Saturday, July 03, 2010

A criticism of the Western Rite

Fr. Milovan Katanic (SOC) of the excellent Again and Again blog has posted a thought provoking criticism of the Western Rite experiment. I remain (with many caveats) a supporter of the W/R. That said, unlike most contra-occidental material one runs across on the web, this piece strikes me as cogent and well reasoned in its arguments.
The first argument against a Western rite is ‘why?’ Why have a ‘Western’ rite? Rites do not save souls, it is the spiritual contents of rites that save souls. Thus, Orthodox rites do not save in themselves: the case of Uniatism, which imitates Orthodox rites, proves this. Moreover, if great attention is paid to rites, this leads to ritualism, a particular danger in High Church Anglicanism or Anglo-Catholicism. After Anglicanism had lost continuity with Roman Catholic liturgical rites, this movement tried to recreate them in the nineteenth century.

Inevitably, this resulted in ritualism, the study of dead rites and attempts to revive them through a sort of artificial respiration. Most people find any ritualism irrelevant to their daily lives and boring. They say: Why have another rite in Orthodoxy when we have perfectly good ones already? Why try to breathe life into what has been long dead? Why such interest in the glass, when it is only the wine that is interesting?
Read the rest here.


The Anti-Gnostic said...

Isn't one justification for the Western Rite practical: that many convert parishes do not have any chanters who can master the Byzantine or Slavonic forms? I don't know this, so I ask it.

Which gets back to a point I saw raised by the Orthodox priest Fr. Emmanual Hatzidakis: if the melodies have become so complex that the average congregant no longer participates in the chants and hymns, then they need to be changed.

Anonymous said...

That all depends on what one's definition of "participation" is. While I freely acknowledge my perspective is that of a cantor and a musician, I'm quite dubious about the "everybody sings everything" model of participation. Certainly not everybody "participates" in the veneration of an icon by writing/painting/whatever one. Most people "participate" in an icon's function by kissing it and praying in front of it; they aren't "participating" any less by not drawing a stick figure on a napkin and putting that up on the wall of the church. Not everybody is called to paint an icon, not everybody is called to consecrate the bread and wine, not everybody is called to make incense, and at least in my view, not everybody is called to sing everything in church either. In the context of a Divine Liturgy, all of those things are components of how everybody worships, but not everybody "participates" in those elements in the same way. It doesn't mean they're participating any less; it just means they aren't participating by doing the same thing.

In any event, it's hardly reasonable for your average person in the congregation to be able to keep track of, say, which stichera are supposed to be sung at "O Lord I have cried" or which exaposteilarion is supposed to be sung at Matins on which Sunday. Our hymnody, just as text, hardly lends itself to being "participatory" in the sense of "everybody needs to sing it". There are just too many moving pieces. If that simply proves the point to somebody that not only do our musical idioms need to be changed but our services need a massive revision, well, good luck with that.


William Tighe said...

I trust that you have seen my criticism, whatever you think of it:

Anonymous said...

The Eastern and Western Rites coexisted in the Orthodox Chuch of the first millenium, which is why Patriarch Michael Cerularius could close the Latin Rite churches of Constantinople in 1054, although a Benedictine monastery survived in Mount Athos. There was never a liturgical uniformity in the Undivided Church, and I see no reason why we have to have it now.

Anonymous said...

"Thus, Orthodox rites do not save in themselves: the case of Uniatism, which imitates Orthodox rites, proves this."

The proof is a bit elliptical, and I am having trouble filling in the blanks - at least with the usual caution with which Orthodoxy addresses the salvation of those outside the Orthodox church. So what is the proof?

James the Thickheaded said...

Fr. Andrew has a lot of great articles. But I wonder that reading this without pairing it with his other great article, "On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian" takes his point out of context somewhat. I think the two make a good pair as there he emphasizes the need to not be Serbodox, Russodox, Grecodox... but just authentic Orthodox Christians. Fr. Andrew is consistent and holds no punches for anyone. I would agree in many measures that if we're actually Orthodox Christians rather than ritualists in the Liturgy of St. John, then the AWRV is less compelling. Unfortunately, our phyletism and other issues can in some places make the case for an Anglican or Roman liturgy rather compelling... not because these are better, but because they largely left the jingoist/nationalist/costume dramas behind 100 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Fr. James,

Bless, Father! I have to be honest and say I'm not sure I understand what you mean about being "ritualists in the Liturgy of St. John". My experience of the Anglican and Roman liturgy as practiced in this country is that they are every bit as much players in the nationalist costume drama game as many conceive of the Byzantine rite as being, we just don't experience it the same way because the costumes are the ones to which we're accustomed.


The Archer of the Forest said...

As an Anglican priest, I read his article earlier today. I am still unsure how to respond to it. He makes some interesting points; some of which are rather circular logic.

I was particularly taken by his comment, "In other words, our rites come from the Holy Spirit, in Whom there is neither East nor West." I was actually about to throw a shoe earlier in that paragraph, but this statement really cut me to the quick, as it were. I really liked that statement.

I wish he had stuck with that theme, but instead goes onto other topics contra "Western rite." I think the Achilles' heel of his argument is exactly that point. Somehow the Spirit is neither "East and West" but then he basically goes on to refute himself there by saying that, in fact, the Spirit in regards to rites is de facto only East.

James the Thickheaded said...


Forgive my hyperbole as outside our Orthodox churches I'd otherwise quite agree with you. And yet sometimes measured language makes it harder to make the point Fr. Andrew's other article I mentioned clear, and so we persist as if the faults were only elsewhere or in something new.. when in fact the flaws are everywhere. The truth is that it is neither the rite nor the prayers of East or West that matter in making us ORthodox Christians, but Jesus Christ "and him crucified". The rest... seems all pretense and (often) a matter of our egos, our pretenses, preferences and imaginations, and we serve ourselves in these rather than Christ and his church.
As Metropolitan Anthony notes, this is simply another aspect of the mote-beam dichotomy.

PC said...

Whilst it is (relatively) easy to criticise particular recensions of WRO rites I believe this detracts from the massive need for WRO.

Here in the UK, but I believe the situation in the USA is different, the major Orthodox jurisdictions are dominated by their cultural origin, particularly so since the changes on EU immigration and working rules. Of course, there is nothing wrong in this at all, it is right for example that the Russian Church caters for the large number of Russians in the UK, most of whom do not have access to the Liturgy.

Having said that there is surely a huge potential for WRO. With the decline of classical Anglicanism and Rome yet again offering an 'in full communion' form of Uniatism, its standard way of dealing with groups of Christians who are not RCs.

In the UK there is one ROCOR priest offering, a very limited, form of WRO. If the Orthodox present in the UK could present a coherent WRO not only would it attract many former Anglicans but also former RCs and bring them to the truth of Orthodoxy. It would be an opportunity to recover the historic faith and Church of these islands.

Fr. Michael said...

As an Antiochian Western Rite Orthodox priest, I would like to remind my brother priest that the Anglo-Catholic Ritualist movement of Anglicanism in the nineteenth century was not only concerned with Roman or Sarum rituals, but also with sending its priests and nuns to the slums of the great cities to minister to the poor, something that our Orthodox churches in the Western world have yet to do in countries other than Africa and the third world.

James the Thickheaded said...

Apparently I must clarify two points:

# 1: Before misimpression spreads further, I am a layperson.
# 2: Since I am not making myself very clear, forgive me if I state the obvious to those far better schooled than I. But here goes:

I believe attacks on the Western Rite often judge it for ritualism which visitors often sense as equally present in the Liturgy of St. John. Granted that "dress-up" in the Liturgy of St. John may not be the matter of priests and servers (as accusations against the anglocatholics seem to conform to) but more something the layity engages in as a matter of mistaking being Russian, Serbian, Greek or whatever for being Orthodox Christians. Our history of phyletism makes this mistake understandable, and it seems in some places we are not as courageous in clearing this up that the change we want is on the inside, not a matter of particulars on the outside. I understand hesitance to deal with this out of love, but it is the same difficult call one makes with one's children all the time... where mistakes are made and yet enough right often happens in spite of ourselves. Responsibility is never one-sided: love is the glue that makes it work or leads to error.

I think the fact is that in our era, our fascination with whatever is new has made our understanding and tolerance of the place and teachings within ritual and tradition woefully deficient. This is something quite literally foreign to us as Americans... especially the native born... odd as a that sounds for a nation of immigrants. And so the unfamiliar is "ritualism" where the familiar rituals are seen simply as organic. In part this is the what I hear in some of the back and forth. Yet in both liturgies, much is taught and absorbed that reflect the workings of rubrics, words, prayers, hymns and the whole as they indelibly work their changes on us.

So while Fr. Michael's point is extremely important, I would add that I think worship develops the soul of the person who would serve in a way which is consistent with christian service in love of the other person as opposed to service that allows us to feel good about ourselves and brandishes our self-image as a "good person". And I would like to be more certain that those who accuse others of ritualism aren't really saying "mine is better than yours" and ignoring that the healing medicine of the church is not confined either to simply the technical aspects of one of its mysteries (as important as this is), but in the whole of the experience of the church and their lives beyond... and even works in more ways than we can possibly conceive. Thus I do not believe Orthodoxy has ever been or should be confined to one rite alone.

True, resoures within the Eastern liturgies are more extensive in English than they were 20 and especially 50 years ago, and the Western Rite's own resources within the Orthodox Church seem at a similar early stage, but to the question of whether it is worth it, and whether it is a resurrection or not, I think it is very difficult to answer with the certainty suggested by those who oppose it without a broader consensus. I think there is a strong case that integrated with the Benedictine hours and values it has tremendous potential appeal and a rich history in the West. And I think this integrated vision has tremendous merit as a beacon to a beleagured Western people and western churches whether Orthodox or not. It is not simply a Western Rite... but a recovered Orthodox way of life in the West. Why would the Orthodox Church NOT want to give a gift of this nature back to the West in which it has found a home? help those who may not conform to the Greekness, Russianess, etc. which others have associated with Orthodoxy?

I would agree that I am not certain we have hit on this formula at present in its fullness, but we may not be far off either.

Chris Jones said...

I am afraid that I do not find Fr Andrew's article either cogent or well-reasoned. There are, I am sure, good arguments against the idea of a Western Rite (though none that I have encountered that persuade me), but this is not one of them. A cogent argument would proceed from sound, clear principles, adduce relevant evidence, and draw logical conclusions from those principles and evidence. That certainly has not been done here.

The first principle that Fr Andrew posits is that rites do not save souls, it is the spiritual contents of rites that save souls. Where he finds this principle in the Church's Tradition I do not know; it flies in the face of the principle Lex orandi lex est credendi, which is indeed well-attested in the Tradition. And even if this were a sound principle, it would weigh entirely against the point he is trying to use it to make. For if it is not the specific rites which save, then we should be able to use whatever rite we choose, so long as it has the proper "spiritual content." That is the argument of the Evangelical or the Pentecostal, not the Orthodox. The "spiritual content" of the Church's worship (which is the divine life itself) comes to us precisely through her covenanted mysteries -- and part of what makes the mysteries "covenanted" is that they are celebrated according to canonical and traditional order. The specifics of the rite very much do matter, because that is how we know that it is the Church's life-creating mysteries that we are participating in, not "religious entertainment" of our own devising.

His example of Uniatism, again, goes to prove the contrary of his argument. If the outwardly correct rites of the Uniates are not salvific (granting, arguendo, that this implicit claim is correct), why is that? Is it not because the Uniates do not confess the Orthodox faith, and are not in communion with their local, canonical Orthodox bishop? What does that say about Western-Rite Orthodox, who are in communion with their canonical Orthodox bishop, and do confess the same faith as Orthodox everywhere? Why should their rite -- celebrated with the blessing of their Orthodox bishop -- not be just as salvific as the Byzantine rite that their fellow Orthodox celebrate? Fr Andrew provides no argument that it should not.

Fr Andrew's next argument is that ‘Western ritualists’ are placing their local culture higher than Church culture. One is astounded, of course, to find a Byzantine-rite Orthodox in the West accusing anyone else of placing culture above Church. But the more fundamental question is what Fr Andrew can possibly mean by the phrase "Church culture." In the absence of any explanation of this term, I can only conclude that the cultures of traditionally Orthodox lands are thought to be more "Churchly" than other cultures. In any case Fr Andrew fails to explain why liturgical rites with their roots in the culture of SS Basil, John Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Gregory Palamas are more in tune with "Church culture" (whatever that is) than rites with their roots in the culture of SS Cyprian, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, John Cassian, Benedict of Nursia, and Hilary of Poitiers. Unless Fr Andrew is willing to declare that these saints are not Orthodox, I do not think that it is the Western-Rite Orthodox that are being "chauvinist."
[continued ...]

Chris Jones said...

[ ... continuing]
Fr Andrew's best argument is in the paragraph entitled The Fullness of Living Rites. There is a good deal to be said for the idea that one cannot "restore" a tradition that has fallen into disuse, that to be truly "traditional" one must simply be faithful to the tradition that one has, in fact, received. This is an argument that is worth engaging. In partial answer to this argument, I would point out that the western liturgical tradition belonged to the Orthodox Church for over a thousand years, and that the falling-away of Rome does not change that. The Western liturgy still belongs, by right, to the Orthodox Church, even if those who have continued to use it have become heterodox. If the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church choose to lay claim to that liturgical tradition and resume using it, that is their canonical right. If one believes that the continued use of the Western liturgy by the non-Orthodox has rendered that liturgy, which in itself is perfectly Orthodox, somehow "heterodox by association," then necessarily those hierarchs who have authorised it for Orthodox use have thereby declared themselves to be heterodox. I don't see Fr Andrew calling for breaking communion with hierarchs or jurisdictions which have a Western Rite; but that is the logical conclusion of his argument.

The Orthodox Tentmaker said...

I have a new and novel idea for those of us who are Orthodox Christians in the Western Rite.

I think we should boycott the endless Eastern Rite / Western Rite discussion and just proceed with what we are doing.

We'll just continue to plant our churches, live out our Orthodoxy and reach out to a lost and hurting world.

Then this subject will become a moot point.

When our Orthodoxy is vital and unquestionable then whether or not we are Western Rite will be irrelevant.

These discussions are becoming self-indulgent on both sides. The Western Rite is not going away, so respectfully deal with it.

Blessings in Christ,

Columba Silouan

DNY said...

The Anti-Gnostic's comment in one sense is correct--an important justification for the Western Rite is practical--but misses the level of practicality.

The Antiochian approach is a matter of pastoral expedience, not musical need (at least not if one is willing to use either znamenny or Serbian chant, both of which are easier for folks with Western musical ears, than either Byzantine or the later forms of Russian chant--though, perhaps the recent insistence in some quarter on all things being "Syro-Byzantine" in our Eastern Rite needlessly creates a musical urge toward the Western Rite).

And if the existence of a Western Rite, whether in the Antiochian manner of correcting living Western Liturgical Rites, or in the ROCOR manner of reviving the pre-schism Orthodox Western Rites causes more people to confess the Orthodox Faith, believe rightly on Our Lord Jesus, repent of their sins, pursue theosis, and be saved, pastoral expediency is justification enough.

Actually, one of my hopes for American Orthodoxy is that we will eventually have one or more indigenous systems of eight tones for use in the Eastern Rite (maybe even with a Tone Seven people can actually sing).

Anonymous said...

Chris, by way of clarification Fr Milovan Katanic wrote the article under discusssion.

Anonymous said...

please forgive me - I finally made it over to Again & Again and realize my error. The original article is by Fr. Andrew at Orthodox England -

VSO said...

I just flat out prefer the Latin Rite.

James said...

How long does a rite have to be out of use before it becomes 'dead'? The Liturgy of St. James is in a coma for the majority of the year, it seems. Generally, I've just never felt the need for a Western Rite; as a Westerner, I've never felt threatened or alienated by Byzantine forms of worship simply because they developed and express themselves in a Russian or Greek cultural context, anymore than I would feel threatened or alienated by Jesus because he grew up Jewish and spoke Aramaic. I've never felt the need to worship God in any other way than whatever the closest Orthodox Church was serving up.

However, I understand there are noble reasons to want to get WRO going, and i also respect some great people like St. John of San Francisco who put a lot of effort into that project. I figure the debate is kinda meaningless, actually, since WR is here already and not going away. So why not just embrace it and make it better? Let it develop into a living Tradition. If God wants that to happen, it will; if God wants WR to go away it will. But would you actually try to end WR by fiat? How would that be any better than resurrecting by fiat?

If WRO develops organically into a living Tradition, though, that will require humility and for people to stop being self-consciously 'Western'. If there is no Western Rite church near you, my suggestion would be to get over it and attend Liturgy cheerfully at the local 'ethnic' parish. Russian Orthodoxy didn't differentiate itself from Greek or become 'Russian' by thinking about how it could purposefully differentiate itself from Greek or become more Russian.

Rites don't save people, and neither does 'spiritual content'. God saves people. And he does it with Tradition, which is the life of God lived out in the Church, and includes rites.