Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Less Protestant Than Thou

A burgeoning soon-to-be-convert blogger has taken a shot at the Western Rite, saying we are "Protestants" trying in vain to "resurrect a figment of the past with no historical connection to the present."

I'm sure St. Tikhon, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, the Russian New Martyrs, Patriarch ALEXANDER III of Antioch, Met. ANTHONY Bashir, Pat. IGNATIUS IV of Antioch, Met. PHILIP, and the various Russian and ROCOR bishops who have approved and nurtured the Western Rite over the last century will be interested to hear that critique from this Protestant catechumen.
(Hat tip to Huw and Benjamin Andersen, who has an uproarious response himself.)



Blogger Eric said...

I propose a topic for you to discuss: Rather than debate the validity of the Western Rite, discuss whether or not Orthodoxy, particularly American Orthodoxy, is ready to accept it. What obsticles are in the way of it becoming a fully accepted practice rather than the red-headed-step-child of Orthodoxy? Rather than talk about theoretical benefits of a broader 'catholicity', what observable benefits have the existing Western Rite parishes brought to the American Orthodox family? Has it created more division than unity?

I propose these questions and others like them because, while I have read much in the way of WR proponents trying to prove the validity of the WR, I seldom if ever see anyone actually addressing the concerns that are brought up by its detractors.

While I love and support the WR very much, I am also concerned about the tension that it is causing on both sides. There seems to be a bit an anti-ER spirit that haunts the pro-WR media on the internet, the same as there is an anti-WR bias. I look for someone to explain in real terms how the ER and WR can peacefully coexist, because I believe they can and should.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for stopping by; I hope you'll make this a regular visit.

As to the substance of your remarks, I daresay they would be better directed toward a certain segment of Byzantine adherent. Unfortunately, the "concerns that are brought up by its detractors" are universally of the sort made by Erica: that we are "not really Orthodox"; we are "reviving dead liturgies," etc. This is the source of the "tension" to which you refer: the refusal of a tiny-but-all-too-vocal minority of Byzantines (often recent converts) to accept the settled mind of the Church on this matter.

I make no attempt to "prove the validity of the WR"; the Church has done that, as the advocacy of the WR by the patriarchates of Antioch, Russia, Romania, Alexandria, and (at one time) Constantinople -- as well as numerous saints and its own distinguished history -- attests.

When the Western Rite's critics revolt against generations of their hierarchs, it does create an unfortunate rift within the Body of Christ. What can one do but wish them well, pray for their welfare, and remind them in their zeal for their newfound faith not to reject the counsel of that Church itself? Thankfully, no one in the Western Rite goes around denying the validity and Orthodoxy of the Eastern Rite, nor spreading misinformation about the derivation of its liturgies and practices -- nor ever has.

We WRV wish desperately to live in peace with our Eastern brethen -- and for the most part, we succeed. For this remaining "tension" to diminish, those who reject our very existence must stop savaging us and begin understanding what we actually do (and how our Church approves of it).

The misunderstandings and misgivings some well-meaning Byzantines harbor are nothing greater familiarity with the history, spirituality, and praxis of the Western Rite cannot cure. We really all pray the same thing in different ways (as Met. PHILIP has eloquently stated many times); for Byzantines to learn how WR Orthodox express and live their faith will only deepen their own.

For Orthodoxy in general, more jurisdictions need to understand that we exist, as well as all of the above. (So many tell me they did not know we were an option -- with a pronounced note of sorrow.)

Ultimately, what is needed is for Christians to begin acting like Christians toward one another, preferring one another in Christ (and preferring nothing to the love of Christ - St. Benedict). Then can the Body of Christ realize its full health, unity, and vigor.

I'm glad we share this vision.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Father Aristibule Adams said...

"What obsticles are in the way of it becoming a fully accepted practice rather than the red-headed-step-child of Orthodoxy?"

I'd have to say it is accepted by the majority of American Orthodox - I can think of only a minority of hierarchs, laity, and clergy that have spoken against it. The major obstacle is really the false accusations, misinformation, and gossip passed along about WRO. For a small minority, the real threat is that WRO represents Orthodoxy as a living faith rather than a mere family heirloom.

2:33 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

The criticism to which I refered is primarily characterized by clergy such as Met. Anthony of SF, Bishop Kallistos (who, though not critical of WR per se, does not feel it to be a pastorally beneficial practice in GB), and Alexander Schmemman.

So, yes, both sides of the argument can play the hierarch card, which does put the WR in the position of having to defend itself to its detractors, even by means of claiming that "The Church" defends it. Some would not agree.

But seriously, if the WR is to grow and gain acceptance, I believe that it must be demonstrated to the larger American Orthodox community that it is a beneficial practice and a viable option for converts.

How about sponsoring a series of interviews with WR clergy and lay leaders as well as the ER clergy and laity that are establsihed in the same communities. What can their interactions and experiences tell us? How do they get along together? Once something like this has been done, the results should be written up and published online.

This is the kind of empirical evidence that I am looking for. I think this kind of information is helpful rather than being harmful like the all-too-common exchanges such as has been recently demonstrated by the catechumen Erica and yourselves. This sort of exchange only fosters antagonism. What if, instead of playing the St. Tikhon card and the St. Raphael card, we point to specific recent testimonial regarding the benefits and viability of the WR?

Perhaps this kind of research would make it easier to establish more WR missions.

This is just some brainstorming. People like Met. Anthony and Fr. Schmemman have raised some serious and concerns about the WR, even if it may be based on misinformation. I would like to see some well-thought out responses to these and other concerns that rise above the issues of historical validity.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Father Aristibule Adams said...

I'll note that Bp Kallistos specifically meant 'timing' not forever 'not pastorally beneficial'. Otherwise, the noted criticisms were answered well decades ago. The real danger is in the catechumens who want the Church to conform to their ideal of Orthodoxy (ie, get rid of WRO) rather than learn from the Church. Not only are non-Orthodox methods called upon (empirical evidence of spiritual things? appeals to 'living tradition', a terminology of 19th c. Theosophy/Freemasonry?), but the supposedly 'non-Orthodox' scholastic method is used against WRO. If one approaches it from the Orthodox tradition, there is no argument against WRO. And, the majority of hierarchs are not opposed to it - they are simply disinterested, as diaspora chaplaincy is their focus. Finally - I have yet to see this supposed 'anti-ER spirit' amongst pro-WRO. Rather, most of us worship happily in both rites (a reality, not some 'ideal'.)

Also of importance - it isn't playing a 'card' to mention the saints. It is of great importance to us Orthodox: St. Tikhon, St. Raphael, even St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco... they are Saints of the Church. The Western rite has the sanctity of these saints, I'm not sure we can say the same about the rather small 'critical' party.

The danger is for the catechumen/inquirer/new convert in trying to find some 'perfect church', or with a view towards 'reforming Orthodoxy'. There have been quite a few who stumbled over something 'not fitting in' with their ideals of Orthodoxy: toll-houses, Western rite, Greeks being themselves, Russians being themselves, lackadaisical attitudes amongst the diaspora ... and ended up shipwrecked (off in cults, apostasy, rejecting faith altogether). The culprit? Their passions, not the Church. Having said that: it isn't an WR vs. ER issue. Never has been, never will be. However, it helps to have a pragmatic view of the reality of Byzantine liturgy: it is not some untouched, unchanged rite. Particularly in America, it has gone through quite the Reformation (particularly with Fr. Alexander Schmemann and SVS), and 'revivals' of old customs from antique texts (the Greeks, Antiochians, Russians, OCA, etc.) Even much of what we do in Byzantine rite in America are things developed 'outside Orthodoxy' (English translations by Episcopalians, service books compiled and printed by Catholics, etc.) Nevermind WRO, carry that same attitude into Byzantine rite and one is in for some real spiritual danger...

4:46 AM  
Blogger Eric John said...

Perhaps the best way to make Western Rite Orthodoxy "more acceptable" amongst the nay-sayers who have hardly experienced it, is to found more Western Rite Orthodox Churches and even monasteries.

Also, I think it would be helpful for everyone to recognize that WRO is new. Anglo Saxon Orthodox did not teleport to the 21st century, after all. The WROV strives, I think, to set Western Orthodoxy in the proper cultural and temporal context. Therefore their liturgies are different than those used 1,000 years ago by Western Orthodox, but the Eastern Rites are no exception to this.

Since WRO is so young, it must have time to grow, flourish, and develop. Everyone should recognize (How do you like my sweeping generalizations? Sometimes I even annoy myself.) that it takes many centuries to inculturate Orthodoxy. That isn't to say that today's convert isn't Orthodox. It is, however, a warning against those who want to play the "More Orthodox Than Thou" game. Eastern Rite Americans are hardly further ahead in entering into the fullness of Orthodox than Western Rite Americans.

On a different note, I do hope that the WRV will, in time (if it has not already), review its practices and see how they could enter more fully into the Western Orthodox tradition. This would include the possile use of ancient liturgies, a re-evaluation of the Kalendar (What is the purpose of post-schism feasts such as Christ the King, or the Precious Blood?), etc. Perhaps there will be found pastoral reasons for these and other things. I agree that the WROV should take into account the history of its parishes. However, I also think that the ancient Western Orthodox heritage should not be overlooked. This should take time and happen organically, of course. There's no need to impose something from above if there's nobody below who can receive it.

I don't mean this as a criticism. I just think that self-reflection would be a good thing--as well for the Eastern Rite. This would be asking the questions: 1. How does the WR/ER fit into the American context? 2. How does the WR/ER fit into the historical context?

Perhaps I'm not making sense here. I just believe that the liturgical life of the Church has always been dynamic (within bounds, of course). Well, what do you think?

10:44 AM  
Blogger Benedict said...

I could not agree more with Eric John's comments. I do think that there should be a re-evaluation of some of the current liturgical practices of the WR. Critics have raised good questions about the Services as they are presently in use. As for the question of how WR/ER fits into the American context, I will say that I find it troubling that Western and Eastern Orthodox are using different Calendars, different Lectionaries (these seem to be parish specific...) and different Fast days and Fast rules - but I'm not sure how such things could be satisfactorily resolved...

7:53 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Hello "Benedict." I hope as you continue reading this blog you will find such "good questions" were all answered long ago.

Differences never bothered the early Church; they are in part what make Western Orthodox Western. The WRV's Lectionary, of course, is prescribed by the Orthodox Missal. OTOH, it seems the Byzantines can't figure out whether to combine Sunday and saint's day readings, whether to chant the Alleluia verses, etc., which seem to be "parish specific." I find, in worshipping in such diverse Byzantine churches, these differences (which don't exist in the WRV) do not detract from the worship at all (although I'm partial to going all-out).

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll enjoy reading the rest of the blog.

2:52 PM  

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