Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Orthodox West

In my post on Chapter 15 of the Rule of Saint Benedict, I mentioned toward the end that the West was once Orthodox. Many people - at least those who know that there is such a thing as Eastern Christianity - often think of the West as being distinctly Roman Catholic, and the East as being distinctly Orthodox. While today that assumption pretty much holds true, at one point in time it did not.
One of the things that has drawn me to be an Oblate is because the Benedictine order - while being distinctly Western - is that it is perfectly Orthodox in origin. Saint Benedict founded monasteries and wrote his rule at a time when the West and Rome were still very much a part of the Orthodox churches. 

For a while, I was almost toying with the idea of becoming a Roman Catholic. The tradition spoke to me, it called to me, it spoke to me of a deeper theology and deeper historical roots than that of any Protestant denomination. However, in my searching, I came across the Early Church Fathers and many other early saints from before the Great Schism. I saw that Rome had done some innovating that wouldn't fly with the Early Church. There are too many to list here in this meager blog, but those changes are what led me to rediscover the Orthodox Church after only ever hearing it mentioned once when I was a child.

If any of you has read my "About Me" page, or even possibly my introduction post, I mention that in a very trying part of my life I was considering traveling to Ireland to become a Benedictine monk. That would have meant converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and it would have taken place after my first deployment when my original enlistment would have ended. My becoming a monk never materialized because my life suddenly became better, and my situation of being married would prevent a monastic calling. This is probably what ultimately lead me to Orthodoxy - this yearning for deeper theological meaning and historic roots than what I could get from any Protestant denomination.

I did what many people before me did - and what many will do after me - I looked to the East and my eyes were opened. I saw original Christianity, unchanging since Jesus founded His Church around AD 33.

There is one thing that I have noticed in my short time being Orthodox, and that is many Orthodox - especially from traditionally Orthodox countries - don't like anything to do with the West when it comes to Christianity. I can totally understand this sentiment due to some of the horrors that Orthodox Christians have seen at the hands of the Catholic Church and other Westerns who called themselves Catholic. Westernism has left a bad taste in their mouths that will stay there for generations. But these people are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Here in America we have a pretty peculiar situation; we don't just have one jurisdiction over all of our Orthodox faithful like the typical Orthodox countries. We have archdioceses that fall under the Ecumenical Patriarch, ones that fall under the Antiochian Patriarch, ones that fall under the Moscow Patriarch, a few other ethnic or country identifiers, and even ones that fall under America's own Metropolitan. There are a few reasons for this to have happened here in the US, but mainly it has to do different bishops and priests were sent here to tend to their own specific flocks; it would do no good for a Russian priest to attend to a Greek parish if the services were typically done in Greek for people who largely spoke Greek (apply this as needed changing out ethnicities and country origins).

Now, some of the jurisdictions get more converts than most, and these jurisdictions usually go out of their way to attract new people in the form of having services in the vernacular. Some of these bishops realized that, despite there being a large number of low-church, non-liturgical Protestants in the US, that there are other groups that are liturgical (Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, etc.) that were wanting to convert. To make that process easier, they did something almost revolutionary; they started a Western Rite based off of some of the older rites that have existed in the West. Two jurisdictions did this (to my knowledge); the Antiochians, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

They realized that the word "West" wasn't a dirty word, and that the West was indeed Orthodox at one point in time. And, to help potential converts feel more at home, they tried to provide an environment that these people would feel comfortable worshipping in (just to let you know, a veteran recently returning from deployment where he oft times sat outside of a mosque to hear the call to prayer may not feel too comfortable attending a Greek parish where the services are mainly in Greek - this includes the chanting, which is in the Byzantine style, which is similar to what one would hear in the Middle East; I pushed through that to become Orthodox, though).

The Orthodox Western Rite has gotten a bad reputation because instead of being a "pure" Western Rite that was used in ancient times what was instead put to use was more of a recreation. I've heard and read so many people say/write that there is just no beauty in the Liturgy. I've heard and read that Western Rite people are not really Orthodox because they aren't celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine style.

The Byzantine Rite is extremely beautiful. And the Western Rite may be lacking, but it is only lacking because of the pushback it is receiving from all of the other Orthodox. Everybody says that it is lacking, but nobody wants to take the time to try to make it better, they only want to criticize the Western Rite solely on the grounds that it isn't Eastern enough! Well, duh, it's called the Western Rite.

When you throw out the entire West you  end up throwing out so much of our tradition. You throw out saints like Saint Benedict, Saint Patrick, Saint Columba, or even Saint Dymphna. You end up throwing out historic places like Britain which had accepted Christianity when even Rome could not subjugate them!

Tertullian (AD 155–222) wrote in Adversus Judaeos that Britain had already received and accepted the Gospel in his lifetime, writing, "all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons—inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ." Wikipedia
 So we see that at least by the second century AD that at least parts of Britain had been Christianized. Check out this map to see how far Christianity had spread from AD 300-600, it covers almost the whole of the Roman Empire! And again, this was well before the Great Schism which for simplicity is usually dated to AD 1054. Even after the date of 1054 we can hear of places holding out for longer lengths (such as those that say King Harold who died in 1066 is the last English Orthodox saint from that era, and some even say Ireland held out). But regardless of those kinds of stories are true or not, the West has a history of Orthodoxy for 1,000 years! The schism isn't even that old yet! And obviously good things came out of the Orthodox West.

We need to better understand that Western history is in part Orthodox history. We can't just simply throw that part of ourselves away. If what we currently have to use for the Western Rite is lacking then perhaps somebody needs to step up and make a better version (I'm a fan of using the Lorra-Stowe Missal, but the two that we already have are fine). I'm not saying that we need to make every parish in the US Western Rite, but we do need to stop treating our Western history like the plague.
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