Western Rite

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The Western Rite is a strand of Orthodox Christian worship based on the liturgical traditions of the ancient pre-Schism Orthodox Church of the West. Western Rite Orthodox Christians hold in common the full Orthodox faith with their brethren of the Byzantine Rite, and at present, all of the bishops who care for such parishes are themselves followers of the Byzantine Rite.

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of the series on the

Western Rite
Rule of St. Benedict
Nineteenth Century
Twentieth Century
Liturgy of St. Gregory
Liturgy of St. Tikhon
Liturgy of St. Germanus
Sarum Rite
Gallican Rite
Stowe Missal
Service Books
Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate
Society of St. Basil
Orthodox Church of France
Saint Petroc
Holy Name Abbey (Old Calendarist)
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Modern History

The Nineteenth Century

Main article: Western Rite in the Nineteenth Century

In 1864, 44-year-old Joseph Julian Overbeck, a former German Catholic priest who had left the priesthood, disillusioned with papal supremacy, became Lutheran and later married, was chrismated into the Orthodox Church. He then published, in 1866, Catholic Orthodoxy and Anglo-Catholicism which contained the groundings for his work for the next twenty years. A year later, be began publishing a periodical, Orthodox Catholic Review, aimed at putting forward Orthodoxy and rejecting Catholicism and Protestantism.

1867 saw Overbeck, with 122 signatures from the Oxford Movement, petition the Church of Russia for the establishment of a Western Rite church in full communion with the Eastern Rite. A seven-member synodal commission was then formed, and invited Overbeck to attend. The idea was approved, and Overbeck set about submitting a draft of the proposed Western liturgy. The base of Overbeck's submission was the 1570 rite which added in an epiclesis and the Trisagion hymn. This rite was submitted in 1871, and was examined and approved by the commission. Overbeck focused his efforts on the Old Catholic movement, who had rejected Papal Infallibility. He continued to engage in polemics with Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox converts using the Byzantine rite.

In 1876, Overbeck issued an appeal to the various Holy Synods, travelling to Constantinople in 1879. There he met the Ecumenical Patriarch, who authorised him to deliver sermons and apologetics. in 1881, some success was had when the Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed that the West had a right to a Western church and rite.

However, it went no further. Overbeck's marriage after his Catholic ordination was a canonical impediment to the priesthood, the Holy Synod of Greece vetoed his scheme amongst the Orthodox Churches, the Orthodox Catholic Review ended its run, and by 1892 he admitted failure due to the Church of Greece of the time. Overbeck reposed in 1905.

The Twentieth Century

Episcopalian Consecration of Reginald Weller as co-adjutor bishop of Fon-Du-Lac, 1900.
Main article: Western Rite in the Twentieth Century

The Western Rite continued. In 1890 a Swiss Old Catholic parish in Wisconsin, pastored by Fr Joseph Rene Vilatte, was received by Bp Vladimir (Sokolovsky); however, Fr Vilatte soon led the church into Old Catholicism. In 1911 Arnold Harris Mathew, an Old Catholic bishop, entered into union with the Patriarchate of Antioch, but parted ways soon after, leaving behind a model for future Western Rite groupings to join Orthodoxy. In 1926 the six-parish Polish Catholic National Church was received into the Polish Orthodox Church, flourishing until wiped out by the Nazi's. [1] [2]

St. Tikhon's involvement in the Western Rite has been one more enduring. While he was head of the Russian mission in America, some Episcopalians were interested in the possibility of joining Orthodoxy while retaining Anglican liturgics. St. Tikhon, sending the 1892 Book of Common Prayer, enquired as to the viability of such an idea; in 1904, the Holy Synod admitted its possibility, including many notes on how the BCP could be used in an Orthodox manner. St. Tikhon did not receive any Episcopalians who used revised Anglican forms, but it lay the groundwork for the reception and liturgics of the Western Rite Vicariate. [3]

There has been a significant Western Rite movement in France, the largest remaining group thereof being the Union des Associations Cultuelles Orthodoxes de Rite Occidental (UACORO - the Union of Western Rite Orthodox Worship Associations).

The United States

The Antiochian Archdiocese received the most stable and successful group of Western Rite parishes, the Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil, in 1961. Upon reception, they became the Western Rite Vicariate, and their leader, Alexander Turner, becoming an Orthodox priest and the Vicar-General of the Vicariate until 1971. At his repose, Fr Paul W.S. Schneirla became Vicar-General.

Besides the parishes that were in the former Society, other parishes have been received into the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Archdiocese, especially because ofthe theological and practical devolution of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. Added to this, several Western Rite missions have been founded, some growing into full parish status.

The Church of Russia received a New York Old Catholic community in 1962 as Mount Royal Monastery, which later moved to Woodstock, New York, under Archbishop John (Wendland) of the Russian Exarchate of North America. Later, this community was received by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, under Archbishop Nikon (Rklitzsky). In 1993, the monastery was renamed to Christminster and moved to Providence, Rhode Island, under Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan (since transferred). It's present abbot is Dom James Deschene.


In 1995, the Church of Antioch also established a British Deanery to absorb converts from the Church of England. Not all of these parishes are Western Rite.

Western Rite Orthodoxy, in Australia and New Zealand, has arisen mostly from Anglican and Continuing Anglican communities. Archbishop Hilarion (Kapral) of Sydney, ROCOR, received some communities under his omophorion; while others have been received by Archbishop Gibran and Metropolitan Archbishop Paul, both under the Church of Antioch.

Other small groups following the Western Rite have been received, but usually have either had little impact, or have declared their independence soon after their reception.

Some Western Rite parishes are also in the Oriental Orthodox churches. The Syrian patriarchate of Antioch consecrated Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvarez as Archbishop of Ceylon, Goa and India in 1889, authorizing a Roman rite diocese under him; in 1891, the Syrians consecrated the aforementioned Joseph René Vilatte as archbishop for the American Old Catholics.


North American Western Rite parishes generally follow one (or sometimes both) of two types of traditional Western liturgical traditions. The majority celebrate the Liturgy of St. Tikhon of Moscow, which is an adaptation of the Communion service from the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer and The Anglican Missal in the American Edition, as their Sunday liturgy. Until 1977, all Western Rite parishes celebrated only the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, which is a modified form of the ancient Mass known to Roman Catholics before the liturgical reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s. Many parishes within the Western Rite Vicariate continue to celebrate the Gregorian liturgy. However, most WRV parishes celebrate more than one weekly liturgy, and many of the Tikhonite parishes celebrate the Gregorian liturgy on weekdays. The complete Roman rite of Benediction is also authorized.

The Western Rite liturgy has much less repetition than its corresponding elements in the Byzantine rite, and generally has a more brisk, succinct manner to it. Celebrants wear distinctive Western vestments, and the faithful follow pious devotional customs particular to their tradition, as well.

The development of the current use within the Western Rite Vicariate is of particular note:

Metropolitan Antony was well aware that the Western Rite was “a work for specialists.