Sunday, May 6, 2012
Must Orthodoxy Be Byzantine?
Rome finds it easy to have a Western Rite (certainly overwhelmingly predominant) and an Eastern Rite because Rome is not primarily the Mass but the Papacy. The Mass takes its form at the direction of the structures of the Church (namely the Pope and his congregations). It may be adapted or shaped by the will of the Papacy though its success certainly depends upon the extended will of the bishops and priests who implement the changes. Since Rome is bound together by the Papacy, the form of the Mass, while essential, is not primary to its unity.
Orthodoxy, however, is different. While Patriarchal in structure, Orthodoxy has a recognizable and definable liturgical tradition that has and continues to be primary in the unity of this communion. Granted there is not one form of the liturgy but several that predominate in Orthodoxy, yet this liturgical tradition is shaped from an ethnic and cultural perspective that is at one in the same time parochial and universal. It is something that we in the West have not been so nearly successful. Our liturgical diversity has been a source of disunity while in Orthodoxy the liturgical diversity is within certain bounds and has not harmed its unity as a body.
If you are interested in this, you can read a better case for my point here. The conclusion seems to be that while everyone would affirm that in theory Orthodoxy need not be Byzantine, in practice the Byzantine Rite is the universal expression of Orthodoxy, especially in the mission field where the rite and the theological tradition are inseparable.
Now for the Lutheran question. Must Lutheranism be Western? In other words, is Lutheranism so wedded to the Western Rite as a liturgical form and the Western tradition of theology (both in vocabulary and expression) that it is inherently uncomfortable with Byzantine theological perspective and liturgical expression? Certainly, the Confessions quote approvingly from the Greek anaphora. We know that there was an appeal to the Patriarch Jeremias from Wittenberg around the time of the Reformation. We know that some Lutherans have swum the Bosporus and found a rather comfortable home in Orthodoxy (though we also know that some have attempted to be Orthodox but not Byzantine, keeping the Western Rite).
I think it can be said that the early Lutherans did not much think of such a possibility. The Confessions seem to presume (and, I would argue, expect) a liturgical identity of a reformed Mass, they do not necessarily preclude the possibility of an Eastern Rite. Yet the great hymnic and devotional tradition of Lutheranism is decidedly Western, and, perhaps, unavoidably so. I cannot answer my question but it might be one worth our consideration. We have had our own history of trying to replicate the ethnic backgrounds of our own history upon the mission field. I have a vivid memory of listening to the cassock and cotta robed smiling black faces of the children of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Chicago singing great Lutheran chorales in German. On the other hand, our forbearers were quick to translate Luther's Catechism into the language of Native Americans in a way that startled Christians who had been here far longer than the Lutherans were.
No, the question is not just academic. It is extremely practical. Must Lutheran be Western in liturgical form and theological identity?