By Michael Whelton
Michael Whelton, who was born in the United Kingdom, completed high school, there and then moved to Canada where he studied for two years at York University in Toronto. After a stint as a job and wage analyst at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Ontario, he moved his young family to Southern California. The next seven years were spent as a stockbroker with two New York Stock Exchange member firms in the Los Angeles area, where he conducted numerous investment seminars and made guest appearances on Los Angeles public television.
After returning to Canada, Mr. Whelton formed his own consulting company, near Vancouver, British Columbia. For the last ten years he has lived on a fifteen-acre hobby farm in the lush farm country of southwest British Columbia with Marguerite, his wife of thirty-seven years and three of their seven children. On Lazarus Saturday, 1995, Michael entered the Orthodox Church with Marguerite and one of their daughters. Their eldest daughter, her husband and their four children later joined them.
Mr. and Mrs. Whelton have been very active in the Pro-Life movement for the past twenty-three years. This commitment has entailed Michaels serving as a Pro-Life director on two separate hospital boards, for a total of six years, in the greater Vancouver area. The writing of Two Paths (a published book; this article below is chapter 1) was the result of a long spiritual journey for the true Church and was greatly aided by a life-long interest in history.
An Insistent Call
The years following the Second Vatican Council 1963-1965 were years of tremendous upheaval in the church for Roman Catholics. When all the changes were made to the mass in 1968, my wife and I like many Roman Catholics at the time, were uneasy with some of these innovations. Mass in the vernacular we thought was a good idea, however; the priest celebrating mass facing the people seemed like a major departure from liturgical tradition turning the priest into a sort of master of ceremonies, while we found the new prayers dull and pedestrian, lacking the poetical quality of the older ones.
By the mid-nineteen-seventies, it was obvious that something had gone terribly wrong. Defections both lay and clerical were increasing in alarming numbers; for example, during the thirty years following the Council, 1965-1995 some twenty-five million Roman Catholics had left the Church in North America alone; while hundreds of thousands of religious world-wide had abandoned their vocations. The cause of this debacle I believe (which is a belief shared by many), is the new mass which Pope Paul VI foisted on the church in 1968.
Christianity is a liturgical religion i.e., the very center of our spiritual lives is the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist. As with any religious worship an implicit theology is always reflected in prayers, incense, gestures, music, dress and in style of architecture. Dramatically change this and you will change the faith. This is a truth reflected in the ancient law of the Church – lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of prayer is the law of belief. In his book, Histoire des Variations des Eglises Protestants, Catholic historian Bishop Bossuet describes how liturgical experimentation denied Protestants doctrinal cohesion; shattering them into numberless different denominations. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII, understood this very well when he destroyed the Roman Catholic Church in England by changing the liturgy. Many of the changes he introduced are frighteningly similar to the new mass, as brilliantly analyzed by Catholic author Michael Davies in his book, Cranmers Godly Order.
Most Roman Catholics do not read Papal Encyclicals or Papal Addresses; the Church speaks to her faithful as she always has, through the liturgy. Thus Romes foremost liturgical scholar, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, explains in his book, Reform of the Roman Liturgy (warmly endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith), that liturgy and faith are interwoven and together form a fabric of belief. The old mass that reflected the traditional truths of the faith in its rubrics and piety, had been suppressed. In its place, as a concession to the ecumenical movement, we were given a new rite with scripture readings that pointedly eliminated any passages that warned us that while we have a loving God, He is also a God who will judge us. In the same vein the traditional prayers and hymns that once reminded us in majestic prose and lyrics, that we have a soul which we could lose, have been replaced with new ones that, lacking any reference to our eternal outcome, are vapid and vacuous.
Monsignor Gamber also claims that the new liturgical rite has diluted the sacrificial aspect of the mass and has reduced mystical and dramatic ritual to an absolute minimum – just enough, no more – to ensure validity. Particularly scandalous for him, was changing the words Pro Multus (for many) by Paul VI, uttered by Christ at the Last Supper, to For All during the consecration – a crass concession to modern theology. On the wider implications of the new liturgical rite, Monsignor Gamber has this to say:
the liturgical reform welcomed with so much idealism and hope by many priests and lay people alike has turned out to be a liturgical destruction of startling proportions – a debacle worsening with each passing year. Instead of the hoped-for renewal of the Church and of Catholic life, we are now witnessing a dismantling of the traditional values and piety on which our faith rests. Instead of a fruitful renewal of the liturgy, what we see is the destruction of the forms of the Mass which had developed organically during the course of many centuries.
Added to this state of affairs, is the shocking assimilation of Protestant ideas brought into the Church under the guise of the misunderstood term ecumenism, with a resulting growing estrangement from the ancient Churches of the East, that is, a turning away from the common tradition that has been shared by the East and the West up to this point in our history.
The Protestant ideas which so shocked Monsignor Gamber had their origins in the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church – the then-reigning pontiff, Pope Paul VI as Gamber points out:
Neither the persistent entreaties of distinguished cardinals, nor serious dogmatic points raised about the new liturgy, nor urgent appeals from around the world not to make the new Missal mandatory could stop Pope Paul VI – a clear indication of his own, strong personal endorsement. Even the threat of a new schism – the Lefevre case – could not move him to have the traditional ritus Romanus at least coexist with the new rite – a simple gesture of pluralism and inclusiveness, which, in our day and age, certainly would have been a politic thing to do.
This view was made clear in a nationally broadcasted radio program ,Ici Lumiere 101 in France on December 13, 1993. The guests were, Eyves Chiron, author of the book Paul VI, le pape ecartele and Jean Guitton, a member of the French Academy, author and close friend of Paul VI. During the radio interview the following conversation took place:
GUITTON: But I can only repeat that Paul VI did all that he could to bring the Catholic Mass away from the tradition of the Council of Trent toward the Protestants Lord’s SupperIn other words, we see in Paul VI an ecumenical intention to wipe out or at least to correct or soften everything that is too Catholic in the Mass and to bring the Catholic Mass, again I say, as close as possible to the Calvinist liturgy.
CHIRON: Clearly that is a revolution in the Church.
GUITTON: Clearly so.
Some years ago, when we were living in California, we watched a movie called Catholics written by Brian Moore, a lapsed Irish Catholic. This prophetic story concerns a monastery in Southern Ireland that continues to celebrate the Old Mass of the Tridentine Rite in defiance of the Vatican and the World Ecumenical Council and since this is the only place left in the world that still celebrates the Old Mass, it is an international pilgrimage center. The Vatican sends a young priest named Fr. Kinsella, played by Martin Sheen, to close them down. As a practicing Roman Catholic at the time, this movie really depressed me for the simple reason that there was more than a grain of truth in it.
Artists like Brian Moore understand very well the importance of symbolism in ritual. In her book The Desolate City, Anne Roche Muggeridge discusses this Irish playwright and his prophetic novel Catholics in which he dealt with the destruction of the old Mass:
Brian Moore is a lapsed Catholic but his instructive imagination remembers what it all meant and he has the great artists understanding of symbol. Explaining why he wrote Catholics, he offered the inimitably Irish explanation that after a long absence he went to Mass and found that the thing he had stopped believing in was no longer there.7
As the years rolled by, the liturgical innovations increased as foretold by Monsignor Gamber, making the traditional church a more distant image; a mirage that was more rapidly receding beyond our reach and as traditional Roman Catholics we became more and more like orphans in our church. One of the problems with the Mass is that it is seen as the, fruit of development as opposed to the Orthodox, which according to Cardinal Ratzinger does not see liturgy as developing or growing in history, but only the reflection of the eternal liturgy, whose light, through the sacred celebration, illumines our changing times with its unchanging beauty and grandeur.8 The only consolation we received from the few traditional priests we knew was, stick with the Pope, the Church has been through this before. However, the defections and loss of faith both in Europe and North America was unprecedented and the very institutions for transmitting the faith i.e. schools, colleges, universities and seminaries were collapsing.
Our spiritual journey to Orthodoxy began in 1992, when my wife took a course in Iconography from a Russian icon master in Vancouver, British Columbia. The icon is not only a window to the spiritual world, but is also a reflection of the traditions of the Orthodox Church. It is interesting that iconographic art always struck us as a more mature religious art form and that partly explains why we always had icons in our home. During this time we also attended some lectures on iconography organized by the Orthodox Church and were impressed by the humility, kindness and depth of spirituality of those present.
In 1993 we attended Easter Mass at our local parish church where, as with most Catholic churches today, the usual Protestant influence was very present. There were the familiar felt banners hanging in and around the sanctuary and the guitar group was belting those dreadful songs from the Glory and Praise Hymn Book. Musical instruments were thoroughly condemned by the Church Fathers 9 and whenever I heard those twanging guitars, I would inwardly genuflect to their wisdom. Yes, as with many traditional Catholics, we were receiving our weekly dose of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, i.e. a feeling of alienation from the churchs liturgy.
On our way home from mass, we visited a small Orthodox Church which had recently taken over the premises from a disused Protestant Church. Most of the parishioners were English-speaking converts. A small untrained choir chanted the liturgy and some icons hung from a makeshift iconostasis – the difference was stunning – in these somewhat meager surroundings, they had captured a sense of transcendence, reverence, mystery and a vibrancy that we had lost. Despite our admiration for their liturgy, there was also a reaction to the unfamiliar – a feeling of alienation that would be more strongly felt when we visited the ethnic Orthodox Churches. We had always been aware of the Orthodox Church and her splendid witness to tradition, but today in this little bare bones church, the difference was especially striking and the questions started to gnaw at us. Why have they been able to maintain what we have lost? Some of the initial questions were typically those coming from Roman Catholics. How can they do this with a form of church government that is so decentralized? How can they manage their church organization without an authority figure like that of the Pope? Who is in charge? We contacted several Orthodox priests with whom we had many discussions and they were very helpful in steering us towards some Orthodox historians. Being keen students of history, we had read about the Early Church but mostly from a Catholic point of view. Here for the first time we were reading books where the Orthodox Church was speaking for herself. As most people know, both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches were one church for the first thousand years. It should be pointed out that the Orthodox Church during those first thousand years of union, always recognized Rome as having a Primacy of Honour i.e. primus inter pares – first among equals. It was the ancient seat of Roman government and was the resting-place of Peter and Paul which for many hundreds of years proved to be a steadfast witness to the true faith. The Orthodox Church believes that Rome erred in attempting to turn this Primacy of Honour within the Church to a Supremacy over the Church. Reading these Orthodox scholars was like having a long lost relative showing up on your doorstep and filling in details of family history, thereby offering a fresh perspective.
This new perspective challenged our most deeply held beliefs concerning the Papacy and the development of the early church. Like most Roman Catholics, we took the triumphant, monarchical Papacy of the high middle ages like that of Gregory VII, Innocent III and Boniface VIII and attempted to carry this concept of the Papacy back to the very early church. Like most Roman Catholics our view of the Church was more picturesque than real.
For non-Roman Catholics, it is almost impossible to comprehend the attachment a Catholic has for the Papacy and our reaction was highly defensive. In the past, when we came across serious works of history which contradicted the Roman Catholic position, we were skeptical and if we found that the author was Protestant, or the book came from a Protestant publishing house, it was given scant attention and if it contradicted a dogmatic belief it was dismissed immediately. Only Roman Catholic historians have a pure line to objectivity, especially when it concerns articles of faith. This is what Catholics are taught and it is this belief that will keep their faith inviolate. This teaching is best exemplified by Pope Leo XIII in his celebrated Letter to the Prelates and Clergy of France (September 8th, 1899). While encouraging them to the study of history he reminds Those who study it must never lose sight of the fact that it contains a collection of dogmatic facts, which impose themselves upon our faith, and which nobody is ever permitted to call in doubt. Cardinal Manning of England is even more blunt, The appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be divine. 10 At another time Cardinal Manning wrote, The appeal from the living voice of the Church to any tribunal whatsoever, human history included, is an act of private judgment and a treason because that living voice is supreme; and to appeal from that supreme voice is also a heresy because that voice by divine assistance is infallible. 11
Thus for Catholics, that the Bishops of Rome have always exercised immediate and supreme jurisdiction and infallible judgment over the entire church and that these prerogatives were transmitted by Peter, is a dogmatic belief beyond dispute. However, we took the momentous step to allow our position to be challenged to close scrutiny thus, we sought out good, competent non-Catholic, non-Orthodox scholars and spent the next two years reading all aspects of church history, contacting distant libraries and Universities, verifying quotes, translating Latin documents and holding discussions with several Roman Catholic priests. What we found was that contemporary scholarship and early church writings confirmed the Orthodox position. We have always striven to confront difficulties without prejudice and problems without sentiment and these values were sorely tested when we looked at the Orthodox Church. There were times when we were praying for a good argument to stay with Rome.
Some of our Roman Catholic friends attempted to persuade us to remain with Rome by appealing to Romes numerical superiority, but how can one billion Roman Catholics be wrong? One cannot of course prove truth by force of numbers, after all by the year 2,000 Moslems will outnumber Christians – what then? Besides, this line of reasoning was justly condemned by Pope Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors number 60, (1864) To one who says, Authority is nothing else but numbers and the sum total of material strength, let him be anathema.
A number of times, during our two years of praying, reading and research, we attended Russian and Greek liturgies only to walk out half way, feeling completely alienated. Our emotional side desperately wanted to stay with what was familiar and comfortable, however; after a short period of time we would say, but the Orthodox are right. Our intellect would always deny us the luxury of giving in to our emotions. When we look back it was only the grace of God that urged us on like an insistent call because, when we started to investigate the Orthodox Church we did not have a warm circle of Orthodox friends gently prodding us in the right direction. It was a painful lonely journey but at least the pain kept our motives pure.
In a beautiful moving ceremony amidst the flickering candles, warm hues of the icons and the lingering fragrance of incense, we were received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation on Lazarus Saturday, 1995. We were orphans no longer. The traditional church that we loved and longed for was here. The sacraments, which Rome has always recognized the validity of and which are so important in our spiritual lives, were all there and conferred in an unchanged manner. For instance, leavened bread for the Eucharist which Rome also used for the first 800 years 12 and following Christs command: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; of such is the kingdom of God. Mark 10:14, granting communion to infants which Rome practiced until the 12th century.13 It was amazing to discover all the rich traditions and practices which Rome had gradually shed over the centuries, were still very much part of the Orthodox Church.
During those two years of prayer and study, we frequently attended the Divine Liturgy which we grew to love, gradually losing our sense of alienation. On one occasion, during a visit from the Bishop, I witnessed the Orthodox rite of confession. This took place before the iconostasis and at the end, the Bishop embraced the penitent and I remember being truly struck by the love and tenderness displayed. Like any church, the Orthodox Church is not without her problems. Controversies and problems have been with the church from the beginning; one only has to read the Pauline Epistles for evidence of that. However, in spite of it all, she has remained a splendid witness to Christian tradition and zealously guards all her traditions and liturgy against change, thus affording her faithful with an enormous sense of permanence and tranquility in their spiritual lives.
The Orthodox Church has retained the essential character of the catholicity of the early church echoed by St. Ignatius of Antioch, (martyred, circa. 110 A.D.) Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church. Saint Jerome describes it thus:
It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles. (Letter CXLVI to Evangelus)
The local church with its bishop contains the totality of the universal church. This model is far removed from the Roman Catholic concept, whereby the local church is Catholic only because it is a segment of a greater corporate body and where the glory of the universal church, is spotlighted with glaring intensity on the office of one bishop, hence Pope Pius IX could exclaim, Witness of tradition; there is only one; thats me.14 In fact, the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils called for an equilibrium that we find in Canon 34 of the Apostolic Canons. These canons date from the first half of the fourth century and mirror the practices of the pre-Nicaean Church where Rome enjoyed a primacy of honour – first among equals (primus inter pares). These canons were translated into Latin by Dionysius Exiguus in the late 5th century and were widely accepted in the West. Canon 34 reads as follows:
The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things which concern his own parish and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him who is the first do anything without the consent of all. For so there will be oneness of mind and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.
In many ways, western Christians live in a world where their sole points of reference are Roman Catholic or Protestant. The Protestant revolt that ignited Western Europe and the Roman Catholic counter Reformation, define the boundaries of our religious experience. When we look outside these religious boundaries, many of us are constrained by our culture. With these cultural blinkers the Orthodox Church can look very ethnic or very different – in fact many of these so-called differences were once common practices in Western Churches.
What follows is the result of two years of study. It is difficult to enter into controversial issues without arousing disagreement and resentment. There were times when I was intimidated into thinking that perhaps I should not write this article lest I would be considered anti-Catholic – which I am certainly not. As an Orthodox Christian I share with Roman Catholics the belief that the three cornerstones of the Protestant Revolt i.e. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and Imputed Righteousness are totally wrong, but this belief however, does not make us anti-Protestant. All Christians believe that the Jewish people were wrong in rejecting Christ as the Messiah, but this does not make us anti-Semitic.
The Bishops of Rome invite close scrutiny from Orthodox Christians because they are claiming prerogatives of supreme universal jurisdiction over the Orthodox Church. Pius XI explains in his encyclical Lux Veritatis, when together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, he pines for Orthodox Christians who have been, unhappily led away from the unity of the Church, and therefore from her Son, whose Vicar on earth We are. May they return to the common Father,may they all turn to Us, who have indeed a fatherly affection for them all, and who gladly make them Our Own. When Rome makes such claims, however warmly made, she must risk suffering the proverbial lot of the claimant by occasionally having his claim rejected and more so if his claim appears especially exalted.
In this article I have relied on the best scholarship available on early church history to illustrate Romes role in the early church, specifically in the ecumenical councils and how she was perceived by the Church at large. Also, I have relied heavily on Roman Catholic historians as they comment on the major issues such as Papal Infallibility. It may come as a surprise to some Catholics that before the defining of the definition in 1870, many of the churchs most respected historians roundly denounced it as untenable.
It should be stated that the liturgical revolution within the Catholic Church was only the catalyst, certainly not the reason for moving to the Orthodox Church. Rather it was that the claims of the Papacy did not stand close historical analysis, which ultimately called into question the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Especially significant and revealing for me, was Romes role and place in the Seven Ecumenical Councils and how those councils through their documents and actions perceived Romes position.
Even though she has veered both in her structures and traditions from the Early Church, the Roman Catholic Churchs enormous contribution to Western Society must be recognized and appreciated. She founded the first universities e.g., Oxford, Cambridge, the University of Paris, countless thousands of hospitals and orphanages and inspired the building of the great gothic cathedrals. Special tribute must be paid to the thousands of missionaries who toiled in the New World to spread the Gospel; leaving place names like San Francisco, San Diego, Corpus Christi and Santa Barbara as a perpetual testament of their piety. We remain grateful to the Church of Rome for the many spiritual truths she passed on to us and maintain a close relationship with her as many members of our family and friends, both lay and clerical, are within her fold.