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Modern Orthodox Use of the Western Rite

By Fr. John Connely

The Revd. John Connely is a graduate of the University of Colorado and holds the degree Artium Magistri Religionem from Yale University. He is Pastor of St. Mark’s Parish, Denver, Colorado and Dean of the Central States Deanery, Western Rite Vicariate, The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

At the beginning of the 18th Century a considerable correspondence was conducted between the English Nonjurers1 (usually styled the “Catholic remnant” of the British Church), Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, and the Ecumenical Patriarch at Constantinople. It was proposed that a parish be established in London, to be called the Unia, and which would be Orthodox and Western Rite. The Nonjurers’ lack of funds prevented their sending the proposed two delegates to Russia to seal the agreement. However, the Patriarch’s second letter to the “British Catholics” expressed a willingness to effect union and fix details later: “As for custom and ecclesiastical order and for the form and discipline of administering the sacraments, they will be easily settled when once a union is effected.”2 A century later the Anglican deacon William Palmer worked with Alexis Khomiakov and Metropolitan (Saint) Philaret of Moscow towards the establishment of a Western Rite Orthodox Church in England. Dr. Joseph Overbeck’s conversion in 1865 led to the Holy Synod of Moscow giving approval to a restored, corrected, Mass of St. Peter (or St. Gregory) in Latin in 1870. This was based on over one hundred years of study, work and attempts to do this very thing.3 In 1879, Overbeck went to Constantinople and met with Patriarch Joachim III. In 1882, the Greek Patriarch, based on a favorable report by his liturgical committee, provisionally approved Overbeck’s plan. Western Rite Orthodox parishes and dioceses began to exist in Poland and Czechoslovakia in the 1890’s through the 1920’s with the support of the Russian Church. In 1911, the Antiochian Patriarchate received a parish in London using the Western Rite in English. The Patriarch of Alexandria also recognized the same parish. There was obviously a wide movement of the highest authorities of the Orthodox Church to establish viable Western Rite work in Europe and America in the opening decades of the 20th century. It was the cruel destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Bolsheviks which brought a temporary end to this progress.

What may be less obvious is the antiquity of the “Rite of St. Tikhon” also provided in the Orthodox Missal. The “Rite of St. Tikhon” was known to St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, Martyr and Enlightener of America, through his experience of the worship of Episcopalians in North America during his extraordinary service as Archbishop (of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and North America). This experience included a Vesper service at which he preached and blessed the Parish of St. Mark, Denver, Colorado, on the Patronal Feast Day, 25 April 1904.

In all charity to Archbishop Tikhon’s critics, may we ask, How many Orthodox parishes in North America were using, by the time he returned to Russia, the English language for Liturgical Services? In 1906 the Archbishop, with Isabel Florence Hapgood, had produced the first edition of the Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church. The Service Book provided beautiful English language texts, in one volume, of the Eastern rites of the Orthodox Church.

How many parishes were using these English texts 25 years later? In fact, 50 years later, by 1960, only the Antiochian Archdiocese had made large use of English and had expanded the number of Liturgical books available to Orthodox parishes in English texts. Today, 90 years later, it is still the Antiochian Archdiocese which keeps St. Tikhon’s Service Book in print in a handsome Seventh Edition! How obvious that it would also fall to the Antiochian Archdiocese to provide the Liturgical books, like the Orthodox Missal, for the use of Western Rite Orthodox parishes.

As known to Archbishop Tikhon, the American Book of Common Prayer, gotten from the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1789, was a close derivation of the Scottish BCP of 1764, from the Liturgy of the English Nonjurors of 1716. The Nonjuring Liturgy consisted of a careful restoration of ancient Liturgical “usages” by the brilliant English scholar, Thomas Brett (1667-1744), of Canterbury. His sources and methods are explained in his principal work Dissertation on the Ancient Liturgies (1720). As an eminent liturgical scholar with a particular interest in the Eastern liturgies, he insisted on the explicit oblation of the Eucharistic elements to God the Father, and on the Epiclesis of the Holy Ghost. The Nonjuring English Liturgy, subsequently that of Scotland and America, is the basis, in its present English text, of the “Rite of St. Tikhon.” This Liturgy, like that of St. Gregory, is unrelated to the “Reformation and Counter Reformation debates.” Even a casual examination of the text will reveal little in common with the Eucharistic Liturgy (Order of Holy Communion) in the various editions, 1549, 1552, 1559, 1662, of the English Book of Common Prayer.

However, the wonderful adaptation of the ancient Offices of St. Benedict, first accomplished by the Spanish Cardinal Francisco de Quinones in his reform of the Breviary [1535], has been preserved, by the borrowing of Archbishop T. Cranmer, through all the English service books. No one can understand the antiquity of the English Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer (with its Scriptural lectio divina and the sequential reading, each month, of the entire Psalter), or the culture of English Christianity for that matter, unless he appreciates the pervasive influence of the great Benedictine monasteries. These were everywhere in England up to the “Dissolution” of the religious houses by Henry VIII [Act of Dissolution 1536, 1539].

There are also those prayers and devotions which are done outside the Liturgy and Offices of the Church as found in the popular piety of every nation. For an intelligent examination of the popular Western paraliturgical devotions, ie., the Rosary, Angelus, Exposition, please see the M.Div. thesis presented at St. Vladimir Seminary by the V. Reverend Edward Hughes, Paraliturgical Devotions of the Western Church and Their Role in Orthodoxy, 1980. Hughes’ readers were the Rt. Revd A. Schmemann and the V. Revd Paul Schneirla.


1 The Nonjurors were members of the Church of England who, after 1688, scrupled to take the Oath of Allegiance to William of Orange on the grounds they would break their previous oath to James (Stuart) II. Eight bishops, including Abp. Sancroft of Canterbury and Bp. Thomas Ken of Wells, with 400 priests and numbers of laity, were expelled from the C of E by Act of Parliament. The Nonjurors, encouraged by the Russian Czar, carried on an extensive correspondence with the Patriarch of Jerusalem seeking union with the Eastern Church. As Sacramental High Churchmen they are linked with the Caroline divines of the 17th, and Tractarians of the 19th, centuries.

2 J. W. C. Wand, The High Church Schism, The Faith Press, London, 1951, p. 50.

3 The Very Reverend Edward Hughes, Response to the Revd. M. Johnson, 1996.

Source: Lux Occidentalis (.pdf)

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