(from a 1995 letter from His Eminence, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver)
As Western Christians become increasingly concerned by the drift of their denominations away from traditional Christian theology and liturgical practice, many have returned to Orthodoxy. Most become parishioners at existing parishes, but some have also brought into Orthodoxy their rite—or style of worship—and established new parishes.
Among the jurisdictions represented by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) Western Rite parishes are at present only in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
Nonetheless, Western Rite parishes of the Antiochian Archdiocese are in full canonical unity with other Orthodox parishes and Churches in the U.S. and throughout the world.
It should be noted that the Western Rite liturgical services are both Western (as opposed to Eastern or Byzantine) and Orthodox. When the Western—or Roman—Church separated from the first millennium of Orthodox unity in 1054, those Western Rites then extant were lost from the Orthodox Church.
This condition continued into the nineteenth century when some Western Christians approached the Orthodox Church after the 1870 promulgation by the Roman Catholic Church of the dogma of papal infallibility. During the same period some Protestant Christians, notably from the Anglican Communion, sought a return to the true episcopal character of the Church and the restoration of its sacramental nature.
At the turn of the century, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church approved a corrected version of the Western Rite Liturgy, based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. In part, the effort to examine, correct, and bless this rite was led by Archbishop Tikhon of North America, who in 1917 would become Patriarch of Moscow and later would be martyred by the Soviet Communist government.
At present there are two forms of the Western Rite in use within the Antiochian Archdiocese, both derivative forms of the ancient Liturgy of Saint Gregory the Great. To modern Western Christians these rites will seem very similar to the Tridentine Roman Catholic Mass and to the Episcopal Morning Worship and Holy Communion. Corrected (restored) versions of these Rites and their Liturgies are presently in use, thus striking a balance once again between the Eastern and Western traditions of Orthodox Christianity.
The ancient question that continues to divide the Roman Catholic and Western Churches from the Orthodox Church regarding the use of leavened or unleavened bread in the Eucharist had to be resolved when the Western Rite parishes were received into the Orthodox Church. The host used in Western Rite liturgies resembles the unleavened wafer used by Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, but in fact it is leavened—although flattened—bread. The use of leavened bread in accordance with Orthodox theology, was required by Metropolitan Philip when he received these parishes into Orthodoxy. Interestingly, antidoron is also blessed and distributed at these Liturgies.
Although small in numbers at present, Western Rite Orthodoxy exists throughout the world. Numerous Episcopal parishes and their clergy in this country, as well as Anglican parishes and clergy in England, have returned en masse to Orthodoxy and continue to do so.
The Western Rite has proven to be an excellent missionary outreach in the Western World to those who seek the purity of Orthodox Faith, yet are uncomfortable with the oriental character of Byzantine Rite Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, people of either Rite worship together and the clergy may, with episcopal permission, concelebrate.
The properly Baptized and Chrismated members of parishes who use these liturgies and are approved by Metropolitan Philip are Orthodox Christians, and are welcome to worship in parishes within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and to receive the Sacred Mysteries.
Within the central and western states, additional information on the Western Rite Vicariate under Metropolitan Philip Saliba can be obtained by contacting Fr. John Connely, the Dean of the Western States, at St. Mark’s Orthodox Church, 1405 South Vine Street, Denver, Colorado 80210.