Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Western Rite is Not "Reverse Uniatism"

One of the more challenging aspects of being Western Rite Orthodox is dealing with the number of misconceptions people harbor about the WR. One of these is that Western Rite Orthodox are merely "reverse Uniates." "Uniatism" is the process that created the Byzantine (or "Eastern Rite") Catholic Churches, hierarchies in communion with the Pope of Rome that formally accept Roman Catholic theology but retain their own liturgy and customs.

At first blush, the comparison of Western Orthodox with "Eastern" Catholics seems natural: both are minorities in a much larger church; both seek to preserve their liturgical patrimony from assimilation; both are often misunderstood by others in their church. However, these similarities mask a number of profound differences. This charge of "Reverse Uniatism," made by ethnic Orthodox and sometimes by Roman Catholic polemicists, is false for at least four reasons:
  • Western Rite Orthodoxy has never in any way influenced would-be converts with political, social, or economic considerations.
  • It did not bring the contemporary, unaltered liturgical practices of another communion into the Church.
  • It is not theologically distinct from "Eastern" Orthodoxy.
  • It does not believe it has a "unique role" or "special duty of promoting the unity of all Christians" beyond that enjoined upon all Christians.
It is worth examining each of these in some further detail.

Conversion Without Coercion
. The Orthodox Church's biggest complaint about Byzantine Catholic churches, both in their formation and today, is that these "proselytizing" bodies use economic, social, or political considerations to attract followers. Such factors played a driving role in the 1596 Union of Brest-Litovsk, which established a Byzantine Catholic Church in Ukraine. Polish royalty exerted pressure on the Orthodox to convert, and Jesuit missionaries emphasized the "political advantages which must accrue to the...Orthodox Church from union with Rome." Indeed, the Ukrainian bishops who petitioned Rome stated, "we have to do this for definite, serious reasons for harmony in the Christian republic [Poland] to avoid further confusion and discord." Internal church pressures also contributed to the decision. Thus, the "Uniates" came into subjection to the Papacy through a process that seems less rooted in theology than economics and politics. Moreover, according to the Orthodox, Eastern Catholics today offer educational benefits, reduced tuition, or less expensive medical care to their church members, a sore temptation for Orthodox to leave the Church.

Leaving aside the question of its propriety for the moment, let's conclude this is certainly unparalleled in the Western Rite. To put it mildly, Western Orthodox receive no financial, political, or social advancement as a result of joining the Church. There is not even a "Coming Home Network" job service for those wishing to join Orthodoxy (in either Rite). In fact, newly ordained Western Rite clergy often forfeit salaries, health insurance, ecclesiastical titles, or the respectability of their former country club colleagues for leaving well-to-do denominations and embracing the true Faith. As Christ said, "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (St. Matt. 19:29). Though we pray fervently for blessings upon the Western Rite, its service remains a Way of the Cross, and we have nothing to offer those who undertake it but the purity of our faith and the fervor of our devotion.

Orthodox in Liturgy. When the Ukrainian bishops approached the Vatican in 1596, they demanded their "divine worship and all prayers and services of Orthros, Vespers, and the night services shall remain intact (without any change at all) for us according to the ancient custom of the Eastern Church" and that their Divine Liturgy be preserved "eternally the same and unchangeable." The promise was made, and the faithful were allowed to recite the Nicene Creed without filioque, ordain married priests, and celebrate their services as they always had. (This toleration was later abandoned, and intense latinization followed.) [1] Put another way, Eastern Rite Catholic practices were in no way different than Eastern Orthodox practices. In The Orthodox Church, Bp. KALLISTOS Ware wrote, "one wonders how far uneducated peasants in Little Russia understood what the quarrel was really about. Many of them, at any rate, explained the matter by saying that the Pope had now joined the Orthodox Church."

This cannot be said of the Western Rite, whose liturgical practices stand out from both the Roman Catholic Novus Ordo Mass and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. (Ironically, we are often criticized for this, as well.) Our Liturgy of St. Gregory preserves the ancient heritage of the Latin tradition, while the Liturgy of St. Tikhon (text file) conforms completely to the 1904 Russian Observations Upon the American Prayer Book. Neither are contemporaneous with the practices of a mainline denomination. [2] Moreover, even before Vatican II, the Liturgy of St. Gregory had been edited to conform to Orthodox guidelines (most notably, with the insertion of a descending epiclesis and additional Pre-Communion Prayers). The Mass is also typically offered in the vernacular. Though visitors would find a great deal of familiarity with certain elements and the overall structure of our Mass, no one could walk in off the street and see a mirror image of another denomination's service (unless that denomination has been imitating us!).

Orthodox in Theology. Although Byzantine Catholics must officially accept all the dogmas and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, there has always been an understanding that ByzCaths would "emphasize" their own, Eastern theology. Byzantine Catholics have discussed the tensions they often feel as a result.

Western Rite Orthodox do not have a unique or different approach to theology from our Eastern Orthodox brethren. While we look with understandable affection at forefathers like Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, the Venerable Bede, and St. Peter Chrysologos, we also kneel at the feet of Sts. Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas, and John of Kronstadt. We differ in nothing. We are simply Orthodox Christians who worship according to an approved, Western liturgy that expresses both Orthodox theology and our Western heritage.

A Pillar, not a Bridge.
Eastern Rite Catholics long believed, as an Eastern church in the Roman Catholic communion, they enjoyed a special and "unique position" as a "bridge" to Orthodoxy. At its most hopeful and imaginative, this line of reasoning saw Byzantine Catholics as the first-fruits of a reunited Christendom, leading the way to undoing the Great Schism. More to the point, they often call themselves "Orthodox in communion with Rome," a phrase most misleading. However, this vision has since been abandoned by Roman Catholic hierarchy. More than a decade ago, The Balamand Statement declared flatly, "'uniatism' can no longer be a model of the unity our Churches are seeking."

At our most hopeful, Western Orthodox dream of whole denominations accepting the Orthodox faith in either of our Eastern or approved Western rites. We pray for it. Yet we do not see ourselves as a "bridge" to the Papacy. (He just never calls anymore.) And we certainly do not see ourselves as "Roman Catholics [or Anglicans, or Old Catholics] in communion with Orthodoxy." We are simply Orthodox, and our appeal to other denominations will come only when they, too, have embraced the Orthodox Faith. We don't feel primarily that we have left our homeland so much as that we have found it. We do not wish to distinguish ourselves from it, and even though we celebrate different liturgies than others in our communion, they impart the same theology, often in the same way with nearly the same words. (See here, here, here, here, and here.) To put a fine point on this conversation: Byzantine Catholics seem to look primarily outside their communion to the Orthodox Church for inspiration (including saints after 1569, or the appropriate date of union with Rome); Western Rite Orthodox look primarily within our communion. We are not a bridge; we are a pillar of the Church that we love. As one who has many friends and acquaintances in Byzantine Catholicism, it saddens me to see them looking longingly at a Church to which they do not belong.

Others's arguments. It is true Western Rite Orthodox do not have separate bishops and hierarchies, as Byzantine Catholics do, and some have used this as an argument to distinguish us. Though I acknowledge the difference, I find this less than compelling. For one thing, the original Western Rite in this country had its own bishop: Ignatius Nichols. It would represent no enormous step backward were we to have one again. More importantly, not every group that has an extra-geographical hierarchy should be considered "uniate"; that logic leads to the ridiculous conclusion that Romanians, Bulgarians, and Albanians in the OCA would be considered "uniates," which they certainly are not. (And Abp. NATHANIEL is an inspiration to us all!)

Where We Are Similar. We do share one vital similarity with Byzantine Catholics: we, too, believe our witness to our faith's minority heritage (Western, in our case) enriches our Church by demonstrating that it was not intended for merely one group of people or ethnicity, nor has it historically been expressed in only one liturgical praxis. (More about this later, perhaps.) We believe the Orthodox Church is the true Church, and She is now reclaiming Her Western background. Byzantine Catholics believe the Pope is the successor of St. Peter, all must be in communion with him, and they express this theology in their own way. That is another matter for another day, but every Christian of every background can agree: Christ's Church was never intended to be merely Eastern or Western but Catholic and universal, from one end of the earth to the other.

An Important Addendum
. Finally, I am well aware the discussion above relates to the origins of the Greek Catholic churches, and perhaps incidents in other countries (where membership brings one, e.g., reduced tuition). Some extreme polemicists speak of today's "uniates" in Pittsburgh and Passaic as though they were all ignorant pawns of economic-political puppet-masters in Sixteenth Century Ukraine. Modern Byzantine Catholics consist of cradle families going back generations and, since Vatican II, no small number of former Latin Rite Catholics fleeing the liturgical anarchy fertilized during the "New Springtime." (Hence, the bounty of Irish Melkites and Italian Ruthenians.) That is to say, many are members of the Roman Catholic communion by volition.

May we all pray for the day when we shall all be part of the same Church, and petty bickering over who is or is not a "Uniate" will have subsided, melted away by the blinding light of His countenance.

The latinization occurred in the old country but intensified in North America. Open hostility to the existence of the Byzantine Rite inspired St. Alexis (Toth) of Wilkes-Barre to bring his people into Orthodoxy. Meanwhile among Eastern Rite Catholics, the promise of a married priesthood was discarded; a spoken "low Mass" was introduced; side altars were erected; Latin forms of confession replaced Byzantine; and recitation of the Rosary, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and other Western practices sprang up.
2. This is also true of the Western Rite liturgies employed by ROCOR: The English Liturgy and the Sarum Liturgy. This latter should be distinguished from the so-called "Old Sarum Rite Missal," which originated in a non-canonical monastery with strong ties to the "Gnostic Orthodox Church" and a background in Theosophy.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Pictures of the Newest Western Rite Mission

Pictures of the chrismation of St. Patrick Orthodox Mission, Warrenton, VA.

I reported this before, but the Antiochian website has more on the chrismation of St. Patrick Orthodox Mission in Warrenton, VA. The parish is headed by Fr. Patrick Cardine and is formerly a member of the Chrismatic Episcopal Church.

"On Friday, March 30, His Grace Bishop THOMAS received a congregation of forty-five people into the Orthodox Church at a Chrismation Service held in Warrenton, Virginia." Four Orthodox priests, including Fr. Nicholas Alford, attended, swelling the congregation to more than 150. As Sayedna THOMAS chrismated all 45 members, the people chanted "Seal!" until "the large church reverberated with the sound of new life." (If anyone knows how to make walls reverberate, it would be Charismatic Episcopalians!)

A week later, on April 7, Bp. THOMAS ordained former CEC priest Patrick Cardine to the subdiaconate at St. James Orthodox Church. Here are some of the pictures:

The statement about the parish chrismation adds, "The Western Rite has grown by four new missions this past year and the mission in Warrenton is the first of several CEC congregations coming into the Church."

It appears to be a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Deo gratias! Keep your eyes on this space for more.

(Hat tip: Two Natures)


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

St. Michael's AWRV Church's New Rector

Fr. Stephen Herney censes the altar at his installation Mass as rector. H.G. Bp. JOSEPH was in attendance.

On April 29, His Grace Bishop JOSEPH traveled to St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church (a Western Rite parish) in Whittier, California, to install Fr. Stephen Herney as rector. Fr. Hernsey had acted as Assistant Pastor for some time. Fr. Michael Trigg is now Rector Emeritus. You can see more pictures of his installation Mass here.

Our deepest congratulations to Fr. Herney and all the parish of St. Michael's!

(Hat tip: Logos)


Monday, May 07, 2007

Thanksgiving Prayers After Mass, East and West

Today, we examine one common Thanksgiving prayer after Mass and one after Divine Liturgy. NOTE: While the prayer below (on the left) has a long history in Western churches and still appears in many missals, it is not an approved Western Rite devotion, and thus it is not in The Orthodox Missal:

Thanksgiving Prayer after Mass (Western)

Thanksgiving Prayer after Divine Liturgy (Byzantine)

I thank Thee holy Lord, Almighty Father, eternal God,who deigned to feast me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, not for any merit of mine, but only because of Thy merciful goodness.

I thank Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast suffered me to be a partaker of Thy holy things. I thank Thee that, unworthy as I am, Thou hast enabled me to receive of Thy most pure and heavenly gifts.
And I pray that this Holy Communion, far from condemning me to punishment, may bring about my pardon and salvation, encompassing me with the armor of faith and the shield of a good will. By it let my vices be done away, all lustful desires extinguished. And yet moreover I beseech Thee, O Lord and Lover of mankind, who for our sakes didst die and rise again, and hast provided us these dread and life-giving mysteries unto the benefit and hallowing of our souls and bodies. Grant that these Thy gifts may be even unto me for the healing of soul and body, and the driving out of every adversary; for the enlightening of the eyes of my understanding,
May it advance me in charity, patience, humility, obedience, and every other virtue. Let it be a strong defense against the wiles of all my enemies, visible and invisible, allaying for me every disturbance of flesh and spirit, binding me firmly to Thee, the One true God,and peace for the powers of my soul; for faith unashamed, and love without dissimulation; for the fullness of wisdom, and the keeping of Thy commandments; for the increase of Thy divine grace, and an inheritance in Thy Kingdom. That preserved by Them in Thy holiness I may be ever mindful of Thy grace, and not henceforth live unto myself but unto Thee, our bountiful Lord.
and bringing my last hour to a happy close. I pray, too, that it may be your pleasure to call my sinful self one day to that banquet, wonderful past all telling, where Thee, with Thy Son and the Holy Spirit, feast Thy saints with the vision of Thyself, Who art true light, the fulfillment of all desires, the joy that knows no ending, gladness unalloyed, and perfect bliss: through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.And when I have departed this life in the hope of life everlasting, vouchsafe that I may enter into eternal rest, where the voice of those who feast is unceasing, and the gladness of those who behold the goodness of Thy countenance is unending. For Thou art the true desire and the ineffable joy of those who love Thee, O Christ our God, and all creation sings of Thy praise for ever. Amen.

Of course, this Western prayer is attributed to the arch-rationalist, scholastic heretic Mr. Thomas Aquinas.