Western Rite and Old Calendarists

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Western-rite communities make up a substantial portion of the Old Calendarists in the United States. Numerically, Western-rite Old calendar communities outnumber every other jurisdiction of traditionalist Orthodox communities in the United States, and make up the second largest Western-rite Orthodox community in the United States. The majority of these parishes are under the Holy Synod of Milan. There are parishes under the Orthodox Church of France using the Old Calendar (this is not the case, according to a priest of L'ECOF, in France) and some under the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia using the Sarum Rite, though how important the use of the Old Calendar is among them is the subject of debate.

Difference in Mindset Among Western Rite Orthodox

Orthodoxy in the West before the schism was a structurally independent group of Churches whose Patriarchate was in Rome, but whom had their own independent communities throughout Metropolitan and Archepiscopal sees in Europe, some of which were Lyons, Toledo, and Milan. Concurrent with the Great Schism in 1054, a series of events took place which ruptured the continuity of the Orthodox Church in the West with the Church in the East. The interpretation of these events (if one gets their most basic facts straight) can fall into three categories:

1) The developmental interpretation, or the "Gradual Estrangement" theory common among Roman Catholics and Protestants, as well as a number of Orthodox convert writers, which predisposes that there were no significant changes in the 11th century that marked schism, and that those who were abandoning Orthodoxy were unaware of such, but that the nature of the divergence of belief from Orthodoxy did not become clear until much later.

2) The catastrophic interpretation, or the "Ethnic Cleansing" theory proposed by a number of Orthodox writers on the West, including Fr. John Romanides, which predisposes that heretics physically overtook the Orthodox and wiped them off the map in their native lands, or subjugated them to slavery, while replacing their liturgical forms, or that there were definitive events that ended Orthodoxy's presence in an area.

3) A domino-effect interpretation, or a "downward spiral" theory which incorporates elements of both of the above.

While neither of the first two opinions affects Eastern Orthodoxy's self-interpretation, both color very strongly how Western-rite Orthodox perceive themselves. For the purposes of this argument, we shall refer to those who adhere to the first theory, even if there is some variation with the overarching premise defined here as "developmentalists", as opposed to those of the second as "catastrophists", regardless of whether this view is universally present in a person's worldview, as we are dealing with the general thrust of mindsets.


The earliest restored Western-rite communities (beginning with the work Dr Julian Joseph Overbeck) were originally hostile to their antecedent heterodox bodies, due to their long-standing estrangement from Orthodoxy. By the time Overbeck began his famous petition to the Russian Synod, the Anglican establishment was horrified at the scheme; Overbeck notes that the authorities busied themselves "as with a great army," when the petitioners numbered only a few dozen. Overbeck's stated goal was to see a restoration of the various national Orthodox Churches in the West. Thus, we could label Overbeck without exaggeration as catastrophist. As Overbeck's position was to see the Western Christian communions overtaken by Orthodoxy, wishing nothing but their conversion, by the end of the 19th century, it is a given that we would eventually see by the 20th century a Western-rite following develop within the atmosphere of the Orthodox Traditionalists.

By 1895, the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized this developing opportunity for Orthodoxy in the West and responded to Pope Leo XIII in the sharpest tones concerning the possibility of union: "With these and such facts in view, the peoples of the West, becoming gradually civilized by the diffusion of letters, began to protest against innovations, and to demand (as was done in the fifteenth century at the Councils of Constance and Basle) the return to the ecclesiastical constitution of the first centuries, to which, by the grace of God, the orthodox Churches throughout the East and North, which alone now form the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ, the pillar and ground of the truth, remain, and will always remain, faithful. The same was done in the seventeenth century by the learned Gallican theologians, and in the eighteenth by the bishops of Germany; and in this present century of science and criticism, the Christian conscience rose up in one body in the year 1870, in the persons of the celebrated clerics and theologians of Germany, on account of the novel dogma of the infallibility of the Popes, issued by the Vatican Council, a consequence of which rising is seen in the formation of the separate religious communities of the Old Catholics, who, having disowned the papacy, are quite independent of it." (Encyclical to Pope Leo XIII on Reunion.)

Within twenty-five years of that letter, however, two historical realities had become very clear: a substantial Western-rite following had developed under Fr Alexander Turner's "Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil", or "Basilian Order", a Western-rite Orthodox group, and the Patriarch of Constantinople recognizing the validity of Anglican orders.

Between the diversity found among Old Catholics, a sudden interest in the Moscow Patriarchate to found Western-rite parishes (the motivations for this were at the time unclear) beginning with Bp Dosistheus (Ivanchenko) in 1962, and the above developments, the two streams of thought-- developmental and catastrophic-- mentioned above began to color the philosophy of the Western-rite communities in America and Europe. By 1961, the Basilian Order was under the Antiochian Dioceses in America, and a number of Old Catholic bodies and disaffected Roman Catholics had joined the Moscow Patriarchate.

Ecumenism and the Western Rite

It naturally followed that Western Orthodox would have the same fear that Uniates had during ecumenical discussions between Rome and the Orthodox during and after the Second Vatican Council: that the bodies they had abandoned for reasons of faith would somehow re-absorb them. Whereas this was an unavoidable (and foregone) conclusion with the Antiochians, the Moscow Patriarchate took the unique step of completely abandoning their Western-rite structures, leaving them orphaned, the majority of which joined the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church (Americas) or the Romanian Church (France).

This actually placed these Western Rite communities in the position of having to exist on their own, in some cases perpetuating their hierarchy (Church of France), in some cases expanding it (Milan Synod parishes in the Americas, while with the Ukrainian Church), but these bodies continued to exist in a manner basically unchanged from that which they had been formed earlier. This fact introduced a new reality into Western Orthodoxy that had not previously existed: since their original mission was not simply to become a "Western branch" of the "Eastern Church", but to actually become organically Western Orthodox bodies, these parishes set to work restoring every pre-schismatic usage available that was Western, and by the mid-1970's, there were fully Orthodox bodies using completely pre-schismatic rituals in origin, which were, by historical circumstance, no longer in communion with anyone.

The Old Calendarists. By 1969, ROCOR intervened in the Old Calendarist situation by recognizing the consecrations on her part of six Bishops for the Florinites. In 1984, fifteen years later, the Primate of the Greek Old Calendarists at the time, Archbishop Auxentios of Athens, established a provincial Missionary Synod for Western Europe and the Americas (which became known as the "Milan Synod") which eventually absorbed the various American communities of the Western rite that were, at this point, operating with a small, but functional hierarchy of a few Bishops in 1990.

In Europe, the ROCOR's role in the formation of the Church of France is undisputed, as the Church's existence was blessed by St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. However, the majority of the Church of France's parishes in France are on the New Calendar.

"Catastrophist" Thought and Orthodox Traditionalism

Western-Rite "catastrophist" thought makes certain implicit assumptions which are not made by Western-Rite "developmentalists". These assumptions are on liturgical and ideological grounds.

On liturgical grounds, the "catastrophist" argues that there is an extant body of Orthodox liturgical material for use available for Western-rite Christians from before or around the time of the Great Schism of 1054, that was either ignored or altered heavily over centuries. This difference is the most marked separation between the schools of thought, and makes for the bulk of the argument for the separate existence of these communities. Because the charge is warranted (some pre-schism Western liturgies survive in hundreds of manuscripts, available to the public in copied forms) it is a direct attack on the legitimacy of liturgies in use by "developmentalists" such as the Liturgy of St. Tikhon of Moscow or the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great.

Ideologically, the "catastrophist" argues that the Western-rite Orthodox churches are substantially separate bodies from the ecclesial communities they came from; in this, they find support in the writings of virtually every leader in the Western-rite Orthodox movement. The "developmentalists" tend to defend the ecclesial communities they came from as having "diverged somewhat" from Orthodoxy, without ever clearly defining the difference.

These differences, which have been repeatedly stated within parts of the Orthodox world, tend to define the separations within Western-rite Orthodox Christians, and also reinforce the old Latin dictum, Lex orandi, lex credendi ("the law of prayer is the law of faith"). The hostility between the different mindsets of Western-rite Orthodox is one precisely of how Orthodox Christians view themselves; and is a problem which continues to require resolution in Orthodoxy, whether of Eastern or Western rite.

See also