28 March 2009

Byzantium (4)

For some time, Orthodox Christianity has had something of a 'guru' status. It is respected and, for example, when Rome is violently attacked for its negative attitude towards other Christians, nobody seems to think there is any point in attacking Orthodoxy for being even more negative. (I have in mind the fact that the permissions given in the RC Ecumenical Directory for nonRCs to receive the Sacraments from RC clergy are far kindlier than the Orthodox rules). I suppose this is because we Westerners have been at each other's throats for centuries while the Orthodox were below the horizon; moreover, we Anglicans have used Orthodoxy polemically ("the Orthodox prove that you can be Catholic without being under the Pope"), which has created a sort of subconscious feeling among us that they are "on our side". But Orthodoxy has been high-profile in our country for quite a time now, and I think the time has come for us to be able to treat them with the same Christian frankness that we use in dealing with all our other ecumenical partners.

Another element in the 'guru' status enjoyed by Orthodoxy is the idea, widespread among impressionable Western laity, that Orthodoxy is so much more 'ancient' than our Western Christian cultures. More than half a century ago, Gregory Dix used to make himself unpopular by pointing out that this is quite simply not so. He emphasised that "the scientific study of liturgy inclines more and more to show that the old Roman Sacramentaries have preserved into modern use an incomparably larger body of genuinely primitive - and by this I mean not merely pre-Nicene but second and even first century - Christian liturgical material ... than any other extant liturgical documents ... ".

Let me take one detail: the question of the Eucharistic Epiklesis. Byzantine scholasticism - every bit as pigheaded as some Western scholasticism - has in effect treated this as essential. When 'Western Rite Orthodox' have been allowed, almost invariably the Roman Canon has been perverted by having a Byzantine-style epiklesis corruptly thrust into it. Since the Easterners were prepared to live in unity with a West which used this Prayer for a fair bit of a millennium, you might think that their own sense of respect for their own historic praxis might prevent them from such a crude and nasty violation. But not so. Any sign of the 'latinisation' of 'uniate' rites or culture is, justifiably, deployed as evidence that the West does not respect the integrity of the Christian East. But they treat with Byzantine hubris the ancient and exquisite liturgical and spiritual masterpiece of the West.

Two or three years ago, the theological periodical of the Moskow Patriarchate published an article arguing that the Roman Canon, as handed down, is indeed unexceptionable. A very good sign. We can do with more evidence that Orthodox are capable of respecting Western Catholicism.

But, at the Walsingham Conference, when the Orthodox representative at 'Questiontime' was asked what Orthodoxy could learn from the West, he dismissed the question with a comment that "Ecumenism is not a matter of exchanging parcels".

Indeed it isn't. It's about taking other Christians seriously.

9 comments:

William Hyland said...

Thank you Fr. Hunwicke. You express here something many of us, in my case a Roman Catholic church historian who has taught Byzantine history and many ancient and medieval church history courses, have been feeling for some time now.

Fr Anthony said...

Did you know Dr. Ray Winch, yes the one who practically lived in Pusey House library and the Oxford Union? He went Orthodox in the 50's and had a dream of Latin Rite Orthodoxy this side of the Atlantic. He died a few years ago a broken man.

Fr. Anthony

BJA said...

Fr H.,

As an Orthodox Christian, I think most of what you write here is spot on. I would like to shed a bit of light, though, on the interpolated Roman Canon as used by the WR Orthodox.

Personally, I agree entirely with you that there is nothing objectionable about the Roman Canon, one of the most ancient and venerable Christian Eucharistic prayers.

When the Western Rite movement first began, with Dr Overbeck in the 19th century, the sort of 'Byzantine scholasticism' you refer to was in full swing. Both Russian and Greek theologians shared with Latin theologians the notion that there is a 'moment' of consecration, but in knee-jerk reaction against Roman apologists, began to teach that this moment is not at the Words of Institution but at the Epiclesis.

It is this reactionary notion, not an authentically Orthodox one, that led Overbeck to insert the Byzantine epiclesis into his version of the Roman Canon (approved by Moscow and Constantinople and some other autocephalous churches, but never actually used by Overbeck).

When, in 1958, the Antiochians in the USA received a Western Rite group, a commission was formed to issue Western Rite liturgical texts that were entirely consonant with the essentials of Orthodox dogma and practice. Two famous American Orthodox theologians, John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann, served on this committee.

The committee had in front of them Overbeck's version of the Roman Mass in Latin. Though no records of the committee's proceedings exist (that I know of), I have it on good authority from someone who was there that they seriously debated Overbeck's interpolation of the Byzantine epiclesis.

Undoubtedly, Meyendoff and Schmemann were not held captive by the reactionary idea of a 'moment' of consecration, and were well aware that the ancient Roman Canon was perfectly fine and valid as it stood. However, not all Orthodox hierarchs, clergy and layfolk at the time were as enlightened. So a practical, pastoral decision was made: retain Overbeck's interpolation so as to make sure that the new Western Rite Orthodox communities will not be accused by other Orthodox of having a defective or even invalid eucharistic prayer.

I very much look forward to the day when the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate (a growing institution) can return the Roman Canon to its normal state.

Thanks for your excellent and informative blog!

Rev. Dr. Athanasius D. McVay, HED said...

Most latinization of the Uniates was self induced.

BJA said...

As are many of the byzantinizations one finds in Western Rite Orthodox communities. It's a very similar psychology, I think.

Christian said...

None of this is even to mention the Easternizations brought into the west since the 1960's. EG: Deacon's standing at the consecration, bowing rather than genuflecting to the tabernacle during Mass and troped kyrie's. *shudder*

Fr Paul said...

Dear Father
as a RC priest working and studying in Greece, I can only say AMIN to your commnts. I could tell you so many stories of the unreconstructed bigotry of many Greek Orthodox.One of the foremost members of the Athens theological faculty rebaptised his RC mother on her deathbed. Fortunately my admiration of the byzantine tradition and of the cultural achievement of hellenic christianity remains undiminished.

I am pleased to find choed here my own thoughts on the absurd interpolation of the Epiclesis from the Liturgy of St John Chysostom into the Roman Canon by Western Rite Orthodox.(Regardless of anything else it completely disrupts its logical sequence, rendering without object the "unde et memores..." which refers back to "in mei memoriam facietis".

There has surely been little time so completely wasted in the history of theology as that expended on debating a "moment of consecration". The western obsession with the words of Instituion has almost entirely obscured the notion that the Eucharistic Prayer is just what it is called - a PRAYER of offering into which Christ calls us to participate. The eastern view avoids this pitfall by and large - but the one-sided concentration on the Epiclesis often becomes a mirror image to the Latin shiboleth. The fact is that the earliest anaphoras would seem to have contained contained neither Institution Narrative nor an Epiclesis on the Gifts in the developed form. (The epiclesis of the Roman Canon is the paragraph "Supplices te...", which reflects the chronological priority of an epiclesis over the communicants.)

The fact is that Christ did not say "say this in memory of me", but "do this..." - i.e. give thanks in memory of His sacrifice over bread and cup which then become His sacrifice. We need to recover the sense that the Eucharist is a sacred action, not a discourse. I do not think that all the implications have yet been drawn from the Roman recognition of the (uninterpolated) Anafora of Adai and Mari.

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

A good discussion. Fr Paul: I like yor emphasis on the priority of the Eucharist as action to which words merely minister; do you know Newman's purple passage in Loss and Gain where he makes just this point about the subpriority (posteriority?) of words. But I don't know that I'd characterise the Supplices as an epiclesis of the ccommunicants. It's gloriously sui generis: "O God, please haul these elements upstairs so that they can be oned with with the genuine doingses on the altar up there with the result that what we get will the authentic benefits of heaven." A working-out, in my view, of the meaning of Sursum corda. With a nod towards S Paul's observation that our politeuma is anothen; and conceivably a subconscious dash of Platonism.

webmasterNW52HR said...

As a compiler of the authorised Russian Orthodox Saint Colman Prayer Book containing all the services of the Western Rite, I should point out that the epiclesis was put in reluctantly in order to avoid inexpert accusations of invalidity. However, we deliberately avoided the epiclesis of the Chrysostoma Liturgy, preferring that contained in the Gothic Missal's Collect for the Throne of Peter as at least being "like cloth". We follow the "English Use" ceremonial.

Fr. Michael
Russian Orthodox Priest-monk
Blessed to the Western Rite
Bournemouth