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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where did the Milan Synod Western Rite Come From?

(above: an old Roman rite Liturgy)

The Milan Synod gained a lot of respect for its phenomenal scholarly work on the Western rite. Certainly, no other body from 1870 to the present has published or made available even one tenth of the rich liturgical materials which Milan Synod publishers made available to modern, English-speaking people from 1988 to 2004. These materials represent an authentic liturgical tradition of the Orthodox West. That is, they are pre-Reformation forms of the Roman rite and represent an intact preservation of the traditions of worship of Western Europeans' Orthodox Christian ancestors. Making this world of prayer accessible to modern-day faithful of the Orthodox Church was a daring, controversial, and astounding accomplishment, entirely unique within the Orthodox Western Rite world.

So where did this historic, authentic, pre-Reformation Western rite come from? Who in modern times first began to pray using such texts? Where did the concept itself come from?

From within Russian Orthodoxy, to be exact. A young Yankee fellow named John Robert Shaw converted to the Holy Orthodox Faith at the age of sixteen. Graduating at the top of his class from Jordanville Seminary in the 1960s, he was ordained priest in short order. An accomplished Latinist, Fr. John had come into contact in the 1960s both with Western Rite Orthodoxy and Old Rite Russians. And he discovered there was a connection: Russian Old Believers who emigrated from Turkey in about 1963, and wound up in America, personally relayed to Fr. John their eyewitness accounts of the use of Western rite within the Russian Old Believer community (the "Liturgy of St. Peter"). Seeing the beautiful worship of the Old Rite Russians, worship conducted largely off hand-written pages instead of modern printed books, a lightbulb went off in Fr. John's head. Why couldn't the same be done with the Western Rite? Why would one need to base an Orthodox WR on modern Roman-Catholic books, when one could base it on pre-Reformation manuscripts showing an intact Western Orthodox service? Using such material for WR worship would resolve difficulties of the West's radically-altered liturgical culture, of her doctrinal errors creeping into texts, of heretical psychology in the modern books. (This is my own characterisation of Fr. John's thoughts on the matter; his own words can be read on the Occidentalis website.)

(above: Old Rite Russian church of the Nativity, Erie, Pennsylvania)

And thus there was born the concept of Sarum Rite Orthodox services. At the very same time, the influence of Holy Transfiguration Monastery was expanding in the ROCOR. Western Rite was on the "outs and outs." A new type of rigorism and Orthodox ultra-purity was taking shape and spreading like wildfire amongst ROCOR converts who were English-speaking only. It was as if Fr. John had found a beautiful rose plant, but there was no soil for it.

(above: old-rite Western Orthodox prayer book, now canonically-approved, published originally within the Milan Synod)

Receptive, fertile soil was found in a small group of Christians, largely of Roman Catholic background, who had associated with the remains of William Henry Francis Brothers' Western Orthodox Old Catholic jurisdiction. They believed in the Orthodox Faith, and had been part of the Moscow Patriarchate (at least a core of them), but now found themselves cut off from the Orthodox administrations. Nor were they satisfied being independent; they were seeking, from 1975 on, to rejoin Eastern Orthodoxy. Fr. John was in communication with this cluster of isolated believers and convinced them to go over to the Sarum Use of the Roman rite as much-better suited to Orthodoxy than the Tridentine Use of the Roman rite which they had been observing. Abbot John (LoBue) was particularly strongly opposed to abandoning the modern (Tridentine) Roman rite in favour of the Sarum, but after the switch became one of the Sarum's staunchest supporters. A publishing effort was soon underway, with the Latinists of the group setting about making available to modern Americans and other Anglophones the riches of the West's Orthodox liturgical heritage.

In 1997 the group was absorbed into the Milan Synod, and the publishing continued at a dizzying pace. Starting in 2004, clergy of the group starting going over to the Russian Orthodox Church where Sarum work had originated and was approved and protected. Some of these clergy included Hieromonk Aidan (Keller), Hieromonk (now Abbot) David (Pearce), Hieromonk Sergei (Armstone), Hieromonk Christopher (Wayt), Priest Paul Maletta, and Hieromonk George (Grube).

(above: Fr. Hieromonk Aidan serving in an Eastern rite chapel, 2011)

(Fr. Abbot David of Jacksonville, Florida)

Responding to favourable feelings towards Russian Orthodoxy on the part of Milan Synod clergy and faithful, the centre of Western rite in the Milan Synod, the Holy Name of Jesus Abbey in West Milford, New Jersey, first issued an anti-Russian-Orthodox statement, then broke communion with the rest of the Milan Synod, which seems to be, as of this writing on April 6, 2011, in the actual process of joining the Moscow Patriarchate.

Creation at Milan of a new, American Metropolia in February 2011. Right to left: the new Metropolitan John (LoBue), Metropolitan Evloghios (Hessler), and Bishop Phanourios of Lincoln in England. A few days after being created, the new Metropolia broke communion with its Mother Synod, stating its Mother Synod was tainted by false ecumenism.

The anti-Russian statement from the new American Metropolia is called "Confession of Faith," and it condemns

"the organization which calls itself the Moscow Patriarchate; sitting as it does in the temples of God, being an abomination of desolation." (Clergy Confession 2,C).

It also states that...

"...the World Orthodox have fallen repeatedly for several generations under anathemas, mass canonical violations, and most importantly of all, a deficiency in the Faith, and have not sought to correct these problems after decades of stern warnings by their own most celebrated luminaries."

It concludes that...

"... communion in the Mysteries, or prayer, and any other expressions of Catholic Unity is impossible" (Clergy Confession 4,C)

... between the West Milford Synod and the Russian Orthodox Church and the other Orthodox Churches. It also states that...

"... the Patriarchs commit blasphemy if they do retain the Mysteries and that "they do so to their own eternal damnation to the fires of hell..." (4,D)

(above: Fires of Hell)

But from the Russian Orthodox Church came all the pious seeds of West Milford's Western Rite, and one may disagree with one's father or mother, but should honour father and mother, in accordance with the teaching of the law of God. Perhaps one might even pray together with one's father or mother. In any case, Fr. John has become Bishop Jerome of Manhattan, assistant in WR affairs to the beloved Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Sarum is an approved usage in the Russian Church. Holy Transfiguration in Boston seems like a distant shadow. Many Old Believers who left Turkey in 1963 have fallen asleep in the Lord. In America there are third-generation Western Rite Orthodox, many of them faithful of the Antiochian Archdiocese's Western Rite Vicariate. The future will be determined by our faithfulness to Christ and to the fullness of Holy Orthodoxy in whatever rite, and by God's Will. It will be determined by prayer and fasting. It will be determined by tears of thanks and of repentance. It will be determined by the sending of Angels from God's throne to the earth. No one can say what the future holds, except that it will be a chalice filled with God's love for mankind.

(above: the much-beloved Metropolitan Hilarion [Kapral] of New York, first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia)

Fr. Hieromonk Aidan+
Holy Protection Orthodox Church, Austin, Texas


Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

Never have been able to find all this material made available you speak of. Back when I was so obsessed with an authentic western rite, I never could get anything other than what the Antiochians have available. Even when you had stuff, every time I tried to order, it would be out of stock so I finally gave up. Too bad.

Fr. Aidan said...

Alas, that is mostly due to my laziness and distractions. There is a great need now for service books, however, and if all goes as planned, we will get a three-man editorial board assembled by later 2011, to issue a stream of new service books for WR Russian Orthodox. God willing.

Also, there are various old forms of the Roman rite, all of which could be lawfully and piously used in the Church.

Michael said...

Thank you for this, Father Aidan. I find the recent developments both exciting and encouraging, and hope to be able to pray at more Western Rite Masses and other services in the future as a result.

Anonymous said...

The American Sister Synod did not break communion; if you read what the Milan Synod in Europe said, you will find out that they stated that they are no longer in communion with any previous Synods (which includes their former American, Greek, and Bulgarian sister synods).

Also, we are not a daughter to the Mosocow Patriarchate.

Anonymous said...

Minor correct, the Milan Synod issued a statement breaking communion with the America, Greek, and Bulgarian sister synods. They broke communion first, we just recognized what they said.

Fr. Aidan said...

Yes, but if the Synod of West Milford had desired to go Russian Orthodox, they could simply have stayed put and gone along with the negotiations. In other words, Milan only cut off West Milford because West Milford first didn't want to swim the Volga with Milan.

Anonymous said...

In other words, we didn't break communion, they just told us, "We're not in communion with you"

Dale said...

And to think that there are Byzantine Orthodox who condemn the continuing Anglicans for being divided!

Anonymous said...

The new Milan Synod bishop pictured above on the left side of the picture is Bishop Fanourios of Lincoln, UK

Fr. Aidan said...

I allowed a comment from an anonymous writer to go through. I rarely, rarely permit that, but in this case the writer was performing a service to me by identifying the person.

Christ is risen!

Anonymous said...

Is Bishop Fanourios really Bishop of Lincoln UK, or another place called Lincoln in America? If the former, is he based in the UK? Are there any Milan Synod parishes in the UK?


Fr. Aidan said...

I think he is the independents' bishop of the larger Lincoln, the one in Nebraska in the U.S.

Fr. Aidan said...

Matthew, most people have had the opposite experience to yours, but it is true that many things are out of stock.

A lot has been made available, for free, on the Liturgical Texts Project site: