In addition to my interests and work as an academic theologian/philosopher I am a slavophile and take great interest in the history and liturgics of the Eastern Church.
Of particular interest to me are a group in Russia and the diaspora known as the 'Old Believers' (though Old Ritualists is a better translation of Starovertsy). This sizeable group split from the Patriarchal Russian Church in the 1650's on account of their refusal to reform the liturgy.
The then Patriarch Nikon was concerned to rectify what he saw as errors in the Russian Liturgical books and to conform to Greek practise. Many of the reforms seem to the modern reader somewhat minor including variations on making the sign of the cross, a small change in the spelling of Jesus (from Isus to Iesus), the addition of an extra Alleluia in the antiphons from 2 to 3, and so on.
However resistance to these changes in a mostly illiterate age were enormous, and similarly the persecutions suffered by the Old Believers was extraordinarily brutal. A postscript to this schism was the realisation some 100 or so years later that the Greek texts that Nikon wished to conform to, were in fact reforms, and the pre-reform liturgy of Russia was perhaps more 'ancient' than at first thought.
The Old Believers spread to the far corners of Russia and maintained their traditional ways. 2 groups emerged. The Popovtsy (Priestly) and Bezpopovtsy (Priestless), depending on the availability of clergy. It is interesting to note that the Priestless Old Believers (who still exist) did not deny the sacraments, and rather than following a protestant direction they merely suspended the sacraments (with the exception of Baptism and Marriage of course). The priestly sects were maintained at first by 'rebel' priests but by the 1820's they had obtained a seemingly legitimate episcopate and thus secured the priesthood.
Anyway you may be wondering what this all about.
Well I have come across on a ROCOR website a translation of a liturgy called the Divine Liturgy of St Peter the Apostle which was practised up until the 1960's by an exiled Cossack community of Old Believers in Turkey. The liturgy which was in Old Church Slavonic was almost certainly Western Rite, and the Eucharistic Canon is obviously Roman. Theories abound that the liturgy was practised by the Italo-Greeks and then found its way to Mount Athos (where some copies of the old Missals exist) and it is claimed there are those who still remember the liturgy being practised. Obviously it is Byzantised enormously. But I thought it provided interesting speculative evidence of our Roman Rite being trans-patriarchal.
A second postscript note to all this. I read with some pleasure Pope Benedicts book 'Jesus' and his references to the Russian theologian Vladimir Soloviev. This remarkable man helped to reinvigorate the Byzantine Catholic Church in Russia. His central thesis was that Russia never assented to schism, and that following the Council of Florence (1400's) where unification East and West was briefly achieved he noted that no official renunciation of the union took place in Russia.
Further to all this there was evidence, documented by Soloviev, that in European Russia there existed from the 1400's groups (sometimes isolated from Rome) of Satrokatolicii (Old Catholics) who faithfully preserved as best they could union with Rome. It is quite probable that some of these groups (who would have found common cause with the Old Believers) practised the Liturgy of St Peter.
A third and final postscript! In 1905 3 priests from the Russian Orthodox Church, 2 from the reformed rite and one Old Rite were formally received into communion with Rome, and in St Petersburg they founded the modern day Byzantine Russian Catholic Church. They practised both the reformed and the old Liturgy.
Saturday, 19 January 2008
Roman rite trans-patriarchal?
Andrew Taylor recently wrote to me via Facebook about a most interesting discovery of the Divine Liturgy of St Peter. I'll leave him to tell the story rather than spoil it or get things wrong...