On May 31st, 1958, his Beatitude ALEXANDER III, Patriarch of Antioch, of blessed memory, in consultation with the heads of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches, authorized His Eminence Metropolitan ANTHONY (Bashir), of blessed memory, to establish the Western Rite in the Antiochian Archdiocese. The following is an excerpt from metropolitan Anthony’s report to the 1958 Archdiocesan Convention, reprinted from the November 1958 issue of “The Word.”
With the blessing of the Patriarch and following the example of other Orthodox Patriarchates we have made it possible for Western Christians to enter the church and preserve ancient forms which are so precious to them as ours are to us. This privilege is extended to groups, not to individuals.
Even before the Papacy broke away from the Orthodox church in 1054 western Orthodox Christians did not worship with our services. They used western services much like those still employed by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans. For centuries our church was virtually isolated from western Europe. In the past forty years Orthodoxy has entered the western world as never before. Many westerners have joined our church and adopted our Eastern modes of worship. Others have asked why they must become Eastern to become Orthodox. Their French and German and English ancestors were Orthodox before the Popes took them out of the church in the eleventh century, but they were Western Orthodox. Our scholars and theologians have examined this claim, and found it just and reasonable. For over 20 years various Orthodox hierarchs have been receiving Western Christians and permitting them to use rites congenial with their old Orthodox history and western culture and way of life.
This is not, of course, a new phenomenon in the religious world. The Roman Catholic church claims to be the whole Catholic church and long ago permitted Eastern Orthodox to accept the Papal authority while retaining their Eastern Orthodox rites. Our Melkite brethren are Syrian examples of the policy. We Orthodox teach that we are the one, holy, Catholic church. We must not then force the whole world to become Eastern in order to enter the true Church and be saved! The faith must be one, and Orthodox, but its expression has always been suited to the races and nations which accepted Christ. Food is necessary to life, but it attracts different races when prepared differently. Yorkshire Pudding and Saerkraut and spaghetti are just as nourishing as Kibbi, it’s just that we don’t enjoy them as much!
You know that I hope and pray for Christian Unity. Those of us who have lived in the Middle East with its confusion of religions know how precious religious unity is. Numerous responsible non-Orthodox leaders have consulted with me about union with us as Western Rite Orthodox. I have wanted to help them and to strengthen the Orthodox witness to our daily prayer for Christian reunion.
About ten years ago I began a careful study of the use of the Western Rite in our church. I examined the history of the existing movements, read the pertinent literature of our theologians, and surveyed the history of the experiments made at various places and times. I also studied the possible advantages of initiating this program for the United States, when I became convinced of the soundness of the theory, and the practicality of bringing it to this country – while all the time serious petitions were made to me from outside of the church – I referred the matter to His Beatitude the Patriarch. His Beatitude of Glorious memory, was already well aware of the movement in Europe, and this year he wholeheartedly blessed the work. My Edict is the first official step since that blessing.
I should like to clarify some issues. First, we must not expect immediate results on a massive scale. This program is simply to prepare us for possibilities, and to inform others that we are hospitably disposed. I am unable to discuss the confidential overtures made to us by honorable leaders of other bodies. If their plans come to fruition, we shall thank God who guides all things to his purposeful ends; if there is no immediate response, we shall know that Providence awaits another day.
Secondly, I must emphasize two points. This is a work for specialists, men who are trained to adapt heterodox theologies and rites to our Orthodoxy. Each and every case will be carefully analyzed by theologians of our Church, by whose skillful judgement I shall be guided. All cases, of whatever origin, must be referred to the Archdiocese at once; no action can be taken on any other level. On the other hand I am not planning adventures of any kind: I shall entertain only applications from stable groups of proven seriousness. I have rejected many overtures from persons and sects of uncertain composition and purpose. Some eight years ago a number of former Roman Catholic priests and parishes in Central America sought admission to our Patriarchate with their Latin rite. My delegate reported unfavorably and the application was refused. Subsequently the movement took a course which fully justified my refusal. No one can avoid every failure, but in this delicate situation, so new to us, every precaution is necessary.
Of course the Orthodox Church is always open to every man, saint or sinner, of any race or background, who purposes to lead a new life in Jesus Christ. Such persons have but to apply to the nearest parish priest. But applicants seeking unusual concessions of rite or rank must meet our unusual conditions.
This, then is our latest project. It may not bear fruit for many years, or it may result very soon in significant action in our church. Give it your study, and pray that God may use it to hasten the conversion of the non-Orthodox.