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Friday
Dec222017

Anglo-Catholic Clergy Hankering for Orthodoxy Beware: The Orthodox Western Rite Is Neither Orthodox nor Western nor English nor Permanent (Part I of a Response to Father Mark Rowe)

This from Fr. Mark Rowe, a former ACC priest who is currently Vicar General of ROCOR's Western Rite Communities, in his 2012 Journey to Orthodoxy article "So That God Would Give You To Us." 

The more I studied about Orthodoxy, the more I found myself more in line theologically with the teachings than I had ever thought. I also studied the history of the Church, and had to agree about the Great Schism, and that the four ancient patriarchates were still in communion to this day, and that they were the ancient Church- and they were Orthodox!

The more I studied the Church in England, the more I realized that they were Orthodox in the beginning. Now I was in a real predicament.

Of course, this is the proposition that lies at the heart of Orthodox apologetics in general and the argument for the creation of Western Rite vicariates in particular:  the entire Church was "Orthodox" before the West started veering off into both filioquist heresy in a chain of events that led to the Western Church's schism from the "True Church", the Orthodox Church.  The Latins ran the Western Church off the rails theologically, so the argument goes, resulting, among other things, in the Protestant Reformation that rent the Western Church and spawned even more heresies such as solafideism and Calvinism.  The English Church was caught up in all this and came to suffer the deleterious effects of both Latin and Protestant theologies.  However, the English Reformation was happily corrected by Caroline and Tractarian divinity, resulting in the phenomenon called "Anglo-Catholicism".  Alas, filioquist Anglo-Catholics have struggled to maintain their existence against the depredation of both liberalism and Protestantism in the Anglican Communion, and the filioquist Anglican Continuum is no better, really, since it currently exists as a gaggle of jurisdictions that can't seem to effectively unite.  What better way out of this difficult situation than to offer what Anglo-Catholics really want in their heart of hearts:  English Orthodoxy.  The English Orthodox Church as it was under Celtic and early Roman oversight, before the later popes and theologians got their hooks in her.  Voila!, Western Rite Orthodoxy, offering either the old Gregorian rite in English or a theologically tweaked Anglican rite, the so-called "Liturgy of St. Tikhon" to disaffected Anglo-Catholics who yearn to be members of a large and seemingly stable communion, The Orthodox Church.

There's only one problem with this pitch to Anglo-Catholics: it is disingenuous and underlying its disingenuousness is a false narrative about the Western Church in general and the English Church in particular.  The Western Church was never "Orthodox", not in the British Isles and not in the Continent.  The term "Orthodoxy" refers to a uniquely Eastern phenomenon whose theology is the result of a developmental trajectory very much different than that of the Western Church, though West and East existed as one church for over a thousand years.  The West's theological development was very much different and is the reason why Orthodoxy harbors so much hostility against it.  Western Rite Orthodoxy is a poseur, in other words.  Pure and simple.

Orthodox apologists for the Orthodox Western Rite maintain that the hegemonic patriarchy at Rome wrested the English Church from the Orthodox fold. Forget about the fact that the English church was in the Roman orbit almost from the get-go, and that it adopted the filioque quite early on, and, if you can believe it, at a time when the Archbishop of Canterbury was none other than the Eastern bishop Theodore of Tarsus himself.

What we know as "Orthodoxy" today has taken a controversial movement into its bosom, "hesychasm", which significantly transformed the Orthodox Church in a way that did not occur either in the Western Church at large or the English Church.  Consequently, Western monasticism - principally Benedictine - differed in significant ways from the monasticism of the Eastern Church. 

In a Continuing Anglican discussion page at Facebook, Fr. Will Boyd, a priest serving in China with the Holy Catholic Church – Anglican Rite shared the results of his research on Byzantine canonical interpretation and liturgy.  His conclusions are noteworthy:

The Orthodox theory of communion is truly beautiful, but as it developed within the Byzantine canonical tradition, it is also extremely self-referential and idealistic, incapable of reflecting the simple realities of its own history. While it draws meaningful analogies between Trinitarian Taxis and ecclesial hierarchy, hypostatic union and the divine-human economy of the church, celestial worship and late Byzantine Liturgy, it unfortunately fails to honestly or self-critically address the realities of historical inconsistency and political necessity; appending the Codex Justinianus to the Canons of the Council of Trullo (and thereby subjecting the Church to the laws of the State), leaving unaddressed the Moechian schism and its ultimate triumph over a non-schismatic Patriarchate, two Unia councils officially unifying with the West (only to be discarded at convenience), the common practice of Byzantine caesaropapism and Turkish simony, the Palamite usurpation of universal teaching authority through civil-war, intrigue and the persecution of theological enemies, and the contemporary issues of phyletism and jurisdictionalism, to name just a few.

St. Cyprian is the only authority that the Orthodox now, anachronistically, choose to follow. There are at least five sources of canonical definition in the Ancient church that disagree with Balsamon's interpretation of Cyprianic ecclesiology.

St. Augustine's ecclesiology completely contradicts St. Cyprian's understanding in that it asserts that schism occurs, not by the cutting off of grace, but in the denial of love. Schismatic orders and sacraments partake in the same reality of the Church, up to the point that they can be accepted in mutual love and submission, and break where love ceases.

The Apostolic Canons (the earliest canonical Tradition from the Ancient Church of Antioch) assert that every area has the right to recognize a senior bishop, a Primus, and that this is the basic unity of the local church, based on conciliatory and mutual recognition. No other "outside" recognition is necessary for the Church to exist in its Catholic, Complete and Universal, state.

The Canons of the First Ecumenical Council also assert that all local traditions hold precedence over imperial declaration, unless they contradict the doctrinal teachings of an Ecumenical Council. This was the point that Balsamon falsely represented and thus changed canonical interpretation - he states, "All things must be as in the God-loved City of Constantinople, unless dictated by an Ecumenical Council." This minor point of misrepresentation was the single most devastating thing that occurred to Orthodoxy, eliminating the Liturgy of St. James, St. Mark, of St. Thaddeus and all of the hymnological and liturgical traditions of all other areas and liturgikons in the Late Medieval Period. If the Church's theological self-understanding is found in its prayers, "Lex Orandi Lex Credendi", then Orthodoxy cut itself off at this point from a major source of doctrinal and cultural inspiration and directly contributed to the narrowing and self-appreciation of the later Orthodox tradition.

The last source of insight was the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410, where the preface to its Canons explains that, based on the Apostolic Canons, all local churches have the authority to declare their political independence from the Roman Emperor and Imperial authority, and that the only requirement for mutual recognition between churches is reception of the Apostolic Episcopacy, the Teaching of the Gospel and the Epistles of Paul, the Doctrine of the Incarnation, the Belief in the Trinity and the Practice of the Sacraments (basically, the assertions of the Nicene Creed). This view was later ratified when the Byzantine Patriarchs, St. John of Antioch and Sergius the Great, communed with the Syriac Patriarch, Yeshuayab II, under the reign of Heraclius, while maintaining the Syriac definition of Catholicity. This early definition explains the practical and philosophical problems of the Council of Trullo, where Emperor Justinian appended the Canons with the "Codex Justinianus", the secular law of the Eastern Roman Empire, singlehandedly usurping the ecumenical authority of the Fifth and Sixth Councils, instating episcopal celibacy and arranging for the monastic take-over of the Church.

I would recommend reading Fr. Dr. Cyril Hovorun's new book, "Scaffolds of the Church", to understand the evolution of the Orthodox position over the last one thousand years from an Orthodox perspective, and then follow that with Fr. Dr. Patrick Viscuso's critical translation of Balsamon's "The Orthodox Church Under Islam". Fr. Dr. John Meyendorff's life work is also valuable, focusing on the effects of the Empire on canonical interpretation, particularly in "Imperial Unity and Christian Division" and also seen in his cooperation with Papadakis, "The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy". These are all Orthodox resources that discuss the original understanding of catholicity in contrast to what it became in the Late Byzantine Period and under the Turkish rule and Russian Imperial expansions

These and other historical realities show quite clearly that the English Catholic Church was never "Orthodox" in the modern sense of that term.  Her theological trajectory was always Latin, her patriarchate Roman until the breach that occurred at the Reformation , and her ecclesiology and soteriology largely shaped by St. Augustine, whom Orthodox apologists identify as the chief culprit.  As Fr. Stephen Trott, Rector of Pitsford with Boughton (UK), concludes from all the pertinent historical evidence:

There are no traces of Orthodoxy in England or Great Britain of this era. No bishops, churches, monasteries, liturgies - nothing. That's because the source of Christianity in this country and of the orders of the shadowy bishops of the fourth century was Rome - not one of the other great Sees, but Rome. There are of course fantasists who wish to invent an Orthodox tradition for England, rather like those who like to believe in Atlantis or the Holy Grail. . . .

There was no English "Orthodox" church any more than there was a King Arthur: early historians such as Gildas often presented myths as if they were historical facts. There was a Christian presence in the Roman province of Britannia from approximately 84AD onwards, and three bishops are known to have attended the Council of Arles in 314 AD. As this was a Roman province, here is a significant clue: the Church here was governed, albeit distantly, from Rome. Before the accession of Constantine and his conversion in 312AD, the church was an underground movement, persecuted by the authorities. It is not surprising that information about its existence in a Roman province at that time is sparse. During the fourth century the Roman empire began to break down. The legions were gradually withdrawn from Britannia to defend Rome and the empire, and by 430AD the political and military links with Rome had all but vanished. But the fact that British bishops were invited to Arles (and possibly, though not certainly) to Nicaea, indicates that they were under the authority of the Latin church. York (the home of Eborius) was the northern military headquarters of the Roman province, and it was while he was in York that Constantine became emperor of the western part of the Roman empire.

Quite aside from the fact that so-called Western Rite Orthodoxy is neither Orthodox nor Western nor English, but of utmost importance, Anglo-Catholics hankering for WRO need to understand that WRO may very well turn out to be a provisional accommodation for Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic converts who wish to retain their rites, until such a time as the WRO is no longer feasible and at which time the Eastern bishops will opt to move Western Riters into the Byzantine Rite.  I inquired about this with Dom Benedict Andersen, a Roman Catholic Benedictine priest-monk who was formerly known as Subdeacon Benjamin Andersen and a former spokesman for the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.   I asked if he thought Western Rite Orthodox had a future.  His reply:

Frankly, I don't believe that WRO has much of a future at all. There is simply no common vision. I do foresee eventual ER (Eastern Rite) assimilation, or mass defections to Rome or traditional Anglicanism (the latter, admittedly, has the advantage of a non-exceptional married clergy).

My feeling is that Orthodox ought to be Byzantine, Romans ought to be Roman, Anglicans ought to be Anglican. Uniate projects (and yes, I include here Greek Catholicism and Anglican Use Roman Catholicism) never seem to work out; they always produce a sort of bastardized "tertium quid".

Fr. John Morris is an Eastern Rite priest with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America with whom I have had many spirited online discussions.  In one such discussion, I raised the question of the Orthodox Western Rite's permanence.  His reply was instructive:

Whether or not the Western Rite has a future within Orthodoxy is a matter of the will of God. If it is God’s will that the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church grow and prosper, it will grow and prosper. The Western Rite is an effort to restore something that was lost through the Romanization and subsequent Protestantism of the Church in England. . . .

Since the vast majority of Orthodox follow the Byzantine Rite, it is to be expected that many find the Western Rite difficult to accept. I believe that is a good thing, because it shows that Orthodox Christians take their beliefs seriously and do not want anything to compromise those beliefs. More than anything else Orthodox define and express their Faith through their worship. Even a person who has no theological education cannot accept worship that does not feel right. I consider that good because this more than anything else preserves the integrity of our Church. It is also a testimony that Orthodox believe that it is essential to reject anything that compromises our beliefs.

Underlying your argument seems to be the idea that the Byzantine Rite is too foreign for Americans. That is an idea that I must reject. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is universal and rises above ethnic considerations. It is a perfect expression of the Orthodox Faith. I and thousands of Americans have found a home within the Byzantine Rite. When I stand before the Holy Table and pray the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, I feel the power of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, I reject the argument that the Byzantine Rite is too foreign for Americans.

Fr. Morris went on in that discussion to say why he supports the Western Rite, something he is expected to do as a priest of the Antiochian jurisdiction, which is one Orthodox jurisdiction of two that have allowed the Western rite, but his qualifying remarks are all too clear:  1) whether or not the Western Rite survives in the Orthodox Church "is a matter of the will of God" (not to mention the will of a sea of hostile Eastern Orthodox bishops, lower clergy and laity); and 2) any convert to Orthodoxy ought to be able to accept the Byzantine Rite: "It is a perfect expression of the Orthodox Faith", unlike the Western Rite, which as Fr. John says in the discussion only " preserves the best of Anglicanism" and is merely "an effort to restore something that was lost through the Romanization and subsequent Protestantism of the Church in England."  Talk about damning with faint praise. 

So, Anglo-Catholics thinking about converting to Orthodoxy because a Western Rite exists for them ought to understand the big picture:

It ain't Orthodox, it ain't Western, it ain't English, and it ain't permanent.

For more information, See the following discussions at Fr. Anthony Chadwick’s Blog New Goliards:

Orthodox Blow-Out Department 

Western Rite Orthodoxy Archive

Part II in my series of responses to Fr. Rowe; Part III; Part IV.

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