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Orthodox Ash Wednesday

by Fr. John W Fenton, Assistant to the Vicar General

For all Orthodox Christians, the Holy Season of Lent begins on the First Sunday in Lent (4 March in 2012), and the Lenten fast begins a few days prior. For Byzantine Orthodox Christians, the First Day of the Great Fast is on the Monday before the First Sunday in Lent; and for Western Orthodox Christians the Lenten fast begins on the Wednesday before, commonly known as Ash Wednesday.

While both traditions observe a 40 day fast, the different starting dates for the fast are related to how the fast is calculated. Early on in the West, the Lenten included every day including Saturdays but never included Sundays. Therefore, in order to achieve 40 days, since the 7th century the Western Orthodox have fast not only for six fully weeks (i.e., 36 days) but also four additional days. Hence, for about 1400 years the Lenten fast in the West has begun on the Wednesday before the First Sunday in Lent.

It is not clear when the Wednesday beginning the Lenten fast began to include the imposition of ashes. Originally, the imposition of ashes was one of several public rites required of those penitents who wished to be restored to the church. As early as the 4th century, these rites were associated with a 40 day fast. Most likely this fast was the Lenten fast, but the evidence is too thin to be conclusive. What does seem clear is that, by the end of the 10th century, it was customary in Western Europe (but not yet in Rome) for all the faithful to receive ashes on the first day of the Lenten fast. In 1091, this custom was then ordered by Pope Urban II at the council of Benevento to be extended to the church in Rome. Not long after that, the name of the day was referred to in the liturgical books as “Feria Quarta Cinerum” (i.e., Ash Wednesday).

Greece Prepares Me for the Western Rite

by Peter Kavanaugh

After a year and a half on Mt. Olympus I prepared for my return back to America. I did not know what would await me there, and was a little anxious about leaving behind the awesome Grace of God I had experienced in Greece.

It was in the spring of 2008 that I began my life at the Holy Monastery of St. Dionysius of Mt. Olympus. I had gone there because I wished to live in an environment where Orthodoxy was deeply embedded into everyday life. There I found a community of lay people and clergy with a Christianity that was not, in the popular sense of the word, just a “religion” (in the popular sense of the word), or merely a set of dogmas and rituals, nor was it just “what we do on Sundays.” Instead, their faith was to be found even in the way they drink their coffee, in their daily expressions and habits, in their hospitality and lack of anxiety, and especially in their love for one another.

I was especially impressed by how natural and uncontrived their religion was. For them Orthodoxy was not exotic or foreign. It was simply life. One day followed another as these monks engaged in ancient, beautiful traditions. But as time passed by, it was no longer the elaborate robes and rituals that impressed me. Behind everything they did there was a spirit. Their faith, expressed through their Byzantine traditions, consisted of something much deeper and transcendental. There was a quiet power in their hearts and behind their eyes. This gradually became much more apparent and alluring. I went to Greece seeking to find the height of Orthodox expression. When I left, I simply wanted to find God.

Old Testament Women at the Annunciation: Gleanings from the Western Rite Lectionary

by Lynette A. Smith

Not All By Herself

Orthodox believers of both the Eastern and Western Rites celebrate major feast days in honor of the events of the Theotokos’ life. St. Luke records three of these important occurrences: the Annunciation, March 25 (1:26-38), the Visitation, July 2 (1:39-56), and the Presentation, February 2 (2:21-39). One of the features these three stories have in common is that our Lady is never alone; rather, other people share in the events of her life.

We know that Mary deliberately goes to be with her cousin Elizabeth after Mary’s annunciation. Nor is Mary is alone at the Temple when she presents the infant Jesus, because the Gospel tells us that at least her husband, Joseph, the priest, and Saints Simon and Anna are there for the occasion. Mary’s annunciation itself, however, seems a little different. Yes, the archangel Gabriel comes to her, but he leaves after delivering his message, and we do not read that she has anyone else with her. Or, does she?

In fact, those who attend Orthodox Western Rite parishes discover in the lectionary readings for the Feast of the Annunciation that five women from the Old Testament spiritually join with the Blessed Virgin Mary.[1] These women, in order of their liturgical appearance, are Eve, Sarah, the Psalmist’s royal Queen, the conceiving Virgin in Isaiah, and Hannah.

One Church and Several Liturgies

From Lux Occidentalis, by Fr. John Connely
Used by permission

The historical John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) was a son of Antioch, an Arab Christian, who served the Liturgy of St. James most of his life. That venerable Liturgy (and the Liturgy of St. Mark of Alexandria) was needlessly suppressed in the 13th Century by "Patriarch" Theodore IV (Balsamon), who was a Greek bishop living at Constantinople, and who never saw Antioch and never served the Liturgy of St. James. The arrogance of those who discard sacred tradition does not belong only to the modern period. Nor does such arrogance belong only to the Latin West.

The worship of the one, holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church, through the first millennium, was expressed in several regional Liturgies with local variations. These Liturgies include that of St. James in Antioch and the East, St. Mark in Alexandria and Africa, St. Peter in Rome and the West (with some residue of the Liturgy of St. John of Ephesus, and the local Ambrosian and Gallican and Mozarabic Liturgies) and St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom in the Imperial City and among the Hellenes (Greeks). This is the early Church which St. Ignatius of Antioch [c. 35- 107] first described [Ep. ad Smyr. 8.2.] as the Catholic Church and which is confessed in the Nicene Creed... "and I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

The Western Rite has undergone some "development" and augmentation in 1500 years, and so has the Eastern Rite. If the Western Rite seems strange to some Orthodox observers, it is probably because of its antiquity and austerity as compared with the highly developed and elaborated expression of the Eastern Rite.

Saints Cyril and Methodios

From Lux Occidentalis, by Fr. John Connely
Used by permission.

The ancient Western Rite, although lost to Orthodoxy after the 11th century Great Schism, did survive in the monastery of the Almafians on Mount Athos itself until 1287. According to the V. Revd. Edward Hughes: "We also need to notice that when Ss. Cyril and Methodios began their mission to Eastern Europe in the 9th century, they went to Rome for authority, and worked as Roman Christian missionaries even though they came from the East. They employed and distributed Liturgical books in both rites. Their Eastern rite work did not survive their own time, but was continued in Bulgaria by Ss. Clement and Naum of Ochrid. Their Western rite work, however, survived directly from their day right down to the 1970's in Dalmatia and Croatia. There are 15 known extant manuscripts of pre-Tridentine complete Missals in Old Church Slavonic, which have been subjected to all manner of textual and historical studies. The Christians of Dalmatia and Croatia know that their liturgical heritage is from the work of Cyril and Methodios. These both died as Roman clerics, never having expressed in writing any problems with their bi-ritualism."


The Revd. John Connely is a graduate of the University of Colorado and holds the degree Artium Magistri Religionem from Yale University. He is Pastor of St. Mark's Parish, Denver, Colorado and Dean of the Central States Deanery, Western Rite Vicariate, The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

The Tridentine Reform

From Lux Occidentalis, by Fr. John Connely
Used by permission.

One of the myths presently circulating about the Rite of St. Gregory the Great is that it is "Tridentine"—i.e., it is no older than the Council of Trent [1545-1563]. This criticism is made by those who know nothing about either this Rite or the Council of Trent or the Missal of Pius V [1570]. In fact, all that was done at Trent, liturgically speaking, was to standardize the worship of the West. This was done principally in two ways:

First, the Council (together with Pope Pius V) suppressed all Western Rites that did not have a continuous history of at least two hundred years. This effectively eliminated all but the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, the Mozarabic Rite of Toledo, Spain, and the Gregorian Rite of the City of Rome itself, sometimes therefore called the Roman Rite. [* Simple variations within the Roman Rite, such as existed among the Benedictines, Dominicans, etc., were permitted to remain, but have lapsed since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s.] In the 16th century the Gregorian or Roman Rite already had a continuous documented history of more than 1000 years. It therefore became the standard Rite of most of post-Schism Western Christendom. Session XXII [17 Sept. 1562] of the Council issued a series of definitions on the sacrificial doctrine of the Mass, but no change in the actual text of the Rite.

The Western Rites of the Early Church

From Lux Occidentalis, by Fr. John Connely
Used by permission

The Liturgy of St. Peter (commonly known as the Liturgy of St. Gregory), is found, substantially as it has been used in the Latin Church until Vatican II (1969)1, in the Sacramentaries of St. Gregory [590], Gelasius [491] and St. Leo [483]. The Roman Liturgy is attributed to St. Peter by ancient liturgical commentators, who founded their opinion chiefly upon a passage in an Epistle of Innocent [fifth century], to Decentius, Bishop of Eugubium. St. Gregory revised the variable parts of the liturgy, the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels; but the only change which he made in the Ordinary was by the addition of a few words which is noticed by the Venerable Bede [Hist. Eccl. Lib.2, c.I.].2

Since the time of St. Gregory the Roman Liturgy has been used over a large part of the Western Church, and, until 1969, was practically the only one allowed by Rome. From the Roman Liturgy in its primitive form were derived that used by the Churches of North-western Africa, and the Ambrosian Rite of the Church of Milan.

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