The Quest for a Western Rite Orthodox Archbishopric-Patriarchate
George Alexander – Guest Contributor – OCP-MARP
A call to check the possibility for the creation of a Western Rite Orthodox Patriarchate may sound utopian, impossible, or even an impractical concept. However, personally speaking, I do not want the Eastern-Byzantine Orthodox world to squander an opportunity to discuss such a possibility or at least discuss and dismiss it as an impossible task.
Western Rite Orthodox Churches
The Eastern Orthodox world is reasonably familiar with Western Rite congregations. Western Rite Orthodox communities represent those congregations that practise Western liturgical Traditions with ‘Orthodox corrections’. There are Western Rite orthodox communities within the canonical Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Plus, there are several independent Western Rite Orthodox Churches that remain outside the boundaries of the canonical Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Western Rite communities are made up of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant or any such communities with a Western liturgical background and upbringing but practise Orthodox Christianity in its true essence. There are canonical Western Rite Vicariates within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the autonomous Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The Orthodox Church in America is in the process of exploring Western Rite Orthodoxy. The Serbian and the Romanian Orthodox Churches have received Western Rite Orthodox parishes into their canonical jurisdiction (in Europe) as well.
The Idea of a Western Rite Orthodox Archbishopric – Patriarchate
The idea itself may be rejected explicitly. In the first place, we do not retain enough number of canonical Western Rite congregations to erect a Patriarchate. Before naturally thinking about a Patriarchate, erecting an autonomous Western Rite Archbishopric shall be worth considering. However, this requires considerable work since such an Archbishopric shall be erected only with the consent of all Eastern Orthodox Churches (within a Pan-Orthodox council). The present Canonical Western Rite Orthodox parishes/local congregations shall be promptly transferred to the newly proposed Archbishopric. An Archbishop shall be elected from these congregations or else an extraordinary election shall be made possible with the consent of all Orthodox Churches. The headquarters of the Archbishopric shall be established at an idle place in the US or Western Europe. An Archbishop and Vicar Generals shall constitute the synod. The vicar generals shall be installed as the country heads of Western Rite disocese/parishes/congregations. They shall be elevated to the rank of a chorbishop or Monsignor/bishop depending upon the growth and needs of the Archbishopric.
In future, if the situation demands the Archbishopric shall be elevated into a Patriarchate. The synod shall be monitored by a council and an advisory body comprising of representatives/experts from all local Orthodox Churches. Another option is to bestow the honorary title of Patriarch upon the Archbishop (Archbishop-Patriarch of the Western Rite Orthodox Patriarchate) in due course of time.
Moreover, a campaign shall be launched to develop dialogues with independent Western Rite Orthodox Churches to invite them to join the canonical Western Rite Archbishopric by regularizing their orders. It may not be possible to engage in dialogue with every independent Western Rite Orthodox Churches. The reasons may vary, and some of them are listed below:
1. Canonical Western Rite Orthodox Churches may not follow or accept the concepts propagated by some of the independent Western Rite Orthodox communities.
2. The lack of interest for the Independent Western Rite Orthodox Churches to engage in dialogue with the canonical western rite body.
3. Questions about the status of bishops and priests of independent Western Rite bodies, provided they are accepted by the canonical church.
The conciliar unification all Western Rite Orthodox congregations and churches under a single autonomous Archbishopric remain a herculean task. However, there are no limits to dream.
Challenges and Criticisms
For many, the concept of Western Rite Orthodoxy itself remains a matter of formidable challenge. Many think that Western Rite is not an ideal choice for canonical Orthodoxy and Western expression of Orthodoxy may pollute the original Eastern Orthodox faith and practises. For others, Western Rite remains meaningless. Some believe that Eastern Rite is the only ‘Right Liturgical Rite’ for Eastern Orthodoxy. I feel such concerns are unwanted. We may mention the specific case of ROCOR Western Rite. In 2013 the ROCOR announced a halt on Western Rite communities’ even though the ROCOR Western Rite Vicariate continues to grow this day by establishing new churches and monasteries. Several hardcore Eastern Orthodox scholars and theologians equally oppose the specific concept of Western Rites.
Few others consider Western Rites as ‘Reverse Uniatism’, as if these communities represent a direct reply to the Vatican in response to their creation of Eastern Rite Catholicism. Western Rites are not ‘Reverse Uniatism’ rather their existence is voluntary, whereas Uniates are former Orthodox Christians who moved out and established union with the Pope of Rome as a result of political, financial and material causes.
The proposal of an autonomous Western Rite Archbishopric itself is under question due to the following reasons:
1. The ongoing turmoil within the Eastern Orthodox family as a result of schisms and conflict between local orthodox churches is one of the most significant hindrances.
2. There are better priorities for the Orthodox leadership than fostering the Western Rites.
3. The disagreement on the concept of Western Rite Orthodoxy among Eastern Orthodox scholars and theologians is yet another threat.
4. The false thought that Eastern Rite is the only right thing for Orthodox Christianity and Western Rites constitute a constant threat. East is only right and West is wrong when it comes to Orthodox Christianity.
5. The proposed autonomous Archdiocese may become another issue for the Orthodox world. Some may fear it may move out of control by engaging dialogues with independent Western rite bodies.
6. The financial and administrative investment involved in running the proposed Archbishopric.
7. Western Rites should consistently remain under check and the control of Eastern Rite. There can be disagreements on the level of autonomy that shall be granted to the proposed Archbishopric.
8. Western Rites should consistently remain under check and the control of Eastern Rite.
Regardless of the above-mentioned points, it is significant to interpret that the content of faith in Western Rite remains Orthodox while its liturgical expression is Western. Both Eastern and Western rites are right for Orthodox Christianity. Western Rite Orthodoxy remains an opportunity for Western Christians to practise ancient Christianity without compromising their Traditions at the same engage in worship in the fullness of Orthodoxy. Western Rite is not against Eastern Orthodox Christianity rather it goes in hand with Eastern Christian faith. Western Rite Orthodoxy can only expand in an appropriate manner only if they are allowed to stand by themselves. This doesn’t mean they should be allowed to undertake whatever they desire. The rest of the Orthodox world should provide adequate ecclesiastical and administrative support to the Western Rite communities to enable them to flourish and stand tall without fear.