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By Fr. Victor Novak

“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”
— St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco
Western Rite about us

The Western Rite in the Orthodox Church

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 there into submission to Rome.

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, closing only due to the difficulty of getting vocations from the West. The ruins of this very Western-looking Benedictine monastery can still be seen on the Holy Mountain.

A vast number of Orthodox Saints, including many Holy Fathers of the Church, were spiritually nurtured by the Western Rite. 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, Aidan, Columba, Hilda of Whitby, 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 very 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 the undivided Church. Such restoration after nearly half a millennium of separation was difficult and mistakes and missteps were made, but also progress.

The work of reform and restoration in the English Church was continued by the Caroline Divines of the 17th century, the Non-Jurors of the 18th century, the Oxford Movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Continuing Anglican Movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These movements brought many Anglicans to the very door of the Orthodox Church.

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.

At the time 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 Rites 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.

Archbishop (now Saint) Tikhon (Belavin) served as the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of North America until 1907. While in America he became close friends with Bishop Charles Grafton, the Anglican bishop of Fon du Lac, Wisconsin. Bishop Grafton, a monk, was deeply committed to Anglican reunion with the Orthodox Church. Through Bishop Grafton, Archbishop Tikhon became intimately acquainted with Anglicans in America, visiting Anglican parishes and observing their worship.

Archbishop Tikhon and Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny), assisted by Fr. John Kochuroff — all three of whom would later be canonized as Orthodox Saints — petitioned the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to permit an Orthodox version of the American Book of Common Prayer to be used by Orthodox Christian converts in the West. Archbishop Tikhon’s request was assigned to a Committee appointed by the Holy Synod on Old Catholic and Anglican questions. The Committee reported in favor of the adaptation of the English Liturgy for Orthodox use and set out the criteria for its correction and adaptation in 1904. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church formally received and endorsed the report of the Committee.

Unfortunately, with Archbishop Tikhon’s return to Russia in 1907, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, with the subsequent brutal persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, the correction and adaptation of the English Liturgy was not actually undertaken at that time. It would have to wait another seventy years.

The Modern Era

In 1958, the Patriarchate of Antioch adopted the provisions of the Russian Holy Synod and authorized the restoration of the Roman Rite. In the late 1970s, a growing number of traditional Anglicans began to recognize that due to the changes in their Church, the long held dream of corporate reunion between the Anglican and Orthodox Churches was becoming impossible. Many Anglicans began to enter the Orthodox Church and there were growing requests that the English Liturgy also be authorized for use, which was done in 1977.

Western Rite Orthodoxy Today

Although there had been a small number of Western Rite congregations and monastic communities in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia during the tumultuous 20th century, formal organized Western Rite work began in October of 2010. Initially, the Roman Rite was authorized for use, with the English Liturgy being approved in 2013.

The Western Rite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has been under the omophorion of Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of ROCOR, since 2010. Today, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) continues to serve as Ordinary of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities, with Fr. Mark Rowe — a former Anglican Archdeacon — as Vicar General. The Vicar General of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities holds the rank of Mitred Archpriest. Assisting the Ordinary and Vicar General are a Western Rite Advisory Board, an Administrative Council, and a Spiritual Court.

There are now Western Rite congregations and monastic communities in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, with smaller works in the Romanian and Serbian Orthodox Churches on the continent of Europe. The Roman and English Liturgies are fully authorized in both ROCOR and in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, with the Gallican Rite — the ancient Liturgy of St. Germain of Paris — being the predominant Western Liturgy in the European work of the Romanian and Serbian Orthodox Churches. The Western Rite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is both the largest and fastest growing. There are now ROCOR Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic communities in the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, and on the continent of Europe.

There is a strong and growing interest in a Western expression of the Orthodox Christian Faith by people of a Western cultural background and many are becoming Orthodox. The Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are steadily growing in numbers of congregations and in members, with a constant and growing stream of inquirers from among non-Orthodox clergy seeking the Apostolic Faith in its fullness.

Some 23% of all Orthodox Christians in the United States are converts — about one in four — as are about one in three clergymen and more than 40% of seminarians, and they are found in both the Eastern and Western rites. It has become increasingly common for

whole congregations to convert to Orthodox Christianity and to enter the Orthodox Church together. Holy Cross Orthodox Church is one such parish.

At present Anglicans make up the largest single group of converts to the Orthodox Church, but there are also large numbers of former traditional Roman Catholics, and former Evangelical Protestants who have sought to embrace the Fullness of the Apostolic Faith. Archpriest Josiah Trenham writes, “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 the country [the United States] that were previously Episcopal clergy is certainly in the hundreds” (Rock and Sand, An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and their Theology, p. 193).

In an interview with the Russian press in December of 2017, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia said, “Many, many people in the West are converting to Orthodoxy… America has become a very fruitful harvest-field for Orthodoxy… The Anglican Church has broken apart, and many older clergymen are converting to Orthodoxy. We receive them. We ordain them so that they can serve as Orthodox pastors. Their flocks follow their conversion to Orthodoxy. I constantly get appeals from them, to receive them and ordain them. Of course, we prepare them first. But when we start to work with them, we realize that they have already studied a great deal about Orthodox Christianity”

Much the same can be said of the Roman Catholic Church. It too is a house divided against itself and is breaking up, with ever growing numbers of traditional Roman Catholics finding genuine Catholicism in the Orthodox East.

The 21st century is proving to be a New Springtime for the Orthodox Church, and the restoration of the Western Rite and the rebuilding of the Western Church are part of that New Springtime. The Orthodox Church is experiencing explosive growth, and Church history is being made. Everyone is welcome. We love being Orthodox. You will too. Come and see!