Analysis and Opinions of Protopresbyter Schememann's "Western Rite"

Hello, Eastern friends and friends of the East,

I have in mind our Eastern Orthodox friends as I write this, but any Eastern person is surely much better prepared to interpret the following than I, so…

I would like to know your opinions on this article written by Protopresbyter Alexander Schememann in Vol. 2, No. 4 of St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly. While it obviously something more than a little beyond what affects me in my day to day life, being non-Orthodox (:() as I currently am, I am nonetheless intrigued by some of the distinctions made in the article. For instance, Orthodoxy of content vs. Orthodoxy of form:

I consider this growing interpretation of conversion in terms of a mere jurisdictional belonging to some Orthodox Diocese, of a “mimimum” of doctrinal and liturgical requirements and of an almost mechanical understanding of the “Apostolic Succession” as a very real danger to Orthodoxy. This means the replacement of Orthodoxy of “content” by Orthodoxy of “form”, which certainly is not an Orthodox idea.

Or on the estrangement of East and West:

[H]ave we not proclaimed time and again in all our encounters with our Western brothers that it is this “East” precisely that constitutes the common and the catholic heritage of the Church and can supply us with a common language which has been lost or distorted? The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or the Easter Canon of St. John of Damascus, are, I believe, much closer to that common and Catholic language of the Church than anything else in any Christian tradition. And I cannot think of any word or phrase in these services that would be “foreign” to a Western Christian and would not be capable of expressing his faith and his experience, if the latter would be genuinely Orthodox . . .

What do you all think? This article was published in 1958. What are the current issues involved in the reception of Western Christian faithful into Orthodoxy? Is “Orthodoxy of form (only)” an enduring problem? Is this “Western Rite” even considered a large enough factor within Orthodoxy as a whole to create problems/issues? Unfortunately, the nearest Western Rite (Antiochian) Church is no less than 460 miles to the south of where I currently am, so any interest in Orthodoxy for me or anyone in my area must be satisfied by the local OCA parish, which (understandably and correctly) retains its Slavic identity, at least as much as is possible when the majority of its members are now non-Slavic converts. It is undeniably very beautiful, but as someone of Latin (as in Latin America) cultural background, this prospect of Latin Orthodoxy is perhaps uniquely compelling.

Thank you in advance for any interest, comments, corrections… :slight_smile:

The late Fr. Alexander’s opinion of the Western Rite in Orthodoxy is well known, but is not shared by all Orthodox theologians or bishops–and especially not by certain Orthodox saints such as St. John Maximovitch of San Francisco or Patriarch St. Tikhon of Moscow.

Nevertheless, I do understand his concerns. I’ve met too many people who are simply interested in someone blessing them to be old fashioned Anglo-Catholics, and simply want a valid bishop, and have no interest in the Orthodox faith as such.

There’s a story about a certain religious community in the Episcopal Church.

They were upset about the ordination of women in 1976, and had decided that a continuing Anglican jurisdiction was not the answer, as all the old problems would come with it. So they considered Orthodoxy. They knew the Antiochians had a WR, wrote the Metropolitan, who authorized the nearest Antiochian priest to speak for him in preliminary discussions.

“Yes, you may keep your present office book. Yes, you may retain your present Missal with these changes. Yes, you may keep your old habit. Yes, you may continue Benediction. Yes, yes, yes” to all their questions.

They left dissastified, feeling that too much accomodation was being shown. What would be the point in changing to Orthodoxy?

They later met with an OCA priest, who said, “No, you may not retain your office book because. No, you may not retain your present missal because. No, you must adopt the Byzantine liturgy and praxis, because…”

They felt this was authority speaking. They liked the reasons why NOT better than such liberal accomodation.

Fr. Schmemman, for all his wonderful words, is the product of an Autocephalous church that has a history of changes to the liturgy “on patriarchal whims”…

Russians have a history of questioning liturgical change, as well. The Nikonian reforms (basically, de-Russianizing the Russian liturgy, and moving to a more greek style) were rejected by a large minority of Russians, for whom orthopraxis (right practice) is coequal and inextricable from orthodoxis (right belief).

Russian Patriarchs have experimented with the Liturgy often in history; few imposed permanent changes; Patriarchs Nikon & Tikhon, however, completely reissued the liturgical texts. Patriarch Nikon for all the faithful (creating a schism, resulting in the Old Believers schism), and Patriarch St. Tikhon for the use of a variant Roman Rite with Byzantifications as an additional allowed form.

Such “experimentalism” is often questioned by the Russian tradition; the OCA still teach orthopraxis is vital to orthodoxis, and to be Russian Orthodox is to share in the RO belief and praxis.

Rev. Fr. Schmemman simply questions the need, due to a healthy dose of lex orandi lex credendi… as they pray, so they believe. It is on that basis, as well, that many EO faithful reject the other rites… they don’t pray right, so they obviously don’t believe right…

Fr. Schmemann’s article and opinion are a good example of how “uniatism” is not at all limited to the Catholic Church.

For the flip side of that argument, wikipedia actually does a good job quickly explaining why the western rite in Orthodoxy is not comparable to “uniatism.” But at the end of the day, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. While I myself do enjoy going to a western rite parish every once in a while, I do believe that there could be some danger in having a western rite. But overall I think it’s more beneficial than harmful. But again, that’s just my opinion.

It is quite interesting to read about the old western liturgies. Just research the Mozarabic liturgy (Spain), the Gallican liturgy (Gaul, and the west Germanic tribes), the Stowe Missal (the Isles), the Ambrosian Liturgy (Milan) and the Sicilian and southern Italian forms of the Byzanine liturgy. Not to mention the Gregorian Presanctified Liturgy.

If your interested in Orthodox western rite info, here’s a forum:,35.0.html

Some of the strongest rhetoric against the WRO has originated with members of the Russian Orthodox Church. They see it inevitably leading to parallelism… as evidenced by the Antiochian Orthodox’s Western Rite Vicarate, and AO priests being ordained specifically for ministry in the WRV.

Since WR Orthodoxy is pretty much restricted to Antiochian, French, and Russian… The Russian anti-WRO view is one of concern for their own ecclesiology remaining intact.

I see nothing wrong with Western Orthodoxy. I think it is a venerable returning of Protestants to their roots. In one sense, I do not think that it can be compared to Eastern Catholics because the Orthodox Church is not “stealing them from the Catholic Church” which sadly the converse was true with Eastern Catholicism (both EO and OO). I have not ever heard of any Orthodox Church that supports Western Orthodoxy to go to Catholic lands and proselytize. :shrug:

The Catholic Church is not doing much to bring back Protestants. In my opinion ,some of the reforms of Vatican II were meant to do just that, but the RCC lowered the bar too much. I am glad that they are now being nourished with the Sacraments.:thumbsup: From an Orthodox point, it should not matter as long as they are practicing the pre-schism Orthodox faith and using the venerable liturgical patrimony of the West.

Ss. Gregory the Great and John of San Francisco, pray for us sinners!

In Christ,

I’d venture to guess that more Protestants become Catholic than Western Rite Orthodox, regardless of if the Catholic Church is doing something specific to attract them. :shrug: And of course, from our standpoint, such Protestants are now being nourished with the Sacraments and are believing in the apostolic faith. :cool:

Right, I would agree there. Most know not of Orthodoxy (I didn’t). But I was saying that I don’t think it could be considered uniatism at all.

In Christ,

Agreed, there are definitely clear differences as to the origins of WRO. It reminds me to a degree of the Anglican-Use congregations in Catholicism.

Do all Western Rite Orthodox have post-schism elements, such as the Rosary, Eucharistic Benediction, and Stations of the Cross (someone correct me if any of those are post-schism, but I’m pretty sure none are pre-schism)? For example, Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church in Detroit has all of these.

Also, does anyone know when the practice of crossing your arms over your chest to receive a blessing instead of communion started? According to one article I’ve read, WRO can do this in their parishes as well. Basically, I’m just curious as to how much of WRO is a restoration of pre-1054 AD Western Christian practice.

I would say that some do. As for the Rosary and the Stations, I could see how they could be justified as pre-schism, but Eucharistic Benediction not so much. I would like to see more WR Orthodox parishes do the hours instead of post-schism devotions, but that’s my opinion. I think if WR faithful started doing devotions to the Sacred Heart et al., it would be way over the line.

In Christ,

I agree. I briefly looked at a few WRO parish websites, and I saw a couple that had the Hours. On a sidenote, I also wish that more Catholic parishes had the Hours as well. Vespers (and Vigil) is always great to attend in Orthodox parishes.

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