Part of the split between East and West concerns a divergence in Church culture. Some of this can be traced back to the very earliest times, some from the Fifth Century, some from after the Eighth Century but most from after the Eleventh Century. This culture is a matter of how things are done in practice, from things such as Baptism to shaving. Some of the issues are canonical where in some cases the West/East did not know/receive those canons held by the other and sometimes, when it did, they were sometimes ignored/changed such as kneeling on Sundays. A number of issues can be traced back to the Apostolic Constitutions, which, although not regarded as binding, had a strong influence on what, in the East, was understood as Tradition. Somehow this influence seems to have been missing in the West, although historical research, at least in the secondary non-polemic literature I have read, does suggest that in the early centuries there was a much closer culture between East and West in many of these areas such as fasting and Baptism, which reflect the Tradition as seen in the Apostolic Consistutions.

Many regard practice as secondary or incidental to faith and because it is physical action, it is changeable. However, this does not seem to be the mind of the Fathers, who regard the practice of the Church, Tradition(s), as unchangeable as the Faith, with some exceptions. This is, I understand, because the unchanging Son of God became incarnate and took matter to participate in His unchanging life. The practice of Tradition reflects this unchanging life, which is truly incarnate not just a spiritual or conceptual reality. Thus, we would expect to see this life manifest in a physical and practical manner. Matter and action also play a part in salvation because both soul and body are saved not just the soul; we are judged for the deeds done in the body. When Christ was incarnate He took on a particular form, which remains His eternally, hence the ability to paint icons of Him. Being incarnate means limiting oneself to a particular form. The amazement of the Angels in seeing Him beyond form who fills the heavens, i.e. is omnipresent, coming to earth, i.e. into time and space, with a particular form. This though did not prevent Him maintaining the fullness of His divinity. Thus, the rites/practices of the Church can take on particular forms that continue to incarnate the mystical presence of Christ and these forms take on a permanence due to their connection with Christ.

So, when the culture/practice of life changes there is a sense that somehow the faith is changed with this and the new practices no longer reflect the presence of the incarnate Christ. However, not always, as some of the schisms in the East, such as that of the Old Believers, have shown. Nevertheless, these schisms do highlight the Orthodox mind, even if taken too far or simplistically (not all Church rites/practices are necessarily single formed and different forms can portray various aspects of the same mystery), where there is a strong connection between faith and practice.

The change of culture has played an important role in the separation and continuance of separation between East and West, at least the evidence of Eastern concerns about these matters show they were concerned about it to the level of anathemas for “false” rites/practices. Any reunion must not only see an agreement of matters of Faith, i.e. the filioque, and jurisdiction, i.e. the Papacy, but also on matters of practice such as Baptism, the bread for the Eucharist, kneeling, music, icons, fasting, marriage and others. Some different practices maybe be accepted as legitimate and acceptable by both sides, some may be overlooked because the change would be too difficult to implement overnight, but others maybe such that cannot be put aside; there must be a common practice with agreed limits on economy in necessity. Obviously the Ecumenical Councils have already defined much of this and what is often needed is a return to that practice.

Nevertheless, I believe that there is no point discussing practical things in depth until matters of Faith and mindset are sorted out. Once there is a common mind then matters of dispute can be discussed within the same way of thinking. Otherwise, we will just talk past one another to no benefit. These practices must still be addressed before union is possible but in the proper order. Having said that, it can be useful to consider the culture/practices of each other because it does help to get a better idea of each others way of thinking as long as we do not try to interpret it entirely from our own perspective; it is learning to alter perspective that is the point of the consideration.

27 Responses to Orthopraxis

  1. Roland says:

    I think it can be too easy to equate Byzantine with Orthodox, skipping over the anomalies and historical accidents that led to their becoming coterminous. Before the Monophysite Schism, there was a diversity of cultures, languages, and liturgies in the East. This diversity continued for some time after the schism, but, as the schism played out along ethno-linguistic lines, those remaining (Chalcedonian) Orthodox were mostly Greek speakers, who identified with Constantinople and eventually dropped their local liturgies in favor of those of Constantinople. After that, Greek (and later, Russian) nationalism imposed the Byzantine Rite – always in Greek (or, later, Slavonic) – on newly converted nations for political reasons. These tendencies may have peaked with certain canons of the Qunisext Council, which amounted to a petty condemnation of all practices that differed from the Byzantine.

    We should also remember that, as a rule, Rome has been more conservative in liturgical matters than the East. After any period of liturgical accretion and elaboration, there always follows a reform to bring liturgical use back into line with practical reality. When this happens, the West has typically trimmed the latest accretions, returning to older and simpler forms. The East, by contrast, has often buried or de-emphasized older portions of the liturgy, bringing more recent additions to the fore. If we really want to look at liturgical practice, we should not presume that we Orthodox will always be found to hold the older, more “traditional” position. Rather, we should be prepared to defend our own innovations.

    The leavened-vs.-unleavened difference did not become a matter of serious East-West dispute until the 11th century, and then it was rooted in Frankish-vs.-Byzantine politics, not in theology.

  2. Fr. J. says:

    As I understand it, there were always significant disparities between the different ancient rites of the unified church or churches, particularly between East and West, but not exclusively. There were and are differences between Eastern rites. As these rites are co-eval, or nearly so, I think it is an unnecessary burden that all such differences be eliminated for a return to communion.

    I do wonder if your idea of East West ecumenism is on of re-union. I do not think that is necessary or even very possible. However, a return to communion is much more likely and perhaps even more desirable.

  3. Lord Peter says:

    The process of redeeming Western Rites (with no preconception about how much needs to be done, only that the question arise due to long-term separation) requires great discernment and patience. We can all agree that, in principle, this can and, depending on how things go, perhaps even must happen.

    Our poster has hit upon the touchstone, though, for guiding this process. Namely, full understanding of the three main stages of the cultural estrangement of the pervious more cohesive Greco-Roman Christian Commonwealth.

    Indeed, when we understand just how much or little of the apparent differences between the largely Latin-Only and Greek-Only (as opposed to previously bilingual) sections of the Empire are merely external and thus differences without real distinction and visa versa, then we have made and large stride.

    Next, the same sort of discerning analysis must be made regarding the ascendency of the Carolingian Franks from among the Germanic Tribes that came to occupy the West half of the former Empire, but had yet do control the Papacy, which itself was largely in the hands of Old Roman Aristocratic families who often dispute with the Franks on theology, invariably siding with East.

    Penultimately, we must explore the effect of the Germanic, even more specifically, the Cluniac possession and control of the Papacy from the 11th Century onwards. By this time, the “Germanic Comitatas” in the West and “Hellenic Romanitas” in the East recognized that had become substantively estranged. But, as liturgy is inherently conservative, how much of the Western Rite was truly heterodox at this point? We must not presume the answer is everything.

    Finally, the rise of Scholasticism and radically new Western piety must be evaluated for the degree and amount of distorting effect it had on the orthodox expression of the Faith. Personally, my best guess is that this time period very singular Western liturigical development, along with the Counter-Reformation retrenchment is where the most liturgical and para-liturgical damage was done (the delayed blooming of poisonous theological seed planted much earlier). We also must evaluate the Western Reformation Movement, even specific sub-movements such as the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement as developed by the Caroline Divines, for degree of theological and liturgical correction — more ground may have been recovered here than many Eastern Orthodox have been taught to believe, especially with regard to the 1549 and 1928 editions of the English Book of Common Prayer.

    * * * * *

    IMHO, the ROCOR Sarum Rite revival, along with the 1549 and 1928 editions of the BCP when done following authentic English rubrical requirements, which exclude High Medieval Germanic-Latin accretions as well as Counter-Reformation attempts at retrenchment, — the later unfortunately not being employed by an Orthodox jurisdiction yet AFAIK — are much closer to sound Orthodox liturgy than many Eastern critics are aware. I believe it is really the present tendency to stuff Tridentine Liturgy and Spirituality into an Orthodox package that is the cause of legitimate Eastern criticism — as most of the “cultural” expressed therein arise from completely sectarian and doubtful dogmatics.

  4. photius at sbcglobal dot net

  5. Anthony Roberts says:

    Photios Jones, I’d like to email you with a quick question. Would that be okay?

  6. Collator says:

    I wrote a comment on the non-Chalcedonian problem appended to the post previous to this one, “Christology and the Eucharist.” Symeon answered there with thoughts similar to those expressed above. It would be nice to start a more in-depth discussion of that issue — although many pixels have been spilled over the issue (see, e.g., http://www.monachos.net).

    Whereas the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics are both Chalcedonian and have been out of communion for a “mere” ~1000 years, the Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians have been out of communion for roughly 1500 years. Strangely, Orthodox practice seems to share much more with the non-Chalcedonians — in ascetical and liturgical mindset, as far as I can tell, not just in particular practices such as using leavened bread (although the Armenians use unleavened — in fact Orthodox critique of Latin use of azymes draws on older polemics against Armenian Monophysites). I was at a conference on Syriac studies this weekend in North Jersey and was impressed by the beauty of the Syriac Monophysite vespers and its closeness to a Chalcedonian Orthodox vespers. This is just an impression and may be wrong — e.g., I read some words in a book by the late Indian (Malankara) Monophysite theologian V.C. Samuel that seemed to disparage the doctrine of theosis (deification), although it was unclear whether he took issue with it in general or only as expressed by St. John of Damascus. I have also heard that Pope Shenouda is hostile to the doctrine of theosis, which has caused a sharp conflict within the Coptic church, but I have not studied the question in depth.

    I think that this is one of the most pressing theological problems facing the Orthodox Church today. The dialogue has proceeded to the point where the “official” theologians from both sides have agreed on a Christological formula and recommend movement toward official re-union, but the agreement seems to me like an updated version of Zeno’s Henoticon. But I disagree with Symeon’s statement above that most Orthodox are against dialogue with the Monophysites, per se. I, for one, have grave misgivings about the presuppositions and fruits of the current dialogue, but I think that serious discussion where both sides are sober and honest with regard to their own traditions should not be avoided. Unfortunately, most “Chalcedonian” Orthodox already call our neighbors “Orthodox”: Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, etc. This, of course, is what they call themselves, and any suggestion otherwise is often considered terribly rude and backward-thinking; my use of the epithet “Monophysite” here is also quite crude and rather outdated, as the approved term is now “Miaphysite.” The dialogue makes use of the euphemistic distinction between “Eastern Orthodox” (i.e. Chalcedonian) and “Oriental Orthodox” (i.e. Monophysite). All this obfuscation does not ultimately lead to good. As I have already said, I am for dialogue, but I would like to see some more clarity and willingness to speak unpleasant truths, if necessary.

    It seems to me that the folks who write on this weblog are not afraid of such clarity and theological candor, so I would like to hear more on this issue from some of you.

    As Fr. Patrick supposes, there are certain political motivations for dialogue with Rome — perhaps predominantly. But the dialogue with the Non-Chalcedonians also has an important political dimension, namely the perceived need for Christians to form a common front against Islamic pressure in the Middle East.

  7. NeoChalcedonian,

    I am not sure about how the dialogues are going with the non-Chalcedonians but I believe there have been substantial talks held and comments about how similar the theology believed is, if not the language used to express it. Nevertheless, Symeon raises important questions about this and I don’t have enough information to accurately make any further assessment of the matter myself. Just to add that I would need to see a formal acceptance of the Councils at Chalcedon and Ephesus and of St Leo’s tome (and also subsequent Councils). Also, agreement to anathematise those whom the Church does and accept as Saints whom the Church does.

    There may also be political reasons involved with talks with the West with possible motives, such as always, wanting help with Turkish problems. I am just guessing though. Also, the split between Rome and Constantinople is more recent than with the non-Chalcedonians.

  8. Symeon says:

    Do we accept that the incarnate Logos is from two hypostases (since that is what they mean when they say “from two natures”)? Do we also accept their monoenergism and monotheletism, which is identical to that of the historical heretics, with all the same arguments (see Pope Shenouda’s book; he confuses person and nature and his arguments for monotheletism could have been made by Pyrrhus)?

    I think the monophysites are a bigger threat than the Roman Catholics now. While the majority of the faithful are against dialogue with them (from what I have seen), the effort to convince the Orthodox of the “orthodoxy” of the monophysites has been much more successful.

  9. Fr. Patrick,

    “The various non-Chalcedonian from a brief survey seem to have the same core of Tradition as evidenced in the Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches but have grown in their own way since separation.”

    I completely agree, but it does not appear that ecumenical dialogue is being pursued as earnestly with them as it is with the RCC. Why is this the case?

  10. Mar thomas,

    The post is mainly focused on the issues arising within the Chalcedonian churches and the Schism of 1054. However, the principles are relevant to discussions between Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonianchurches. The issues with the Celtic Church in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England were dealt with in the 7th-8th Centuries by addressing these themes to sort out and unify various practices generally in accordance with Roman practice which at that time was much in line with the rest of the Catholic (Chalcedonian) Church. This helps illustrate what I was discussing. The various non-Chalcedonianfrom a brief survey seem to have the same core of Tradition as evidenced in the Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches but have grown in their own way since separation.

  11. Greg DeLassus says:

    St. Leo was not using this phrase to refer to the communion bread.

    I can easily grant that the passage in question is not totally dispositive, but I think it is a stretch to say that St Leo was “not using this phrase to refer to communion bread” with any real certainty. The very next sentence which follows the one in which he quotes that hymn begins “for naught else is brought about by the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ…” N.B. that “for” (nam). Evidently, then, Leo intends to convey a connection between his mention of unleavened bread a moment before and the eucharist. This would be a strange way to phrase things if the audience he was addressing was accustomed to leavened bread in their eucharists.

  12. mar thomas says:

    Which Tradition and traditions are you discussing? There’s Greek ( Byzantine), Latin, Syriac, Celtic, Coptic, Armenian, Syrio-Malabar.

    It’s amusing to read a discussion between “East” and “West” that involves only two “Western” traditions.

  13. mar thomas says:

    Which Tradition and traditions are you discussing? There’s Greek, ( Byzantine), Latin, Coptic, Celtic, Syriac, Armenian, Syrio-Malabar.

    Very amusing to read a discussion about differences in tradition that only involve two “Western” traditions and overlook others.

  14. Fr. Maximus says:

    St. Leo was not using this phrase to refer to the communion bread. It is part of one of the central Paschal hymns: “Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus, itaque epulemur… in azymis sinceritatis et veritatis.” The reference is typological, based on the Jewish use of unleavened bread to celebrate the Passover. The actual practice of using unleavened bread for the Eucharist seems to have originated in 8th century France.

  15. Greg,

    A number of differences in practice had risen earlier, although I was unaware of earlier use of unleavened bread in the West and, although I find this passage is not conclusive, it certainly provides strong evidence of the possibility. The Schism has very early roots, yet these things did not lead to a schism at the time. Perhaps they were not noticed because of the weakening of communication, perhaps they were not an issue, perhaps they were tolerated in love in hope of change later and were not considered absolutely necessary for a schism of themselves. Nevertheless, these things eventually reached and accumulated to a point where the Eastern and Western Churches were living different Christian cultures and communion could no longer be maintained. It was a slow process over centuries and even after a noticeable split it took centuries before this became fixed and we still have hope of repair even today.

    I would suggest that, although some issues were set aside in love and tolerance, ignored or unknown before the schism, once they became an issue then they need resolving before reunion otherwise they will remain as a ground for more schisms. The resolving process may indeed accept both practices as legitimate and that there was too much nit picking at the time of making them an issue or it may condemn a practice completely.

    I understand that divergence of practice doesn’t necessitate instant breach of communion nor does continuance of communion mean that the issues do not matter. Many false practices come and go in the churches. It is only when they become ingrained without repentance that the potential for schism arises and this can take centuries to happen or it can happen quickly depending on the circumstances. The potential for Schism was there fairly early but it did not become actual until much later. Sadly, although may been good for maintaining unity earlier it makes the present schism much harder to heal because both sides feel that their positions are well established traditions and seem to go back to unknown, ancient and presumably Apostolic times.

  16. Greg DeLassus says:

    Any reunion must not only see an agreement of matters of Faith, i.e. the filioque, and jurisdiction, i.e. the Papacy, but also on matters of practice such as Baptism, the bread for the Eucharist…

    So extending this line of logic a bit further, does that mean that where differences in practice had arisen earlier, the Schism should actually have come sooner? I ask because it appears that St Leo the Great used unleavened bread to celebrate the eucharist (sermon 63; “… the Lord’s Passover is duly kept ‘with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth…'”). Does this mean that the Church should have severed communion with Leo?

  17. logismon says:

    Just a thought from Fr. Romanides …

    “The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. In actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans.”



  18. Thank you Fr. Patrick. I was speaking recently to one of my friends who, like me, is an evangelical. And we were discussing methodology for interpreting the scriptures. Emphasis, in my tradition, is often placed more on background studies than on the witness of the Patristics. I believe that, as soon as we evangelicals recognize the patristic witness as a valid methodology for understanding scripture, then evangelicals will be more open to reforming our praxis. I have started going through the Greek text of Ignatius with some of my fellow seminarians, employing similar historical and literary tools as we do for scripture. It has been helpful and has raised some valid questions regarding some of our interpretations. Thanks again Fr. Patrick. – Doug

  19. Douglas,

    There a number of means to find the standard for appeals. Firstly, there is what is written in the Holy Scriptures, especially the Epistles that set out some rules of practice. Secondly are the Canons, which deal with many of the important matters regarding practice. Many of the Canons of the early councils have always been accepted East and West with which it is best to begin. Those Canons accepted by the East but not the West are then the next port of call and vice versa for understanding the West. (The Canons that I am referring to mainly are those of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils and recognised regional councils but the broader collections are also be valuable.)

    Then there are the lists of errors written by both Eastern and Western writers from the Ninth Century. These are useful to provide a sense of the issues that mattered historically, which reflect what was understood as part of Tradition in those times, although these lists do not define that Tradition as such.

    Works such as the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Diadache also provide evidence of Apostolic practices as do the writings of the Fathers from Sts Clement and Ignatius to Sts Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom through to St Nicodemus the Hagiorite in the East and Sts Leo the Great and St Gregory the Great for the West.

    The discussion about the standard being truly Apostolic can gain some guidance from St Vincent’s rule, the testimony of the Canons/Fathers who state it as being such, see the Canon of St Basil the Great. Historical research for evidence of common and ancient practice. The authority of the Councils and Scriptures; with reference to their interpretations, such as that of St John Chrysostom on the Epistles of St Paul.

    Theological works can play a part in helping to understand various practices in the wider theological picture, which helps to highlight the place of various practices and the possible effects of changing them. Then there is a somewhat more subjective intuitive sense of those in each Church regarding what seems right/wrong. This can be more useful that it appears but not a defining ground of itself. The value is based on there being a harmony and unity of practice.

    These are a few things that come to mind but there may be others.

  20. jnorm888 says:

    Thanks for writting this post. I found it very helpful and practical.


  21. In the debate between the East and the West regarding Orthopraxy, by what standard are we to make our appeal? And how do we discern that this standard is truly apostolic?

  22. Jcw

    For a group to even be considered a Church in terms of it reuniting to the Orthodox Church would at least require that it was a community that understood that it was formed and united in the Lord’s Body in a real and not merely metaphorical manner, which means having an Orthodox/Catholic (ignoring explanatory definitions) view of the Eucharist. Thus, the community would be a truly united(one) body and not merely a collection of individuals meeting for a common purpose. The Baptist understanding of church would tend to the latter with only a metaphorical sense of unity and body. A collection of individuals would come into the Church as individuals and then may be formed into parishes truly united in the Body of Christ. Taking a very strict line on those reuniting to the Church, the only groups the can possibly be reunited to the Church as a group are those that were formed in the Church and then departed from it through schism, or heresy and repented soon after with essentially the same people who had left the Church in the first place. After a generation or so the Church can only recognise them as a collection of individuals, regardless of what they believe the Eucharist to be. A group being outside the Church means being apart from Christ’s body and so disunited from Him and so not able to be truly united in itself because only in His Body is all flesh united. Why does this matter? Because salvation is not a collection of individuals who love God and believe in Him, although to love and believe are necessary, but it is those who are united into the life of the Trinity; there is no life apart from the Trinity. The Trinity is One and so we must become one in all aspects including the flesh. (c.f John 17:21) Separated individual bodies are incapable of participating in the Life of the Trinity because matter divides with time and space. To the glory of God, in Christ all matter is united through the Incarnation, the logoi in the Logos but only in Him and in His body and not only in itself, as matter, but into the unity of the Trinity.


    Much of the core of the Western Rite Liturgy dates back to very early times and as such it is a legitimate expression of the life of the Church. What can be of concern though is disengaging it from the practices that developed later in the West that are not traditions that have been passed down from the Apostles, such as the use of unleavened bread, which was clearly not the early practice and generally condemned in the East. Whether this practice is legitimate is a different debate but it certainly raises a concern that was strongly felt in the East. Also, other practices in the West, such as fasting days and marriage of clergy, are of concern need to be adjusted to Orthodox practices, although this has generally been the case in Western rite parishes, as far as I am aware. I don’t know exactly what it was that St Tikon approved and any instructions that he gave concerning matters above. As I said he may have blessed the text itself without blessing the wider practices of the West, as they are today in the Roman/Anglican churches; unfortunateIy don’t know any details of this side of things. I hope this helps.

  23. Ø says:

    As a member of a Western Rite parish under AOA, I’d be very curious to know what you think this means for the Divine Liturgies of St. Tikhon and St. Gregory.


  24. anon says:

    Byzantine, Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Syrio-Malabar, Slavonic or Celtic?

    Which “tradition” is Tradition?

  25. Fr. Maximus says:

    This is very good. I think we can elaborate further and say that the cultural and practical aspects of Orthodoxy are reflections and symbols of divine realities, which make the divine and uncreated accessible to us. They point the way to actualizing the divine in our life. The relationship between the symbol and that which is symbolized in not arbitrary, but reflective of the nature of each. Thus to alter a symbol is to distort the relationship between the created and the uncreated. A false symbol is ultimately an idol.

    Nearly every aspect of the Church’s self expression is found in symbols, whether they be verbal or physical: in theology, liturgics, poetry, art, architecture, and so on. That being the case, the alteration of a symbol is an extremely delicate matter, and is permissible only when the Fathers show that more than one symbol is truly expressive of the heavenly reality it wishes to convey. In order to ascertain the validity of a symbol which exists outside of Orthodoxy but not within Orthodoxy, one must determine whether the symbol originated within the Church or outside, whether its disuse was deliberate or the result of circumstance, whether it was ever condemned by any of the Fathers, whether it has strong parallels within current Orthodox practice, and whether it is spiritually beneficial and meaningful. Even if the answer to these questions is positive, any alteration must be approved by the conscience of the Church.

    The safer route is nearly always to “hold fast to the traditions we have received” and not to change anything that has been handed down to us, since the result is usually a heresy or schism.

  26. Carl says:

    Could you relate this concretely to the Western-style Liturgy approved by St. Tikhon?

  27. jcw says:

    My wife and I attend a Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec church, yet a Western and Eastern Orthodox Church co-exist in our city as well. The B.C.O.Q. church which we attend, as an example, ordains women. Where would the B.C.O.Q. church even begin to re-unite with the Orthodox Church? How would those discussions begin?

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