Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Founding Hierarch of the OCA on the Western Rite

Abp. Platon (Rozhdestvensky), founding hierarch of the OCA.

As many of my readers know, earlier this month the Orthodox Chuch in America (OCA) announced the retirement of Met. HERMAN, with Abp. DMITRI of Dallas acting as locum tenens (assisted by Abp. SERAPHIM). On 9/11, they reported a new Metropolitan will be elected at the upcoming All-American Council in Pittsburgh this November.

As I noted in response to a question from a reader of this blog, the OCA presently has no Western Rite parishes. One knowledgeable source told me the OCA had given a definite (official or unofficial?) no to the idea quite a few years ago. At a minimum, there are some within the jurisdiction who oppose the idea. This is not only at odds with its history within Russian Orthodoxy, but (if true) it is at odds with its own history.

Archbishop Platon (Rozhdestvensky), the founding hierarch of the Metropolia (now the OCA), weighed in on the issue in a different way. Speaking to an Episcopalian audience, he told the group he longed to see a Western Orthodox Church in North America. Although his much later attempts to acquire ROCOR property via lawsuit (and other actions) made him an anti-hero, I present his words here for the benefit of those in the OCA who remain virulently opposed to the Western Rite — and those who would prefer the OCA have a Western Rite like that of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate. And this statement has significance for all North American Orthodox (see below). He spoke to the Church House in Philadelphia on February 27, 1911:
As long ago as 1904, the Committee of the Holy Synod for the furtherance of the question of Church Union published its Notes on the American Book of Common Prayer. These Notes may be taken as the Russian Orthodox view of your "wedding garment."

I do not know whether you are acquainted with these Notes. If so, you must certainly know how friendly and sincere is our feeling toward you; you must know what is our view of your "wedding garment," and how eagerly we wish they were not only like ours, but the same as ours; and yet that, at the same time, it should be becoming to your own Christian features.

How I wish that, at this moment, you not only understood me, but that your souls might be close to me. How I wish that we were sheep of the same Orthodox fold, and that it were impossible to apply to us the words oves non audiunt vocem alienorum.

My brethren in Christ, our life is moved by ideas, and not by exterior circumstances and interests, which also include both our national and our individual peculiarities. So our nearness will be realized only when our religious ideas are not only not alien, but are near and akin.

What is most important of all! Christ said: "If ye continue in my shall know the truth" (John viii, 31-32). In this rests the substance of our faith, and the substance of the question of the Union of the Churches. I find more religious significance in my Church, while you find more in yours. Why is this so? Because in my Church I want to pray, finding there alone the familiar conditions which best correspond to my mood of prayer. Why is this? For the reason that a Russian church is one thing, while an American church is another. You sit in your churches; we stand in ours. And in order to bring about union, it is not necessary to carry the pews from your Church to ours, forcing you to stand and us to sit. We shall not sit, and you, from lack of habit, could not remain standing through such long services as ours.

But Union does not demand this. Otherwise the pews might become the barrier over which the Orthodox could not step into your Church, or you into ours.

...It would be difficult to bring about a union which would enable you and ourselves to feel at home in each others' churches. It would be hard for you to transform yourselves into Russian Orthodox, and for the Orthodox to become Episcopalians.

But is this necessary? If until the eleventh century there existed an Orthodox Eastern Church and an Orthodox Western Church, why should this be impossible now, in our day?

Could we not think of the parallel existence of the two Churches, the Russian Orthodox and the Episcopal, if the former proclaims the latter its beloved sister, whose faith conforms to its own? This can take place, when your Church removes all the dogmatical differences separating it from the Orthodox Church, which has preserved pure, primitive Christianity. Until this happens, though I have friends among your Bishops whom I value highly and for whom I have a profound respect, as a faithful son of my Church, knowing its dogmas and devoted to its ritual with my whole soul, I cannot admit of any compromises which would entail the smallest and seemingly most insignificant belittling of our Orthodoxy. I am sure you yourselves could not wish this.

You will illumine your dogmatical digressions by the light of the science of history, and will see for yourselves what is to be done. When we agree concerning dogmas, there will be no need to speak of rites. They will not prevent us from being one in Christ and having the same belief in Christ. Only the more so, because both among you and among us there are many people who wish to do so.

...You already have an army ready and able to demolish the fortress of disagreement, the division which rends the seamless cloak of the Church of Christ. But this army still needs a fuller knowledge of the breadth and power of the Church of Christ in that epoch when it was not divided into factions. In my eyes, gentlemen, if you really possessed this knowledge, without any doubt you would have confessed in the face of all the world, with one mind and voice, that our Orthodox Eastern Church is the Church founded on earth by our Lord Jesus Christ "for us, men, and for our salvation." It is also beyond doubt that in that case you would have expressed the desire to be members of the Orthodox Western American Church.

May the Lord God grant to us the possibility to see the blessed day when we can give to you, Americans, the same name of Orthodox Christians. That would be a great mercy from God both for ourselves and for you. Let us believe that it will come, and let us pray that it may come soon. (Emphases added above.)

So, the founding hierarch of the OCA, Abp. Platon, prayed for the establishment of a Western Rite; he demanded only that the Episcopalians whom he addressed "remove all dogmatical differences separating it from the Orthodox Church" and modify their liturgy according to the Notes on the American Book of Common Prayer. (This has been accomplished in the Liturgy of St. Tikhon celebrated by some in the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.) In this, he is in line with St. Tikhon (Bellavin), St. Nicholas of Japan, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, and others. (Indeed, it appears St. Nicholas of Japan viewed the external rite of ordination as "valid" and merely opposed confused Anglican theology.) Note also Abp. Platon's allusion to the "parallel existence of two churches," meaning when these Western Christians accepted the full Orthodox faith and made necessary changes to their liturgical practice, they would retain their own Western Rite hierarchy.

To those outside the OCA, I note his words were spoken in 1911, during his first term in America, before the Bolshevik Revolution and 15 years before the split of the Metropolia and ROCOR. (In between, he had served as a member of the Holy Synod of Russia.) As such, his words were those of a bishop representing North American Orthodox regardless of later jurisdictional identity.

Now that the OCA is making other needed changes, it is time to follow the example of the 20th century saints listed above, as well as the founding hierarch of their own jurisdiction, and allow for a Western Rite like that already approved by her sister jurisdictions.

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Blogger VSO said...

And while they're at it, IMHO just merge with the Antiochian Archdiocese.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

great post.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

You should make this available as a sidebar reference with the other Western Rite postings. Looks like the Archbishop was a true visionary-at least about this. Perhaps the OCA will see the light and return to the fold.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Jon Marc said...

Interesting post! I had no idea that Metropolitan Platon had weighed in on the Western Rites at all. May God grant our American Orthodox Metropolitanate to bless the use of the Western Rites in its churches too!

7:17 PM  
Blogger Jon Marc said...

Have you found much about the Roman Rite missionary work of Metropolitan Mar Julius in the Malankara Orthodox Church of Goa and southern India? (

4:00 PM  

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