A Lutheran Pastor on Western Orthodoxy

My stats page informed me that my blog had been linked to by a blog run by a Lutheran pastor in the US. The article in question is Must Orthodoxy be Byzantine? He refers to my earlier article – Western Rite Orthodoxy – with my translation of Dr Jean-François Mayer’s article in French (link to the original given).

My reflection on reading this posting is that each Church has its tradition, and does not seem generally to be able to assimilate another tradition with any real completeness for the purpose of receiving “refugees”. Efforts have been made by several Orthodox Churches, notably the Antiochians and the Russians to integrate liturgies of Anglican and Roman Catholic inspiration with a minimum of modifications to conform to eastern theological particularities. Rome has had Byzantine and other oriental rite churches for centuries, and is now developing the Anglican Use among the various Ordinariate communities. Rome has also reintegrated its pre Novus Ordo rite through the various indults and the more recent Papal legislation. The Church of England has tolerated the Roman rite in Latin or English for about the past one hundred years. There is some measure of osmosis, but such limitations are placed on them that some are left disappointed.

To what extent should Churches welcome the widow and the stranger, the exiles from other Churches? These Lutheran reflections are greatly appreciated.

This blog has often been the theatre of disputes concerning the willingness of Orthodox Churches to allow and foster the western tradition. At the same time, Orthodoxy remains a traditional religion like the Latin west before about the fourteenth century. That is rare in our days of globalism and secular humanism / materialism.

I have often read that it is not advisable for people to convert to Orthodoxy because they have been convinced by the sales pitch of a “true church” apologist. If that’s what a reader is considering, go to a parish, quietly attend the Liturgy without receiving any Sacraments, and perhaps after a few months or a year talk quietly with the priest about going further. I no longer allow my blog to be a theatre of disputes or sales pitches of those who compass heaven and earth to make a proselyte to make him twice the child of hell.

Constructive input would be most welcome.

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23 Responses to A Lutheran Pastor on Western Orthodoxy

  1. Matthew the Wayfarer says:

    “I have often read that it is not advisable for people to convert to Orthodoxy because they have been convinced by the sales pitch of a “true church” apologist”.

    I wish someone had told me that before I bought into it as well as the “the Orthodox Church isn’t like all the other Churches” and “our Doctrine is pure and undefiled”.

    Would have saved me a great deal of heartache and confusion.

    Don’t get me wrong, I learned many good, wondrous and holy things in my time as an Orthodox Christian. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t what I was led to believe it was to my regret. So now I am a heretic and apostate from the Roman Catholic and orthodox Churches. That would make me an Anglican but I have been there and done that so………………

    • Little Black Sambo says:

      “I am a heretic and apostate from the Roman Catholic and orthodox Churches. That would make me an Anglican…”
      Very memorably put!

    • Read the book, seen the movie and been there? It all brings us to a choice: growing out of Christianity or rethinking Christianity in such a way as it is challenge to us.

      • Matthew the Wayfarer says:

        Well stated Father. I think I am ‘growing out of Christianity’ as you put it so well. I have concluded something I have known all along – I never wanted to be a “Christian” but I wanted to fit in and be happy so I have just kept trying and trying to put the square peg into the round hole or the round peg into the square hole. Time to break the ties that bind and move on.

      • Whatever you do or think, always seek the Light, the Good and Beauty. Never let bitterness take you over, but sometimes we need to empty ourselves and be open to the other. Remember that the Christ we read about in the Gospels is different from the caricature presented in churches. Just hang onto the Light, and I’m sure you will be guided through the darkness, and you will emerge stronger.

        You might like to try the hard stuff – but don’t knock it all back at once! It can be magic potion or potassium cyanide – so exercise discernment!

    • Michael Frost says:

      MtW: Your discussion is so cryptic. Exactly what was “wrong” with EO, RC, and Ang such that you joined and left all 3 faith groups? Is it problems with their dogma? Worship? Bishops? What? Seems like you are looking for something that doesn’t exist? Or that you’re trying to create a “perfect” church? Or a “church” of one, just you. Having worshipped Western Rite Orthodox for 15 years, I find it enriching. Sadly, liturgical and societal changes since the 1960s have left most Christians in USA unfamiliar with traditional worship. They prefer entertainment or something that is all about “them” rather than worshipping God. So traditional worship, whether EO, RC, or Ang, has trouble expanding from its limited base.

      • It may surprise you, but the experience of many people with churches just makes them want to “grow out” of them. I don’t think any of us are seeking a “perfect church”. There just need to be more ways of “doing church” as the “emerging” crowd say. Take up the challenge positively – and you Americans are used to religious freedom for the better or the worse. Why else are so few people interested in churches of any kind?

      • Michael Frost says:

        I assume “doing church” means both worship and communal action. I think there are really only so many “ways” to truly worship God. So much of what is going on in America with evangelicals and the “emerging church” has little to do with worship and a lot to do with entertainment, feeling good about oneself, and keeping the focus on self. So we have the mainstream protestants doing the social gospel and too many evangelicals and pentacostals doing the prosperity gospel. Our mega-churches are great with the multi-media entertainment liturgy (really nothing more than morning prayer/matins at best). My experience with the “emerging church” is that it has little or no history or dogma (and they don’t want any and are prepared to keep it that way), is focused on being non-judgmental, leaves aside sin, suffering, the crucifixion, hell, and wants to conform to the prevailing cultural times (from gourmet coffee in the lobby to workshops on how to make more money).

        Can groups that don’t want to be openly historically and biblically conservative on moral issues (like homosexual marriage, abortion, assisted reproduction, euthanasia, and, esp. fornication/co-habitation), as well as liturgical issues (like the eucharist and women pastors) truly be the future of the Christian church?

      • Dale says:

        Michael stated the following: ” has little to do with worship and a lot to do with entertainment.”

        I really think that this is grossly unfair, but something one hears from many Byzantines, but please, please let us try to be more honest. Often Russian worship is simply going to the opera. There is very little religious about it; between the screaming sopranos and bellowing basses, the very concept of worship is lost. It is not only entertainment, if is worship as spectator sport. Throwing stones and glass houses comes to mind.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, Please keep in mind that I was born a Western Christian and have remained one my entire life. That is why I’m Western Orthodox. Only during a period when I was in the Air Force did I worship exclusively in Byzantine Churches, but even then there was a period where I had no Orthodox priest and I worshipped for 6 months with a high church Lutheran parish (developing a love and respect for well done Lutheran liturgics). Even today, after I had to move away after 15 years at my Western Rite church, in my new city I found a TAC/ACA church whose liturgy and worship is about 95% of our liturgy and I do the vast majority of my weekly worship there (as the only other local churches are Byzantine (Greek & Serbian)). Was it Timothy Ware who wrote something about a group of Anglican divines attending a Russian Orthodox liturgy who came away finding it both impressive as well as oppressive? A thought I, too, share at times. It is most beautiful but it isn’t immediately congruent with my western mind and heart. Yet I know many converts to Orthodoxy who love the Byzantine worship and can’t relate to our Western Rite. Everyone is unique when it comes to the essence of worship.

      • Matthew the Wayfarer says:

        @Michael Frost- Simply put no. Nothing was or is wrong with any of them. The problem is “ME”! Never wanted to be a ‘Christian’. See my reply to Fr. Anthony’s response.

  2. Cabbage says:

    Russian Orthodox here, just wanted to share my impressions of the attempts to use western traditions within the Orthodox church. There are some ongoing attempts to cultivate a western liturgical life within my little jurisdiction, and I’ll freely admit its been a source of tension. However, I don’t think the tension is because you’re average Orthodox thinks all orthodoxy must be Byzantine. My experience has been that most Orthodox are initially interested in the idea of a western tradition; they think it’ll be sort of a reverse-Unia.

    The skepticism arises once these western practices develop. Its not that people are turned off once they see a Sarum Mass, its that there have been a wide range of “issues” with the individuals who get involved with Western Rite Orthodoxy. I know a few bishops in at least once jurisdiction with Western Rite parish whose opinions have gone from “let’s encourage these well-intentioned folk” to “these jokers are simply not serious.”

    • Dale says:

      “these jokers are simply not serious.” That has been my personal impression of virtually all converts to the Byzantine Church; outside of ethnic self-loathing and an unhealthy interest in exotic folklore, there seems little there but jokers.

      • Michael Frost says:

        My personal experience of American converts to Orthodoxy (both to our Byzantine and Western Rites) is that a substantial percentage are disaffected Roman Catholics and Episcopalians. All the ones I’ve spent time with were intentional, intelligent, and sincere. None had made the decision on impulse.

        Oddly, my experience with many former Protestants who converted to Roman Catholicism is that nearly all found it pretty “easy” to do and that many just did it to please a spouse or their family. They didn’t study the RC CCC or give up their former ways of thinking (or moral behavior, in areas like contraception). For example, a former Methodist friend of mine who became RC, did it for her husband; she had little trouble and found the liturgy and the cold, impersonal local churches easy to attend as she didn’t have to know anyone. She still thought and acted just like a Methodist.

      • Michael Frost says:

        And Dale, my experience with former Roman Catholic friends who converted to historical mainstream Protestant churches (esp. Lutheran and Episcopalian) is that they, too, found it real “easy” to do. Most could hardly tell the differences in liturgics and many preferred the music/singing. My lifelong neighbors are a good example. Mother converts from Methodist to RC in 1950s due to husband being RC; she had to do it to get married to him in RC Church. One of her sons marries a Lutheran in 1990s and he converts to Lutheranism; he told me he found the Lutherans so similiar that he didn’t hardly feel like he’d left anything.

      • StephenUSA says:

        A bit of cliff here. Sounds like folks are comfortable saying, “Whosever finds no blessings in syncretism, let him be anathema!”

  3. Stephen says:

    How in any of this does one avoid play-acting? That would seem to be the risk on one end of the spectrum. Just because I might offer a Sarum Mass, or some modified rite of Roman in a Western Orthodox, does that alone put me in continuity with the Apostles?

    On the other end of the spectrum, the risk would be to say that the Church has no capacity to breathe life into “dormant” or “sleeping” rites.

    You, dear host, seem to be most comfortable with those who would err more on the first side than the other; but to limit your blog to just that one end of the bell curve, and thereby offer no ability for your readership to consider the inflections offered by those who err more on the other side, seems uncharacteristically narrow for the wide-open spirit of inquiry which seems to otherwise infuse your writings.

    • Say what you like, and I encourage others to take you on. But, remember that proselytising is off-topic and comments of that character will be moderated. I have said that if anyone is considering Orthodoxy, ignore the sales pitch of the apologists and go quietly to worship in an Orthodox church without receiving the Sacraments or “going into the engine room”. If after several months or a year you feel right, go and have a quiet talk with the priest.

      I will not have Orthodox proselytism here any more than its Roman Catholic or Evangelical counterparts.

      For the record, I respect the Orthodox and think they do better to stay away from the west, and stick to serving their own cultures – of course with their own money. We have “blown” our Churches here in the west. Why should we ask any other Church to “bail us out”?

      In fact, more of what I have published about Western Orthodoxy is quietly critical of it rather than promoting it. The writings of Dr Jean-François Mayer and this Lutheran pastor are quite sober and hardly one-sided.

      • Stephen says:

        Just to make it clear to other readers: the above wasn’t posted by the other Stephen who occasionally posts here (i.e. me).

        Personally, I think that the advice is excellent, and applies to any spiritual journey. The salesman gives his pitch, but in the end the journey is between God and the individual, and has to be undertaken carefully, prayerfully and with serious thought. My journey has led me to Orthodoxy when it might just have easily led me back to atheism or – worse – apathism. My six-and-a-bit decades on Earth have been something of a spiritual roller-coaster, so who am I to tell someone else what they should do? I certainly don’t want the responsibility!

      • I could suggest you use the pseudo “Stephen M” and the other Stephen could use “Stephen K“. It is against blog rules for me to reveal e-mail addresses or IP coordinates, so I’ll just ask you both to modify your handle a little.

      • Stephen K says:

        I can sense the potential for some confusion here. (It’s always awkward having a common name like Stephen) So far as I can tell, from the comments for this article, there appear to be two other contributors called, plain and simple, “Stephen”. I do agree that some distinguishing letter or other modification helps us keep our conversational relationships sorted – it is sort of inevitable that we develop a partial sense of our co-contributors’ personality through their posts – and so I would endorse Father Chadwick’s advice here. But, for the sake of the record, as far as I am aware, I am the only “Stephen K” already posting as such here. So, my only request would be that if any other Stephen wishes to distinguish himself a little more, could he not use the letter “K” in the manner I have done, or else modfy it still a little further.

        That said, the wonderful thing about Father Chadwick’s blog is that it allows for people with quite different origins or experiences or perceptions but with a common interest in the questions of religious tradtions and innovations to proffer comment and share such perceptions in polite and friendly dialogue. And so our individual personality will tend to come across in part through how we express ourselves and the ideas we reason from, irrespective of our posting name. So, please allow me to offer a typically ‘Stephen K’ comment.

        For what it’s worth, when I read Matthew the Wayfarer’s comments, I felt some sympathy or empathy for him because I think the spiritual search is not a straightforward experience or challenge. We grow up in an ecclesial culture and this tends to form and fix some basic modes of thinking and feeling, and yet our constant experience may not sit comfortably with these modes and so as thinking beings we have to make sense of it all. I think Matthew’s comment shows, not that he is unrealistically idealistic or perfectionist, or discontent, but rather that God or one’s sense of God and the spiritual dimension is not something objective “out there” but bound up with one’s core and evolving self. Thus, there will always be tensions trying to live in or fit in with ecclesial communities and churches, which are the result of many individuals assembling and acting in a purportedly unified way. I hope Matthew can find a “home” where he feels accepted, feels appropriately inspired and challenged. But for all of us I believe it is a uniquely personal search and journey because I believe that God relates to and speaks to all of us in different tongues, so to speak. I can see, or am open to looking for, truth and love in various traditions, but because of my own life experience and formation, am limited in my ability to understand all of them in the same way. Which is not to say that I promote indifferentism or think they are all the same. Simply that I think we are individuals, all, and God, by Anselmic definition, is greater than any attempt to define or circumscribe, and that this might explain why many people may have difficulty with particular communities.

      • Stephen M says:

        Good idea, rapidly implemented.

  4. Michael Frost says:

    As regards either some form of Lutheran Western Rite Orthodoxy or Lutheran RC Ordinariate, liturgically it could be accomplished rather easily in USA based on the wonderful 1958 Service Book which was used by 8 American Lutheran groups for about a decade or so. Essentially all the groups that ended up becoming the ELCA (e.g., LCA, ALC); the Missouri Synod participated but didn’t adopt it. It was “created” at the height of the then liturgical renaissance in USA after an extensive multi-decade review involving all the major Lutheran groups in USA. I think it is the most historically “orthodox” western liturgy in English, esp. modern English, ever to come to fruition. Simple yet complete (with introit, Kyrie, Gloria, collect, gradual, alleluia, creed, offertory, prayer of the church, thanksgiving, proper prefaces, Sanctus, eucharistic prayer with epiclesis, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis, benediction, etc.); faithful to the western liturgical tradition. Sadly, the liturgical movement of the 1960s that hit Rome first later hit them and undid all the beauty of this magnificent liturgy.

    Anyone interested in Lutheran liturgics and comparative liturgics absolutely should review Luther D. Reed’s magesterial study, The Lutheran Liturgy (both 1947 1st edition and heavily revised 1959 2nd edition). In the 1959 edition Reed compares the “new” Lutheran liturgy to the Liturgies of St. John Chyrsostom, the Tridentine RC, and Anglican/Epscopal 1928 BCP.

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