“Western Rite Orthodoxy”

 

“Alas, we sought a cure for Babylon, but curing her there was none; time it is we left her, and went back each to his own land,” Jeremiah 51:9.

A valued reader contacted me the other night asking me to support Western Rite Orthodoxy. Without wishing to cause offence to him or to his work I’m afraid I must say unequivocally: non possum! Please allow me to explain.

Years ago, I flirted sentimentally with the Orthodox Church, ostensibly beguiled by John Paul II’s pseudo-profound “two lungs” theory. I discovered to my bewilderment and indignation that my attraction thereto was not reciprocated. I remember very vividly walking around Ennismore Gardens, circa 2007, clutching a 1962 missal and being stared at. One woman looked me up and down and then said something to her friend in Russian. In those days I was profoundly attached to “the Latin Mass,” and to the Papacy, and I thought upon walking out of the cathedral that they were all obstinate schismatics. How could anybody spurn the Tridentine Mass of St Gregory, which of the pope’s bounty was now restored to the pristine norm of the fathers, and the communion of the “apostolic” see?

Of course, those pious ladies knew nothing of 1962, or Pius XII, or any of those things. It’s quite possible that they didn’t even know the name of the reigning pope! For them, I was just a conspicuous nuisance, a troglodyte who got in by mistake, unsolicitedly peddling impious rites and strange customs to them. It’s the sort of aversion with which we might treat Jehovah’s Witnesses. I sometimes wonder whether their reaction was based on doctrine or liturgy, but it probably wasn’t as considered as that. I was not Orthodox, and that was enough. And that went for the liturgical book I carried too.

Assuming that the liturgical book I carried was a Sarum legendary, or a post-Clementine, pre-Urban Roman breviary, do you think the reaction of the ladies would have been any different? I doubt it very much. For them, the Orthodox liturgy is Byzantine (although they might not use, or know, that term); so it was for their mothers, so it is for their daughters. Some Westerners, profoundly attached to their rites and anxious to point out their authenticity, might see the reaction of the ladies as chauvinistic prejudice. It might be so for some of them but for most of them, as it is for me now, “the ware of Rome,” as Bunyan would say, is simply not good enough. The repudiation of Roman worship is therefore a repudiation of Rome herself.

I agree very much with the ladies on this. Of course, for me these things are far more considered. I admit that “Western Rite Orthodoxy” has intelligible motives; some pastoral, some cultural, others liturgical and stylistic. Some time ago (my crest has long since fallen!) I had a mind to recreate the Roman Rite, as it ought to be, and even made a list of liturgical books for it. I abandoned this project when I realised that if I were to actually go ahead with it, and stood outside a church asking ordinary parishioners for money, nobody would give any. Why? Because it would be an esoteric, exclusive cult, attractive to no one. The rite would be inauthentic, for all the travail, agony and expense in its creation; it would have no continuity with the past or solidarity with the present; the whole thing would be fraught with problems, and would dry up like a trickle of water in the wilderness. And that’s only my own ritual phantasm. Existing forms of “Western Rite Orthodoxy” leave me cold.

Why then would somebody want to “recreate” the Roman Rite? By implication there must be something wrong with it! The Roman Rite is, of course, liturgical. So too is the Book of Common Prayer, understood anthropologically as historical forms of worship. But from an Orthodox perspective the question remains: are these historical (or ahistorical, in some cases) forms of worship everything that the Church requires of divine worship? Do they fully express the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation? Or have centuries of bad theology, schism, clericalism, legal positivism, general decadence and neglect compromised their fundamental continuity and authenticity, to the extent that – even in a fully mediaeval or “Tridentine” manifestation – they are no longer actually “Orthodox,” that is to say “right worship?” This question crucially takes no account of the feasibility of restoring dead rites like Sarum, or the Epiklesis, or of extracting dogmatic errors from the texts, or the propriety of pews, of low Mass, or the kind of bureaucratic centralism inherent to the Roman Rite since the Council of Trent. “A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit,” saith the LORD.

Since the Slavic women are not remotely interested in “Western Rite Orthodoxy,” who is? It seems to me to be half-hearted converts, lukewarm Laodiceans who just can’t let go of the baggage of their former struggles, whether in continuing Anglicanism or Roman Catholic traditionalism. All the intelligible motives of “Western Rite Orthodoxy,” therefore, boil down to a liturgical manifestation of the broad way to destruction, and not the narrow way of the Gospel. Liturgy is as much an expression of the communion of the Church as a form of divine worship in a particular church, and it seems to me that “Western Rite Orthodoxy” is a kind of liturgical Uniatism, a spiritually harmful and potentially schismatic obstacle to full communion of the Church. I don’t deny that I was hurt by the delusions I once entertained or that I enjoy Latin antiphons and Prayer Book psalms but my Baptism literally washed away all the cares and griefs that went with them, so much so that nowadays I would say that if Western Rite Orthodoxy were on offer in my local parish I would not go to it; the forms and orders thereof being reminders of past error and frustration. I’m pushing 30 and life is short enough without dabbling in a potentially centuries-long experiment with no guarantee of success.

Ruth and Naomi

And so to present practitioners of “Western Rite Orthodoxy,” I urge in all sincerity to abandon their rite, and to say with Ruth, “I mean to go where thou goest, and dwell where thou dwellest; thy people shall be my people, thy God my God.”

Art: Ivan Eggink’s fictionalised rendering of the conversion of Rus. Notice the grimace on the face of the papal envoy.

 

A procession

Procession

“Thousands of believers marched in Yekaterinburg on Sunday night to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Nicholas II and the Russian imperial family.

“According to the Yekaterinburg Diocese’s website, more than 60,000 people participated in the march.

“The church-led procession started at the former location of Ipatiev House, demolished in 1977 and now the site of a church, where the last Russian tsar and his family were shot by the Bolsheviks on the night of July 16, 1918.

“The procession started around 3 a.m. and finished around four hours later with a prayer at the location where the bodies of the seven Romanovs and their four servants were originally deposited, now the site of a monastery.”

See the rest here.

In Britain we have our own Royal Martyr but I’ve never seen such an impressive gathering at the Banqueting House. Having been officially suppressed by Queen Victoria (who also authorised the erection of a statue of Oliver Cromwell, one of the fiercest enemies of monarchy, outside the Palace of Westminster), the cult of King Charles ye Martyr is now the reserve of Jacobites and Uranian Anglo-Catholics, but I wonder how popular it was before then? The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church and, where the Church of England has gone the way of the Devil, the Orthodox Church has grown apace in Russia. I felt a tremendous swell of pride in Russia, and devotion to the Imperial Family, upon seeing this procession. Who knows, next year might see the restoration of the Tsardom!

Persian Miniature

Persian Miniature

I started writing a political post last night, beginning with an anecdote set in a public house, but like so many of my old posts it has grown in the telling and is unfinished. In the meantime, I thought I’d share this. It’s a Persian miniature depicting the Mother of God and the Saviour. Of course, for the artist it was simply the woman Maryam and the Prophet Isa. I must say I am quite taken with it, particularly the Christ Child with his fiery halo (“I am come to send fire on the earth,” &c), and the grown up shape of his body, reminiscent of Byzantine iconographical injunctions against depicting the Saviour as an infant. The Islamic prayer rug has resonances in later Renaissance artwork, particularly Bellini’s rather oriental Madonna with its own Turkish embellishments.

What do you see? Do those urns or lamps have a significance? Or the tree? We sometimes lose sight of the fact that Islam is closer to us than other religions.

Ad meliora advocatus…

My name is Patrick and I am an Orthodox Christian. Welcome to my new blog! Readers of my old blog will no doubt have noticed that I have defected from Blogger to WordPress. This change is by no means profound, unless it’s a subtle admission to myself that this is a new start. Indeed, that theme is the significance of the title of this post, “called to better things;” an admission to God that I am no longer wasting my time clinging to old prejudices and obsessions, and to others that those better things are that which is most natural for Man: Prayer; to worship Almighty God within the unity of the Church. (Incidentally, for new readers, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend my old blog. That place is a nightmare. But I suppose there’s no harm in having a quick look for completeness’ sake).

At this point it is incumbent on me to say that I do not write with the authority of the Orthodox Church. Everything expressed here is my own opinion.

I spent about two hours to-day trying to think of a witty or insightful title for my new blog but came up with nothing. The domain name, ahenobarbus.org, is just a convenience and is in token of the beard I have been growing since December. Perhaps when the overall theme of this endeavor is worked out and I am more mature in the Orthodox faith (which will take years) I can come up with a title. Until then, I suppose this is just “Patrick’s blog.”

I am open to suggestions from readers about possible articles. And if anybody used to WordPress has any suggestions about how to tidy things up, I’d be grateful. So far I am finding it difficult to navigate.