Sunday, May 6, 2012

Must Orthodoxy Be Byzantine?

I have written a few times about the seeming inconsistency of a Western Rite Orthodoxy.  I must admit I find this a strange and mostly uncomfortable union of theology and piety.  But the larger question of whether Orthodoxy must be Byzantine goes well beyond the liturgical usage on Sunday morning.  It goes to the heart and core of what Orthodoxy is.  Is Orthodoxy so unchangeable Byzantine that the liturgical expression is inseparable from the theology?  Or, is Orthodoxy a theological perspective which can be render in various forms of piety?  I do not know the answer to this and better minds than mine have pondered on this.

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?


Anonymous said...

The angels on that dome are awesome!!!

Janis Williams said...

Whether Eastern or Western matters less than faithfulness to the conffessions. We have a very pressing proble in that area.

And yes, anonymous, those angels are definitely that!

Chris Jones said...

Must Lutheran be Western in liturgical form and theological identity?

The short and practical answer to your question would seem to be no. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church is a Byzantine-rite Lutheran Church in communion with WELS/ELS.

I would argue not only that Orthodoxy need not be exclusively Byzantine, but that Orthodoxy must not and cannot be exclusively Byzantine. Saints Irenaeus, Augustine, Ambrose, Leo, and Gregory are all Orthodox saints, and none of them was Byzantine. To insist that Orthodoxy must always and everywhere be Byzantine is in effect to make a schism between the Orthodoxy of today and the Orthodoxy of the Latin Fathers of the Church. To put it another way, what was once the liturgical heritage of the Orthodox Church is always the liturgical heritage of the Orthodox Church.

By the same token, if the Lutheran Church is to be serious about her claim to be "the Catholic Church of the West, rightly reformed," then she must acknowledge herself as the heir not only of Augustine and Ambrose but also of Athanasius, Basil, and John Chrysostom. So there can be no objection in principle to Lutherans worship in the tradition of those great Eastern Fathers.

Otherwise we will have acquiesced in the cultural captivity of the various parts of divided Christendom, and made the Church Catholic into an artifact of this-worldly culture rather than the manifestation in this world of the Kingdom of God.

Joanne said...

This church interior is covered every inch in illustrative art (2 dimentional only)each giving us a message about a bible story, or a doctrine, or martyrs. Just what Luther suggested we do with our church interiors and what many Lutherans did do.
But most of the art in this church is prescribed, who goes where on the iconostasion, the gospel writers holding up the dome in the squinches, the Pantocrator in the top of the dome looking down from heaven. Any art using a golden background means the scene or person is in heaven. Hanging feet means floating.

As you would expect of the Roman Imperial Church the order of the royal court is reflected in the order of depictions in church art. The Mother of God is always depictd to the left of the Royal Doors, the Pantocrator, again, to the right of same. Very controlled as if the same as Imperial court etiquette. You look at this church interior and know immediately that this church is an Imperial Church.

You will find the double-headed eagle prominently placed usually above the entrance doors. The church still uses the golden Imperial flag, especially at monestaries. To call all this Byzantine is common, but is actually a perjorative. It is Imperial Roman.

Now what has been lost both in art and in worship is the churches and the worship of the really large metropolitan churches of the East after the collapse of the great cities of the East and the beginnings of the middle-ages, feudalism even in the East.

The actual look and feel of the worship services in Hagia Sophia, St. Demetrios in Salonica, the large basilica in Damascus, is lost to us. What the Orthodox have maintained is primarily the worship that survived in the monastaries, not the metropolises. It's monkish.

Remember, St. John Chrysostom preached in the previous Hagia Sophia; he preached in a Roman style basilica with a wooden beam ceiling and a large stone colmned portico. He never saw the huge Salomonic Hagia Sophia we see today.

All of the East is filled with the ruins of large Contantinian basilicas that were replaced after barbaric destructions with these usually smaller bijou Greek cross churches.

One other mention, I have heard Eastern Christians refer to the Blessed Augustine, but never to St. Augustine. Although, you are right that there is a strong movement in Orthodoxy to reclaim all of Christianity before The Great Schism of 1054. Which would, of course, include the Sarum rite and all the Anglo-Saxon saints of England.

Chris Jones said...

I have heard Eastern Christians refer to the Blessed Augustine, but never to St. Augustine

It's true that Orthodox customarily refer to the bishop of Hippo as "Blessed Augustine," but there is less to that than meets the eye.

First of all, the modern Roman Catholic Church has degrees of veneration, so that a holy person is first "beatified" and is then referred to as "Blessed so-and-so"; then the person is canonized and can be referred to as "Saint so-and-so." To Western Christians, saying "Blessed Augustine" sounds like Augustine is being treated like "not quite a saint." But in reality the distinction between beatification and canonization is completely unknown in Orthodoxy.

In Orthodox custom, many saints have customary titles that are used to refer to them. One such was used in your comment, when you referred to St John Chrysostom. "Chrysostom" is not St John's surname; it is a title of honour which means "golden-mouthed." This title was given to St John because of his excellence in preaching. Some saints are called "equal to the Apostles" because they were instrumental in bringing the Gospel to many people. St Mary Magdelene, among others, is titled "equal to the Apostles."

The title "Blessed Augustine" is simply the customary title by which St Augustine is referred to in the Orthodox service-books. It's not as fancy a title as "golden-mouthed" or "equal to the Apostles," but it certainly does not mean that Augustine is not regarded as a saint in the Orthodox Church. He was duly canonized by the local Church in whose communion he lived and died, and that local Church was Orthodox at the time. Therefore he is, and must be, recognized and venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church.

Joanne said...

Ah yes, I'm so glad Chris has mentioned the Eastern Saints; they are myriad and they are everywhere. Every locality has it local saint. Every consecrated altar has within it the bones of some saint or other. I have a friend who donated a knuckle bone of St. Herman of Alaska to a nearby Orthodox mission a few years ago. He had impeccable provenance with it. I believe that no one knows all the Saints of the Orthodox church, and I know that there are very many of whom only a name is known. The people of the area know he was a saint but they don't know why or when. And there is no need of a tyrannical committee in Constantinople to sort it all out and to throw out the least-well provenanced saints. As Chris points out, it is enough to know that his church made him a saint and though it would be nice, no actual need to know anything else.
Quite a contrast to that other Patriarchate to the west, the one so dominated by the Franks. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

What about Ge'ez Rite? The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is nearly 1700 years old, fully African, and fully Eastern all at once. It's a powerful witness to the universality of the Christian message and the fact that it isn't just a "white man's religion". Are there any Lutheran parishes that use the Ge'ez Rite or borrow from that tradition, I wonder?

Chris Jones said...

Are there any Lutheran parishes that use the Ge'ez Rite or borrow from that tradition, I wonder?

An interesting question. There are small Lutheran Church bodies in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, the result of missionary work by European Lutheran Churches in the 19th and 20th centuries. I do not know whether the liturgy of these Churches is derived from that of their missionary mother Churches, or from that of the existing national Church (Coptic).

One difficulty is that while the Coptic Ethiopian and Eritrean national Churches may be "fully African, and fully Eastern all at once," they are not orthodox (despite the name). They are Monophysite bodies which reject the teachings of the council of Chalcedon. I don't know if their teachings on the nature of Christ have affected their liturgy, but if they have, then that liturgy would be inconsistent with the Lutheran confession of the Athanasian Creed.