Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate

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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


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.[1]

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."[2]

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 [3], including about 20 parishes.


The Western Rite Commission of the Antiochian Archdiocese consists of:

  • The Very Rev. Fr. Paul W. S. Schneirla, Vicar-General
  • The Very Rev. Fr. Edward W. Hughes
  • Marie Hyder
  • The Very Rev. Fr. Michael Keiser
  • The Rev. Fr. George Morelli

External links