I believe Western Rite Orthodoxy, properly practiced, has a great deal to offer both to the Church (internally) and to the world (externally).
Properly understood and practiced, Western Rite Orthodoxy touches some Western people evangelistically in ways that the Eastern Rite does not. Simply put, there are people who come into the kingdom of God via the Western Rite, who would not come in at all, otherwise. Thus, the Western Rite should exist, especially for these people.
Properly understood and practiced, the Western Rite also witnesses Orthodoxy to Eastern Rite folks–Orthodoxy that is identical in doctrine, but different in its “wrapping paper”–This can help the average Orthodox Christian more easily distinguish between the true core of the Faith, and that which is simply one-of-many-possible-expressions of it.
It is possible for an entity to retain “the fulness of the Faith”, and yet still be “incomplete” in some way. As an example of this, consider Old Testament Israel. They experienced their own “Great Schism” under the reign of King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. He remained King over Judah, while wicked Jeroboam became King over the ten tribes of Israel that defected. From then on, there were two kingdoms. The northern kingdoms never had a godly King after that. But the true Faith continued to be practiced in Judah, especially under the handful of good Kings that they had.
Nevertheless, even when the Faith was being truly practiced and truly taught, there was still something lacking. That is why when Elijah set up the stones on the altar at Mount Carmel, he set up 12 stones instead of 2 stones. They were there to symbolize all twelve tribes of Israel which should have been united in obedience to God, and yet were not. Elijah had the fullness of the Faith, without any doctrinal deficiency, yet the complete expression of that Faith’s fullness was hampered by the disobedience of the 10 northern tribes.
I believe something similar happened with the Orthodox Church. Of course, I believe the Orthodox Church has the fullness of the Faith, and has never lost it. No doctrine of Orthodoxy has fallen to the ground. For 2000 years, Orthodox bishops have faithfully preserved the Faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Nevertheless, there have been some challenges in the outward manifestation of that fullness.
For the first 1000 years of the Church, the Orthodox Faith was too big to be contained in any one rite or in any one liturgy, and I believe that fact still remains true today. As far as I know, the Orthodox Church in Syria (Antiochian) never once celebrated the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at any time in the first 1000 years of Christianity. It wasn’t introduced in Syria until around the 11th or 12th century. If that liturgy was unknown in Antioch for the first millennium, then it would be difficult for me to believe that St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy is somehow the “only right way to do things” today.
The Eastern Rite liturgy contains some beautiful things which the Western Rite liturgy does not contain. This makes the Eastern Rite liturgy an important contribution to how people see, learn, and understand the Faith.
Similarly, the Western Rite liturgy contains some beautiful things which the Eastern Rite liturgy does not contain. This makes the Western Rite liturgy an important contribution to how people, see, learn, and understand the Faith. For example:
– The book of Revelation is included in the Western Rite lectionary.
– The most ancient Orthodox liturgy in use today is the Liturgy of St. Gregory, even older than the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
– Some of the most ancient Orthodox chant in the world is Western Rite chant, some of it even older than the Byzantine troparions, kontakions, etc.
– Gregorian Chant is very helpful to people’s health:
– In the Western Rite, a number of congregations continue the ancient practice of communing the Faithful in both kinds separately. Each parishioner receives a piece of leavened bread, and each parishioner also drinks directly from the chalice. This matches Scripture, as well as the most ancient practice in the East.
– In the Western Rite, we continue giving public Scripture readings from the Old Testament, during both Matins (Orthros) and Vespers. Unfortunately, in many cases the Old Testament has virtually disappeared from the Eastern Rite, except for the Psalms, and except when special readings are prescribed for particular feast days. The Western Rite has held onto much more of the Old Testament in its lectionary.
– While the liturgy of St. Gregory is older than Chrysostom’s liturgy, the Orthodox Church continued to develop it and finalize it at a later date. It includes testimonies to Christ’s consubstantiality with man, which are not explicitly present in the eastern liturgies. That is because the eastern liturgies were finalized prior to the Council of Chalcedon, while the liturgy of St. Gregory was finalized afterwards. For more on this point, see Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s presentation on the Western Rite:
– In the Western Rite, we sing the Magnificat all the way through without interruption. As a result, virtually everyone in our congregation (including the children) has these words of the Theotokos memorized. I wonder how many children or adults in Eastern Rite congregations know the Magnificat by heart?
There is more, but these are just the first few things off the top of my head. Do I believe that these things somehow make the Western Rite superior to the Eastern Rite? Of course not. I have been to many, many Eastern Rite liturgies over the past several years. I have served as a deacon at multiple Eastern Rite divine liturgies in both Russian and Antiochian churches. As I said earlier, there are also many things which the Eastern Rite has, which the Western Rite does not.
I think every Western Rite parishioner should visit an Eastern Rite church, and participate in a glorious refrain of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal”. I also think every Eastern Rite parishioner should visit a Western Rite church, and participate in the corporate chanting of the Magnificat.
The same Orthodox Faith is confessed in both rites. But the Eastern Rite and the Western Rite are different prisms, refracting that Light into various colors at various angles, giving Christians unique perspectives of the Glory of Christ.
When both rites exist and both rites are faithful, they display the Faith in harmony, in a way which neither rite is able to do solo.
Deacon Joseph Gleason
Christ the King Orthodox Church