What is Western-Rite
By the Late Priest Patrick McCauley,
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese
By A.D. 2000,
approximately 1.433 billion persons, or slightly less than one third of
the world’s population, will be Christian, according to David Barrett’s
World Christian Encyclopedia. In spite of
these millions of adherents, the percentage of the globe’s population
that calls itself Christian will have fallen slightly since 1900.
Sadly, these statistics include folk who claim to be
Christian but who are not necessarily active in local congregations.
Even more startling for most Americans is the decline in influence of
Christian institutions and values on contemporary life in terms of
ethical standards and practice, political and economic policies, and
popular culture, such as movies, music, the press, and so forth.
As a consequence of this diminution of Christianity’s
impact on society at large, historians, both Christian and secular,
call this a post-Christian age. Martin Marty, a faculty member at the
University of Chicago and author of The Modern Schism,
notes that industrialization and urbanization which swept through
Western Europe and North America in the latter half of the nineteenth
century resulted in a society in which religion, if acknowledged at
all, has been relegated to the private concerns of most citizens’ lives
where it has less and less importance for each passing generation.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Bishop Leslie
Newbigin, a long-time Christian missionary in India and author of
Foolishness to the Greeks, maintains that the culture most impervious
to the Christian Gospel is not Africa, Asia, or Oceania, but the
industrialized West (Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New
Newbigin’s observations are manifested in the decline of
mainstream American churches since the 1960s, when, according to Christianity
Today, Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, and
Episcopalians lost literally millions of members. While mainline
churches are on a condition of retrenchment for a multiplicity of
reasons, conservative Christian bodies continue to grow.
Among those groups that are growing are Christians known
as Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. Orthodoxy in North America claims
somewhere between 5 to 6 million adherents. Worldwide, the Orthodox
Church has a membership of about 250 million persons, which makes it
the second largest Christian body on the globe, with Roman
Catholicism’s having a membership of somewhat less than 1 billion.
In the United States, Orthodoxy, which was first brought
to North America through Alaska by colonizers from czarist Russia in
1794, has been, until the last few years, a church primarily of
immigrants and their descendents from Eastern Europe and the Eastern
Mediterranean. With these new arrivals came their clergy from the old
country; so, today in the United States and Canada there are 14
Orthodox jurisdictions that reflect the ethnic make-up of those who
originally brought the ancient Christian Faith to these shores.
Among those jurisdictions are at least four groups that
came out of czarist Russia (the largest being the Orthodox Church in
America), the Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox,
Albanian Orthodox, and the Antiochian Orthodox. While each of these
groups has its own hierarchy of bishops and administrative
responsibilities, all of these churches are a part of the ancient
Church of Christ known as Orthodoxy or Eastern Orthodoxy and are in
communion with each other.
All of these bodies believe in the triune God, Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit, who has always existed as one God in three divine
Persons. Orthodox Christians believe that Almighty God created all that
is, and that He is the Lord of all history.
These Christians affirm that Jesus Christ is fully God
and fully man, that He died for the sins of mankind, that He was raised
from the grave by the power of the Father on Easter morning, that He
ascended into heaven, that He is the head of His body, the Church, and
that He sent God the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth.
The summary of the faith is proclaimed each Sunday, when the faithful
recite the Nicene Creed during the Divine Liturgy.
To the casual observer, the Orthodox Church appears to
have much in common with the Roman Catholic Church.
This is of course true in many ways. However, Rome began
the process of breaking with the Eastern expression of the catholic
faith, i.e. Orthodoxy, in the eleventh century.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the Roman
Catholic Church and Orthodoxy, laying aside differences in regard to
the role of the Pope in the life of the universal Church and certain
other doctrinal disagreements, is the form of worship followed by most
More specifically, the worship of the overwhelming
majority of Orthodox congregations is called Eastern-Rite or Byzantine.
This last term comes from the name of the eastern capital of the Roman
Empire, Byzantium. Byzantine liturgics (forms of worship) are
gloriously beautiful, complex, mostly sung, and quite repetitive from
the perspective of contemporary Americans. Depending on the parish,
liturgies in American and Canadian-Orthodox congregations are sometimes
even conducted at least partially in the native tongue of the
jurisdiction. But many now use English almost exclusively.
Not all Orthodox Christians use the Eastern or Byzantine
liturgical forms. At least two branches of Orthodoxy in America also
include congregations that use Western liturgies. The Antiochian
Orthodox Christian Archdiocese is the larger body that sanctions the
use of forms of worship that most Americans and Canadians would perhaps
find more familiar.
This liturgical form is known as the Western Rite. More
specifically, the Western Rite is a specified form of worship that was
used by Christians in Western Europe before the Roman Catholic Church
broke with the Orthodox Church.
The Western Rite, when compared to Byzantine liturgical
forms, is simpler, less redundant, obviously shorter, and employs a
hymnody (the hymns used) that are familiar to a great many American
Christians. More precisely, the Western Rite, as approved by the
Antiochian Archdiocese is a theologically corrected form of worship
formerly used by either the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican
In most Western-Rite Orthodox parishes, this means the
liturgy is based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. In other
Western-Rite congregations, the liturgy may be a Latin or English form
of pre-Vatican-II Roman Catholic worship. In fact, all native French
Orthodox Christians, who number in the thousands, use this form in
Orthodox Churches in France.
For those Western-Rite Christians who use a
theologically corrected Anglican liturgy, the modifications, while
important, would not be terribly noticeable to even the most regular
worshippers from a traditional Episcopal congregation. Two of these
alterations include the deletion of the filioque
clause in the Nicene Creed and the addition of a stronger epiclesis in
the eucharistic prayer said by the priest at the consecration of the
bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ.
Filioque is the Latin word for
the Son in the third section of the Nicene Creed that affirms the
church’s belief that the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the
triune Godhead. Orthodox Christians insist that the phrase
Son in speaking of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the
Father is an addition by a meeting of Western bishops that was never
universally accepted by the Church. Even the papacy, which now accepts
the phrase, originally rejected it. Moreover, this phrase causes a
blurring of the roles of each of the three Divine Persons, Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit, in the Godhead. It is from the Father that the Son is
and from the Father that the Spirit
Besides the removal of the filioque
in the Creed, the Orthodox version of the Western Rite in its Anglican
form requires the priest specifically to petition God the Holy Spirit
to act in changing the gifts of bread and wine into God’s gift of the
life-giving Body and Blood of the Incarnate Son.
In addition to these two changes, the Orthodox Church’s
Western Rite includes other indiscernible changes that most
Anglo-Catholics (old-fashioned, High-Church Episcopalians) would find
to be either familiar or certainly acceptable.
Finally, as mainstream Anglicanism and other mainline
Protestant Churches continue their decline and denial of basic catholic
faith, doctrine, and worship, and turn to inclusive language liturgies,
which refer to God as Mother (to name only one alteration of
traditional worship), many traditional catholic Christians of both the
Roman and the Anglican Churches are turning to the Orthodox Church. In
fact, a goodly number of those who are doing so, have joined
congregations that employ the Western Rite.
By doing so, these Christians have retained familiar
forms of worship and at the same time insured themselves of remaining
within an ecclesiastical communion, and under Godly, Orthodox bishops,
who attempt to teach and practice the ancient Gospel of Jesus Christ.
for more information see www.westernorthodox.com