Your Grace, what is the relevance of the Western Rite today?
The relevance is in the fact that there are many converts in the Orthodox Church today. I am among them, of course. And we feel that, even though our parents, grandparents, and more recent ancestors were not Orthodox, a thousand years ago our ancestors were Orthodox. This was their liturgical tradition, and we, for that reason have a love for it, a desire to return to it, to build on it again as part of the general heritage of the Orthodox Church.
What is the place of the Western Rite in the history of the Orthodox Church?
The Orthodox Church has many ancient liturgical traditions. Of course we have the Greek tradition, the Russian tradition, and there are others. We have the Alexandrian tradition with the liturgy of St. Mark, the Jerusalem tradition with the liturgy of St. James, and of course there is also the Western tradition. The importance of that is not only for those who love a particular tradition, but also for students of theology and students preparing for the priesthood because, just as knowing one foreign language makes it easy to learn another, so knowing more than one form of the divine liturgy and other services makes it easier to understand other forms.
When and how did the Russian Orthodox Church first permit the usage of the Western Rite?
The Western Rite was first officially permitted in 1870 when the Holy Synod in Russia approved a form of the Roman Rite known as the Overbeck Liturgy, in Latin, for those who joined the Orthodox Church from a Western Tradition, although for a long time it did not have much development. But in the beginning of the twentieth century, when Patriarch St. Tikhon was here in New York and built St. Nicholas Cathedral on 97th, Street there was Western Rite congregation that served in the left-hand chapel of that cathedral up until the time when the revolution disrupted church life and the “Living Church” seized the building. That chapel was used again for the Western Rite starting in 1962, which was also the same time that the Church Abroad, under the direction of St. John Maximovixh received a group of Western Rite parishes in France. They had been part of the Russian Church since 1936, but in 1962 a large number of them joined the Russian Church Abroad. St. John Maximovich was their great supporter and defender.
You mentioned, Vladyka, about the development of the Western Rite at 97th Street. Did this some how provoke the Russian Church Abroad to accept the Western Rite, since the Moscow Patriarchate already had their own Western Rite community? Or was there no relation between the two developments?
I think that there may have been some relationship, because just as the Moscow Patriarchate lifted the ban on the Old Rite, so the Church Abroad did the same thing a year or two later.
In my understanding the history of the Western Rite has been somewhat problematic. Can you please point out a representative of this tradition who has been stable and loyal to the Orthodox Church?
There are several of course. The most stable was the late Abbot Augustine (Whitfield), who had come into the Orthodox Church in 1962 and in 1975 came from the Moscow Patriarchate into the Church Abroad. He was not only loyal but very stubborn. He would not give in to any pressure, but insisted on continuing in the Western Rite, which he had received a blessing for. As a result of his stability — he was a Benedictine monk — the idea of the Western Rite was always preserved from 1962 until the present time.
I understand that in the 1970’s the Russian Church Abroad decided not to accept any more Western Rite parishes. Could you comment on this?
First of all, when that decision was made they had forgotten about Fr. Augustine. I wrote a letter about it to Vladyka Laurus at the time and he replied to me that in that case the decision was not valid because Fr. Augustine was allowed to continue with the Western Rite.
My understanding it was just decided not to list Fr. Augustine’s information in the directory. So, whereas he continued with the Russian Church Abroad as the only Western Rite community, his address was not published.
Actually, he was the one who requested that. The reason was that Russian people were starting to find him and he could only speak a few words of Russian, so he had a sort of embarrassment with that.
So, it was for very different reasons than what I thought it was. Would you tell us about your Abba’s, Vladyka Nikon’s, attitude about the Western Rite?
Vladyka Nikon (Rklitskii) was very supportive of the Western Rite. He told me that Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, who had been his Abba, had been strongly in favor of it. Although he didn’t write anything about it, Vladyka Nikon knew him closely and personally and said that he supported it. Therefore so did Patriarch Tikhon, so did St. John Maximovich and other students of Met. Anthony, such as Met. Sergei (Stragorodskii). They all had the same opinion, which they had learned from [Met. Anthony]. Vladyka Nikon also was the one who, through his personal friendship with Fr. Augustine, encouraged him to come into the Church Abroad at a time when there were difficulties with the Moscow Patriarchate. So it’s thanks to Vladyka Nikon that the Western Rite continued.
Thank you, Vladyka. How has the position of our Church changed since the decision in 1978?
In 1991 Vladyka Hilarion, who then was Bishop of Manhattan, received Fr. James (Deschene), who is now an archimandrite. He lives in Canada and has a monastery there in the Western Rite with a few monks.
I understand from my conversation with His Eminence today that our Church recently adjusted our approach toward the Western Rite, so that now it’s officially part of the Russian Church Abroad.
Yes. It was at first the Metropolitan’s ruling, then the Synod decided in 2010. There was a Synodal decision to create a vicariate of the Western Rite. The Sobor of 2011 confirmed that and officially established the Western Rite vicariate and made me the vicar bishop. The Metropolitan is the Ruling Bishop for all the Western Rite churches, but I serve as his Vicar.
Would you please explain if the services of the Western Rite that have been in use in the Russian Church Abroad find their roots in Anglican practices?
Not in Anglican practice, no. They find their roots in Roman practice. One of the groups in Iowa uses the restored Gallican Rite that was approved by St. John Maximovitch.
I understand that some parishes celebrate feasts established long after the schism, such as Corpus Christi, the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Feast of Christ the King. Could you comment on that?
Well, the Feast of Christ the King — we have a church dedicated to that, so there’s a tradition to celebrate it on the last Sunday of October. We do have that. But the others are not celebrated in our Western Rite. Corpus Christi and the Seven Sorrows — those are in the Antiochian Western Rite. We do not have them.
That feast Corpus Christi was probably introduced during the Council of Lyon in 1274.
Yes, very likely.
And Seven Sorrows was even later, the early 19th century, by Pope Pius.
Well, we definitely don’t have anybody keeping the Seven Sorrows, and I’m not sure that the Antiochians even have that, but we don’t.
Thank you Vladyka. Do the clergy wear Western Rite liturgical vestments and ecclesiastical daily attire?
I think that most of our Western Rite priests do use the same clothing on the street as the Russian clergy do. Many of them wear beards and look Russian. I know that in Germany, where we just received a monastery, the abbot there wears Western clerical attire, but I think he uses Russian clerical attire when he goes to events with Russian clergy. I have a Western style bishop’s cassock, but it’s almost identical with the Old Rite bishop’s cassock that Bishop Daniil wore.
Could you contrast Roman Catholic Uniates with Orthodox Western Rite parishioners? Is the dynamic similar? Can one call them “our Western Rite Uniates”?
No. First of all, the Uniates in the Roman Catholic Church did not join out of conviction. The initial ones in Europe joined out of pressure from the civil authorities. The ones in the Middle East were led into joining for other reasons. They were promised education or political protection or something like that, whereas the Western Rite clergy and parishioners all have joined of their own desire and conviction. I would say that the majority of the Western Rite parishioners had already joined the Orthodox Church before they became interested in the Western Rite. So although it’s a minority rite in the Orthodox Church, it has a completely different history.
So whereas in the Roman Catholic Church the final intention was to bring them closer to the Latin Rite (it was just a transitional stage), with us this was not an objective.
No. All of our Western Rite clergy are allowed to serve in the Byzantine Rite if they know how, but they have to know how to do it correctly.
Do Orthodox Christians of the Western Tradition have brotherly relationships with Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Liturgical Tradition.
They do. They are welcomed by many.
It’s not like they are avoided?
No. Some who have had bad experiences become hesitant. But when they are welcomed everything is fine.
So there are cases of cooperation.
Yes, many cases.
You have served at parishes in the Mid-West, so have also had relations with the faithful there.
We have one fairly large parish in Iowa. That’s the one that uses St. John Maximovich’s Western Rite. I served there last year. They have a lot of people, but don’t have their own building. The Greek priest came. He had already celebrated the Liturgy earlier that morning, but he was at our service and was very friendly.
Do the Western Rite clergymen know how to serve Byzantine Liturgies?
Many of them do.
Do we need to consult other Orthodox Churches regarding the reception of Western Rite parishes and clergymen, because not everyone in the Orthodox world is on the same page regarding the Western Rite? We are setting a precedent, opening a door, when other Churches have no intention to receive them whatsoever.
Well, we have very fraternal relations now with the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate. Some of their clergy joined us for a conference the year before last, and just a few months ago, when I did some ordinations for the Western Rite, the Antiochian Bishop Thomas and his priest, who accompanied him, joined us. The bishop received Communion at the Western Rite service and his priest concelebrated. Where it’s possible we have very good relations.
How many communities of the Western Rite do we have right now?
We have thirty communities in the western hemisphere including Canada. We just received a monastery in Germany. There is a group in Italy which is working on joining us now. But they will be under Archbishop Michael of Geneva. All the others are under the Metropolitan. I understand that we have a number of clergy that are preparing for ordination in the Western Rite. We already have about fifty clergymen, and there are another eleven candidates.
What documents regulate their inner life? Do they use the normal parish by-laws, everything that a regular ROCOR parish would use to regulate its life?
We have one large parish outside Philadelphia, Christ the Savior, and I believe they have the same by-laws as other parishes. But most of these are small missions and they aren’t large enough to have all of the things described in the by-laws. Some of them have five people, ten people, fifteen. So everybody is on the parish council. It isn’t practical yet but, as they grow, they will follow more and more the same parish by-laws as everyone else.
What are your responsibilities concerning the Western Rite?`
My responsibility is, of course, first and foremost the performance of ordinations according to the Western Rite, not according to the Byzantine Rite. I visit parishes, of course, the same as the Russian parishes. I advise. I am quite often consulted about details and so forth. It’s about the same as with the Russian parishes.
What would you say to Russian parishes that have never been exposed to the Western Rite? Why would the Russian Church Abroad need to have them? Many people will say, “Why don’t we just take them on our terms, so that they will accept the Byzantine Rite?”
Those Russian people who have been exposed to the Western Rite usually don’t have any problem with it. I met a group of Russians when I served in Virginia at one of our churches. Of course, I put a little Slavonic in. We have some Russians who have joined the Western Rite parishes. There’s a man named Victor in Philadelphia who goes to the Western Rite church and taught in the Sunday School there. That parish has a choir director from Lithuania. When I was in Germany there was one lady from Ukraine going to the Western Rite church there. There’s a German lady who’s going to convert to Orthodoxy and marry a Russian, but in the German Western Rite church.
Vladyka, did you have a chance to raise the question about the Western Rite in Moscow? Do they know about our Western Rite deanery and, if they know, what is their attitude toward our Western Rite?
They certainly know about it. I didn’t hear anything negative when I was over there. But I had a conversation with the Patriarch about ancient liturgies in general, and he told me that when he taught in the seminary he found it very helpful for his students when these ancient liturgies where celebrated there because it helped them to understand the usual liturgy.
You not only have translated these liturgies but also serve them. Is this part of the ancient diversity that you mentioned?
Yes. There is a direct connection. One of the ancient liturgies is the Liturgy of St. Peter, which is a form of the Western Rite that is preserved on Mt. Athos, of all places. It exists in Greek, in Slavonic and in Georgian. I translated the Slavonic form, which is preserved in the manuscripts of the Hilandar monastery, into English. Three of our Western Rite parishes liked it so much that they began using that service as their regular order. That sort of bridges the gap. That same manuscript in the Hilandar monastery also contains the oldest known version of the liturgy of St. James.
Thank you very much for your time, Vladyka. Your comments have been very informative.
Source: Conducted by Deacon Andrei Psarev