Mission (Is the Western Rite a catalyst?)

St Augustine of Canterbury, by Aidan Hart

Below is an amended form of an something that I wrote very passionately in the course of correspondence with my godfather. Uponn re-reading what I wrote, I felt that it is something that I would like to convey more widely, and so I proffer this, the ranting of merely one person. If you're from my locale and you're moved by this in any way, then please do get in touch.

Here is the excerpt from our exchange:

I must admit that my primary purposes in supporting the restoration of the Western Rite are twofold:
a) to bring people to the Truth of Orthodoxy who would otherwise have found the transition difficult.
b) to enable the Liturgy and traditions of the Holy Orthodox Tradition of this place, which nourished the Saints before us, to be restored to its proper place in these western lands.

What Father Michael, all those involved with the Western Rite, and I decidedly do not do is to try to persuade our Orthodox brethren of the Eastern tradition to take part in the Western Rite. The reason for this is that there is simply no need. The Eastern Rite is a beautiful, noble and worthy tradition which I love dearly and which has nourished the faith of millions of Orthodox faithful throughout the centuries, through many tasking times, producing many Saints in the process, who are venerated throughout the Church today. Long may it continue! For people who are settled in the Eastern Rite and who have been brought up in it, they have a wonderful channel through which they can work out their salvation in Christ and there is no need at all for that to be disturbed.

The people who need to be made aware of the Western Rite are those who have a love for Orthodoxy, who have explored the Orthodox Faith and its Holy Tradition and would love to be Orthodox but find the ethnic image that Orthodoxy has to be a serious barrier: non-English or only partially-English services; styles of vestments, hymns and services that have been imported from Greece or Russia at the expense of Orthodox vestments, hymns and service that are indigenous to Britain and Western Europe; after-service meals that are exclusively made up of foods from "the old country" (the old country varying from parish to parish, of course), and where nobody speaks English. I have read of American converts to Orthodoxy, with white faces, blond hair and blue eyes, being denied communion in Orthodox churches because the priest refused to believe that they were Orthodox, because of course as everybody knows, Orthodoxy is for Russians, Eastern Europeans and Greeks.

To many people, (and it has been said to me on Ship of Fools and elsewhere), this seems to fly in the face of the Orthodox claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, for they rightly ask how it can be catholic (universal) if being part of it means denying the liturgical and spiritual Christian heritage of the West which has given us many Saints as well. Many see Orthodox churches as little tastes of Russia, Serbia or Greece in Britain, and while they may find it all very exotic and fascinating, they do not even consider it as a church that they would want to make their own.

I have put an open invitation on Ship of Fools for people to come to church with me at Nativity if they wish, assuring them that they would be taken care of. One person replied thus:

I don't have next year's diary with me, but I'm free that weekend, I think. I would be quite interested in attending an Orthodox service - it's something I've always wanted to do, but it always seems a little off-putting - having a friendly guide would be wonderful.

Why should an Orthodox service be off-putting? Why should somebody who has wanted to come to an Orthodox service for years find the idea daunting?

Now before I give you the wrong impression, let me make clear what I am not saying. I am not saying that there should be no Eastern Rite in Britain. Britain has a wonderfully rich and diverse cultural composition. Many people from Orthodox lands in the East have migrated here, and it is right and proper that they should bring their spiritual and liturgical customs with them. I thank God that such people, many of whom fled to Britain under the most appalling of circumstances in their homelands, have been given the opportunity to worship God in the way that has fed their spiritual tradition for centuries. I am also grateful that we, in Britain, have benefited from this by once again being exposed to the Orthodox Faith as a result of such migration. I was reading Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's biography, and learning how many Russians lived in atrocious conditions in ghettos in places like Paris and London, and where the church was their refuge. Their homes, livelihoods, families and dignity had been robbed of them and the church was the one place where they could gather as Russians and worship God as Russians. What a loving mother the Church is!

However, the Church does not stop there. Orthodoxy in Britain cannot be content to see itself as a ministry to Russian exiles in Manchester, or as a cultural focal point for Greeks in Salford. For that would be to ignore Christ's command to go into the world, making disciples of all the nations.

As Orthodox Christians, we have a missionary role for, as we sing in the Creed, we believe in the Apostolic Church - called to be apostles (messengers) of the Truth of Christ. We have the ability, dare I say the obligation, to continue the fullness of the riches of our Holy Orthodox Tradition in its entirety - both East and West - which we have inherited from the Saints before us, for we believe in the Catholic Church. As Orthodox Christians, we should harbour no "East good: West bad" mentality, for we believe in the One Church, recognising the diversity of Orthodox worship while holding to the unity of the Orthodox Faith, while shunning such strange ideas as ecumenism based on the branch theory. And finally, as Orthodox Christians, we must use our Oneness, Catholicity and Apostolicity for the purpose of holiness, for we believe in the Holy Church, called to bring all to Christ in his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, for the sanctification and salvation of their souls and bodies, as well as our own.

That may sound very inspiring in theory, but what does it mean at its basic level? What does it mean "on the ground"?

For me, it means that the fullness of the Orthodox Tradition has to be celebrated as a good and holy thing in both its Eastern and Western expressions to bring the Truth of our Lord and Christ to as many people as possible. It means that an English person who wants to explore Orthodoxy must not feel frightened to enter an Orthodox church because it seems too exotic and foreign to him. It means that western people who do feel comfortable embracing Orthodoxy as their own faith must no longer be the exception, but rather the norm. It means the free use of a truly Orthodox (for nothing less will do) Liturgy, spirituality and ethos that will be accessible to the people of Britain, being part of their culture and heritage.

Gone are the days when Saints in their droves walked these lands and lived the Orthodox Faith. Apart from some pockets left in certain parts of other churches, by and large, gone is the once widespread spirituality which was worked for by such Saints as Aidan and Colman of Lindisfarne, Bertelin of Staffordshire, Werburgh of Chester and the whole host of the Saints of the British Isles. And it will not do for us to simply bemoan this loss and do nothing to remedy it, hoping that people will jump over ethnic, cultural, and liturgical hurdles in order to become Orthodox. We in Britain are in a missionary situation and we need to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and for strength to do our part in bringing the Faith to others.

6 responses:

Ian said...

May God bless your efforts, and all of those who are doing likewise.

Michael said...

Thank you, Ian, and a bless Christmass for you tomorrow. :-)

Ian said...

Thank you: and indeed my prayers are with all still in the midst of Nativity Fast. God bless.

Unordered said...

I have heard this western rite is more like the Catholic church service. Is this so?

Michael said...

Hello, Unordered. Welcome! :-)

To respond to your question, remember that Catholics, like us Orthodox, have both Eastern and Western Rites. So Orthodox Western Rite services are just as similar to like Catholic services as are Orthodox Eastern Rite services, because there are Catholic churches that use the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (and other Eastern services) week by week as well as the Latin rite.

What I can say is that if you can find a Catholic church of the Latin rite that uses the Mass from before the reforms of the latter half of the 20th century, then what you will see is something not very dissimilar from the Orthodox Western Rite Divine Liturgy. The reason for this is precisely because the Patriarchate of Rome was once Orthodox and its Mass and offices, along with its fasting rules, spiritual disciplines and manner of vesture, were also Orthodox. The Divine Liturgy of St Gregory the Great (the Dialogist), the Divine Liturgy of St John the Divine (the Theologian), the Divine Lituirgy of St Ambrose of Milan, and the other various forms of the Western Rite of the first millennium of Christianity, were all Orthodox. Both the Western Rite and Eastern Rite co-existed as different rites within the one Orthodox Church.

After Rome split from Orthodoxy in the 11th century, they simply continued to use the forms of service and discipline that they had previously used when they were Orthodox, and that is precisely why the liturgical heritage of Christianity in the West, while separated from the Church for 1000 years, is more akin to the Orthodox Western Rite than anything else: it has its roots in Orthodoxy.

There are a few links in the right-hand comumn of this blog if you'd like to have a closer look, and there are also links to some of the forms of Divine Liturgy used in the Western Orthodox tradition. You may find these to be of interest.

It's good to see you here.


Anonymous said...

Happy Christmass, Michael! I've just got over the flu, so am very thankful for the Julian Calendar this year--otherwise I'd have had no Christmass at all!

I once thought that all Orthodox ate fish-heads in olive oil for breakfast. Not so!

One does adjust, over the years, to the different rites and personalities, and it's been, spiritually, a challenge not without its rough spots and rewards. One can be pushed out of one parish because of "Crusader" eyes and hair, but welcomed in another because one is capable of speaking French at the coffee hour to refined and exiled duchesses who were taught, when they were children, to speak French at the dinner-table! And God helped me do that without even a DeBretts! (chortle)

After one gets to know the people really well, one is welcomed just because one is there. The novelty of Orthodox conversions is wearing off here on the eastern seaboard of the USA as more and more people see the sense in being Orthodox. Due to distance and petrol-cost constraints, I'm now singing in a Greek church choir, in Greek, and I'm learning to speak conversational Greek as well. Truly, this is a melting-pot over here, some people don't melt as quickly as others, but in time, everybody melts! :)

It's fun, it's funny now that I look back on 30 years of being Orthodox, and I say come on in, the water's fine (literally), no matter whether Western Rite or Eastern.

This world is a rather iffy place, even in the best of times, and these are not the best of times anywhere on this earth, imho. We may not all get the luxury that Constantine took advantage of, that of waiting until the very last minute. I'm glad I'm still young and spry enough to give Orthodoxy my best, no matter where or with whom! And I am so happy that you are Orthodox!

If we still had a Western Rite parish around here, I'd be showing "solidarity", but the Western Rite parish here turned Eastern years ago due to building a new church in a suburb where there were many young Russian-American thirty-somethings. Now they have 600 members and a beautiful brand-new church.

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