Russian Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoev Praising Western Rite Orthodoxy

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Editor's Note: Fr. Daniel Sysoev became one of the best known priests in Russia, not only because he wrote many books and brought many souls to Christ, but also because he was a martyr, shot in his own church. Many faithful Orthodox Christians consider him to be a saint.

In the following article, Fr. Daniel gives an overview of the history of Western Rite Orthodoxy, and he provides insight about the reasons why he believes it is such a good and important phenomenon.

This appeal to the pious reader for the founding of Orthodox Catholic national churches of the Western rite is one of the main works of the brightest Western Orthodox theologian of the 19th century, Dr. I. Overbeck. And before the first publication after the revolution of this historical document, which largely changed the face of the Orthodox mission in the West, it is necessary to say a few words about its author.

Joseph Overbeck was a German from Westphalia and came from a Roman Catholic family. He received a higher theological education, was ordained a priest, and taught for some time at the Faculty of Theology in Bonn. However, due to his belonging to the liberal wing of Roman Catholicism, he could not agree with the strengthening of “ultramontanism”, which subsequently led to the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870. For this reason, Overbeck resigned and joined Lutheranism.

In the early 1860s, Overbeck moved to England, which became his home until his death. Protestantism, however, was unable to quench the thirst of his soul. Studying the history of the Church, he discovered that Orthodoxy is much older than both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, and is the only Apostolic Church. All other Christian communities in the West turned out to be schismatic and heretical entities. Having come to this conclusion in 1865, Overbeck joined the Orthodox Church as priest Evgeniy Popov. But even before the reunification, Joseph Overbeck begins to publish works in German and English proving the need to restore Western Orthodoxy, destroyed by the Great Schism of 1054. According to his deep conviction, Orthodoxy is not the faith of Russians or Greeks, but the universal faith, which can become its own for any nation. And therefore he was convinced that any attempt to identify conversion to Orthodoxy with conversion to another nation is, firstly, a heresy, turning the Catholic Church into a tribal, national faith, and secondly, making any mission meaningless. And therefore Ovebek understood the need to recreate the Orthodox Church of the Western rite - that service that was celebrated by Saints Cyprian and Augustine, Jerome and Leo and countless saints of the West. The conditions for the restoration of ancient worship are set out in the article published below.

Dr. Joseph was convinced that the adoption of the Western rite is one of the most important steps towards the restoration of the Western National Churches, members of the single family of Ecumenical Orthodoxy, differing from the Eastern Church only in Western rites with complete identity in dogmatic teaching.

According to Overbeck’s wise conviction, Anglicanism will never be able to reunite with the Church due to its extreme dogmatic fuzziness, but a successful mission among the so-called. “ritualists” - that is, those supporters of the High Church in Anglicanism who strive for the restoration of the ancient Church in all Its completeness. Overbeck did not believe in the success of negotiations with entire heretical churches, and believed that the future of Orthodoxy in the West was connected with individual conversions. The history of the 20th century, with the virtual failure of the ecumenical movement, showed Overbeck to be right on this issue as well.

Immediately after his conversion to Orthodoxy, Overbeck began preaching his views, and soon a small community of his supporters gathered, supported by the priest of the Russian Embassy Church E. Popov. In order to make his views accessible to the widest possible audience, he began publishing the Orthodox Catholic Review in 1867. At the same time, he begins collecting petitions to the Russian Holy Synod for the re-establishment of the Orthodox Catholic Church of the Western Rite. Anglicans, fearing the conversion of most of the Oxford movement to Orthodoxy, accused him of pro-Russian propaganda. But Overbeck continued his work and already in September 1869 sent a petition with 122 signatures to the Holy Synod. There his request was immediately considered and already on Christmas of the same year Overbeck was summoned to St. Petersburg.

At Christmas 1870, Overbeck submitted to the Synod the already corrected text of the Roman Mass, which was immediately approved. It contained the following corrections in comparison with the Roman Missal: the epiclesis was interpolated into the prayer: “Supplices te rogamus”, and the exaltation of the Holy Gifts began to take place after this. Immediately after the Great Doxology, the Trisagion was added as a reminder of the “union with the Orthodox Church.” It had to be pronounced twice in Greek and once in the national language. All other sacraments had to be performed before they were corrected according to the Eastern rite.

Although the Russian Synod approved Western Orthodoxy in principle, the consent of the Eastern Patriarchs was required.

At this time, the Old Catholic movement began in Germany and Overbeck hoped that his school and university friends would support his movement, but these plans were not destined to come true. Despite Overbeck's participation in the Bonn Conferences, the Old Catholics chose to unite with the Anglicans and therefore the path to reunification with the Church became closed to them.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian schism, as well as pressure from England, prevented the consideration of Overbeck's request in Constantinople. Moreover, the Patriarch of Constantinople prohibited proselytism among Anglicans, which was ignored by Overbeck due to its obvious necessity.

Finally, in 1876, he addressed the Patriarchs and Councils of the Eastern Churches with an appeal, but received no response. Then in 1877 he himself went to Constantinople, where he met with Patriarch Joachim III, who promised to consider his issue at the Synod, which happened in 1882. The Patriarchate of Constantinople temporarily approved the Western rite, but the protest of the Hellenic Synod (and we must remember that at that time a pro-British dynasty ruled in Greece, and the Church was considered a government department) suspended the implementation of this determination.

Thus, during the life of Dr. Overbeck, his business was, as they say, “released on the brakes.” Formally approved by both the Russian and Constantinople church authorities, it was not implemented for political reasons. The Anglican Church, infected with the “branch theory,” was extremely sensitive to the possibility of mass conversion of its members to the Apostolic Church and used all the state resources available to it to prevent Orthodox preaching. In addition, among many Orthodox Christians then, as now, ecumenical sentiments prevailed and it seemed that Anglicans and Old Catholics were about to join us, so is it worth forcing events? Thus, the eternal destinies of thousands of people were sacrificed to pseudo-church politics.

Joseph Overbeck went to the Lord in 1905 without seeing the fulfillment of his plans. However, his works played their role and did not remain in oblivion. The West became interested in its ancient faith, and many studies on the ancient liturgy came to light. But the most important thing is that after the death of the Russian Empire, those Russian emigrants who remained faithful to the Mother Church fulfilled Overbeck’s wishes. In 1936, by decree of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), with the active participation of V.N. Lossky, the French Orthodox Church appeared, headed by Archimandrite Irenaeus (Winnart), and after him Fr. Evgraf Kovalevsky. A similar movement of the Orthodox Western rite appeared in the Polish Orthodox Church in 1926, and since 1956, a whole vicariate of the Western rite arose in the American Metropolis of the Antiochian Patriarchate.

Thus, the seed that the Heavenly Sower sowed in the 19th century is growing to this day, and by the power of the Holy Spirit will continue to grow in the future, and if it is the will of the Almighty Lord, we will see the First of the Churches - the Roman Orthodox Church - rise again from the ruins of heresy, and the throne of the supreme apostles with the Orthodox Pope sitting on it [1]. Isn’t this what the Lord spoke about on the eve of his suffering: “And you, having once turned, strengthened your brothers” (Luke 22:32)?

— Priest Daniel Sysoev

[1] The magazine “Blessed Fire” has already touched upon the topic of restoring Orthodoxy at the Roman See (see: No. 6:Priest Daniil Sysoev.“Ex oriente lux, or Our response to the Vatican”and No. 9:Priest Daniil Sysoev, Nikolai Kaverin.“Will the Pope be invited to Moscow?”)

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