Friday, March 24, 2006

Signs an "Orthodox" Church is Non-Canonical

Unfortunately, so many churches laying claim to the title "Orthodox" have no connection to the Orthodox Church. Worse, not all are forthcoming about their ecclesiastical status. Aside from the obvious -- glaring flaws in their faith, order, or morals -- here are a few signs that an "Orthodox" church may be falsely so-called:

1. It traces its lines of apostolic succession. Those currently in communion with an Orthodox bishop do not wrangle over "endless genealogies." Orthodoxy does not hold to a strictly "tactile" view of apostolic succession, anyway, so presenting such a list does not of itself prove Orthodoxy.
2. It recounts its (usually fractious) jurisdictional history. Independent churches often justify their existence by claiming they broke ranks from an "ecumenist" jurisdiction (or several in succession), or that they were "granted autonomy" at some vague date.
3. Its name juggles the words "Orthodox" and "Catholic" with exotic modifiers. Although the Orthodox Church regards Herself as the Catholic Church, all legitimate jurisdictions in North America go by the shorthand "Orthodox." Those churches calling themselves the "Orthodox Catholic Church" should set off alarm bells. Thus, one finds "Episcopal Orthodox," "Roman Orthodox," the "Anglican-Catholic Byzantine Church of America" (!), and even the "Charismatic Orthodox," none of whom are members of the Orthodox Church.
4. It proclaims it is "canonical." Canonical churches don't feel a need to say they are; they just are.
5. It defines canonicity as "following the canons." Which canons? Do they eat in restaurants with Jews? Allow their parishoners to marry actresses? Administer Holy Communion with a spoon? Then they're breaking the canons made at ecumenical councils. The discipline of the Church is administered by bishops -- proper bishops who are part of the Church. Certainly wishing to follow the norms of Orthodoxy is praiseworthy, but it does not make one a member church of the Orthodox communion.
6. It says Orthodoxy means only "fidelity to the Orthodox faith." Similar to the above, these groups will claim to hold the pure Orthodox doctrine. Unlike Protestantism, Orthodoxy is not an ecclesiastically invisible communion of right-thinkers without any outer stricture. Becoming part of the Church means sharing Her faith, communion, and hierarchy. Many Lutheran, Anglican, and "Uniate" priests genuinely believe to "the Orthodox faith" (and God bless them for it!); however, this does not make their parishes part of the Orthodox communion.
7. It considers any discussion of canonicity an "attack." Ironically, this is usually followed by an attack on some action of supposedly "ecumenist, modernist" jurisdictions.
8. It accuses its critics of having a "papal" view of the Church. One often hears the strawman argument: "We don't need to be in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople; he's not the head of Orthodoxy!" Indeed. However, the Church has the right to draw its own boundaries. To be part of the Orthodox Church, one must not only hold the faith but be in communion with one of the autocephalous or autonomous Orthodox Churches in the world. It need not be Constantinople, nor even a patriarchate.* But it must be one of the churches listed at the link above.
9. It responds with false historical analogies. It will claim ROCOR is not in communion with any patriarchate (although it is in communion with both Serbia and Jerusalem). Or that St. Maximos the Confessor had to flee Eastern bishops (to the Pope of Rome). Or....
10. It claims all canonical status is based on "political considerations." Church politics haunts Orthodoxy as much as any other human ecclesiastical institution, but the Gnomes of Zurich do not run the Church. The EOC had to knock quite a bit...but it made the effort.
11. It claims it is "pursuing relations with Orthodoxy." Some claim to be involved in "ecumenical discussions" with Orthodox that are somehow constantly frustrated. At least such an admission would acknowledge the jurisdiction is outside the Church. If a catechuman wants to be Orthodox, he should simply join the Orthodox Church.
12. It boasts of "frequent concelebrations" with real Orthodox. Unlike whether a given jurisdiction is in communion with any other, this claim is not readily verifiable. This is particularly true when the Orthodox "concelebrant" is unnamed or deceased. But of itself, this proves nothing; Copts innocently concelebrated with the Gnostic Orthodox, who were still blasphemers. The vagante definition of "concelebration" also seems to differ from the norm; merely being present in the church sometimes qualifies.
13. It claims it is "in communion with" legitimate jurisdictions. Again, real Orthodox don't state they are "in communion with" one another (unless a local schism has recently healed). If asked, some vagantes will say they are "in communion with the patriarchates" or "have never broken communion" with a given Church. By this, they mean their priests will commune Orthodox, but the inverse is not true. Ths is a form of deception.
14. It declares any discussion of canonicity "distracts from the task of proclaiming the Gospel." The "Can't we all just get along" dodge. Any individual may "proclaim the Gospel," but only the Church can genuinely care for the newborn Christian soul -- washing it in baptism, sealing it in the Holy Spirit, nourishing it with the Body and Blood of Christ. If this "Orthodox" organization truly cared for its souls, it would refer them to the Holy Orthodox Church (and follow them into Her loving embrace).

These are just a few tips. In general, if you feel something is uncertain or a correspondent in a church seems less than forthcoming, contact a legitimate Orthodox Church and find out about the group's status. Or better yet, stick with the legitimate Orthodox jurisdictions in the first place. To make the matter easy for those investigating the WR, officially, there are only two jurisdictions in the world with a Western Rite: Antioch and ROCOR. Save yourself confusion and potential heartache; join one of these.

To those outside the Church: if you truly believe the Orthodox faith, regardless of whether you wish to worship according to the Western Rite, you are to be commended. God has planted this desire in you so you will follow it all the way to full communion with His Bride, the Holy Orthodox Church. We in the Western Rite do not wish to battle you; we wish to worship with all men (and women) of goodwill. Join with us. Help us secure the position of the Western Rite within the unquestionable boundaries of our Holy Mother, the Church. There is much work to do, and we can use the assistance. More important to us, we long for the fellowship of devout souls. Above all, we pray you will find that for which you truly long: the Church established by Christ and His Apostles, the Body of Christ and sure Ark of Salvation.

And to my fellow Orthodox tempted toward complacency, remember: were there not so many Orthodox jurisdictions in the West, all seemingly dedicated to Old World loyalties and ethnic fetishism, this kind of confusion would be impossible, and the true Church would be judged by Her faith and Her Founder.

* - ...Although offhand I cannot name any legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction that is not in communion with at least one patriarchate.


Is This a Legitimate Orthodox Church?

Fr. Matthew Thurman has an excellent post: "The Western Rite -- Accept No Substitutes!" Sadly, one of the factors giving the Western Rite a bad name is the large number of vagantes who have decided it is easier to mislead, con, sucker the unwary, conduct their missions to the unconverted if they slap the words "Western Orthodox" on their church (especially if they get to call themselves "Priest," "Bishop," or "Archbishop" in the process).

This is more than a case of the self-aggrandizing claims of the pretentious: it is also a case of whether one is genuinely becoming a communicant of the Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church or...something else.

...which is why I carry a link to Non-Canonical "Orthodox" Churches on the sidebar (although the page has some anti-Western comments). Surprise! The group that put together the website to which Fr. Matthew refers is listed thereon.
Those who convert, or covetously solicit the spiritual and liturgical advice of such individuals ought not be blamed. Even some of the priests and prelates themselves may not fully understand the gravity of what they are doing, which is leading those longing for Holy Orthodoxy away from the Church. But everyone interested in the Church, rather than playing Church, must know there are officially but two jurisdictions with a Western Rite at this time: Antioch and ROCOR. (In N. America, Antioch is currently most amenable, although there is one ROCOR WRITE monastery, led by the very holy Dom James Deschene.)
This spurs an interesting discussion, with rules I drafted years ago...stay tuned for that post.

(Biretta tip: Subdn. Benjamin.)


Welcome Back, Blogger!

(Sorry for the trip down '70s memory lane....)

Our friend Michael -- newly baptized and slimmed down -- has returned from a too-long absence from his blog, Sarisburium. The blogosphere cherubs rejoice! Congratulations on the baptism and chrismation, and we're glad to have you posting again.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

This Merits Discussion

I am humbled this poor blog has touched off a worthwhile discussion: the pre-Schism meaning of the word "merits."

The comments section of this blog began discussing the fact that "merits" occurs in collects predating the doctrine of the works of supererogation; hence, it is not inextricably tied to that doctrine as was so long assumed (by those inside the Western Rite and out). What then does it mean? Subdn. Benjamin Andersen offers a laudatory introductory thought:
[W]ithout having made a thorough study of it, but judging from Brown's hints, it seems to me that "merit" is very roughly equivalent to "holiness," "sanctity," "righteousness" but it is still almost impossible to translate into English...My hunch is that, when in a Collect we pray that we may be aided by a Saint's "merits" we mean that his advocacy for us is connected to his own personal holiness, his righteousness, and more specifically (if Brown's translation is correct) his standing in the heavenly court before God ... much like we would ask a friend, who has a personal relationship with a very powerful ruler, to intercede with him on our behalf and vouch for us.
He then compares this with similar practice in the troparia and kontakia of the Byzantine Rite. A commentor also mentions the Byzantine prayer, "Most Holy Theotokos [Mother of God], save us." Certainly, even the discussion at this stage should dispel the idea that the WRV accepts an heretical, post-Schism Roman doctrine if one of its priests dares utter an ancient collect unchanged.

Perhaps it is time for this term to be re-examined, even re-appropriated, within the light of the Western Orthodox tradition. As Subdn. Benjamin's insight demonstrates, at a minimum such an examination will leave us with a deeper appreciation of our faith.

Orthodoxy: An Historic Religion for African-Americans

I'm allowing myself one tangential, celebratory post. The Orthodox Church is reaching out to African-Americans...finally.

That's a little unfair: Fr. Moses Berry has actually been at it for years. He's written or contributed to (at least) two books on the topic and travelled around America on the topic, "Rediscovering Our African Christian Heritage." It is a venerable heritage indeed, dating from the "Ethiopian" eunuch in Acts 8. Deo gratias Fr. Moses is correcting the prevalent misconception that Islam is the "indigenous religion of the black man," and Christianity is "the slaveowners' religion." Yes, white Christians bought African slaves (300-400 years ago) -- often from Muslim merchants who had previously invaded, forcibly converted the native black population, and enslaved and sold the intransigents.

I'm proud the Western Rite has at least two "majority-minority" parishes, both in Miami: St. Peter and Our Lady of Regla, also in Miami. Several other parishes have "diverse" congregations, as well.

My only point is Orthodoxy is not a tribal religion, in either its Eastern or Western expressions. Our Church truly is a House of Prayer for all people.

(Hat tip: Fr. John)

A Unified "Cranmerian Rite" Response (But You Have to Scroll Down)

I have combined both the additions I made to the original Cranmer post into a unified post here. I'd appreciate your thoughts on the complete article. In time, I hope it will be archived as a reference article on this blog.

Labels: , ,

"Protestant," too?

Addendum #2: I forgot to address the claim that the Liturgy of St. Tikhon is "Protestant."

The Liturgy of St. Tikhon cannot legitimately be called "Cranmerian," much less can it be called "Protestant." It is a liturgy compiled according to the instructions of the Orthodox Church, at the behest of Orthodox saints, by distinguished Orthodox theologians, blessed within the Orthodox Church, and celebrated within multiple patriarchates of the Orthodox Church for decades. No Protestant would be comfortable with the liturgy's fervent supplication of the saints and the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. He would not appreciate its commemoration of Orthodox hierarchs. He would find no "Zwinglian" content in its outspoken profession of the Real Presence. And no Calvinist -- the British variety of which paid thugs to smash church pictures and stained glass windows with a hammer -- would feel comfortable in a church that visibly expresses its acceptance of the seventh ecumenical council.

In giving Her approval, the Church adoped the liturgy's every word and turn-of-phrase -- whatever its provenance -- as Her own. One is inescapably led to believe as the Orthodox Church does about this liturgy, and the Western Rite in general: that it conveys the fulness of Orthodox faith, worship, and devotion to those, of whatever ethnic background, privileged to share in its celebration.

These facts will not pacify our implacable detractors, most of whom have little or no experience worshipping in an actual Orthodox Church -- and some of whom may have an "improved" missal to promote (usually at a modest price). However, the average catholic-minded onlooker, exploring the often confusing world of Western Rite Orthodoxy, can readily judge this cause.

Labels: ,

Oops; The "Cranmerian" Liturgy of St. Tikhon Addendum

In reviewing my recent post on how some critics of the Western Rite refer to it as the "Cranmerian Rite," I realized I had omitted the most important section. True, Thomas Cranmer did not draft the Book of Common Prayer alone, but:

Most importantly, St. Tikhon's Liturgy is not simply the "Book of Common Prayer" rite. The Orthodox Church adapted this material in accordance with the Russian Observations Upon the American Prayer Book to bring it into liturgical and theological conformity with Holy Orthodoxy. Not only were these necessary changes made, but the liturgical commission of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate added rich ceremonial and prayers expressing the Church's liturgical heritage, especially reverence for the Real Presence. Similar to the Anglo-Catholic movement of the day, it incorporated the Western structure of the Mass. Asperges, Introits, graduals, alleluias, tracts, sequences, offertory prayers, prayers at the foot of the altar, communion verses, post-communion prayers, Agnus Deis, Non Sum Dignuses, Last Gospels, and other devotions reappeared where the Protestant Reformation had done its damage, and the Gloria returned to its traditional position: following the Kyrie on most Sundays (outside certain penitential seasons). This was a full, glorious, comprehensive, catholic, Apostolic, and Orthodox liturgy.

No honest human being could describe this as "The Book of Common Prayer." Although Anglo-Catholics would recognize it, and most Western Christians feel an instant and familiar sense of worship while praying it, St. Tikhon's Liturgy far exceeded any edition of the BCP, whatever Cranmer's role in drafting any particular rendition thereof. In other words, describing the Liturgy of St. Tikhon as "Cranmer's Rite" is like describing the United States of America as "Jamestown."

Remember the fallacious logic, the faulty premise, and the blatant misrepresentation the next time you hear St. Tikhon's Liturgy described only as "the Cranmerian Rite," a charge born either of historical ignorance or ecclesiastical envy.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sorry for the Delay....

This blog was hit during the widespread troubles with I look forward to updating the blog and reviewing your comments shortly. Thanks for coming by, even while I could not update this space.