Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate
The Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America is a group of Orthodox Christian parishes throughout North America who worship using the Western Rite tradition. They number roughly 10,000 communicants in about twenty parishes and are under their local diocesan bishops, retaining Bishop Basil (Essey) of Wichita as their "bishop of reference."
Before the Vicariate
The initial parishes received into the Orthodox Church as the Western Rite Vicariate did not consist of a new movement invented by the Antiochian Patriarchate or its North American archdiocese, but rather already had history within Orthodoxy, as Archpriest Paul W.S. Schneirla, Vicar General of the Western Rite, reports:
- The first major approach was made in the late nineteenth century by a Roman Catholic priest, John Joseph Overbeck, who revised the Roman rite to conform to Orthodox standards, a fairly simple operation at that time. His proposal was accepted by the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod and he was encouraged and supported by interested missionary-minded Russians, but by the time of his death in the first decade of Twentieth Century, his movement had not succeeded and his converts were absorbed into Byzantine communities.
- At the turn of the century, the only Orthodox bishop in North America, the later Russian Patriarch Tikhon (Belavin) was approached by a group of Episcopalians, who asked to be allowed to continue the use of the American Book of Common Prayer rather than the Byzantine rite. Bishop Tikhon petitioned the Holy Synod of Moscow and a commission of theologians was directed to provide a detailed examination and revision of the Prayer Book to be approved for the converts (the report was printed in the Journal of the Theological Academy of St. Petersburg, a summary in English was printed in The Russian American Messenger, a critical review by two Anglican scholars appeared as Tract XII of the Alcuin Club and a fuller version with notes appeared in The Orthodox Catholic Review, a publication of the Antiochian Archdiocese).
- Metropolitan Gerassimos (Messerah) of Beirut received a Western Rite movement in England before World War I, and Metropolitan Germanos (Shehadi), while resident in the United States, engaged in negotiations to receive a Roman Catholic movement in Mexico in the 1920s. Neither of these projects resulted in a continuing community. They are noticed here to demonstrate that an Orthodox Western Rite is not a recent project.
- Our present Western Rite Vicariate began with the return of a few parishes of converts that had dropped out of our diocese in the difficult days after World War I. It was approved by the late Patriarch Alexander and was finally received in the early 1950s. There are presently some twenty centers. There are no invented services: the parishes use either the form approved for Overbeck or for Patriarch Tikhon, now a saint of the Church.
Thus, in some sense, the Antiochian Archdiocese "inherited" the parishes which made up the Western Rite Vicariate.
Creation of the Vicariate
On May 31, 1958, Patriarch Alexander III (Tahan) of Antioch, in consultation with the heads of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches, authorized His Eminence Metropolitan Antony (Bashir) of New York to establish the Western Rite in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. In August of that year, Metropolitan Antony issued his edict establishing the Western Rite Vicariate in the archdiocese.
- The late Metropolitan Antony (Bashir) of the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese, was approached by leaders and individuals of various bodies. He always made it his policy to thoroughly investigate such seekers of unity with the Church, and has had occasion to refuse several. At the same time, however, in desiring to extend and implement Orthodoxy’s mission in America, Metropolitan Antony realized that there were also those outside of communion with the Church who were sincerely seeking the truth, who were desirous of becoming engrafted to the vine of Christ. After considerable meditation of the problem and taking into consideration the action of the Church elsewhere in the world, namely France, he came to the conclusion that the use of a Western rite in America could be of importance in facilitating the return to the Church of separated Western Christians in America. He turned for guidance to the late Patriarch Alexander III of Antioch who, in May, 1958, after consultation with the other Autocephalous Churches, gave an affirmative reply. Forwarding to the Metropolitan an Arabic translation of the famous 1936 Ukase of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Patriarch of Antioch authorized Metropolitan Antony to "take the same action, leaving to your Orthodox zeal and good judgment the right to work out the details in the local situations."
The first Vicar General of the Western Rite Vicariate was Fr. Alexander Turner, who had served as bishop to those parishes before reception into the Antiochian Archdiocese.
The Vicariate today
Since its founding in 1958, the Western Rite Vicariate has nearly doubled in size and now consists of a rapidly growing dimension of the Church's Mission in America , including about 20 parishes. Because of his association with the founding of the Western Rite in America, the Vicariate holds St. Tikhon of Moscow as its patron saint.
The Western Rite Commission of the Antiochian Archdiocese consists of:
- +Most Reverend Bishop Basil, Archepiscopal Vicar
- The Very Rev. Fr. Paul W. S. Schneirla, Vicar-General
- The Very Rev. Fr. Edward W. Hughes
- The Rev. Fr. George Morelli
- Western Rite Vicariate (Archdiocese site)
- On the Western Rite Edict of Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir), by Fr. David Abramstov (also includes an excerpt from the report of Metropolitan Antony to the 1958 Archdiocesan Convention)
- The Twain Meet, by Fr. Paul W.S. Schneirla
- St. Michael Church, Whitter, CA
- St. Mark Church, Denver, CO
- St. Columba Church, Lafayette, CO
- St. Gregory the Great Church, Falls Church, VA
- St. Michael the Archangel Mission, Wichita, KS
- St. Vincent of Lerins Church, Omaha, NE
- St. Peter Church, Ft. Worth, TX
- Our Lady of Walsingham Church, Mesquite, TX
- Holy Apostles Orthodox Chapel, Tyler, TX
- St. Benedict of Nursia Church, Wichita Falls, TX
- St. Nicholas Church, Spokane, WA