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

erroneous Filioque?

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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