The Western Rite - Some Final Comments

In the most recent edition of his book, The Orthodox Church , Bishop Kallistos Ware devotes one page to the "existence, albeit limited and tentative, of an Orthodoxy of the Western rite (equivalent to Eastern rite Catholicism, but in reverse." In this century, there have been two "western rite" experiments within canonical Orthodoxy. First, the Eglise CatholiqueOrthodoxe de France, the origins of which Bishop Kallistos dates "back to 1937, when a former Roman Catholic priest, Louis-Charles Winnaert (1880-1937), who had received episcopal consecration in the Liberal Catholic Church, was received at Paris with his followers into the Moscow Patriarchate" by the then patriarchal locum tenens , Metropolitan Sergius. Winnaert's episcopal consecration "was deemed doubtful" by the Church in Moscow and it "was specified that he should officiate only as a priest." This small "western rite" experiment continued under his successor, Father Evgraph Kovalesky (1905-1970), who was "consecrated in 1964 as Bishop Jean de St. Denys." Over the next several decades, the Eglise Catholique-Orthodoxe de France was to leave the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate (1953) and exist independently for a number of years until 1960, when they placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia or Synod Abroad. Eventually, they ended up under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Romania. Bishop Kallistos writes, in 1993, that this "Catholic-Orthodox Church of France... is now somewhat isolated from the other Orthodox jurisdictions in France... (and) has been accused of links with Theosophy." Since that time, the Patriarchate of Romania has severed all ties with this small g roup which, once again, exists as an independent entity devoid of any canonical link to the Church.

Second - and more important for our immediate concerns in the Diocese of San Francisco - is the existence of "western rite" missions and parishes in California, Oregon and Washington under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Archdiocese. The establishment of a "western rite" in the States dates back to an edict issued by the late Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir) in August, 1958. Always small numerically, the "western rite" of the Antiochian Archdiocese has never numbered more than 20 missions and parishes. Because of the relatively small size of what Father Schneirla - in his letter to Bishop Anthony - calls the "western rite project" of the Antiochian Archdiocese, it is little known by the rest of the Orthodox in America. The introduction of the "western rite" provoked a brief scholarly debate between Father Schneirla and the late Father Alexander Schmemann in the pages of the St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly in 1958. Further brief debates concerning the appropriateness of the "western rite" may be found in the SVTQ in 1980 and 1982. A brief excerpt from Father Schmemann's 1980 article is included in this issue of The Priest.

While Father Michael Johnson, pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Tacoma, WA has written the main article for this issue of The Priest , there are two assertions in Father Schneirla's "response" to Bishop Anthony that I wish to comment on. First , the assertion that the "western rite vocation of the Church.... was founded on this continent by a bishop since canonized as a saint by his branch of the Church (which also happens to be the most populous Patriarchate)"- in other words, St. Tikhon - is historically false. While it is indeed true that St. Tikhon sent the 1892 edition of the American Book of Common Prayer to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church for a critical evaluation in 1904, it is wholly inaccurate to state that he "founded" the "western rite" in America. In 1906, a response framed by a subcommittee of the Holy Synod was approved and sent to St. Tikhon for his guidance. This response, which was published in English as Russian Observations on the American Prayer Book , translated by Wilfred Barnes and edited with notes by Walter Frere (Alcuin Club, London) in 1917, found many problems with the BCP. There is no documentary evidence whatsoever that St. Tikhon authorized the use of a "western rite" for Anglican converts based on the BCP. Any assertion to the contrary simply flies in the face of the facts. Second, Father Schneirla's assertion that Bishop Anthony represents an "alien ethnicity" speaks volumes about the deep psychological springs and perhaps even genuine prejudices that underlie what he calls "the western rite project of the" Antiochian Archdiocese.

In the original 1958 edict authorizing the "western rite" within the Antiochian Archdiocese, the late Metropolitan Bashir stated that it was his hope that the existence of a "western rite" within 20th century Orthodoxy "might serve the purpose of facilitating the conversion of groups of non-Orthodox western Christians to the Church." One can only hope that in our current evangelical zeal, our willingness to "cross land and sea (and even rite?) to make one proselyte," we do not end up making those who may be genuinely seeking the truth of Orthodoxy "twice as much a son of hell" as ourselves (Matthew 23:15).

Father Steven Tsichlis
Pastor, Church of the Assumption
Seattle, WA

The Priest. A Newsletter for the Clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco. Issue No. 5, May 1996

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