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Western Rite Orthodoxy or Western Orthodoxy or Orthodox Western Rite are terms used to describe congregations and groups which are in communion with Eastern Orthodox Churches or Oriental Orthodox Churches using traditional Western liturgies rather than adopting Eastern liturgies such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. While there are some ancient examples of Western Rite churches in areas predominantly using the Byzantine Rite (the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Latins, often referred to as Amalfi, is a common example), the history of the movement is often considered to begin in the nineteenth century with the life and work of Julius Joseph Overbeck. Less commonly, Western Orthodoxy refers to the Western Church before the First Great Schism.

Currently, there are Western Rite parishes within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America as a part of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate (AWRV). Western Rite parishes are found almost exclusively in countries with large Roman Catholic or Protestant majorities. There are also numerous devotional societies and publishing ventures related to the Western Rite. Despite having a place within many Orthodox jurisdictions, the Western Rite remains a contentious issue for some.[1]


Western Orthodox Christians look back to time prior to the Great Schism when the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches remained united with each other. At that period in history, there was a variety of different liturgies in use in the West, with no specific move towards ritual uniformity, although the Roman Rite was most influential. In the East, the Byzantine Rite was the most prominent of a variety of different local rites. When the Latin-speaking Western Church and the Greek-speaking Eastern Church parted ways, many of the Churches in communion with Constantinople used the Byzantine Rite, though there were still pockets where other liturgies (including the Roman Rite) were used. However, the Byzantine Rite eventually dominated (almost to the point of exclusion of any other liturgy) the entirety of the Orthodox world, especially after the thirteenth century. This situation began to change slowly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when a number of Western Christians began to convert to Orthodoxy, yet desired to retain their familiar forms of worship and thus recovering plurifom ritual nature of pre-schism Christianity.

Nineteenth century

During the 1840s, the Reverend William Palmer kept some correspondence with Metropolitan (Saint) Philaret of Moscow, and Fr. Alexei Stephanovich Khomiakov. The initial reason for the correspondence was towards the view of establishing a Western Orthodox Church in England. The project was not carried out due to lack of funds.

The modern reemergence of an Orthodox Western Rite bore its first fruits in 1864 with the work of former Catholic priest Julius Joseph Overbeck. Overbeck had left the priesthood, converted to Lutheranism and married, though it is uncertain whether he ever functioned as a Lutheran pastor. He immigrated to England in 1863 to become professor of German at the Royal Military Academy, where he also undertook studies of the Church of England and Orthodoxy. Convinced that both the Papacy and Anglicanism were on the verge of collapse, Overbeck was received into the Orthodox Church at the Russian Embassy in London by Father Eugene Poppoff, the embassy chaplain, in 1865 as a layman because he had married following his ordination.[2]

As a part of his conversion to the Orthodox Church, Overbeck had requested permission from the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to begin a Western Orthodox Church in England. Initially, Metropolitan Philaret was hesitant about Overbeck’s request, but did not rule out the idea entirely. Overbeck outlined his rationale for a Western Orthodox Church in his 1866 book "Catholic Orthodoxy and Anglo-Catholicism," a largely polemical work describing why the established Western churches should be rejected.[3] In 1867 Overbeck also began to publish The Orthodox Catholic Review a journal for the advancement of Western Orthodoxy.

Overbeck had also begun to convince others of the feasibility of a Western Orthodox Church and was ultimately able to submit a petition of 122 signatures, many of them Tractarians, to the Holy Synod in 1869 asking for the creation of a Western Rite.[4] A synodical commission was established to investigate the question, and Overbeck was invited to state his case before the commission in St. Petersburg in 1870. Overbeck’s idea received the approval of the commission and he was instructed to present a revised Western Liturgy for evaluation by the commission, which he did in December of that year which was subsequently approved for use - specifically in the British Isles.[5] At the same time as Overbeck was making his overtures to the Russian Church, another anonymous individual was making a similar plea to high church elements within the Anglican Church.

The next several years were spent with further developing the Western liturgies for administration of the other sacraments as well as the praying of the Divine Office. Overbeck also attempted to woo Old Catholics to his scheme since they had just recently gone into schism from the Roman Catholic Church over Vatican I’s definition of Papal infallibility, though to little avail. During this time, he continued to criticize Roman Catholics and Anglicans as well as those Western converts to Orthodoxy who utilized the Byzantine Rite.

By 1876, Overbeck began to make appeals to other Orthodox Churches for their recognition of his plan. In 1879 he was received in audience by the Patriarch of Constantinople Joachim III, who recognized the theoretical right of Western Christians to have a Western Orthodox Church. Three years later, the Ecumenical Patriarch and Synod gave conditional approval to the Western rite and Benedictine offices. However, Overbeck’s efforts ultimately did not result in the establishment of a Western Orthodoxy. He was especially suspicious of the role which the Greeks in London (and the Church of Greece generally) played in the stagnation of his ambitions, directly blaming the Greek Church’s protest against the plan in 1892.[6] The Orthodox Catholic Review published its final issue in 1885 and Overbeck died in 1905 without seeing the implementation of the Western Orthodox Church. Georges Florovsky summed up Overbeck’s experience in this way: "it was not just a fantastic dream. The question raised by Overbeck was pertinent, even if his own answer to it was confusedly conceived. And probably the vision of Overbeck was greater than his personal interpretation."[7]

In 1898, the Holy Synod of Russia organized a diocese in Czechoslovakia using the Western rite.

Twentieth century

While Overbeck did not live to see his dream successful, the idea of a Western Orthodox Church did not disappear. The early part of the twentieth century was characterized by a series of false starts. In 1911, Arnold Harris Matthew (an Old Catholic bishop), entered into union with the Patriarchate of Antioch, under Metropolitan Gerasimos (Messarah) of Beirut and Pope Photios of Alexandria. Both unions were contracted within quick succession and only lasted for an effective period of a few months. Though the union was protested by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Photios and the Patriarch of Antioch, Matthew’s group claimed that communion was never formally broken off.[8] In 1890, the very first North American Western Rite Orthodox community, an Episcopal parish in Green Bay, Wisconsin, pastored by Fr. Joseph Vilatte, was received by Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky). However, Vilatte was soon ordained a bishop in the Jacobite Church, which is not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Other small groups following the Western Rite have been received, but usually have either had little impact, or have declared their independence soon after their reception. Western rite parishes were established in Poland in 1926 when a half-dozen congregations were received into Eastern Orthodoxy; however, the movement dwindled during World War II.[9]

Orthodox Church of France

Stjohn shanghai

Saint John (Maximovitch), a supporter of the Orthodox Church of France and a frequent celebrant of the revised Gallican liturgy. He also favored the celebration of feast days in honour of pre-schism Western saints who were not otherwise commemorated in the Orthodox Church.

In 1936, the Church of Russia received a small group led by a former Liberal Catholic bishop, Louis-Charles Winnaert (1880-1937), as l'Église Orthodoxe Occidentale, or Western Orthodox Church.[10] Winnaert, who was received as Archimandrite Irénée, died shortly after. Winnaert's work was continued, with occasional conflict, by one of his priests, Eugraph Kovalevsky (1905-1970) and Denis (Chambault), the latter of which oversaw a small Orthodox Benedictine community in the rue d'Alleray in Paris. After 1946, Kovalevsky began to restore the Gallican usage based on the letters of Saint Germanus, a sixth century bishop of Paris, as well as numerous early Western missals, and sacramentaries and with a few Byzantine modifications, developing what would become the Divine Liturgy according to St Germanus of Paris.[11]

Archimandrite Alexis van der Mensbrugghe, who taught at the Western Church's St. Denys Theological Institute but who remained in the Eastern rite, attempted to restore of the ancient Roman rite, replacing medieval accretions with Gallican and Byzantine forms. Eventually, Alexis was consecrated as a bishop of the Church of Russia in 1960, continuing his Western Rite work under the auspices of the Moscow Patriarchate.[12]

In 1953, pressured by Moscow to change to the Eastern rite, the Western Orthodox Church went its own way, changing its name to the Orthodox Church of France. After some years of isolation, the Church was recognized as an autonomous Church by Metropolitan Anastassy of ROCOR[11] and was in communion with ROCOR between 1959 and 1966. Archbishop John (Maximovitch) (the ROCOR’s representative in Western Europe at the time), became the archpastor of the Church of France. At this time, Archbishop John had the Church change its name to l'Église Orthodox Catholique de France (ECOF), or "The Orthodox Catholic Church of France." He was also the principal consecrator when Kovalevsky was ordained in 1964 as Bishop Jean-Nectaire of Saint-Denis. Archbishop John's death in 1966 was a serious blow to the Western Orthodox Christians in France.

While Moscow's Western Rite mission withered and ended, Bishop Jean's church continued to thrive; however, after John's death, Bishop Jean was left without canonical protection until his death in 1970. In 1972, the Church found a new canonical superior in the Church of Romania. Gilles Bertrand-Hardy was then consecrated as Bishop Germain of Saint-Denis. In 1993, after long conflict with the Romanian Synod regarding alleged canonical irregularities within ECOF, the latter withdrew its blessing of the French Church and broke off communion.[11] The Romanian Orthodox Church made the decision, which is contested by ECOF, to depose bishop Germain from all sacerdotal functions. This decision (which was never accepted by ECOF) is applied by the canonical dioceses of the AEOF (Assemblée des Evêques Orthodoxes de France). The sanction was confirmed and explained in 2001 by another document, "Avis d'expertise canonique" from the Secretary of the Romanian Synod (a document which the ECOF considers to have no value). The Romanian patriarchate established a deanery under Bishop Germain's brother Archpriest Gregoire Bertrand-Hardy to minister to those parishes which chose to stay with the Romanian Patriarchate.[13][14]

In 2001, after the scandal caused by the revelation inside the Church of the marriage of Bishop Germain in 1995, which was then annulled, ten parishes left ECOF and formed the Union des Associations Cultuelles Orthodoxes de Rite Occidental (UACORO - the Union of Western Rite Orthodox Worship Associations), and began negotiations in 2004 with the Church of Serbia to be canonically recognized, with the intention of the UACORO entering the Diocese of France and Western Europe. The UACORO was received individually, laity and clergy, into the French diocese of Serbian Patriarcate in 2006.

Although the name of the Church legally remains the Orthodox Catholic Church of France, it usually goes by its previous name, the Orthodox Church of France.

North America

Saint Tikhon of Moscow's contribution to the Western Rite has been more enduring. While he was head of the Russian mission in America, some Episcopalians were interested in the possibility of joining Orthodoxy while retaining Anglican liturgies. Tikhon, sent the 1892 Book of Common Prayer, enquired as to the viability of such an idea. In 1904, the Holy Synod concluded the idea was a possibility and provided including many notes on how the Book of Common Prayer could be used in an Orthodox manner.[15] Tikhon did not receive any Episcopalians as none approached him for reception into the Orthodox Church, but his efforts laid the groundwork for the later reception of Episcopalians into the AWRV following the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1975.

The most successful and stable group of Western Rite parishes originated within the Orthodox Church under Bishop Aftimios (Ofiesh) in the 1930s as part of the American Orthodox Catholic Church. In 1932, Bishop Aftimios consecrated an Episcopal priest, Ignatius Nichols, as auxiliary Bishop of Washington and assigned him to the Western Rite parishes. However, due to complaints from Episcopalians that the Episcopal Church was the "American" Orthodox Church,[16] the American Orthodox Church that Aftimios and Nicholas were a part of became estranged from what would become the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The subsequent marriages of Aftimoios and Nichols, both in violation of Orthodox canon law, left the church and its subsidiaries without canonical recognition.[17]

In 1932, Nichols founded the Society of Clerks Secular of Saint Basil as a devotional society for clergy and laity dedicated to the celebration of the Western Rite. Nichols also consecrated Alexander Turner as a bishop in 1939. Turner pastored a small parish in Mount Vernon until Nichols' death in 1947, when he assumed leadership of the Society and concluded that there was no future for the Society of Saint Basil outside of canonical Orthodoxy. Turner described the situation the Society found itself in by saying:

It was ... during the tempestuous days following the Bolshevik Revolution that the Society had its inception as a missionary organ of the nascent federation of American Orthodox colonies under Russian suzerainty, though of local Syrian administration. With the collapse of that plan and the submission of the ethnic groups to the churches of their homelands, the Society was left in isolation.[18]

Through Father Paul Schneirla, he began unofficial dialogue with Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Even before this, Turner had been promoting Western Rite Orthodoxy through his periodical Orthodoxy. In 1961, the Society (consisting of three parishes at the time) was received into the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese on the basis of Metropolitan Antony's 1958 edict. Upon reception, Bishop Alexander Turner became a canonical priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, guiding the group as Vicar-General until his death in 1971, thereafter he was succeeded by Schneirla. However, after Turner’s death, the sole surviving Basilian, William Francis Forbes, returned to the American Orthodox Catholic Church and was consecrated a bishop in October 1974.[19]

Besides the original communities associated with the Society, a number of other parishes have been received into the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Archdiocese, particularly as elements within the Episcopal Church became dissatisfied with liturgical change and the ordination of women. The first Episcopal parish to be received into the AWRV was the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Detroit, Michigan.[20] Additionally, several Western Rite missions have been founded within the AWRV, some growing into full parish status. Furthermore, when parishes of the Evangelical Orthodox Church joined the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1987, a few parishes joined as Western Rite congregations. However, many of these former EOC congregations subsequently switched to the Byzantine Rite.


In 1995, the Church of Antioch also established a British Deanery to absorb converts from the Church of England, though none of these congregations are now Western Rite.[21]

Western Rite Orthodoxy, in Australia and New Zealand, has arisen mostly from Anglican and Continuing Anglican communities. Archbishop Hilarion (Kapral) of Sydney of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (now Metropolitan Hilarion, primate of the ROCOR), received some communities into communion (both from outside Orthodoxy and from other Orthodox jurisdictions) while others have been received by Bishop Gibran and Metropolitan Archbishop Paul, both under the Church of Antioch. Metropolitan Paul has recently received some thirty Western Rite Parishes in the Philippines.

Some Western Rite parishes are also a part of the Oriental Orthodox churches. The Syrian patriarchate of Antioch consecrated Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvarez as Archbishop of Ceylon, Goa and India in 1889, authorizing a Roman rite diocese under his supervision. Additionally, in 1891 the Syrians consecrated the aforementioned Vilatte as archbishop for the American Old Catholics.

Current status

At present, the Western Rite within the canonical Orthodox Church remains uncertain. While a number of congregations have been founded as Western Rite congregations in the past several years, still other parishes have begun to voluntarily convert to the Byzantine rite. Ultimately, the Western Rite remains a small proportion of the Orthodox Church, even in Antiochian Archdiocese of North America which has by far the largest number of Western Rite congregations. However, within North America the Western Rite has been growing, especially in the Antiochian Archdiocese, largely from formerly Continuing Anglican parishes. It remains to be seen what affect, if any, there will be on the Western Rite from the election of Archbishop Hilarion as primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the selection of Jerome (John Shaw) for the episcopate. Talk about the Western Rite has often occurred in the Orthodox Church in America, the most prominent being in a speech by its primate, Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen)[22] during an April 2009 speech in Dallas, TX.


Western Rite parishes do not all utilize the same liturgy, but often use a particular liturgy depending upon their individual affiliations prior to entering Orthodoxy. At present, there are six different Uses available to Western Rite parishes:


An altar prepared according to the rubrics for the Tridentine Rite. Many Western Rite Orthodox congregations celebrate a revised version of the Tridentine mass under the name Divine Liturgy of Saint Gregory.

  • Divine Liturgy of Saint Tikhon – This liturgy is currently used by approximately two-thirds of congregations in the AWRV. The Rite of St. Tikhon was developed utilizing the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican Missal. The Book of Common Prayer was altered by removing the filioque from the text of the Nicene Creed, and to include prayers for the dead, the invocation of the saints, and strengthening the epiclesis within the Eucharistic prayer, and by adding the pre-communion prayers from the Byzantine Rite. It is utilized primarily by parishes formally of an Anglican/Episcopal background.
  • Divine Liturgy of Saint Gregory – Utilized by the remainder of the AWRV as well as some communities in ROCOR, this rite is a version of the Roman Tridentine Mass which has been altered to remove the filioque and inserting a Byzantine epiclesis. It is used primarily by parishes formerly of a Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Old Catholic background, including those incorporated from the Society of Saint Basil in 1961. In the Russian Orthodox Church, there are three versions in common use: that of Overbeck (The Overbeck text was printed in full in the 1960 ROCOR yearbook), the Use of Mt. Royal (based upon the Carthusian use, itself adapted from the old rite of Grenoble), and:

The derivative use of Christminster (Usus Providentiae) which includes an epiclesis from the Gothic Missal.

  • Sarum Liturgy – A British use of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Gregory, which retained many local Anglo-Saxon, Gallican, and Celtic elements. Saint Petroc Monastery, a ROCOR monastery; some of its dependencies; and the Hermitage of the Holy Cross; celebrate the Sarum Liturgy. The Sarum is occasionally celebrated at St. Nicholas ROCOR Monastery in Ft. Myers, Florida. [23] The text is based upon a 19th c. Pearson English translation of the Sarum missal, corrected of post-Schism insertions. An epiclesis from the Gothic Missal is included. St. Hilarion Press and St. Gregory's Press editions of Sarum services were also blessed for canonical use, in September 2008 and December 2008 respectively.
  • English Liturgy - The Russian adaptation of the 1549 English Book of Common Prayer according to the criteria set forth by the Holy Synod of Russia in 1907. This liturgy has been augmented with material from the Sarum Missal, Gothic Missal, York rite, and 1718 Scottish Non-Juror liturgy. An epiclesis from the Gothic Missal is included. This liturgy is not the same rite as the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon, and the two rites differ in many respects.[24]
  • Liturgy of Saint Germanus – Utilized by some parishes of ROCOR and the Serbian and Romanian Patriarchates. The liturgy of St. Germanus is a reconstructed version of what was presumed to be Gallican rite, but which has been supplemented with elements from the Byzantine, Celtic and Mozarabic rites
  • The Liturgy of Saint John the Divine - Utilized by a monastery of the Moscow Patriarchate, and in publication within ROCOR. A reconstructed version of the first millennium Celtic British Isles rite after the Stowe Missal and other sources - intended for modern use. The name is from the origin asserted by the Church in the British Isles before the Great Schism.

Liturgical development

Most of the present Western Rite liturgies have been developed along the guidelines given to Saint Tikhon by the Holy Synod in 1904/07. As noted above, Saint Tikhon’s request to the Holy Synod concerned accepting Episcopal parishes into the Orthodox Church while permitting them to retain the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer. While Saint Tikhon’s request was specifically concerned with Anglicans converting, its recommendations came to be implemented for those parishes who did not have a specifically Anglican background. The two most important required changes included the removal of the filioque from the Nicene Creed and the addition of an epiclesis which specifically invokes the Holy Spirit and a petition for the Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

When the Antiochian Western Rite Edict was issued, it became necessary to determine what additions or corrections to western liturgies would need to be made to bring those rites into conformity with the 1904 Russian Synodal decree as well as the Ukase of 1936. To that end, the Antiochian Western Rite Commission was convened in 1958 composed of Fr Paul Schneirla, Stephen Upson, Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff for the purpose of determining “the mode of reception of groups desiring to employ the Western Rite, and the character of the rites to be used, as well as the authorization of official liturgical texts.”[25] Meyendorff, Schmemann, and Schneirla were already familiar with the Western Rite both from having been in contact with members of the ECOF while teaching at Saint Sergius Theological Institute. Schmemann actively followed the Liturgical Movement in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church and was an advocate for renewal of the Orthodox liturgy.[26]

In January 1962, the official Western Rite Directory was issued, "establishing liturgical usages and customs and discipline," drawing on principles of the 1904 Moscow Synodal response to Saint Tikhon, the authorization of Western Rite offices by Metropolitan Gerassimos (Messarah) of Beirut, and the 1932 Russian Ukase of Metropolitan Sergius.[27]

Liturgical books

Officially, the AWRV provides one liturgical book, The Orthodox Missal through its official publishing arm, St. Luke’s Priory Press. This volume contains both the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon and the Liturgy of Saint Gregory, with appropriate propers for seasons, feasts, saints, and prayers before and after Mass. The Antiochian Archdiocese publishes the Saint Andrew Service Book (SASB), which was developed by Saint Michael’s Church in California under the leadership of the late Father Michael Trigg; the SASB also has received official sanction from Metropolitan Philip for the 1996 and 2005 editions, with the latter containing explicit reference to the authorized nature of all previous editions of the SASB.[28] In addition to duplicating the contents of The Orthodox Missal, the SASB also includes forms for Matins and Vespers, the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the threefold Amen common to the Byzantine epiclesis but absent in The Orthodox Missal. The SASB was produced by the Antiochian Archdiocese without the participation of the AWRV.[29]The Orthodox Missal is an official publication of the AWRV and is the Vicariate's standard and approved text with the SASB authorized by the Archdiocese as an approved text.

Parishes within the AWRV are permitted to use either the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon or that of Saint Gregory. While most parishes use the Tikhonite liturgy, several use the Gregorian liturgy on weekdays or on specific Sundays of the year. Presently, there is no breviary specifically designed for the Orthodox Western Rite, though priests of the AWRV who celebrate the Liturgy of Saint Gregory are expected to pray as much of the Breviarium Monasticum as possible.[30] The entire breviary in English is available in two volumes from Andrewes Press. The same hours, in English or Latin, are approved for Christ the Savior Monastery under the ROCOR. However, priests who celebrate the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon pray a form of Morning Prayer and Evensong approved by the AWRV.

Also in common use within the AWRV, though not officially approved, are St. Dunstans’s Plainsong Psalter and the St. Ambrose Hymnal. The Plainsong Psalter, a publication of Lancelot Andrewes Press, sets the Psalter and selected canticles to Gregorian and British Chant and includes orders for Morning Prayer, Evensong, and Compline. The St. Ambrose Hymnal, which is currently out of print, provides musical settings of classic Western hymns as well as post-schism and modern hymns which are judged “not to contradict the Orthodox faith.” Despite being out of print, parts of the hymnal are available on-line in pdf format.

Within ROCOR, the Saint Colman Prayer Book has been authorised by Metropolitan Hilarion for use within Australia and New Zealand. It has since received permission in other dioceses. The Book includes the Sarum, English and Gregorian Liturgies, together with a simplified version of the monastic hours. Most of the occasional services required by a Parish Priest through the course of the year are there, as well as the Rites of Holy Week and a Lectionary. In September 2008, Metropolitan Hilarion blessed the St. Hilarion Press series of Sarum books, edited by Hieromonk Aidan (Keller), for liturgical use. They contain complete forms for celebration of the Liturgy or Mass, the Divine Office, the Mysteries or Sacraments, and many other services, with full chant notation. In December 2008, the St. Gregory's Press edition was also blessed for actual usage; these contains full forms, with complete chant notation, for the celebration of the Liturgy or Mass and of the Divine Office, i.e., the Canonical Hours.


Priests of the Western Rite utilize standard Western vestments as a part of their liturgy, whether celebrating one of the Western liturgies or (as far as Antiochians are concerned) when concelebrating a Byzantine liturgy, with some exceptions (See Criticisms below). Antiochian Byzantine Rite Orthodox priests who concelebrate Antiochian Western Rite liturgies wear Byzantine style vestments and hierarchs wear Byzantine vestments when participating in Western liturgies. Those clergy using the Sarum or English liturgies use the vestments commonly known as "Sarum" but which were actually used throughout north-western Europe and the British Isles. These are typified by "apparels' of the seasonal colour, added to the alb and amice for Priest, Deacon, Sub Deacon, Clerk and Servers.


Unlike Eastern Catholic Churches which have an independent hierarchy and separate Code of Canon law, Western Rite Orthodox congregations of the Antiochian jurisdiction fall under the jurisdiction of their local Orthodox bishop. In North America, the Antiochian Church has established the Western Rite Vicariate and the Western Rite Commission for the purpose of coordinating the activities of Western Rite congregations and to provide a single point of contact for persons and groups concerning Western Rite Orthodoxy. However, all the Western Rite congregations remain under the direct supervision of their normal diocesan bishop, with Bishop Basil (Essey) of Wichita being the "hierarch of reference" and advocate for Western Rite issues within the synod of Bishops. In the ROCOR, as of November 2009, all Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic houses fall under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan.

Publishing houses

The official publishing arm of the AWRV is St. Luke’s Priory Press, located in Stanton, NJ. Among their publications are The Orthodox Missal, the official service book of the AWRV; The Orthodox Ritual, the official source for the administration of all the sacraments in the Vicariate; and the annual Ordo Kalendar. They also publish several apologetic works concerning the Western Rite.

Lancelot Andrewes Press is the publishing arm of the Fellowship of Saint Dunstan and publishes material which is utilized by congregations and individuals in the Western Rite. The primary mission of Lancelot Andrewes Press is to publish material for the “advancement of historic Christian orthodoxy, as expressed by the liturgical and devotional usages of traditional English Christianity.”[31] Among their publications are the Monastic Diurnal and St. Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.

While not official publishing houses, St. Petroc Monastery, Christminster, and St. John Cassian Press have published copies of liturgies for the use of Western Rite congregations within the ROCOR. St. John Cassian Press distributes St. Hilarion Press publications blessed for ROCOR usage, including "Orthodox Prayers of Old England," (omnibus service book), "The Holy Psalter" (core of the divine office), "Old Sarum Rite Missal," "The Companion" (epistle and gospel book), "Chant Ordinarium" (a kyriale), and "Westminster Benedictional" (a book of blessings), in all some 2,500 pages of approved texts, with chant. This body of work includes several apologetic works concerning the Western Rite and Orthodoxy in general.

Devotional societies

There are also devotional societies within the Western Rite Vicariate:

  • The Orthodox Christian Society of Our Lady of Walsingham – dedicated to encouragement of devotion to the Theotokos, particularly under the title of Our Lady of Walsingham (and the preservation of the replica of the shrine of Walsingham).[32]
  • The Fellowship of Saint Dunstan – dedicated to historic Christian Orthodoxy particularly traditional English Christianity.


The largest numbers of Western Rite parishes are located in North America as a part of the AWRV, though there are Western Rite congregations to be found in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and England.

North America


New Zealand


There are a few monasteries and hermitages which utilize the Western Rite, all associated within the ROCOR and with very few professed monastics.

In addition to the established monasteries, some parishes also have among their members Benedictine “oblates”. Some are associated with Christminster Monastery, while others are not associated with any particular monastery and thus are not oblates in the traditional (17th c. Roman-Catholic) sense. These latter oblates are individuals who utilize the Benedictine rule as a means of fostering spiritual development.

”Non-canonical” Western Rite churches

"Western Orthodox" is a description taken by several Church bodies that follow claim to be Orthodox or have the word "Orthodox" in their names, but are unconnected to the worldwide Eastern Orthodox Church. Many have not arisen out of contacts with Eastern Orthodoxy and are likened to those bodies known as Independent Catholic Churches or to Continuing Anglicanism. Some have had relationships with bodies that broke away from Eastern Orthodoxy, or were cut off by Eastern Orthodox hierarchs for irregularities. The praxis and ecclesiology of "non-canonical" Orthodox churches are not acceptable to the Eastern Orthodox Churches in that often they have a married episcopate, ordain women to the priesthood or diaconate, or otherwise have a theology divergent from canonical Orthodoxy.

These groups are Canonical missionary societies with a core of canonical Orthdox laity served by canonical Orthodox clergy within the Orthodox Church with the goal of future reception of converts into the Western Rite of Orthodoxy. The societies themselves were formed inside the Orthodox Church for reception of converts, and not for the reception of the societies themselves. The Orthodox Church they are currently under the guidance of is also listed alongside it.


Despite the fact that the Western Rite is an established part of the Orthodoxy in North America, it does not exist without the presence of some vocal critics. These criticisms run the gamut from objections of a liturgical or historical nature to direct claims that members of the Western Rite are not actually Orthodox in their praxis.

Byzantine Rite only

Many commentators argue that the only rite which is and can be acceptable to Orthodoxy is the Byzantine Rite, whether in its Greek or Slavic usages. Many Orthodox Christians currently boast of the Church's liturgical homogeneity, claiming that, no matter where one might go in the Orthodox world, the liturgy will be familiar, even if it's in another language. Of course, as Paul Meyendorff points out that despite the fact that the majority of Orthodox Churches use the Byzantine Rite, they often use it in very different ways, particularly in North America with the presence of items such as pews, organs, weekly communication of all the laity, and a much shorter liturgy.[33]

In addition, even if the claim of the homogenous celebration of the Byzantine Rite could be claimed for the modern period, this has historically not been the case. During the period of separation of the Eastern and Western Churches, it would have been impossible to speak of the Byzantine Rite as being the only liturgy in use, even in the Eastern Church. The Rite of Constantinople only acquired dominance in the Eastern Church through a slow process that was not complete until at least the thirteenth century.

Lack of liturgical continuity

In continuation of the above criticism, many commentators argue that while the Western Rite was at one time Orthodox, its Orthodoxy ceased after the Great Schism. This argument essentially states that, because the Western Rite died out in the Church, and because a continuous living tradition is a necessary element of liturgical practice, the Western Rite ought to be abandoned and only the Byzantine Rite should be utilized.

Western Rite advocates have pointed out that there is nothing inherently unorthodox about creating a new rite for the Church provided that the Orthodoxy of the rite is sound. The Byzantine Rite has grown in ways which have caused liturgies and devotions to develop in one location without subsequent universal practice. Such services would have been invented from scratch based on pastoral need at some point, yet few Western Rite critics would say that such services or devotions should be abandoned, thus perceiving to lend to the legitimacy of restoring an ancient rite of the undivided Church.

Furthermore, it is also argued that the Divine Liturgy of St. James, once nearly extinct except in Jerusalem and the island of Kephalonia, has in the present time enjoyed resurgence outside of its traditional strongholds for use on October 23 to celebrate the Feast of St. James.

Western Rite is Reverse Uniatism

The situation of Western Orthodox parishes has been compared with the status of the autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches (often called "Uniate" by Orthodox Christians) in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries, there have been hierarchical churches in full communion with Rome. Eastern Catholics, despite usages that more closely resemble the majority of Orthodox Christians, largely share a common dogma with Latin Catholics, a situation that is called 'uniatism'. Analogously, the Western Rite Orthodox share the same faith as their Byzantine Rite Orthodox brethren despite a different liturgical rite.

However, generally unlike Eastern Catholics, Western Rite Orthodox congregations are not the result of historically complex political and ecclesiastical developments, but rather of small-scale conversion to Orthodoxy by individuals and congregations. Also, Western Rite congregations all adhere to the same bishops as their Byzantine brethren; they do not constitute a separate church of their own. Criticism of the Western Rite based on its similarity with the 'Uniates' has been called guilt by association, overplaying a superficial similarity of form. Because the ideas are analogous, the argument goes, they must therefore share the same negative place as the so called "Uniates" do in the minds of some. Yet the more firmly established criticisms of uniatism usually have nothing to do with rite but rather with dogma, ecclesiology, and allegedly subversive missionary work.

Western Rite is divisive

Another criticism is that the Western Rite is inherently divisive. Following different liturgical traditions than their neighboring Byzantine Rite Orthodox Christians, those using the Western Rite do not share liturgical unity with them and present an unfamiliar face to the majority of Orthodox Christians. This sentiment is expressed most famously by Kallistos Ware, who was particularly concerned about the further fragmentation of Orthodoxy in non-Orthodox countries, in this case in Britain.[34]

Whether the Western Rite survives in the Orthodox Church and will be accepted by the majority who follow the Byzantine Rite remains yet to be seen. In the meantime, the Byzantine Rite bishops who oversee Western Rite parishes and many who oversee no Western Rite parishes continue to declare the Western Orthodox to be Orthodox Christians and regard them as fully in communion with the rest of the Church. Though there have been negative appraisals on both sides of the Western Rite issue, supporters of the Western Rite claim that there is nothing inherently divisive about having a separate liturgical practice, particularly since these churches remain under the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop rather than a Western Rite bishop. As yet, there are no schisms within the episcopacy of the Orthodox Church regarding the issue of Western Rite parishes.

Conversion without conversion

Another criticism often leveled against the Western Rite is based on the fact that the majority of the members of Western Rite parishes are converts to Orthodoxy. The argument states that Christians want to be Orthodox but "not too Orthodox," so they keep their familiar rites under a new bishop. The unstated assumption behind this argument, however, is similar to the argument against all non-Byzantine liturgical traditions: that the Orthodox Church includes only the Byzantine Rite, and so if one wants to be truly Orthodox, one must also be Byzantine.


  1. Cf. Alexander Schmemann, "Some Reflection Upon 'A Case Study'" St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 24.4 (1980), pp. 266-269; Gregory H. M. Dye, "Some Reflections on the Western Rite - II" St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 27.2 (1983), pp. 125-126; and Chrysostomos H. Stratman, The Roman Rite in Orthodoxy (Chicago: The Orthodox Christian Education Society, 1957), for examples.
  2. David F. Abramtsov. “The Western Rite and the Eastern Church: Dr. J. Julius Overbeck and His Scheme for the Re-Establishment of the Orthodox Church in the West.” Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 1961, p. 5.
  3. Parry, Ken et al. (editors). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, MA: 1999. Blackwell Publishing, p. 364
  4. Parry, Ken et al., The Blackwell Dictionary, p. 365
  5. Sobranio mnenii i otzyvov Filareta, mitropolita moskovskago i kolomenskago, po uchebnym i tserkovno-gosudarstvennym voprosam, ed. Archbishop Savva, Tome V, Part II (Moscow, 1888), 711-713.
  6. Abramtsov, “The Western Rite in the Eastern Church,” p. 26
  7. Georges Florovsky, “Orthodox Ecumenism in the Nineteenth Century,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 4, No. 3-4, 1956, 32.
  8. Peter F. Anson. Bishops at Large, 186-188. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2006.
  9. Parry, Ken et al., The Blackwell Dictionary, p. 515
  10. Parry, Ken et al., The Blackwell Dictionary, p. 514
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Frédéric Luz. Le Soufre & L'encens. Paris: Claire Vigne, 1995. p. 34-36. ISBN 2-84-193-021-1
  12. W. Jardine Grisbrooke, “Obituaries: Archbishop Alexis van der Mensbrugghe” in Sobornost 4.2 (1981), 212-216.
  13. The Orthodox Church of France: Canonical Restoration, November 1998. Last accessed February 14, 2008.
  14. Jean de la Rosa, The Orthodox Church of France: Her Canonical Situation. Last accessed February 14, 2008.
  15. "Observations on the American Book of Common Prayer"
  16. Gary L. Ward, Bertil Persson, and Alan Bain. Independent Bishops: An International Directory, xi. Apogee Books, 1990. ISBN 1-55888-307-X
  17. Gary L. Ward et al., Independent Bishops, 295-96, 301-02.
  18. Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil
  19. Gary L. Ward et al., Independent Bishops, 143-44.
  20. Benjamin J. Andersen, "An Anglican Liturgy in the Orthodox Church: The Origins and Development of the Antiochian Orthodox Liturgy of Saint Tikhon," Unpublished M.Div. Thesis, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, 2005, p. 7.
  21. Les Tentatives de Creation d’Un Rite Orthodoxe Occidental Esquisse historique, Religioscope, 2002. Accessed June 21, 2007
  22. Jonah's April 2009 speech transcript, mentioning Western Rite Orthodoxy:
  23. [1]
  24. [2]
  25. Benjamin Andersen, Western Rite History, Part 8, September 18, 2004. Last accessed March 16, 2007.
  26. Alexander Schmemann, “Notes and Comments: The Western Rite” in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 2.4 (1958), 37-38.
  27. Western Rite History, Part 8, September 18, 2004. Last accessed March 16, 2007.
  28. Michael Trigg, et al. The Saint Andrew Service Book. Stanton; St. Luke’s Priory Press, 1996.
  29. Andersen, “An Anglican Liturgy in the Orthodox Church,” p. 19
  30. The Lion: St. Mark’s Parish Newsletter, May 2003.
  31. About Lancelot Andrews Press
  33. Paul Meyendorff. “The Liturgical Path of Orthodoxy in America,” p. 1. Unpublished Paper, 1994.
  34. Bishop Kallistos. “Some Thoughts on the ‘Western Rite’ in Orthodoxy” in The Priest: A Newsletter for the Clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco, 5, May 1996.

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