Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 5, 2010

A Prodigal Rerun in the Western Rite

Christ is Risen!

Okay, I’m back: Back from wallowing in my backsliding ways; back from Eight days of virtual non-stop worship – at least nearly 100% of my free time; back from slipping away from every other responsibility; and back to this unreal reeling world we inhabit where we work out all that “stuff”. I’m even back writing and cleaning up some pieces for this here thing someone might accidentally refer to as a blog. My knees hurt (Hint: Eastern prostrations = Western double genuflections), my feet still hurt, and yet I feel like as much of a ringer as it’s been… it was wonderful in its own way and I have learned as much from the high points as from the low. And both last night and the night before (Saturday and Sunday), I found it hard to get over the afterglow and sleep deeply.

So now what? Who knows.

What I do know is that this year’s journey has been… well… a very real journey.  It wasn’t just time passing, but a visit beyond my parish to others, and a substantial expansion of my time. And yet there’s always the weak points, like having to slip some of the fasting regimen for medical reasons – and honestly in allowing more on that score than I should. But the trip was good in most of the other ways it can be good. And yeah… I’ll take a note from the doc next year, too, if I can get it.  So I find there’s a balance, but the center of balance never seems quite the same.

I read through the Rule of St. Benedict, endeavored to work through the Benedictine hours according to the Monastic Diurnal and Monastic Breviary Matins publications of our Western Rite Vicariate as best as I could figure. While I have to say there is much of value here… more of it is humbling simply in one’s inability to keep up. Clearly there’s a reason St. Benedict is a very Orthodox saint of both East and West. And yet, for all the extraordinary effort involved in a non-monastic’s undertaking to keep up with this… one can but marvel at the incomprehensibility wherein this represents the perfect balance. Yet that takes a more thorough comparison with other monastic rules of life… experience of which in my case is limited so far to  “The Arena”.

Was I  surprised to see that expanding my Prayer Rule to include the Hours on this model ended in a crash-and-burn? Not exactly.  And yet you really feel like you’re doing something while you can… you gotta love it. But I’m not my only master, and like so much in my life, it proved to be as unsustainable as I feared. Maybe with different expectations…?

Yet taking these together with the St. Andrew’s Daily Missal (1945), you gather the full picture of the Church’s life as it progresses through the season: the psalms, the writings of the Fathers, the theological structure of the services, the Lectionary readings (Epistles and Gospels), the antiphons and responses… the whole nine yards. And it fits, makes sense and brings the whole out of mystery and into comprehension in a way that simply seems impractical with less. Yes… some of the explanations in the Missal are a bit… how can I say this… too Roman Catholic and thus less Orthodox than I would like, but there is a remarkably similar structure to the whole… and most of these exceptions are obvious and easily ignored as needs be. The Missal is a great text in itself, it is readily available, and whatever defects it may have certainly are not an impediment in the right hands, and it’s virtues should not be overlooked. Anyway it seems a great tool for our worship. It would be wonderful to reprint this with more compatible Orthodox theology… and could conceptually be far less exhaustive an undertaking than one might believe if there were cooperation, energy, and approvals, etc. to make it happen. In this era of on-demand printing (Lulu) reasons for not doing so certainly aren’t bound by the same economics they once were.

And as I see it, these are precisely the texts we need to put the Western Rite into its full context. It is not simply a liturgy, it is not simply a set of readings, it is not simply a set of rubrics or collection of hymns, but a whole way of worship and life that without putting it all together, you can readily fall into a proto-Protestantism, or a nascent Western Orthodoxy, but don’t quite get to your goal of the fullness of Orthodoxy until you complete the circle, and really build a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell within.

To be clear, let me add that by referencing proto-Protestantism I mean that you have the whole of a catholic formulary and yet have excised its source in the living influence of Rome – and so something necessary is missing, and by nascent Western Orthodoxy I mean that you have the formulary but haven’t yet succeeded in fully transplanting it into an Eastern oriented church life and theology… or at least if you have, it remains unclear “post-op” whether the Body will reject the specimen. You need the living influence at the center to incorporate this into the life of the Body. And yes, you could certainly argue that the first part of this – the excising of Roman influence is a result not of anti-Roman sentiment so much as abandonment by a Rome that no longer wished to lead along this course for reasons of its own desire to minister to an increasingly deaf secular world in its midst, while a corresponding desire arose on the part of a small number in more sheltered pockets of holiness left behind that somehow mustered the courage and wherewithal to preserve this “Best of the West” on their own if necessary… just as was  once done long ago in Iona, Columba and Lindisfarne among the British Isles.

So while I do not know where this whole Western Rite thing will lead, or whether in fact it will succeed, I think that if it is led according to a suffering love; if it is led as part of our sacrifice of self and a love of Christ according to classic Western formularies and infused with the best of the Benedictine spirit; then I think it will ultimately flower. There may indeed much struggling with this, but if it emerges successfully, then the Church itself will be enriched as well as the few of her people within this form of her worship. Yet if instead the Western Rite is pursued as some sort of ethnocentric beacon for a particular people, or out of a disdain for things Eastern, or out of an unwillingness to wholly embrace and be obedient to the faith of our Orthodox Fathers and Mothers, then I think it will or should fail.

I like to think that the rightful home of the original Latin Rite is within the Orthodox Church, and I like to think it leavens what we have to say about and to the Western world in a most earnest way.  There is no reason in the world why this should not be so, and this is not to deprecate any and all attempts to reach a western peoples through the beauties of our eastern liturgies. The Spirit is neither Eastern nor Western, but one with the Trinity. But I also think that for this to happen, we have to live it. The Western Rite cannot simply be a museum piece, but must live and breathe and adapt to our life and needs as any and all liturgies and formularies do. I’m not suggesting that our first instinct should be change, but that our understanding and our practice should be sure to reflect our Orthodox theology and preference for letting experience precede understanding. If we aren’t willing to do this, and if we don’t establish a framework for managing this through our bishops and specifically through bishops familiar and steeped in this form of worship, then instead I think the whole will flourish for a time, but ultimately wither. The choice requires active and engaged leadership… leadership which so far has come from the bottom up, but coming from the bottom up from among those of us converts within the Rite, lacks the authority to clearly articulate its full integration into the Church.

But enough of that.

For those curious enough, here’s a current look at our post-Pasha altar. Thanks to Fr. Nicholas, we now have a newly installed “Tester”… which is the framework on the ceiling above the altar with the stars of heaven set against a blue background. Nice work. You can also see our Paschal Candle… the “work of bees”… who fortunately in my case are not actually IN the picture… no matter how many flowers were there on Saturday night!

But for all that and whatever decorative additions come later, I’m most partial to the icons on either side. As I read Opensky’s books on Iconography, the Russian formulation for the order and use of icons in the church icons doesn’t get “set” until sometime in the 16th or 17th century.  Western Rite practice – at least in our parish – tends to look back to a more ancient examples such as those on the Eastern coast of Italy in the early centuries that bridged both parts of the empire. We’ll see what happens. I hope everyone had a Blessed Pascha!


  1. Christ is risen!

    I like what you said about going full cycle within your rite – I think those are wise words. I hope you have a restful Bright Week.

  2. Indeed He Is Risen!

    I hear ya on the sore feet. The back too, but for me for other reasons…herniated & torn disc. Thus prostrations were verboten. Bummer. Goes to show you where my piety is…in the ‘showy outside.’ Kyrie Elesion!

    Rest up friend. The Apostle’s Fast is as long as Pascha…well almost!

  3. Whoops! Forgot to sign my name. Sorry!

  4. Indeed He is Risen… and my feet are aking!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: