Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Babushki not Convertniki save the Faith

persecution.jpg“Converts will not save the Church ­ the Church will save them. There is a very scary trend in the Orthodox world today. Recent converts (traditional Orthodox canon law and spirituality would call them “neophytes”) have a disproportionate voice in the Orthodox religious media and their voice is often less than charitable. Those voices come across loud and clear: “we have found the True Faith, and we are going to rescue it from those who have squandered it for the last 2,000 years.” Their opinion is that the Orthodox Church is in such terrible shape that it is lucky they came along to save it. Publications like The Christian Activist, while seeming to provide a wide-spread vehicle for Orthodox thought and reflection, actually comes across more like a “right-wing” diatribe against the liberal movements corrupting our Church. Such movements which now seem to be corrupting the Church are things like working towards a modern language version of the Liturgy, discussing the Faith with those who are not Orthodox, etc.

The problem with that thinking (Has there ever been a time when the Church was not beset by problems? Ever a time when the Church was not populated with both the zealous and the lukewarm?) is that it ignores the lights and luminaries of the Church for the past 2,000 years that have preserved and handed down the faith. Such luminaries include famous ones like the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, people such as St. Innocent, St. Herman, St. Tikhon, St. Alexis, Bishop Raphael, Metropolitan Leonty, Archbishop Kiprian, Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. Stanley Harakas, Serge Verhovskoy, Sophie Koulomzin, etc. But it also includes not so famous ones like the simple people of Russia who kept the Church alive through Communism despite threats, torture and death, the priests who handed the parishes down to us through the ages, the babushki and dedushki who kept their families Orthodox, etc.”

Cradle-born Thoughts – Fr. John Dresko


February 7, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Questions | , , , , | 3 Comments

Conversion or Affiliation?

“You see, I think part of the problem lies in the fact that certain Orthodox converts are evangelized using a faulty technique. We want them to join our Church because they are dissatisfied with their church’s liturgy or ceremonial or devotions. I call it the “look-how-prettty-our-icons-are” method of evangelism. It is cheap and it makes amateur liturgical connoisseurs of an orientalist stripe. It doesn’t make real converts. I insist that the only legitimate reason to convert to the Orthodox Christian faith is if you come to believe that the Orthodox Church is THE Church founded by Jesus Christ. If you come to that conclusion it shouldn’t matter if the liturgy you go to on Sundays is St. John Chrysostom’s in Slavonic or St. James’ in Syriac- you will know that the reason you are there has to do with more than just liturgy. ” –

It’s interesting that the author of the series to which the above writer is responding, would go on to write this: “I like being “mechanically religious” a lot more than I like living for God, but I know which of the two is the correct way to do things.”

The question becomes, of course, whether or not the converts currently filling out the Western rite, really see it as a conversion of the kind described above, or merely a better affiliation. THAT question determines a lot.

January 30, 2008 Posted by | -- Catechesis & Conversion, -- Evangelism, Western Rite Quotes | , , , | Leave a comment

Totemism and the Monks of Aix-le-Chapelle

Easter Island Totem StatuesIt’s already been said that the American Orthodox Church is Eastern; She was founded by Eastern saints, sent by Eastern Churches, and the liturgies were translated into the local language, just as had done St. Cyril to the Slavs. But when there really was a Western Church, we were not East and West but One. Culture was not worshipped and exalted to a point that it became the source of division. We’ve been down this path already. The first time the Eastern and Western monks were really not at home with each others’ rites, was in Jerusalem, when monks who had visited the court of Charlemagne brought home the filioque innovation. And as the depth of the heresy came to be debated, culture meanwhile came to be exalted, and spun out on its own. It isn’t hard to contend that the WRV is, in pattern, form, and substance a template from that first tragic beginning of schism. No one has yet called it a Western Rite Schism, but give it time; the imported ideology that surrounds it, from traditions that have fragmentation as their sine qua non, is liable to see that day.

In fact, the very sign of schism not as a formality, but as a matter of general policy (i.e. Protestantism and its federations of groups all in informal schism with one another) is when God is totemized into a cultural expression of ourselves. Durkheim described the process of totemism, whereby we externalize our own cultural expressions, until gradually in the expressionism of whatever iconography we use (statues, totem poles, romanesque painting…) we get a God who is a collection of our own cultural values. Protestant minister and sociologist Tony Campolo uses the examples of a black church, in which they took down the Irish Sunday school teacher’s picture of Jesus and put up a new picture, in which Jesus was a black man. Not far away was a Chinese Catholic Church and in the stained glass windows, Jesus was Chinese! Campolo points out that what we had done to kick this off was thinking Jesus was a westerner like us, a white man. He contends that we too are guilty of the process of totemism elaborated in a more sophisticated way by social anthropologists like Durkheim. We reproduce God, says Campolo as the Apostle warns, in our own image, not content to fashion ourselves in His image. His conclusion? We must repent – we cannot know God as God is, unless we repent. One cannot miss the mocking similarity between much of what is being done in the name of WR ‘missionary work’ and the process of totemism, and it begs the original question that the eminent writers who have been quoted all over this site have been asking, along w. Campolo: What is it that we are really calling people to convert to?

January 25, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Para-Church Charismata, Rite, Ecclesiology, Mysteriology

First, it is a happy thing when anyone finds the Faith. Whatever they used to be, wherever they came from, we consider ourselves less worthy. However, this is a different question from whether conversion to Orthodoxy means right-affiliation or a right-mind.

One concerns is reports of para-church “bible studies” and “prayer meetings” forming alongside the liturgy, in which the so-called “charismatic gifts” are practiced (speaking in “tongues”, praying “in the Spirit”, getting a “word” of prophesy or letting Jesus “speak to your heart”). This is a grave thing indeed, for it means not only the establishment of a parallel rite, a parallel spirituality (mysteriology), indeed a parallel charism (another Spirit) which is incompatible with that of Christ as revealed in fullness in the Orthodox Church, but also indeed a rejection of the fullness of any rite, Eastern or Western, which is precisely the concern that many of us have consistently voiced.

When the Charismatic Episcopal Church says, “We believe that the CEC has an appointment with destiny to bring back these three streams, to make the Church charismatic, evangelical, and sacramental, all at the same time.” it must not, can never, will never refer to the Orthodox Church. The Church is One, it is Undivided, it is the Spotless Lamb and Without Blemish. it is complete, whole, and the fullness of the Faith. Any notion of coming in to “make the Church” this or “make it that”, to “bring” in fulless, is, friends, an utter repudiation of Orthodox ecclesiology.

“I’m not bringing what I want to Orthodoxy, it’s bringing it back to me.” – Kevin Barry, catechumen (True Convergence: Orthodox Podcast #4)

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Debacle of Orthodox Radio

There are a lot of good and useful things out there in Orthodox media. But there are also some rather disturbing things, anyone with a little discernment would admit.

When you listen to Orthodox radio, and you hear an Episcopalian priest who’s being ordained use the word “resonate” 5-times in under 2-minutes: “Orthodoxy resonates”, “this resonates with me”, it tells you that the attitude of the convert and of the group he’s converting to is potentially delusional – as though Orthodoxy appears to fit into an existing “spirituality”, and as though the Faith has external criterion by which it can be judged. It is clear that the internal voice as criterion of truth, faith, and confession, is still at work in this man, and it’s a heterodox notion that has no place in Orthodoxy. People will say we’ve said, “There’s no place in Orthodoxy for you.” No, there’s no place in Orthodoxy for an Orthodoxy without conversion.

When you hear, in the same media, a Charismatic priest who’s being ordained say, “I’m glad to find that there’s a place for me as a born-again, spirit-filled Christian, in Orthodoxy.”, it tells you the exact same thing. One doesn’t want to be harsh by saying, “No, there is no such place.” There’s always a place for any individual willing to really convert, but there is no room for the delusion that “we’re ok, you’re ok, and we’re coming in for a slight tune-up”. Again, this notion of a para-spirituality which denies the Orthodox anthropology, eschatology, and soteriology, and the delusion that it is somehow acceptable, indicates that a real conversion is dubious.

There are good reasons why the Church has rules on new converts speaking in public about these things. The fact that they’re being ignored reflects precisely the kind of attitude that can entertain these delusions. Why the rush to ordain these people when clearly they’ve received inadequate catechesis, and why would they allow themselves to be ordained, when clearly they still have grave differences with the Faith we hold to be apostolic and retain attitudes that so many of us insist are doctrinally and spiritually incompatible?

January 18, 2008 Posted by | -- Catechesis & Conversion, Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Is it Saints or Rites?

Fr. David Abramstov wrote: “Those who live in the West and in the Western stream of tradition must, before God and the Angels and Saints, respect all that is good in her traditions. What is to be done with the ten centuries of Western liturgical life before the Schism? Reject them or ignore them or simply forget them? But St. Leo, St. Clement, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory, St. Colomban, St. Chad and a thousand more lived by and were nourished upon the Orthodox Western Liturgy and Tradition. Is it by a condescending permission that some desire to celebrate after their example? St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom would give different answers.” – On the Western Rite Edict of Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir)

Response: This issue-substitution (straw man) is quite common. There’s a difference between reconstructing or resurrecting a rite, on the one hand, and venerating Western Saints on the other. If the issue is Western Saints, they can easily be added to our calendars. We can even do this with our own calendars in our homes, as a private devotion, if we don’t want to wait, provided the saints are really Orthodox saints. But this does not require resurrecting every liturgical rite they used. It is certainly reasonable to suggest that only in recovering what is lost in Western liturgical expression, can the full historic expression of Orthodoxy be likewise recovered. Fulness upon fulness. But the question remains whether the justifications being offered for doing it the way it’s being done reflect the fulness of those liturgical expressions, let alone existing liturgical life!

January 17, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Cultural Need

The clamour for culture: And then the last question: is it quite correct to define our rite as “Eastern” and therefore “foreign to all the Western Christians have known” to quote the Edict [of Met. Anthony]? I would like to suggest a rather sharp distinction between “Eastern” and “oriental”. No doubt there are many oriental features, oriental ingredients in our liturgical life. No doubt also, that for many Orthodox this “orientalism” seems to be the essential element. But we know that it is not essential and we know that progressively all these “orientalisms” are being eliminated in a very natural and spontaneous process of adjustment of our cult to the American life. But then what remains and what can be described as “Eastern” is nothing else but the Biblical and the Patristic “content” of our liturgy. It is essentially and structurally Biblical and Patristic, and therefore, it is “eastern” in exactly the same measure in which the Bible and the Fathers, or rather, the whole Christianity can be termed “Eastern”. But have we not proclaimed time and again in all our encounters with our Western brothers that it is this “East” precisely that constitutes the common and the catholic heritage of the Church and can supply us with a common language which has been lost or distorted? The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or the Easter Canon of St. John of Damascus, are, I believe, much closer to that common and Catholic language of the Church than anything else in any Christian tradition. And I cannot think of any word or phrase in these services that would be “foreign” to a Western Christian and would not be capable of expressing his faith and his experience, if the latter would be genuinely Orthodox . . . – Protopresbyter Alexander (Schmemann), St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 2 – New Series, No. 4, Fall, 1958, pp. 37-38.

And then this:

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January 17, 2008 Posted by | -- What is Western?, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Conversion a Mere Legal & Liturgical Formality?

Fr. Alexander’s Primary Concern

The question of real conversion: For me, the only important question is: What exactly do we mean by conversion to Orthodoxy? The following definition will, I presume, be acceptable to everybody: it is the individual or the corporate acceptance of the Orthodox faith and the integration in the life of the Church, in the full communion of faith and love. If this definition is correct, we must ask: can the “conversion” of a group or a parish, for which its spiritual leaders have signed a formal doctrinal statement and which hasretained its Western rite, however purified or amended, can such a “conversion” – in our present situation, i.e., in the whole context of the Orthodox Church as she exists in America today – be considered as a true conversion? Personally, I doubt it very much. And I consider this growing interpretation of conversion in terms of a mere jurisdictional belonging to some Orthodox Diocese, of a “mimimum” of doctrinal and liturgical requirements and of an almost mechanical understanding of the “Apostolic Succession” as a very real danger to Orthodoxy. This means the replacement of Orthodoxy of “content” by Orthodoxy of “form”, which certainly is not an Orthodox idea. For we believe that Orthodoxy is, above all, faith that one must live, in which one grows, a communion, a “way of life” into which one is more and more deeply integrated. And now, whether we want it or not, this living faith, this organic spirit and vision of Orthodoxy is being preserved and conveyed to us mainly if not uniquely, by the Orthodox worship. In our state of national divisions, of theological weakness, in the lack of living spiritual and monastic centers, of unpreparedness of our clergy and laity for more articulate doctrinal and spiritual teaching, of absence of a real canonical and pastoral care on the part of the various jurisdictional centers, what holds the Orthodox Church together, assures its real continuity with tradition and gives the hope of a revival is precisely the liturgical tradition. It is a unique synthesis of the doctrinal, ethical and canonical teachings of Orthodoxy and I do not see how a real integration into the Orthodox Church, a genuine communion of faith and life may be achieved without an integration in the Orthodox worship. – Protopresbyter Alexander (Schmemann), St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 2 – New Series, No. 4, Fall, 1958, pp. 37-38.

Preceding this quotations are the comments:

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January 17, 2008 Posted by | -- Catechesis & Conversion, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Mechanical/Legal Approach to Liturgics & Conversion

The Protestant Notion of a “bare essentials” cannot become a methodology for the adoption of a rite, catechetical instruction, or reception of converts.

“What makes a western rite Orthodox? For many proponents of the western rite, all it takes is a few additions and a few deletions, e.g. “striking the filioque ” and “strengthening of the epiclesis.” This answer implies, on the one hand, that there exists a unified and homogenous reality identifiable as the western rite and, on the other hand, that except for two or three “heretical” ingredients or omissions, th is rite is ipso facto Orthodox. Both presuppositions are wrong.” – Father Alexander Schmemann (1920-1983) (SVTQ 24/4, 1980) The Priest. A Newsletter for the Clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco. Issue No. 5, May 1996

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Liturgics, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It is reasonable to ask…

“We are now witnessing a dismantling of the traditional values and piety on which our [Roman Catholic] faith rests. Added to this state of affairs is the shocking assimilation of Protestant ideas brought into the Church under the guise of the misunderstood term ecumenism with a resulting growing estrangement from the ancient [Orthodox] Churches of the East; that is, a turning away from the common tradition that had been shared by the East and the West.”

It is reasonable to ask whether, in creating a rite specifically for those fleeing the dismantling of their confessions, we risk dismantling our own confession in the process, which has never been something shared with the heterodox over “bare essentials” of doctrine (itself a Protestant notion) which merely need a bit of help. Make no mistake, good, old-fashioned Anglican, Protestant, and Roman Catholic thinking, piety, and worship are more alien to us, than their latest innovations are to the refugees. They still have far more in common with each other, than either their ecumenist or continuing jurisdictions have with Holy Orthodoxy, and a hasty, inadequate catechesis, quick ordinations, and relatively instant mission creation without sufficient time to live the Orthodox Faith (assuming their host churches can really teach them that at all), is unfair to them, offensive to the confessions they’ve fled, and dangerous to the salvation of all involved, ourselves included.

As one current Anglican said, “If they’re going to convert to Orthodoxy, they should convert to Orthodoxy, and not just treat it as a door to remaining Anglican but without the responsibility to live in a Anglican community.”

January 1, 2008 Posted by | -- Catechesis & Conversion, -- Ecclesiology & Ecumenism, -- Evangelism, Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Trail Out of Canterbury

This is probably fairly described as a mainstream, middle-of-the-road [conversion account] from an Episcopalian who reposed in the Lord among the presybtery. It’s offered here as simply a point of reference.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Western Rite Quotes | , , , | Leave a comment


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