Saturday, July 13, 2013

ROCOR stops its Western Rite

They just announced it.

Of course I don’t have a dog in that fight. My guess is the immediate reason was Bishop Jerome hastily grew his Western Rite Vicariate by receiving and ordaining lots of people without instructing them, including vagantes. More specifically the denomination is reacting, in fine stern Russian fashion keeping their good church order, to the scandal of 28-year-old ex-Fr Nathan Monk quitting after eight months.

The deeper issue, I and other observers think, is as I’ve said for some time, ROCOR’s approach to Western Rite was so halfhearted/conflicted, anti-Western (how they interpret their true-church claim: anything but the living tradition of Tridentine Rome, including an Anglican ‘Frankenrite’), byzantinized, why did they even bother? (Because they claim to be the true church but obviously don’t have the resources to compete with Rome.) So it’s just as well they stopped.

Sure, I have a little Schadenfreude over another small counterfeit Catholic church biting the dust. ROCOR tried to hurt the church so they got what they deserved. That said, I don’t per se hate ROCOR, etc., like they hate Catholicism; the church doesn’t, which is a reason I’m Catholic. In our doctrine, they are an estranged part of us; Protestants aren’t. The Orthodox are still traditional, non-Novus Ordo; a folk Catholicism that should re-teach the church. Очень хорошо. (Excellent.)

A summary for newbies: 19th-century Russian culture including its Orthodoxy is westernized: the styles of the choral music and the icons, and the scholasticism, things that modern Western society and hip Orthodox hate as part of their hating Catholicism. This Russian Orthodoxy was a would-be Rome bitterly opposing Rome, part of their nationalism. Russian bishops who escaped the Communist revolution founded the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia for Russians like them abroad, while they weren’t sure if the Orthodox church would survive in Russia. They were and are about preserving their church as I describe; not particularly anti-Catholic, just being Russian. In America it’s WWII refugees and their descendants, good people who became part of the old America. Then the Sixties radicalized some of them like it created Catholic traditionalism: they took in fanatical Greeks mad at adopting the Gregorian calendar and at dialogue with Catholics, which changed ROCOR’s character. (Actually, the nice Russians and the fanatics sometimes acted independently of each other.) So it became so conservative (and anti-Catholic) it was almost out of communion with Orthodoxy. Then Communism fell, so it eventually got back under the Russian church, and some of the fanatics left. They’re tiny and have the same problem other Orthodox have with newer generations leaving as they Americanize; post-Soviet Russian immigration’s helped keep them afloat. And they got a tiny boost from the (anti-Catholic) convert boomlet/fad from about 20 years ago.

(Most American Russian Orthodox are neither Russian nor belong to this denomination. They’re related to the Russians: Slavs from Ruthenia who left Greek Catholicism 100 years ago because American Catholic bishops treated them badly. They’re the Russian dioceses in America from before the revolution: the OCA. Small but not as small as ROCOR. Very Americanized, having been American for a century, so it’s a related but different culture from the real Russians in ROCOR. They now use the Gregorian calendar: Christmas on Dec. 25 like other Americans; Russians celebrate on Jan. 7.)

Anyway, the Russian church’s true-church claim and related Russian claim to universality rivalling Catholicism’s led them in the 1800s to approve an edited Tridentine Mass for the few ex-Roman Catholics who joined them. The Russian Orthodox denominations have been experimenting with Western rites for converts since.

Then around the ’50s the Antiochian Orthodox in North America (obscure denomination here: Arab Orthodox including Paul Anka and Jamie Farr) picked that up, in the same spirit of modifying the living traditions of Tridentine Catholicism and its near-clone, ’50s Anglo-Catholicism, for the few converts who wanted that. Not Catholic but not anti-Catholic like ROCOR; quite the opposite.

I feel bad for groups like Holy Cross who just joined. I wouldn’t be shocked if they go back to independent Anglicanism. Of course I hope they ask to join the church, but at least, as other observers have suggested, they could ask ROCOR to be released to the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate. That way everybody can save face.


  1. Father Chadwick's comment is quite thoughtful, and rather jaw-droppingly candid on ethnic matters. More Englishmen need to experience the bracing air of France.

    He is entirely correct as well: this is fundamentally an ethno-cultural issue.

    We may piously insist that we are through with nationhood, but nationhood is certainly not through with us.

    1. I need to correct or clarify this, based on what I see as serious misunderstandings floating around our corner of the blogosphere. This was fundamentally an ecclesial issue. The shepherds have disciplined an errant shepherd, and that is that. The ethno-cultural issue is subordinate, though probably penultimate.

    2. Anonymous2:49 am

      Bracing air of France? The sea air is even better!

  2. My comment from a FB group:

    One of the great problems of Western Rite Orthodoxy is the absence of canonical structures. Essentially, WRO, wherever it has existed, has been entirely at the whim of Byzantine primates and their synods. Orthodoxy simply does not have in its canonical toolkit anything like the jurisdictional structures that Catholicism has developed to protect ritual minorities (ordinariates, personal prelatures, etc.); nor does it have the means (as has the Catholic Church) to update its canon law to develop such solutions.

    The other great problem, of course, would be the lack of specifically WR training and formation programs ensuring the continuation of the rite. For instance, the vast majority of AWRV communities whose founding priest had passed away have not been able to survive, either because no priest could be found for them, or they simply decided to go Byzantine.

    And the last great problem would be the lack of cohesion and vision among the WRO, and this comes from differing visions of what constitutes the Orthodox Faith and how "far gone" the Latin Church is understood to have been in different periods of its existence. The sheer number of different liturgies authorised in the former RWRV (1928 BCP, Tikhonian, at least two different versions of Sarum, Tridentine, reconstructed "Gallican", and all of the above in various forms of Byzantinisation) is undeniable proof of the problem.

  3. Bishop Ireland lives. But now he's Orthodox. Oh the irony.

  4. This is a very sad development for the people who joined up the ROCOR western rite, as I suspect that many of them will feel betrayed and spiritually homeless. I'm thinking that one parish might fall into the category - - the one with the parish website which asserts the historically dodgy narrative of "Anglo-Saxon/Celt Orthodox" persecuted by Normam Romanists, as if Archbishops of Canterbury did not seek the pallium or did not celebrate the Roman Rite before 1066. At least for them there is the Antiochian Church, though some "cultural conservatives" have reservations about them so I am told, though I am unsure of the reasons why.

    On the other hand, if this is a matter of ROCOR purging potential kooks from its clergy for its own institutional health, then it is hard to argue with what it has done. (Indeed, I thought for years that ROCOR itself was a rogue, kook, church based on the extreme anti-Western, anti-ecumenical, and even anti-rest of the Orthodox world attitudes it used to take until apparently recently). No doubt, there are mixed motivations at work.

  5. Apparently the last straw for ROCOR was Bishop's Jerome's ordination of multiple priests at one time. There also seem to have been problems with the WRV's discipline. Many in ROCOR are very happy that the chaos is ending.


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