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Liturgical Rites and Traditions: Vive la Difference!

Dr. Alexander Roman alex.roman@unicorne.org

This article is in response to two questions obtained from our readers. One concerns the “different types of Catholic religions . . . the detailed beliefs of Ukrainian Catholics. Do the Carpathians follow the same Orthodox religion?” The other asks about the difference in the “Mass of Roman and Ukrainian Catholics? Are people able to attend either church for Sunday obligations? Makes one wonder why we can’t get together, but then, that’s free will.”

Both questions assume a certain type of relationship between faith and how that faith is expressed outwardly in liturgical worship.

And that is quite a correct assumption! The term “Orthodoxy” means two things at one and the same time, “Right faith and right worship.” Faith and praxis spring from the same source and confirm/indicate each other.

There can be and are diverse liturgical rites, theological traditions among the various Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, that come from ancient sources.

In the New Testament itself, we can get a sense of two “Rites” developing among the Hebrew Christians and among the Hellenic Christians with early conflicts and the like.

St James of Jerusalem and Martyr followed the Hebrew traditions of his people so closely that the Jewish leaders of his day had, as one may deduce, no idea that he was a Christian, let alone the leader of the Christians of Jerusalem.

Christians who formed churches at the various great centres of learning and commerce of the Roman Empire, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, soon developed their own ways of worship, just as they developed their own theological schools of thought.

The early Liturgy of St Clement of Rome was once universally used throughout the Christian Churches, East and West, however. St Clement, the student of the Apostles Peter and Paul, wrote his widely-read epistle and the Apostolic Constitutions intended for the universal Church of Christ (the Ethiopian Church STILL includes the eight books of those Constitutions in its New Testament as inspired Scripture!).

When St Clement spoke or acted, he did so with the authority of Sts Peter and Paul, the Chiefs of the Apostles. And, of course, it was St Clement who met a martyr’s death in southern Ukraine in what is now “St Clement’s Bay” after having served the exiled Christians there. He is venerated as the second Apostolic Founder of the Kyivan Church with St Andrew.

However, as the other Christian centres strengthened in influence throughout the Church, they took responsibility for the development of their own liturgical and ecclesial traditions.

The “Church” was always a union of local Churches, each with their own head. This was the “holistic” or “Eucharistic” view of the Church where the entire Church is present in the part (just as the entire Christ is present in the smallest particle of Holy Communion).

In the West, there developed the Roman city Rite which soon spread throughout the Church there. There was the Gallican Rite, developed by St Germain at Paris and the Mozarabic Rite of Spain. Another Western city Rite was that of Milan, named for St Ambrose and which is still extant (for example, Pope Paul VI was not, in fact, a “Roman” Catholic, but a “Milanese” Catholic).

There was the Carthaginian Rite of Africa, as well as the Celtic Rite that had a very wide reach that went well beyond the Celtic lands. St Columban established his Celtic monastery at Bobbio. The Celtic Christians brought the cult of St Oswald of Northumbria to the Tirol where he is still its patron saint. The Celts also came to see St Olha of Kyiv and some see the popularity of the Celtic Cross in Ukraine (one of which adorns the grave of Taras Shevchenko, for example) as dating from that time.

The Syrians developed the East Syrian and West Syrian traditions and the Assyrian tradition, having been excommunicated for the heresy of Nestorianism, moved as far East as China and India where, in Tibet, there was in the 9th century an Assyrian Church with two Metropolitans and twenty bishops! Queen Elizabeth the Second is herself personally linked to the T’ang Dynasty from that same period.

The Alexandrian Church developed the Coptic and Ethiopian Rites that are today practiced by Coptic Egyptians, Nubians, Ethiopians and Eritreans organized into three patriarchates.

There is the individual Armenian Church with its own Rite, representing the first formally Christian nation in history. And the Byzantine Rite is today shared by numerous Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, including the Ukrainian Churches.

Thus, a Church may have one or even more than one Rite, members of which hold to the same faith.

At the recent Russian Orthodox Church Sobor in Moscow, it was explicitly affirmed that the Russian Church has TWO official Rites, the Niconian or general Byzantine-Slavic Rite and the Old Rite or pre-Niconian.

In addition, there have been and are Assyrian Christians who follow their liturgical Rite that are in communion with Moscow. Patriarch St Tikhon also allowed for an Orthodox version of the Anglican Rite and the Russian Orthodox also produced an Orthodox version of the Western Tridentine Rite for use by Western Catholics wishing to join Orthodoxy. The Antiochian Orthodox Church today has both Western Rites within its jurisdiction.

The Ukrainian Catholics are a group of formerly Orthodox Christians who came into union with Rome at the Union of Brest in 1596.

They share the same faith as Roman Catholics, although often choosing to express it differently or more in line with the faith of Orthodoxy (e.g. the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “through” the Son” and the Filioque or “and the Son” is dropped from the Creed).

When they first joined with the Pope, the founders of the union called themselves, as Metropolitan Ilarion Ohienko confirms as well, as “Orthodox in communion with Rome” or else, “Greco-Uniates.”

Under Western influence, they later dropped the “Orthodox” in their title and referred to themselves as “Greek-Catholics” – a term dating from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Metropolitan Ilarion himself decried that name-change and said that this resulted in a “memory loss” for the Greek-Catholics insofar as they “forgot that, in their essentials, they were Orthodox” and Latinization of their traditions and identity began.

Today, there are Ukrainian Catholics who affirm they are “Orthodox in communion with Rome” and that title is not without its own controversy among both Orthodox and Catholics.

But one could agree with Metropolitan Ohienko in his insight that the title “Orthodox” can, as it once did, maintain a certain Eastern and Slavic identity in a stronger way than only the term “Catholic” (which always connoted “Latin” or “Polish” in history).

In fact, the Russian Metropolitan of Kyiv, Anthony Khrapovitsky and also St John Pommer, the martyred Archbishop of Riga, received many Ukrainian and Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholics to Orthodoxy by promoting a view of the “Uniates” (including many members of the Galician intelligentsia) as essentially “Orthodox in communion with Rome.” Having done that, those Eastern Catholics who felt that such communion was unwarranted, joined with Orthodoxy.

The Carpatho-Rusyns have their own unique identity and history, as well as church history. Their liturgical traditions are very close indeed, if not the same, as those of their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. They too have their Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. The Byzantine Catholic Church in America seeks to establish a more mainstream Byzantine Church and one may visit their excellent website at: www.byzcath.org to learn more.

One may attend other parishes following different liturgical rites on Sundays which should really be called the “Day of the Resurrection” or the “Lordsday.”

But it would depend on one’s jurisdiction and shared faith with that liturgical rite. Any mainstream Orthodox Christian may attend the Liturgies of the Antiochian Rites of St Tykhon and of St Gregory (for former Anglicans and Roman Catholics respectively), as well as the Liturgy in the Byzantine usage. They also have a special Byzantine usage for their Protestant converts or “Evangelical Orthodox” (truly a great outreach!).

Members of the Moscow Patriarchate may attend a Liturgy of the Old Rite or “United Believers” (Yedinovertsy), even though there are only a few of these today – there were hundreds prior to the Revolution. The same goes for an Assyrian Orthodox liturgy.

Any Catholic who is in communion with Rome may attend any other Catholic liturgy and has several to choose from, including the various Byzantine Churches, the Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Coptic and Ge’ez Churches and now even a Catholic adaptation of the Anglican tradition the “Anglican Use” parishes.

As for not getting “it together,” in fact, the variety of liturgical rites and forms of worship speak to the true Catholicity of both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

One of the best ways of immersing oneself in the spiritual riches of the Church of Christ is to attend different Liturgies of various Churches and, if one can, go to Holy Communion in those Churches.

One may also use the Daily Office of the respective Churches, a number of which have them online, and pray them to obtain an appreciation for their liturgical genius.


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