What is the Western Rite?
The following is a reprint of FROC Journal. Article by Annette Milkovich
The Very Rev. Paul W. S. Schneirla, a Professor of Church History and Old Testament, pastor of St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Brooklyn, New York (Antiochian Jurisdiction), and Vicar General of the Western Rite of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, converted to Orthodoxy over 50 years ago from a Protestant background. Fr. Schneirla never heard of "Western Rite Orthodoxy" until the 1950's, when he visited a community of Western Rite Orthodox within the Romanian Orthodox jurisdiction in Paris, France.
Struck by this little known facet reflecting the universality of the Orthodox Church and considering it a creative idea with possibilities, Fr. Schneirla traced its background and validity. Currently, he is considered the authority on Western Rite Orthodoxy and has written and lectured extensively. As a priest within the Antiochian Orthodox jurisdiction in the U.S., for approximately a half a century, he eventually influenced Metropolitan Anthony Bashir (of blessed memory) to allow converted congregations to continue (with properly edited) Western Rite Services. This was done with the full blessing of the late Patriarch Alexander III (Tahan) of Antioch.
In the following interview, Fr. Schneirla gives us background and the development of Western Rite Orthodoxy.
Q. Is Western Rite Orthodoxy valid historically?
A. Western Rite Orthodoxy is valid historically, because prior to the Great Schism of 1054, Eastern and Western
Christianity enjoyed full unity and shared a common Christian faith while differing in liturgies. Canonical validity is
based on the pre-schismatic reality and to deny its validity would be heretical.
Q. Who are the Western Rite Orthodox?
A. After 1054, the Western Rite became identified primarily with Roman Catholic, Anglican-Episcopalian, and some
other Western Christian Churches. For this reason, Western Rite Orthodox are usually converts from the Roman
Catholic and Anglican-Episcopalian Churches who want to recapture the past when there was unity of faith. They
want to be Orthodox, but do not want to be required in the process, to adopt unfamiliar cultural and liturgical forms.
In a broader context, for example, no one has ever suggested that the Jacobites, Copts, and Armenians, et. al., be
required to abandon their rites upon reunion with the Orthodox.
Q. Wouldn't converts be satisfied with the Eastern Rite?
A. In speaking of the "Eastern Rite", one must realize that we are no longer dealing with a single "Eastern Rite" in this
country. There are differences between Greek Byzantine and Slav Byzantine, and within each group. So, in answer to
your question, some converts are satisfied and some may not be able to be. Let me put it another way. Your readers
know the tenacious love traditional Eastern European Orthodox have for their traditional liturgical form. Isn't it reason
able to assume that most adherents of a Western liturgical form have similar feelings? As converts they accept the
corrections necessary to be within the Orthodox Church, but they do not want to reject their entire past. It is only after
editing to conform in all essentials with Orthodox teaching that the Western Rite can be restored to its rightful place
within the treasury of Orthodox devotion and spirituality.
Q. Can you give some examples of "editing to conform to all essentials in Orthodox teaching?"
A. Faith and Rite must correspond. The most important "editing to conform" is in the recitation of the third paragraph of
The Creed. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and other Western Churches include the erroneous Filioque, which was added
to The Creed in 589. The Orthodox hold to the original wording, which is that the Holy Spirit proceeds "From the Father."
In the Filioque, the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and other Western Christian Churches insist that the Holy Spirit proceeds
"From the Father and the Son."
Q. Is this a major difference?
A. Perhaps not to the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and other Western Churches, but the Orthodox see the Filioque as
a major distortion of the Church's God-revealed doctrine of the Trinity. The Filioque reduces the Holy Spirit to an "also
ran" in the Trinity. In Orthodoxy (and this is the important point) all Divine actions are understood to be the dual operations
of "the two hands of God, the Son "attracting" and the Holy Spirit "enabling." By His two hands, the Father raises us up
into His Eternal Embrace.
Q. Since most Western Rite Orthodox were (or are apt to be) Roman Catholics or Anglicans, let us consider the major
beliefs they must give up. First, the Roman Catholics...what held beliefs must Roman Catholics give up besides the
A. Roman Catholics must give up the beliefs in the "Infallibility of the Pope," "the doctrine of Merits," and "the doctrine
of the Immaculate Conception. " These are the major ones. What is held in common (the vast majority of beliefs) do
not require editing.
Q. And for the Anglican-Episcopalian, what are the specifics?
A. They are extensive. The best source I can think of to describe the specifics are the recommendations in a report
prepared and published by a Special Committee of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to "Consider
Questions Relating To Reception Of Anglicans And Old Catholics Into Union With The Orthodox Church." It will be
of interest to your organization (because of its primarily Russian background) that this committee's recommendations
were the Holy Synod's response to a request from Archbishop Tikhon (recently canonized) when he was the ruling
hierarch in North America. Archbishop Tikhon had asked for guidance regarding Episcopalians who had been converted
to the Orthodox Faith.
The recommendations Tikhon received from the Holy Synod early in the 20th century entitled "observations", has two
parts: (1) Those things Which must be "removed" from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1892 edition) and (2)
those things which must be "inserted."
Those things which must be "removed" from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer are: (l) the "Thirty-nine Articles
of the Anglican Confession, (2) the Catechism with its Protestant teaching about the Sacraments, (3) the Filioque
from the Creed, (4) the idea of the Holy Scripture as the sole source of the teaching of the Faith, since the Orthodox
hold that Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are the sources.
The things which must be "inserted" into the texts of prayers and rites are: (1) belief in the change of the Holy Gifts
into the Body and Blood of Christ, (2) belief in the sacrificial significance of the Eucharist, and (3) belief in the Divine
establishment of the priesthood; the distinctive right of the priest to offer the bloodless sacrifice. In all services, prayers
must be inserted which are addressed to the Blessed Mother of God, to Angels, and the Saints with glorification and
invocation of their prayers. Prayers for the dead must also be inserted. There must be inserted the missing rites for
the Sacraments of Penance, Oil Anointing, and Unction. The rite of Consecrations of Churches must be inserted, too.
Finally, icons must be introduced.
Q. What about the reception into the Church of already ordained clergy?
A. Regarding the reception of large numbers from the Anglican Church, the Special Committee of the Holy Synod
proposed (pending a final judgement of the question by the Church) to offer a new "Conditional Ordination."
Q. Just by his request for guidance, Tikhon demonstrated his desire to be an evangelizer when he was Archbishop
of North America. Is that correct?
A. Tikhon was certainly open to those who approached the Orthodox Church. He foresaw that in pluralist America
there could be evangelistic opportunity. Let me read you an excerpt from his "Farewell Address": "...the Light of
Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people. No, the Orthodox Faith is Catholic; it is a commandment of its founder,
Go into all the world...(Mark 16:15). It is our obligation, therefore, to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light,
and our joy with those who do not have these gifts..." Tikhon was canonized in October 1989 and we have already
chosen him to be the "Patron Saint of the Western Rite Vicariate."
Q. How many Western Rite Orthodox are there in the Antiochian Archdiocese?
A. There are in excess of 10,000 souls, largely in Southern Florida. On record there are parishes, missions, and
information centers as follows: Florida (4), New Jersey (1), Canada (2), Oregon (1), North Dakota (1), California (2),
Texas (1), and New Mexico (1). However, since the Archdiocese Convention in 1989, parishes have begun in Santa
Fe, New Mexico; Omaha, Nebraska; and Denver, Colorado. The latter is pastored by Fr. Alexi Young, the long time
editor of Orthodox America. He is very missionary minded and is convinced that successful mission to America must
include the Western Rite.
Q. Do any other jurisdictions besides the Antiochian Archdiocese have Western Rite parishes?
A. Not the O.C.A. but there are Western Rite parishes sponsored by the Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarch, the
Russian Church Abroad (Synodal) and, as previously mentioned, the Romanian Patriarchate has an extended
community, centered in Paris.
Q. Are there any other Western Rite Christians (besides the Roman Catholic and Anglican Episcopalians) who have
approached the Orthodox Church for acceptance?
A. The Polish Catholic Church, which severed its communion with the Episcopal Church over the ordination of women,
has approached the Antiochian Archdiocese. This is a group which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1897.
This Church has 282,000 members in 162 parishes and five bishops. The members of the Western Rite Commission are
at present in dialogue with the Polish National Church.
Q. Would there be any debate within Orthodox jurisdictions which do not have Western Rite Churches if or when an
approach is made?
A. Some people within these Churches might suffer from parochialism and ethnocentrism and consequently not be
evangelistic even if an opportunity presented itself, but usualIy, there is a creative pastoral response. Hopefully, more
and more people can be restored to the Orthodox Faith.
Q. What immediate difference would one experience when attending a Western Rite Orthodox Church for the first time?
A. The Western Rite is always in the vernacular; it is simpler, more direct, and has greater congregation participation.
Q. Is there any monastic community of converts that use the Western Rite?
A. Yes, it is called "St. Luke's Priory" and is located in Stanton, New Jersey. They have an interesting publication called
Credo ("I Believe"), published in the interests of Western Rite Orthodoxy.
Q. Is the potential for the Western Rite being realized?
A. Well, it is certainly not a mass movement. In this connection it should be noted that the budget has been very limited,
workers few, and most of the progress has been spontaneous and self-sustaining.
The preceeding artical is from the "Russian Orthodox Journal." November 1990.
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