Friday, February 08, 2008

What to Expect in (a Western Rite Orthodox) Church

Here is a nice overview for prospective, non-Orthodox visitors, from the website of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church (Western Rite), Houston, Texas:

What to expect in Church

Orthodox Christians in the United States and Europe have the rare privilege to experience see a variety of Orthodox rites and customs, in both Eastern and Western Rite churches. Most customs are shared in some form by both East and West. All of us make the sign of the cross, light candles, use incense and have our own hymnody. As brothers and sisters in the faith we are united by one and the same faith which we express with customs that we share and with customs that are uniquely our own.

A Processional
In the Western Rite liturgy, the priest and acolytes start at the back of the church and process down the center aisle up to the altar. The acolyte, who carries the cross, is called the crucifer and leads this procession. Following the cross are the torch bearers, the thurifer (the acolyte with the thurible or incense), attending clergy, the celebrant, and the bishop (if present). In some parishes the choir also processes. There may also be a processional when the Gospel book is carried out to the congregation to be read.

Worshipping with our Body, Mind, and Soul
As in the Eastern Liturgies we who use the Western Liturgies worship the Lord with our entire being, both body and soul. The manual or outward physical acts we use express our inward and heartfelt faith. For example, it is customary to show veneration or respect to the cross by bowing slightly as it passes you by. Respect for the celebrant and clergy is shown the same way, by a modest bow when the clergy pass.

Another manual act is that of making the sign of the cross. This act reminds us of the Lord's death and His resurrection and is a custom which all Orthodox share, both East and West.


The Orthodox Christian often inscribes the sign of the Cross on his body. This devotional act is as ancient as the Church and may be considered: a.) a confession of faith in the Holy Trinity; b.) a silent declaration of faith in Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind; c.) as a prayer.

It is a confession of faith in the Holy Trinity because as we cross ourselves we say: "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

It is a prayer, because by inscribing it on our bodies we bring to mind the fact of the Crucifixion of Christ from which springs up the power of our salvation.

The Orthodox Christian makes the sign of the Cross to begin and end his private devotions, when he enters the church, venerates the icons, the Holy Gospel, or the Holy Cross. He makes the sign of the Cross when the name of the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, and Saints is pronounced during the Divine Liturgy or any Divine Service. Finally, he makes the sign of the Cross at prayers before and after meals, and at any appropriate times as an act of piety.

St. Kosmas Aitolos, concerning the sign of the Cross, writes the following: "Listen, my brethren, how the sign of the Cross is made and what is means. First, just as the Holy Trinity is glorified in heaven by the angels, so should you join your three fingers of your right hand. And being unable to ascend into heaven to worship, raise your hand to your head (because the head means heaven) and say 'Just as the angels glorify the Holy Trinity in heaven, so do I, as a servant glorify and worship the Holy Trinity. And as the fingers are three separate, and are together, so is the Holy Trinity three Persons but one God." Lowering your hand to your stomach, say: 'I worship You and adore You my Lord, because You condescended and took on Flesh in the womb of the Theotokos for my sins.' Place your hand on your right shoulder and say: 'I beg You, my God, to forgive me and to put me on Your right with the just.' Placing your hand again on your left should say: 'I beg You my Lord, do not put me on the left with the sinners.' This is what the Cross means."

How to Receive Communion
To receive the sacrament, all Orthodox must be properly prepared. However, the method of giving and receiving communion differs between East and West.

At Eastern Rite parishes, the priest stands with the chalice, and the people approach one by one. In Western Rite parishes, the people come to the Altar rail and kneel while the priest moves from person to person distributing communion.

The Host, which is made of leavened bread—baked into a thin round wafer—and has become the Body of Christ is given first, followed by the wine, which has become the Blood of Christ. To receive the Sacrament, you may open your mouth and the priest will place the consecrated wafer on your tongue. To receive the wine, lightly grasp the base of chalice as the priest holds the chalice in his hands and guide it to take a sip. You may notice that after each communicant the priest cleans the lip of the chalice with a white linen cloth.

How to Participate without Receiving Communion
Communion is regarded as the ultimate expression of unity between those who share the faith, discipline and order of the Orthodox Church. Accordingly, it is given only to Orthodox Christians. Other persons attending the service, such as inquirers, visitors, catechumens, or family members who are not Orthodox, may come forward at the time of communion to receive a blessing. Orthodox may also do this when, for whatever reason, they are not taking the sacrament.

To receive a blessing, come up to the altar at the proper time, along with everyone else. Fold your arms across the chest in X-fashion. In the Western tradition, this indicates that you are not receiving the sacrament. When the priest reaches you, he will give you a blessing, making the sign of the cross on your head. After receiving the blessing, you may return to your seat.

It goes without saying that one should pay absolutely no attention to who is receiving the sacrament and who is abstaining. Non-Orthodox may also receive the “Pain Benit.” This is bread which has been blessed, but not consecrated. Eastern Rite parishioners will recognize this as the Antidoron distributed at Byzantine services. Dating back at least to the 6th century, the custom of giving out blessed bread to non-communicants was prevalent in England, France and Germany. The English Sarum liturgy, an inspiration for the Orthodox liturgy of St. Tikhon, contains a specific prayer to bless the bread. Western rite parishes use this prayer today. It is a kind and helpful custom for today, since persons who do not share our understanding of communion might otherwise feel uncomfortable at not being able to receive the sacrament.

One final word about visiting a new parish. Please do not worry at first about whether you are to stand, kneel or cross yourself. We are here to help you learn this, and all of us have been in your situation. Don’t worry or be concerned with externals now; just join in the worship and all else will follow.

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Off-Topic: Higher Criticism...of the Koran

Our friend The Traveling Priest has discovered a news story of potentially staggering importance:
An article about the rediscovery of an archive of documents purporting to provide evidence of the development of the text of the Koran over time.

Why is this important?

For over a century the Bible has been subjected to many different kinds of analysis as to sources, historical settings, literary forms, and language....

The prevailing understanding of the Koran among Muslims is that it is a direct dictation to Mohammed and word for word a replica of the perfect word of God. If it can be shown that the text of the Koran has undergone revisions, compilations, or other kinds of adjustments over time it would be a crucial readjustment of what is probably the central tenet of Islam, that Mohammed was a direct revelator of God's word. The implications could be staggering.

Keep your eyes open for this story.
Fr. Chagnon is right that the Koran is considered to be a direct revelation from the Archangel Gabriel to Mohammed, which cannot be altered in any syllable. He overlooks one likely result of this story: the violent murder of any reporter, scholar, or researcher who pursues it.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Off-Topic: ABC Says Get Ready for Islam; Bioethics Problems

1. The Archbishop of Canterbury says England's acceptance of fundamentalist Islamic law is "unavoidable."

2. Speaking of politics and religion, the Beatles' favorite guru died. His teachings also formed the basis of a U.S. political party.

3. "Christian" clergy blessed an abortion clinic.

Here's a reason to be pro-life from self-interest.

5. Religious people have increasingly turned their eyes to the ethical implications of biological and technological breakthroughs. Here's another:
Sperm cells have been created from a female human embryo in a remarkable breakthrough that suggests it may be possible for lesbian couples to have their own biological children.
Now the world can state men are truly meaningless.

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From the Mailbag: Education of Western Rite Priests?

Q: Hi Ben,

Love the blog and have been a reader for a long time. I was wondering if you would mind providing some details on education for ordinands. Obviously, most clergy come from other churches and did seminary long ago. But does the Western Rite Vicariate send people to seminary again? Where do they go?

A: Thanks for the question, as well as your kind words about this small blog.

In a nutshell, our Western Rite Orthodox students have the same theological education as Byzantine Orthodox students. They go to an Orthodox seminary and study Eastern Orthodox theology from Orthodox professors alongside Byzantine seminarians. As I've noted (and sometimes been disparaged for), "Western Rite Orthodox do not have a unique or different approach to theology from our Eastern Orthodox brethren."

As with (more) Byzantine "converts," some Western Rite parishes joined en masse. To avoid leaving them clergy-less, these priests (who usually had seminary degrees) went through St. Stephen's Course, with its Master's program through Balamand University. Others have gone on to get their Doctor of Ministry through the Archdiocesan program. (I know, at a minimum, Fr. Joseph Gentile [AWRV] did so a few years ago.)

Since these seminary chapels celebrate the Byzantine rite, where do Western Rite Vicariate students learn about liturgics? Through the St. George Institute, Fr. Edward Hughes visits Antiochian WRV seminarians to instruct them in the liturgical aspects of serving the Western Rite. (Fr. Hughes is a fine priest and an outstanding teacher.) Subdn. Benjamin Andersen, who worshiped at St. Mark's AWRV in Denver, served another Western Rite mission while at St. Vlad's.

I'm not certain how ROCOR handles this matter, but Fr. Michael of St. Petroc Monastery seems favorably disposed to having students learn via the University of Joensuu (Finland)'s Orthodox Theology program, followed by hands-on liturgical training. (And of course, Fr. Anthony Nelson, who has a bi-ritual parish in Oklahoma City, graduated from Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville.)

To be brief, Western Rite Orthodox priests have the same theological training as Eastern Orthodox, because they have the same faith as Eastern Orthodox. At present, our seminarians are trained liturgically in a hands-on manner and from what I've seen, are trained well. At a minimum, perhaps the relationships WRO develop with their fellow students at seminary, through St. Stephen's Course and/or through other Orthodox educational programs will demonstrate that Eastern and Western Rite Orthodox share a common faith and will help unite them in a unity of the heart, even as the Eucharist unites them in a mystical union all Its own.

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