The Western Rite Within Orthodoxy
Throughout the first millennium of Christian history the Western rites existed within the Orthodox Church side by side with the Eastern rites. Even after the Great Schism of AD 1054, England remained Orthodox until the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Norman Invasion was seen as a crusade to restore the English Church to Rome. After conquering England, the Normans replaced all but one of the English bishops with Normans and forced the Church into submission to the Roman See.
Western Rite Christians also continued in full communion with the Orthodox Church in Constantinople and other Eastern cities until they were finally absorbed into the Eastern Rite sometime in the thirteenth century. A Benedictine monastery, Amalfion, existed on Mount Athos until 1287, surviving the Great Schism of 1054, the Roman Catholic conquest of Mount Athos in 1204, and the Roman Catholic retreat from Mount Athos in 1261. The monastery finally closed because of its inability to recruit postulants from the West. The ruins of Amalfion can still be seen on the Holy Mountain, with its Western architecture in the midst a sea of Byzantine monastic communities.
A vast number of Orthodox Saints, including many Holy Fathers of the Church, were spiritually nurtured by the Western rites. The Western Church produced such great spiritual luminaries as Saints Ambrose of Milan, Gregory of Tours, Benedict of Nursia, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (the Dialogist), Patrick of Ireland, Bede the Venerable, Jerome, and Augustine of Hippo.
With the closing of Amalfion, the Benedictine monastery on Mount Athos in 1287, the use of the Western Rite, which had been celebrated on the Holy Mountain for more than 300 years, and in the Orthodox Church for nearly thirteen centuries, came to a temporary end.
The English Reformation
The English Reformation which began in 1534, was different from the Reformation on the continent of Europe. No new Church was formed. The Reformation in England was conducted by the bishops themselves with the goal of restoring the Faith and Order of what is commonly called the undivided Church. The work of reform and restoration in the English Church was continued by the Caroline Divines of the 17th century, and the Oxford Movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Writing of the 17th century, Dean G. W. O. Addleshaw says, “The Anglicans are thinking and working the whole time in terms of patristic thought, more especially that of the Greek Fathers” (The High Church Tradition).
In the mid-19th century the Russian Orthodox theologian Alexis Khomiakov became very interested in the return of the West to Orthodoxy. He encouraged an Anglican Deacon, William Palmer (1811-1879), who had visited Russia, to start a movement in England toward Orthodoxy. The famous Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow, said that while Anglicans who embraced Orthodoxy must be in full accord with the rest of Orthodoxy in regard to doctrine, “every rite not implying a direct negation of dogma would be allowed.”
Orthodox Archbishop Kallistos (Ware) wrote, “This [Anglican] appeal to antiquity has led many Anglicans to look with sympathy and interest at the Orthodox Church, and equally it has led many Orthodox to look with interest and sympathy to Anglicanism. As a result of pioneer work by Anglicans such as William Palmer (1811-1879), J. M. Neale (1818-1868), and W. J. Birkbeck (1859-1916), firm bonds of Anglo-Orthodox solidarity were established by the end of the nineteenth century” (The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware, Penguin, c. 1993, p. 318).
Western Orthodox Rebirth
With the declaration of Papal Infallibility by the First Vatican Council in 1870, many concerned Roman Catholics began to rethink their Faith and to call themselves Old Catholics, rejecting what they considered to be a new Faith introduced by the Council. Some of these Old Catholics turned their eyes to the East, to the unchanging Orthodox Catholic Church.
In the wake of the First Vatican Council the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church authorized the use of a corrected Roman Rite by Roman Catholics who were returning to the Orthodox Church.
In the United States, the restoration of the Western Rite began in 1891, when Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky), the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Alaska, formally received a parish of Swiss Old Catholics at Dykesville, near Fon du Lac, Wisconsin.
In 1898 a Western Rite Diocese of Moravia and Silesia was organized in Europe by the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1904, Archbishop Tikhon (Belavin) and Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny), assisted by Fr. John Kochuroff - all three of whom would later be canonized as Saints - petitioned the Holy Synod of Russia to permit the adaption of the Services of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for use by Orthodox Christians. In 1907, a Commission of the Holy Synod of Russia reported in favor of an adaption of the Book of Common Prayer for use by Western converts, and set out the criteria for adaption. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted the report.
A good beginning was made at restoring the Western Rite, but the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the brutal persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church made the development of this work very difficult and it progressed very slowly. Yet, despite the difficulties, Western Rite congregations and monastic communities were established in both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).
In 1958, the Patriarchate of Antioch adopted the provisions of the Russian Holy Synod and authorized the restoration of the Western Rite. In 1961, the Western Rite Vicariate was erected in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, with Archpriest Alexander Turner as Vicar General.
Beginning in the late 1970s, a growing number of Catholic Anglicans began to see that due to the doctrinal and moral changes in their Church the dream corporate reunion between the Anglican and Orthodox Churches was becoming impossible. Many Anglicans began to enter the Orthodox Church and there are now English Use Western Rite congregations in both the Russian and the Antiochian Orthodox Churches.
Western Rite Orthodoxy Today
Today there are Western Rite congregations and monastic communities in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, with smaller works in the Romanian and Serbian Orthodox Churches in Europe. The Western Rite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is the largest, most widespread and fastest growing.
There are now more than fifty Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic communities in the United States, with more in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, and on the continent of Europe, and their numbers are growing.
In the United States, 23% of all Orthodox Christians are converts, as are 30% of Orthodox clergy and 41% of Orthodox seminarians, with three bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia being converts: one from Roman Catholicism and two from Anglicanism.
Anglicans make up the largest single group of converts to the Orthodox Church in the United States, and they are found in both the Eastern and Western Rites. They are everywhere. Archpriest Josiah Trenham, a clergyman of the Reformed Episcopal Church before becoming Orthodox wrote, “It is my estimate that there is no heterodox body in America from which more Orthodox clergy have come than the Anglican Communion. The number of Orthodox priests in this country that were previously Episcopal clergy is certainly in the hundreds” (Rock and Sand, An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings, by Archpriest Josiah Trenham, Newrome Press, c. 2015, p. 193).
It has often been said that the consecrated life is a good indicator of the health of the Church. There are about eighty Orthodox monastic communities in North America, with nine Western Rite monastic communities in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
A great spiritual revival and Orthodox resurgence is taking place in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe; and the Orthodox Church is growing rapidly in America and all around the world. The Western Rite has been restored to the Orthodox Catholic Church, the post-Christian West is beginning to be re-evangelized, and the Western Church rebuilt. This is a move of the Holy Spirit and a New Springtime for the Church. St. John (Maximovich) of San Francisco said, “Never, never, never let anyone tell you that, in order to be Orthodox, you must be Eastern. The West was fully Orthodox for a thousand years...”
The Dean of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities is Fr. Mark Rowe, a former Anglican priest and Canon. The Ruling Bishop of the Western Rite Communities is Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch (Primate) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and an enthusiastic supporter of the Western Rite.
Holy Cross Orthodox Church
Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Omaha, Nebraska has just celebrated its third Christmas as a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia after having been received from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). We were greeted with open arms, welcomed with love, and are fully integrated into the Orthodox Church.
Metropolitan Hilarion made an episcopal visit to Holy Cross Orthodox Church in the summer of 2015, fully participated in our Services, administered Holy Communion to the faithful, and ordained a Reader and Subdeacon for service at our parish. His visit was a high point in the life of our church.
We are very happy to be Orthodox Christians and to be a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. We have lost nothing and gained much. The Orthodox Church is the oldest Church in Christendom, it is the original Church, it is the “One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the Creeds, and the doors are wide open to everyone. When Western Christians enter the Orthodox Church they are not joining a new Church, they are simply returning to the Church of their Fathers and embracing the fullness of the Orthodox Christian Faith “which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Come and see. The Orthodox Church welcomes you!