Western Rite Criticism
|This article forms part|
of the series on the
|Rule of St. Benedict |
|Liturgy of St. Gregory |
Liturgy of St. Tikhon
Liturgy of St. Germanus
|Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate |
Society of St. Basil
Orthodox Church of France
Holy Name Abbey (Old Calendarist)
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The Western Rite in the Orthodox Church is not without its critics. Objections are made in regards to desire for liturgical uniformity within Orthodoxy and fears that Western Rite vicariates or similar Western Rite practices have produced a para-ecclesiastic organization within the Church. Some question the sincerity of Western Rite parishes as all or mostly-convert groups. Finally, lack of organic liturgical continuity for the Western Rite troubles some Orthodox Christians.
Whether the Western Rite will survive in the Orthodox Church and be accepted by the majority who follow the Byzantine Rite remains yet to be seen. In the meantime, the Byzantine Rite bishops who oversee Western Rite parishes—and many who oversee no Western Rite parishes—continue to declare their Western flocks to be Orthodox Christians and regard them as fully in communion with the rest of the Church.
On the other hand, some Byzantine Rite Orthodox Christians do not recognize the Orthodoxy of those in the Western Rite (despite their being under the jurisdiction of Byzantine Rite bishops with whom they themselves are in communion), and will not attend the Eucharist at Western Rite parishes, declaring them to be "Roman Catholics," "schismatics," or "reverse Uniates." However, no Orthodox parish may deny the Eucharist to visiting faithful of the canonical Western Rite, regardless of their feelings about the concept of Western Rite Orthodoxy. As yet, there are no schisms within the episcopacy of the Orthodox Church regarding the issue of Western Rite parishes.
Some argue that there is only the Byzantine liturgical tradition can be viable within the Church. The argument's major weakness of this argument is that it ignores the wide liturgical variety characteristic of the first millennium of the Church's history. Many Orthodox Christians currently boast of the Church's liturgical homogeneity, claiming that, no matter where one might go in the Orthodox world, the liturgy will be familiar, even if it's in another language. However, their first millennium counterparts would have been incapable of making such a claim—even if only the Eastern liturgical tradition were taken into account. It wasn't until the 13th century that the tradition of the Great Church (i.e., Hagia Sophia) became normative for the whole of Orthodoxy.
Another criticism is that the Western Rite is inherently divisive. Following different liturgical traditions than their neighboring Byzantine Rite Orthodox Christians, those using the Western Rite do not share liturgical unity with them and present an unfamiliar face to the majority of Orthodox Christians. Again, this argument is based on the relatively new notion of liturgical homogeneity. Likewise, divisive differences exist between the various uses of the Byzantine Rite itself, but these are dismissed by claiming that the Western Rite is much more different.
An Orthodox Unia?
Related to liturgical division, the question of ongoing administrative division has been raised. The situation of Western Orthodox parishes has been compared with the status of the autonomous Uniate churches under the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries, there have been hierarchical churches in full communion with and in subjection to the Vatican, but which the Pope allows to follow Byzantine liturgical customs and rules. The Uniates, despite usages that more closely resemble the majority of Orthodox Christians, share a common dogmatic requirement with Latin Rite Catholics. Analogously, the Western Rite Orthodox share the same faith as their Byzantine Rite Orthodox brethren.
However, unlike the Uniates, Western Rite Orthodox congregations are not the result of large-scale ecclesiastical political machinations and schism but rather of small-scale genuine conversion to Orthodoxy by individuals and congregations. Also, Western Rite congregations all adhere to the same bishops as their Byzantine brethren; they do not constitute a separate church of their own, unlike the Byzantine Catholics ("Uniates") within Roman Catholicism. Criticism of the Western Rite based on its similarity with the Uniates has been called guilt by association—overplaying a superficial similarity of form. Because the ideas are analogous, the argument goes, they must therefore both be inauthentic developments. Yet the more firmly established criticisms of Uniatism usually have nothing to do with rite but rather with dogma, ecclesiology, and allegedly subversive missionary work.
Conversion without conversion
Another criticism often levelled against the Western Rite is based on the mainly convert makeup of most of its parishes. The argument states that such Christians want to be Orthodox but "not too Orthodox," so they keep their familiar rites under a new bishop. The unstated assumption behind this argument, however, is similar to the argument against all non-Byzantine liturgical traditions: That Orthodoxy includes only the Byzantine Rite, and so if one wants to be truly Orthodox, one must also be Eastern. Again, history shows otherwise.
Additionally, this argument also fails to take into account the longstanding history of some of these parishes. For many of them, the Western Rite with an Orthodox Christian faith (though certainly sometimes outside canonical bounds) genuinely is the faith of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The argument fails to address the question of substance—that is, it does not address whether and why the Western Rite is or is not actually Orthodox.
It is an accident of history that the Western Rite is not yet firmly established again within the Orthodox Church. That most of its adherents are converts is not germane to the question of its Orthodoxy. One might level the same accusation at predominantly convert Byzantine Rite parishes, that they need to learn to give up everything familiar in order to become Orthodox, whether it's language, culture, or some other facet of life. Oddly enough, some have argued precisely that, saying, for instance, that English is incapable of expressing the Orthodox faith.
Lack of liturgical continuity
Finally, more historically minded criticisms of the Western Rite usually center around the idea that it is untenable to try to revive a liturgical tradition which was lost centuries ago when the West fell away from the Orthodox Church. This argument essentially states that, because the Western Rite died out in the Church, and because a continuous living tradition is a necessary element of liturgical practice, the Western Rite ought to be abandoned and only developments from the Byzantine Rite ought to be pursued.
In contrast to this claim, others note that it is not a dogmatic principle of the Church that liturgical traditions can neither be revived nor created. After all, there are whole services even within the Byzantine Rite which are not universally practiced (e.g., the molieben), so they must have been invented somewhere along the way rather than being part of the typikon when it first came into the form we now know it. Even then, the rites being used by Western Rite Orthodox Christians are not new, but mainly predate the Great Schism.
Fr. John Shaw of ROCOR also argues the little-known Liturgy of St. Peter, a liturgy identical to that of the Byzantine rite with the ancient Gregorian canon in its place, never fell out of use within Orthodoxy. The Old Believers and others celebrated this, explicitly endorsing the validity of the Western canon. At present, the historicity of this assertion is not universally accepted.