Some Thoughts on the "Western Rite" In Orthodoxy

First, the historical aspect : Prior to the Schism, when the Latin West was still in full communion with the Orthodox East, various western rites were in use in the West, and it was never suggested that these rites - most notably, the ancient Roman rite - were not Orthodox. In princi ple, therefore, there is no reason why one or more western rites should not be used in Orthodoxy. There is no theological objection per se to the use of a diversity of rites in the one Church; on the contrary, this confirms the Church's catholicity.

Second, the liturgical aspect : But what western rite should be used? In France, the Eglise CatholiqueOrthodoxe de France, until recently under the jurisdiction of the Church of Romania, has used what is termed "the rite of St. Germain of Paris." l have attended this and found it a mo ving and prayerful event. But liturgical specialists tell me that this is a modern reconstruction and that at many points it is unclear how far it corresponds to the ancient Gallican rites. I understand that there are "western rite" groups in the USA whi ch are using what is basically an Anglican rite, with a Byzantine epiclesis inserted into it. I have some reservations here.

The Anglican service is in large part the work of Cranmer, who was Zwinglian in his theology (i.e., he did not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist): do we make his rite "Orthodox" simply by inserting a Byzantine epiclesis? Indeed, is i t right to take the Byzantine epiclesis and insert it into a western liturgical text where it does not properly belong? It is said that St. Tikhon of Moscow, while Archbishop of North America at the start of this century, blessed a rite of this sort. But how carefully was he able to examine the question? And if he were living today, would he recommend the same course? If we Orthodox are indeed to use a western rite, then there needs to be a full discussion on a pan-Orthodox level to clarify what western rite we should employ.

Third, the pastoral aspect : I will speak only of the situation in Britain, for I am not qualified to express an opinion about America. Here in Britain we Orthodox, few though we are in numbers, are fragmented into a multiplicity of "jurisdictions"; but at least we are united in the use of the same rite - the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. If a "western rite" is introduced here, it will add still further to our fragmentation. Is this desirable? Greeks, Russians, Serbs and so on, attending such a "western rite" service, wi ll not feel at home or recognize it as being Orthodox. There is a real danger that "western rite" Orthodox will find themselves cut off and isolated from the rest of the Orthodox around them. Is this pastorally helpful?

If we wish to help western persons joining Orthodoxy, the best way is to offer them the possibility of attending the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the English language. There is nothing "oriental" or "ethnic" about this Liturgy. True, it was written in Greek and not in Latin; but then Plato and Sophocles wrote in Greek, yet we recognize them as part of our shared European culture. The same is true of St. John Chrysostom. We English can feel thoroughly at home in his Liturgy - as I know from m y own experience.

Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia

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

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