Western Rite Orthodoxy
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
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 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.
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, one commission established by the Holy Synod judged that
this liturgical use was undesirable for Orthodox use but admitted its
possibility, provided that certain changes to the rite were made
(strangely, the changes required by the commission have not yet been
fully incorporated by any Orthodox jurisdiction where the BCP rite is
used). 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.
There has been a significant Western Rite movement in
France, which culminated in the once-flourishing ECOF (Eglise
Catholique Orthodoxe de France, or Orthodox Catholic Church of France),
which had been affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian
Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and the Romanian Patriarchate. The
largest remaining group from this movement (which later lost its
Eastern Orthodox sponsorship) is the Union des Associations
Cultuelles Orthodoxes de Rite Occidental (UACORO - the Union of
Western Rite Orthodox Worship Associations).
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
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 divided. Part was
received by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, under
Archbishop Nikon (Rklitzsky), while another part revived the Old
Catholic title but later, in 1997, joined the Old Calendarist movement
(Milan Synod). In 1993, the ROCOR
monastery was renamed to Christminster and moved to Providence, Rhode
Island, under Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan (now Metropolitan of the
Russian Church Abroad). Its
current usage is Tridentine and its present abbot is Dom James
Deschene. In 2008 two Milan Synod hieromonks were received into the
Russian Church Abroad, where they celebrate the Sarum rite (one
occasionally, one regularly). In 2009 two Western rite congregations
were formed in England, in the Russian Church Abroad, thanks to the
labours of Fr. Michael (Mansbridge-Wood), a hieromonk of Australian
Australasia and Elsewhere
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 of whom are
under the Church of Antioch. Fr. Jack Witbrock of New Zealand is
leading the way for a restoration of the old Tridentine divine office;
his work is being made available on the internet free of charge.
Other small groups following the Western Rite have been
received, but usually have either had little impact, or have declared
independence soon after their reception.
North American Western Rite parishes generally follow
one (or sometimes both) of two types of Western liturgical traditions.
The majority celebrate an Anglican rite under the title Liturgy of
St. Tikhon of Moscow, which is an adaptation of the Communion
service from the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer and The
Missal in the American Edition. Until 1977, all Western
Rite parishes celebrated only the Roman rite in its Tridentine form,
called Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great. This 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. The
official divine office of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate is
currently the Anglican form found in the Book of Common Prayer.
In the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the
Western Rite communities follow one of three forms, the Roman rite in
its Tridentine version (Christminster, Rhode Island), the Roman rite in
an older version called the Sarum (St. Petroc's, Tasmania), and the
Anglican liturgy found principally in the Book of Common Prayer,
adaptations (St. Petroc's and New Zealand communities).
In the Milan Synod, of the Greek Old Calendarist
movement, the Western Rite communities follow either the Roman rite (in
its older, Sarum version) or the Gallican rite (in an edition which
however differs from the Gallican rite of the ECOF).
In the ECOF movement and its descendants, the Gallican
rite is used. This is a liturgical use approved by St. John Maximovitch
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, formerly Archbishop in
France. It is based on fragments of several liturgies formerly used in
Gaul in the 6th-8th centuries, with the fresh composition of an
anaphora (the fragments are lacking an anaphora) and the insertion of
large quantities of material from the Tridentine Roman rite and the
On occasion one Western Rite Orthodox community or
another has used either the Mozarabic or Ambrosian Western liturgies,
but these have not yet taken full root in a Western Rite congregation.
By far the largest group of these parishes is
represented by the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox
Christian Archdiocese of North America. Other Antiochian Western Rite
parishes exist in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) also
has a small number of Western Rite parishes in addition to two
monasteries, one located in Tasmania and another in Rhode Island which
follows Benedictine liturgical traditions. The former, St. Petroc
Monastery, uses the Sarum Rite (old Roman rite) liturgy in English.
Missions and Parishes of the ROCOR Western Rite in Tasmania use either
the Sarum or "The English Liturgy," a new English language order of
service which combines elements from the 1549 Anglican Book of
Common Prayer but incorporates certain elements of the Sarum Use
and other liturgical rites.
Dom Augustin (Whitfield), who led the latter monastery
of Mount Royal, now named Christminster, and for a few years in the
1990s served under Archbishop John (LoBue) of the Milan Synod, once
remarked to St. John Maximovitch, Archbishop of the non-Patriarchal
Russian Church, that it was difficult to promote Western Rite
Orthodoxy, whereupon the saint replied: "Never, never, never let anyone
tell you that, in order to be Orthodox, you must also be eastern. The
West was Orthodox for a thousand years, and her venerable liturgy is
far older than any of her heresies."
The Orthodox Church of France—which is currently of
ambiguous status with regard to world Orthodoxy, but at one time was
cared for by St. John Maximovitch and and later by the Church of
Romania—still has a number of congregations in France and abroad (for
example, the parish in Buenos Aires, Argentina). Some of these have now
affiliated with official Orthodoxy.
In addition, the Holy Synod of Milan, an Old Calendarist
group, has a number of communities (including one monastery, in the
United States, in West Milford, New Jersey, the Abbey of the Holy Name)
which worship according to the old Roman rite called the Sarum liturgy.
The membership of these communities is more numerous than ROCOR's
presence but less numerous than that of the Antiochian jurisdiction.
It should also be noted that there are a number of
groups who follow various Western rites and use the term Orthodox, but
are not part of or in communion with the historic Orthodox Church.
These groups are not unrelated to the future of Western Rite Orthodoxy,
The Western Rite in the Orthodox Church is not without
its critics. Objections are made in regards to desire for liturgical
uniformity within Orthodoxy and fears that Western Rite vicariates or
similar Western Rite practices have produced a para-ecclesiastic
organization within the Church. Some question the sincerity of Western
Rite parishes as all or mostly-convert groups. Some Orthodox Christians
are concerned that there has not been organic liturgical continuity for
the Western Rite; in other words, that there was a gap in Western Rite
usage by Orthodox Christians from 1054 (the date of the Schism of Rome
from Orthodoxy) and modern times (the 19th century and especially the
20th). However, the latest scholarship on the part of Orthodox clergy
including Fr. Hieromonk Aidan (Keller) and Archpriest John Shaw has
firmly established that we know of no century in the history of
Orthodoxy when there was not a Western rite in use. Thus, this
objection, formerly very widespread, now appears to lack a factual
The relative successfulness and extent of the Western
Rite in the Orthodox Church is a matter of some dispute and conjecture.
Meantime, the Byzantine Rite bishops who oversee Western Rite
parishes—and many who oversee no Western Rite parishes—continue to
declare the flocks of Western Rite faithful to be Orthodox Christians
and they are regarded as fully in communion with the rest of the
Church. As yet, there are no schisms within the episcopacy of the
Orthodox Church regarding the issue of Western Rite parishes. Part of
the success of the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church is surely tied
to resolution of the thorny conflict between more traditional and less
traditional elements in Eastern Orthodoxy (the "Old Calendarist"
controversy), which has resulted in a division between the Milan Synod
faithful and those of the Antiochian jurisdiction. The division between
the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and other jurisdictions in
the Orthodox communion, such as the Moscow Patriarchate and the
Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, formerly more pronounced,
appears for the last several years, now, to be nearing a peaceful
This article was adapted from a composite article at
OrthodoxWiki and from other sources.