Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Anti-Orthodox Target the Western Rite

Some (and not all that many) of our Eastern Orthodox brethren claim we're not as Orthodox as they are.; however, our mutual enemies offer no such quarter. A hideous website called "Ex-Orthodox for Christ" has a rambling and incomprehensible post (which seems dedicated to seeing how many times it can repeat the word "wafer") excoriating the Western Rite.

We may only be "only in the narthex" of the Church in the minds of some, but we're in the crosshairs of those who hate Orthodox Christians all alike.


An Excellent Assessment of the Western Rite

When someone asked for the blogs that make me think, I listed Julio Gurrea prominently. He has more than earned that title in three recent posts on the Western Rite. Together, they are an ecclesiological and liturgical, take-no-prisoners tour de force. Passionately written, with clarity and charity, he offers an excellent description of how those of Western ritual and piety can exist in an "Eastern" church. (I put "Eastern" in quotation marks, because the Orthodox Church is a catholic body for all believers, not an ethnic or cultural institution.) You must read the whole series (three parts, so far). Part I offers a wonderful assessment of Orthodox ecclesiology (which I'm greatly simplifying; again, please read it all):
All other ecclesiastical bodies which claim the title of the One True Church, the Catholic Church, etc. are not in fact the Holy Catholic Church...In some cases, [they] may be so painfully close that the fact that such a body is not in the Church is a source of much anguish and lack of sleep on my part. I hate the fact that a schism ever happened... [However] No amount of miracles, saints, and good works outside of the Orthodox Church disprove this belief. It only shows how merciful the Holy Spirit is and how He moves where He wills.
He adds, in Part II:
I am of the opinion that if the people who lived hundreds of years ago during some of these controversies did not see a way to reconcile two different beliefs, then we are being presumptuous by assuming that we “understand things better.”
I thank him for noting the Branch Theory is simply another form of modernism, which its advocates claim to oppose. It asks if we can't sweep aside all those untidy theological disputes and render "the Church" a spiritual non-entity, unmoored from any doctrinal components of Her essence. Historically, the theory was not accepted by Orthodox (who believe certain Roman doctrines were heretical), Roman Catholics (who believe Orthodox are Schismatics), or Protestants (who levied a pox against both houses, of "pagans" and "the anti-Christ"). In essence, it says, "Orthodox Christians; Vatican I Roman Catholics; Puritan Anglicans: What's the difference?" It is the theological equivalent of "Can't we all just get along?" (It also has the demerit of being false.) :)

If Western Rite Orthodoxy is not identical to other Western churches, does this make us somehow un-Western? Does subscription to Orthodox (which is to say, merely catholic) theology make us Byzantines light? He takes as an example St. Gregory Palamas:
The uncreated light is neither Eastern nor Western. It is a description of reality.
In other words, to rework a phrase of St. Augustine of Hippo, "All God's truth is our truth," wherever it may be found.

Julio's series is so good, I take a modicum of pride in seeing I may have had an influence on him. In Part III, he borrows an exact phrase of mine:
Little girls in America dream of growing up, meeting a nice boy, and saying their vows at the altar. Read it again. They do not dream of and will never dream of exchanging their crowns at the wedding table.
I think my exact words were, "Little girls in America growing up dreaming of saying 'I do,' not dancing around an altar three times." This is not to say anything negative about that beautiful rite, simply that the Byzantine custom is not part of our national consciousness, while exchanging vows is almost universally regarded as sacred. But I'm glad the truth is being repeated: Americans may be strangers to the Orthodox Church, but most are not entirely estranged from God. Our Western forefathers passed on to them a set of rituals and phrases that pervaded the whole of our culture. If the Orthodox Church recognizes these formulae as Her own, why would we not remove any unnecessary cultural stumbling blocks delaying those Westerners who love the Father from being reconciled with their Holy Mother, the Church?

Thus far, Julio has developed his themes magnificently; I look forward to see where he will go next.

Read all of Julio's posts (so far): Parts I, II, and III.


The Young Fogey Fulminates Against Me

(Acknowledgement: I'd like to thank Logos for pointing this out to me, as I don't read Serge's blog.)

Mr. John "Serge" Beeler (who has appropriated for himself the title "The Young Fogey," apparently from Colleen Carroll Campbell's excellent book The New Faithful) has written a "response" to my post, "The Western Rite is Not 'Reverse Uniatism.'" Mr. Beeler and I crossed swords a number of years ago, which seems to have given him an interminable antipathy toward me — but then he seems to rage against anyone with the temerity to disagree with him. Mr. Beeler (who it seems cannot bear to call me by name), writes:
This blogger, trying to defend the Western Rite Orthodox experiment as not ‘reverse Uniatism’, seems to mirror the latinisers in the BC churches. Paraphrasing him: ‘We use Western externals but underneath are really Byzantine in our theology — the Eastern church fathers — because only that is really Orthodox’. What? [That's some paraphrase - BJ.]

IMO the best of the WRO, like Subdeacon Ben Andersen, no longer blogging, don’t talk like that. They don’t pretend everything they do is pre-schism nor try and rewrite history to fit byzantinocentrism. Like the high-church BCs use mostly Orthodox stuff and try and square it with today’s RC ecclesiology (papal prerogatives), these Orthodox openly use Roman and Anglican prayers, devotions and spiritual writing — dare I say theology as in ‘expression of dogma’, not the same as dogma in itself? — and find that this doesn’t contradict the Byzantine theology of other Orthodox. One set of dogma, different expressions. Sounds good.
Those who read my blog regularly know such accusations ("byzantinocentrism"?!? Maybe I really am "Ethnic Ben.") are misplaced. What really seems to frost Mr. Beeler is that he is an indefatigable (albeit usually indirect) exponent of the Branch Theory, and I, like all faithful Orthodox, reject that notion. I believe the faith of the Apostles is Orthodox, not an odd hybrid, by parts Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Anglican (with High, Low, and Broad churchmen vying to define that ambiguous term). Between these three communions, we are dealing, not with "different expressions," but different dogmas. For the interest of those who do not frequent the blog, I reply more fully below.

Detailed Response:
Hmm, having re-read my own post a few dozen times, I find no reference wherein I claim everything in the Western Rite "is pre-schism" (though a great deal of it is), and my readers would agree it is a stretch to refer to this blog as "byzantinocentric." (!)

The vast bulk of my post, of course, is dedicated to the fact that WRO and "Uniates" are not identical because no political or economic favors were granted in the genesis of the Western Rite; because we do not use an identical rite to that of another Church; and because we do not deceptively label ourselves members of one communion when we are members of another. (e.g., some ByzCaths call themselves "Orthodox in communion with Rome," which is an oxymoron.) All of this escaped his notice.

I also can't seem to find any statement that only the Eastern Church Fathers are "really Orthodox," a view I frequently criticize. I do find these words in my post: "we look with understandable affection at forefathers like Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, the Venerable Bede, and St. Peter Chrysologos." I simply noted that we in the Western Rite do not ignore the Eastern Fathers. How radical.

I've rather made it a distinctive practice to point out the similarities of Eastern and Western Rite practice: see here, here, here, here, and here. In other words, "One set of dogma, different expressions. Sounds good."

Incidentally: Three times in his post, Mr. Beeler makes reference to an alleged "high-church minority" of Byzantine Catholics. Most Ruthenians and Melkites are now Evangelical Charismatic Megachurchers, presumably.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Please Pray for Fr. Jack Witbrock

Fr. Jack Witbrock by his altar.

The Patriarch of Antioch personally approved the Western Rite in the 1950s. Thus, although the Western Rite Vicariate only rules North America, Western Rite Antiochian parishes can be found outside one continent or geographical area. For decades, Fr. Jack Witbrock has headed WR efforts in New Zealand. He recently sent this e-mail (though he seems to have the wrong e-mail listed for me; I'm grateful for its having reached me at all):
You may have heard that we have been having some health problems. Shortly after my letter on the Breviary, I was accused by my doctor of diabetes (type II) and although with the help of the late Dr Atkins I have managed to hold the glucose readings mostly within the 4-8 range considered normal, I have recently been suspected of a stroke by my family who noticed me slurring my speech (which does not mean using an american or NZ dialect instead of RP!) and having a lop-sided face, and even dribbling a little. No recent stroke was found, but I should appreciate prayers that, if the Lord does want me to finish the present task, he should maintain my health sufficiently. My wife also has had an operation for a small malignant breast area, followed by radiology. These have inspired our children to rally round concerning the house and garden, for which we are grateful; but apart from limitation of time they have not impeded the transcription of the music (from the 1952 Liber Usualis). I do not want to leave its completion to another, and there seem at present to be some 10,000 miles still to go.

please pray for this unworthy priest and his wife Julia, of your charity.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit grant him healing, a long and blessed life, and at the last, admittance into His Heavenly Kingdom, where with all the saints he shall render thanks, blessing, and worship to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

(Fr. Jack also writes that he has been working on a Holy Week-Easter Missal including the pre-1955 services, which can be downloaded and printed here.)

(For the record, yes, I woke up early!)