Lord, save us!

Archimandrite Alexis on the Western Rite

Parent post:

“Please enlighten me father about the Western Rite Orthodoxy.  A relative of mine from southern Philippines who I am catechizing asked me about the Western Rite.  He told me about the presence of the Western Rite monastery missions of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in southern Philippines.  (If I understand it correctly, the ROCOR have Western Rite parishes and missions even before it unites with the Moscow Patriarchate.  That is even during the time that our Synod has a canonical communion with ROCOR.) Please counsel me father about who are the Western Rite and what are their significance to our Holy Church. Is their a particular canon of the Ecumenical Councils that mandates exclusive use of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom?  Are the Orthodox faithful of the Western Rite parish allowed to receive communion with us and vice-versa?  Indeed, I need much learning from you.” (copied as sent) - A.Q., Philippines, by email.

Regarding the Western Rite, I must start by saying that what I am
going to say is only my opinion, and I may well be wrong. I only offer
it, because you asked for my opinion.

It is true that the ROCOR which has united with Moscow, ROCA-
MP, has in the last couple of years taken in a number of Western
Rite clergymen and parishes, and appears to be promoting them. 

Although, rather strangely, on their official website, little or no mention
has been made of this fact. There the emphasis seems to be on Russianness.

Perhaps they fear that the two things do not quite marry and are
keeping them in separate compartments. His Eminence Metropolitan
Hilarion appears to have taken all the Western Rite groups under his
own omophorion, whatever geographical diocese they happen to fall in.
He is assisted by His Grace Bishop Jerome of Manhatten. The ROCA,
under His Eminence Metropolitan Agafangel, which is our sister Traditional Synod, does not have any Western Rite clergy or parishes to the best of my knowledge.

Regarding the Rite itself, I believe that there should be great
concerns about its implementation, and I believe the fact that it is being
sponsored is something that should be of great concern to Orthodox
Traditionalists. I will try and explain why I feel this.

First of all, there seem to be two types of Western Rite. There are
those who use a modified form of relatively modern Roman Catholic or
Anglican rites, from which things, which are ostensibly not Orthodox,
have been excised, and into which some Orthodox features have been
added. Let us call these TYPE A. And there are those who have tried
to return to rites which were current in the West, before the Schism of
Rome from Orthodoxy. Let us call them TYPE B. I believe that there
are dangers in adopting either of these approaches.

TYPE A: In this instance, they are using rites, which although
they might be able to trace a history back to something authentic, have
essentially been shaped and formed by people outside the Church. The
modifications, excisions and additions, do not seem to have been long
and hard thought over. It seems to me as if they have taken a Ford Escort, 
added in a couple of features, improved the upholstery and taken off
the Escort insignia, and pretend it is a Lexus. Just recently, I saw a clip of
one of these Western Rite services, and they had statues in their church. 

If such a “conversion” of these rites was to be undertaken, then I would think that it should be done not by one or two hierarchs and not in a short space of time, but by the whole Church acting together - a thing which, given the situation that Orthodoxy finds itself in today, is completely impossible.

TYPE B: Here we have the problem of trying to revive something
which has been unused in the Church for a thousand years. If I am not
mistaken, none of the rites used in the pre-schism West still exist in their
entirety, and so those who have adopted this approach, of necessity, have
to feed in certain elements from Byzantine usage. I once, many years
ago, attended such a Mass, celebrated by Bishop Germain de Saint-Denis,
who struck me as a very affable man (I gave him a lift in my car), but,
although I am no expert in liturgics, it was obvious that the rite he performed could not have been that of the pre-schism West. If my memory serves me right, he even used the dikiri and trikiri candles, which I am sure were not used in pre-schism France!

Furthermore, with TYPE B, we have the problem of providing
for those feasts which are celebrated by the Orthodox today, but were not observed in the pre-schism West. Do services, fitting the Western usage, have to be composed for them, or are these feasts simply to be ignored?

I think, too, that there is a “chicken and egg,” problem. The West
fell away from Orthodoxy, and since that time has added heresy to heresy.

One has to ask: were the Rites that they were using in some sense
deficient, and unable to contain the fullness of Orthodox teaching? If
such is the case, there is extreme folly in returning to those Rites, especially as we do not possess them in their fulness. But maybe the West fell away from Orthodoxy despite the adequacy of their Rites at that time;
then there is folly in the TYPE A approach. We are in a twilight zone here,
and we need fathers of clear spiritual insight, or, better still, the consensus of the whole Church to guide us before we venture on a path which may be perilous.

I am bold enough, and stupid enough, to believe that the adoption
of the Western Rite is a path which is extremely perilous, and I will try to
explain, in addition to the above, why.

First of all, in the Byzantine Rite, we have an immense wealth of
liturgical materials, which have been used by the whole Church for centuries.

We have a banquet spread before us. Why turn away from it and
pick at crumbs which are stale and may be contaminated?
Second, the vast majority of people involved in the Western Rite
movement, if one can call it that, are quite understandably converts to
Orthodoxy. They are, perhaps, the people who most need to drink from
the living sources, to be nurtured on Orthodox teaching and understanding through the services of the Church.

Thirdly, those in the TYPE A situation, who are excising and
amending to bring their rites into an Orthodox frame, are often the very
people who should not be doing this! They are not, by and large, people
who have been formed by Orthodoxy, who have reached spiritual heights,
but are the converts themselves, very often converts who, because of
their adherence to these rites, have lived, as it were, on the very outskirts
of the Orthodox world, have not integrated with it. How different their
approach to that of that beautiful example of a convert, our foremother
Ruth - see her confession (chapter 1:15-18) and see her extraordinary
obedience (chapter 3:2-5). Can you think for a moment how difficult
that obedience must have been for a modest, Eastern woman of that period?

And yet her answer was: “All that thou sayest unto me, I will do.”
Maybe I judge them, and if I do may I be forgiven, but it seems to me that
these people are instead making that most horrible of professions, “I will
do it my way.”

Lastly, at least for now, from the clip that I saw the other day, my
attending Bishop Germain’s Mass, and other things I have seen, it seems
to me that the Rite itself fosters an un-Orthodox spirit. There appears
to be a strong element of posing (for want of a better word), of striking
“pious” poses, which is alien to Orthodoxy. It appears also that the
order somehow takes precedence over the spirit. The thing appears to
be an elaborate ritual. In a sense, we do not have ritual in Orthodoxy. I
remember years ago seeing Fr Vladimir serve at Jordanville. One could
not say he was performing a ritual (although of course there is an outward ritual form to our services), rather it was clear that he was entering into a dialogue with our Saviour. Perhaps I exaggerate - I was young and impressionable at the time, but it does seem to me that the Western Rite (what I have seen of it) promotes a contrary spirit, - to put it very crudely, a “look at me, see how well I am doing this” ethos. Again, forgive me if I am wrong. This may in any case be a defect of the celebrants I have seen, and not of the rite itself, but it is these same celebrants who are furthering its use.

I believe that before ROCA-MP went under Moscow, there was
only one Western Rite community, and that was countenanced more as a
pastoral condescension to its priest, with whom I had a brief correspondence, than anything else. There was an earlier venture into Western Ritism with the consecration of Bishop Jean-Nectaire of Saint-Denis, but that did not last long.

As far as I know there is no canon of the OEcumenical Councils
regarding the Western Rite - what rites were being used in the West at
that time would have been Orthodox, and the question of assessing them
would not have arisen.

Regarding whether Western Riters can receive the Holy Mysteries
in Eastern Rite churches: I presume, and only that, that in the present
ROCA-MP they can, because surely as they are under the same Bishops
they are of one mind and one heart with each other, and with their Bishops.

I have probably said more than enough. As you are in correspondence
with Archbishop Chrysostomos and the fathers at Etna, I will copy
this screed to them, in case I have said anything outrageously wrong, and
I hope they will correct me. But, in short, my advice would be, if you
want to become Orthodox, or grow in Orthodoxy, avoid the Western Rite.
God grant that some of this be profitable for you, and please forgive
its shortcomings.