Christ is Risen!
Many probably know most of the following already: but, as Vladyka Seraphim (Ivanoff) of blessed memory said to me long ago, "In case you don't know, I'll remind you!"
I was raised in a small New England town, and till I was 16, in the Episcopal Church. But my godfather, and also the clergyman in the next town where we had our high school, told me that "the Orthodox Church has the same history as we do, and we are in communion with them: we can go to communion in their church, and they in ours".
That turned out not to be the case. When I began learning Russian and Greek at age 14, I started to hear more and more about the Orthodox Church, and I became more and more curious, and then more and more interested.
The obvious arguments for the unique truth of the Orthodox faith, you must all know. One of them is that there had been One Church, and that Rome had become separated from what was then the rest of the Orthodox Church, and later the Anglican Church from Rome, followed by the Puritans (Congregationalists), Methodists, and others, from the Church of England.
It was also pretty obvious that Rome had never been Byzantium, and England was not Russia. So the Western Church, as is clearly documented, was "Western" in the typicon it followed, long before there was any split between the Greek vs. Latin Christianity. What I discovered much later, and might surprise some, is that the typicon of Constantinople and Hagia Sophia, used once to be very similar to that followed in Rome.
I was received into the Orthodox Church on Dec. 22, 1963, which was the day after I turned 17. Shortly after that, I became an altar boy in Mahopac, where I served Vladyka Seraphim of Chicago and Detroit on his visits. I used to go there with an iconographer named Dimitri B. Alexandrow, who lived down what was then a country road from my childhood home, and who was also a neighbor from Mr. G. Tchaika, who gave me my first lessons in Russian pronunciation and conversation (and told me a little about the problems in the Russian Orthodox Church, where he had been kicked out of the choir and was insulted).
Mr. Alexandrow soon became Father Dimitri, and later on, Bishop Daniel of Erie. I learned a very great deal from him, and his advice and explanations set me on what I consider the straight path of Orthodoxy.
I had been received by chrismation, which in 1963 was the tradition in the Russian Church for accepting converts from Anglicanism. But a year and a half later, "Holy Transfiguration Monastery" in Brookline, Massachusetts, with its priestmonk Panteleimon, was received into ROCOR (by canonical transfer, which the Panteleimonites now deny). Very shortly after that, I began to be told that reception by Chrismation was "not strong enough", and that I was "still in my sins" and needed to be baptized.
I was fortunate enough to be able to consult Fr. Dimitri Alexandrow about this, and he showed me conclusively, from the Canons, that this was not the truth, not the teaching of the Orthodox Church. That was very impressive for me, and just as Mr. Tchaika had let me know there were day-by-day troubles in the Church, so Fr. Dimitri showed me that there were ecclesiological troubles, caused, not by "True Orthodox", but by disobedient people who try to spread their own, ultra-strict, but false, teachings.
We had, at that time, a Western Rite diocese in France. In Mahopac, I was shown their illustrated book called in French, Nos Eglises en France. I soon found out that the Panteleimonites opposed this, on two grounds: that "one must be Byzantine to be Orthodox", and "the New Calendar [in those days, ROCOR permitted the use of the New Calendar in non-Russian communities] is a heresy".
I asked Father Dimitri what he thought of the Western rite. Is it Orthodox? His reply was: Yes, it is indeed Orthodox, but the question that can be asked, is this the same Western rite that was used historically?
After the loss of the French diocese in 1967, due to the pressure they had come under following the repose of their protector, St. John Maximovitch, Fr. Dimitri was very critical of the way the group that stayed, was forced by Archbishop Anthony of Geneva [now reposed - Ed.], to change over to the Eastern Rite. But a year or less went by, before a new group of Western rite parishes (three) was accepted into ROCOR, at that time with the support of Fr. George Grabbe (who later came under the influence of the Panteleimonites, however).
Fr. Dimitri, his mother and I, went to a church in Connecticut that followed the Western rite, to see what it was like. But, while the actual text of the Mass or Liturgy was entirely correct and historical, there was no music -- due, I think, to the small number of people and to a lack of musical ability on those involved.
Fr. Dimitri, who was a learned medievalist and linguist, and active in the Old Rite, giving him a broader liturgical perspective, told me that this service should have been in Gregorian chant, and at least partly in Latin. He had lived in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and had seen the old Mass as it was kept in those places in the 1940's and early 1950's.
This idea inspired me, because it made sense: this was what Orthodox worship had once been like, before the separation of the Western Church -- and wonderful as the Russian Church and Russian tradition are, not everyone was as able to adapt to them as I had been.
But if Orthodoxy is the True Faith, it can't be only for people of a certain cultural background, or with a linguistic and cultural flexibility: it had to be for everyone. Fr. Dimitri described the other "special Rites" in the Orthodox Church, such as that of the Old Believers or of the Syro-Chaldeans (whose bishop lived out his days in our Spring Valley convent of Novoe Diveevo). In 1965, there was also a plan to receive a group of former Syro-Jacobites (West Syrian tradition as opposed to East Syrian).
As the years went by, Fr. Dimitri, later Bishop Daniel, always encouraged me to study and to try to revive the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church.
Vladyka Seraphim of Chicago, whom I got to know while I was in high school and college, agreed entirely with Fr. Dimitri. So did Archbishop Nikon of blessed memory, who told me that Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky had been another big supporter of this idea. So were Bishop Alexander (Mileant), Bishop Mitrofan (Znosko-Borovsky) and others whom I respected and learned from.
I was rather taken aback, when in college I mentioned to one of my Russian professors a custom that exists in the Old Rite. Her immediate reaction was, "Whereas, what do the Orthodox do?" I was wasting my breath trying to tell her that the Old Rite was Orthodox.
I also recall a conversation I once had with Archbishop Ionafan Kopalovich [now reposed -Ed.], who was the Moscow Patriarchate administrator in New York City at the time of the autocephaly issue [resulting in the creation of the OCA - Ed.]. I said something to him about the Old Rite, and his reaction was that "The Old Rite is a heresy".
Was St. Sergius of Radonezh a heretic, then?
Many of the same problems seem to come up whenever an unfamiliar church service is met with. A certain outspoken priest recently wrote, and I believe put on his website, that the Liturgies of St. James and St. Mark are "not Orthodox".
But grasping the idea of "various typicons in the Church" is, as Patriarch Kyrill said in a private conversation with me at the Sobor in Moscow,* not only very Orthodox, but a key element in the education of future clergy. That was why he, himself, when he taught candidates for the priesthood, used to celebrate such rare Liturgies, and why he has continued to encourage me in this direction.
"There are 17 ways to do everything in the Orthodox Church", as one of our departed hierarchs was wont to say, "and 17 ways to do each of the 17 ways".
The article was originally shared with the ROCOR WR clergy by Bishop Jerome and is now available online at http://sarisburium.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/reminiscences-of-hierarch-regarding.html