional, sound belief and practice in order to “save the Church.” Fighting for piety can be God-pleasing, but the Church saves us; we don’t save the Church. So such struggle becomes not a high-pressure rescue operation, but a calm exercise of love for God mainly by affirming prayerfully His eternal truth. The Church is a theandric body in whose “veins” the Holy Spirit flows. God’ll steer her. I hope all this makes sense and that the brotherly spirit I feel as I write this, will somehow come across. Perhaps your prayers can assure that it does.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  8. Oh, okay. We’re apparently in basic agreement, except I would say that “the Western Rite” is something: in general, the sum of people and parishes, missions, or monasteries involved in celebrating, within Orthodoxy, one Western rite or another.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  9. Well, first, the article is dealing not with Western Rites as rites, or all Western Rite initiatives per se, but with initiatives shaped by Western Rite enthusiasts in recent years.

    Secondly, the warnings being referred to are not warnings against Western Rites or Western Rite initiatives, but against trends described in the article.

    I think this is very clear, but the problem of communication involves people still believing in such a thing as “The Western Rite” which is a bit like a belief in the tooth fairy. Reifying the idea that there is a “Western Rite” as a general single initiative, as a unified initiative, or as a fixed option, is missing the point.

    In short: There’s no such as “The Western Rite”. There are only Western rites – i.e. various ones, and Western Rite initiatives or activities – again, widely varied and involving in some cases quite devout piety and in some cases significant problems outlined in the survey results we presented.

    The reason we’d never make a case against “The Western Rite” is that we don’t believe any such thing exists.

    Comment by tuD | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  10. Also, what exactly are these “warnings of monastic communities, ascetic saints, Orthodox prophets, and holy martyrs,” regarding the Western rite? Countless Orthodox Saints have blessed the concept of Western rite; none has ever opposed it.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  11. At least one great ascetic Saint and Hierarch of our Orthodox Church, St. John the Wonderworker, strongly advocated that there be Western rite Orthodox parishes, missions, and monasteries. All that is fully within the experience, the phronema, of the Orthodox Church. After all, we have a Greek style of Orthodoxy and a Russian style of Orthodoxy, and at times they can be quite different and even involve some different teachings on minor matters. There is no need to create a uniform liturgy or uniform ethos or practice–such was never the way of the Orthodox, historically. Rather, there is a strong need to ensure that the Western rite phenomenon in Orthodoxy, a phenomenon blessed by many Saints, and blessed by Synods of Bishops and by Patriarchs, should become firmly established on the rock of historic Orthodox confession, historic Orthodox paradigms of prayer and devotion and church-life and sacramental procedure, historic Orthodox teachings on ecclesiology and spirituality and all aspects of theology and morality and life. Only in this way can the ascetic-blessed path of Western rite be correctly ordered for the salvation of many. Not as a church within a church, but as a rite within the Church which has always encompassed many rites. Grant this, O Lord.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  12. Well, I don’t feel too bad for my lengthy post on another thread about a famous Freemason Patriarch and his relationship with the Anglican Church, etc..

    Blessed Seraphim Rose, pray for us.

    Comment by publican123 | June 9, 2008 | Reply

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