Western Orthodox Christian Church
Bishop Joseph Thomas, OSB, PhD
What is the Western Orthodox Christian Church?
The Church was established by Our Lord Jesus Christ of which all Churches of Apostolic Succession belong. Such particular Churches include the Old Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox Churches, etc.
We are an autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Christian Church. We are not Roman Catholic nor are we in communion with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. We recognize the historic See of Rome, and the bishop who occupies it, as the Patriarch of the West. The Western Orthodox Christian Church embraces the doctrinal confession of beliefs as outlined in the Nicene Creed. We adhere to the seven Sacraments as instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ and transmitted down through the ages, beginning with the Holy Apostles. Our Church maintains the traditional understanding that the Church is conciliar and not monarchical. We are conciliar that we do not recognize the universal jurisdiction of any one bishop. Our bishops are the sole legislators of their respective jurisdictions and work in unity with the bishops that belong to our canonical Synod of Bishops. Divinely revealed doctrine cannot be changed by any bishop nor Synod of Bishops. The Synod of Bishops together can present statements of pastoral concern that require their mutual agreement and testament of the Faith.
Are you Catholic or Orthodox?
Yes. We are both. We are ‘Catholic’ according to the true meaning of the word. The word ‘Catholic’ originates from the Greek word Katholicos meaning universal. ‘Catholic’ is a generic term that embraces many particular Churches. The Roman Catholic Church is one of several particular Churches that are ‘Catholic.’ Any Church remaining integral to the Church as founded by Christ belongs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are Orthodox in that we profess the Faith of the same Church established by Christ inclusive of the first seven Ecumenical Councils.
We adhere to Orthodox Faith in matters of belief and express it according to a western heritage and culture, including our Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory. Therefore we are Western Orthodox Christians. In 1911 Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, representing the Old Roman Catholic Church from Great Britain, embraced Orthodoxy. We maintain what was initiated by Archbishop Mathew's, Archbishop Gerassimos Messarra of Beirut (Orthodox Bishop) and the Holy Synod of Antioch of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Although we are autocephalous and not canonically in juridical communion with the Greek Patriarchate, we maintain what we have received and profess the same.
Are your priests celibate or married?
Our priests may choose to be married prior to their Ordination to the diaconate and must demonstrate a stable marriage and the support of their wife. If the priests’ wife should pass away our priests assume a celibate life. Other priests choose to be celibate and promise to be celibate at the time of their Ordination to the diaconate. Our bishops are chosen from among the celibate clergy, many of whom are in monastic or religious Orders. We maintain the practice as it exists in all Orthodox Churches.
What Divine Liturgy do you use for worship?
Our Church maintains usage of the historical liturgy of the West, namely that of St. Gregory the Theologian, celebrated in the vernacular (English, Spanish, etc.) or the liturgical language of Latin. We do not refer to the Divine Liturgy as the “Tridentine Mass” since this is a post-Reformation Roman Catholic reference that does not reflect our Orthodox position regarding the Church.
Are you under the Pope?
No we are not under the Pope; we are under the Supreme Head of the Church, namely Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Pope is also under. We are not Roman Catholic and therefore not subject to the authority of the Pope nor any of the Roman Catholic bishops subject to the Pope’s authority. Our Church recognizes the historical office of the Bishop of Rome as the Successor of St. Peter and we pray for him in our Divine Liturgy. We maintain the Orthodox Faith and express it according to Western liturgical practice. We believe universal jurisdiction taught by the Roman Catholic Church, regarding the Pope, does not follow the historical practice of the Church but deviates from it. The Orthodox Patriarchates do not follow this idea of universal jurisdiction but maintain the historical practice of the Early Church.
What is your relationship with other particular Churches of Apostolic Succession?
The Western Orthodox Christian Church, adheres to the Orthodox Faith of the ages. We maintain that which we have received from both East and West. Our Church is united historically with all other ancient, Apostolic Churches that maintain that which was established by Christ and passed on to the Holy Apostles. The Holy Apostles transmitted the Holy Orthodox Faith down through the ages by the laying on of hands. Those men who became recipients of this ancient gesture where consecrated bishops. Bishops continue to pass on what they have received through what is called Apostolic or Historical Succession.
Is there a present day relationship with the European Old Catholic Churches?
Historically, yes. Since 1910 the historical Old Roman Catholic Church, from which we evolved, has not maintained full communion with the European Old Catholic Churches due to an increasing dis-connect with the historic Faith of the Church by deviating from the historicity of our Church. Archbishop Mathew’s who brought the Old Catholic Church to the United Kingdom from Utrecht, Holland was instrumental in keeping the Church faithful to the Holy Orthodox Faith. In his 1910 Declaration of Autonomy this was solidified, and the Church, as planted in the United Kingdom, then brought to the shores of the United States by Archbishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes , Missionary Bishop of Scotland, concretized our present day lack of communion with the continental Old Catholic jurisdictions.
What is the relationship with the Eastern Orthodox Churches?
We share the Holy Orthodox Faith. Through the efforts of Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew’s and Archbishop Gerassimos Messarra, Orthodox Bishop of Beirut of the Greek Patriarchate of Antioch, this was realized in the Statement of Union signed on August 5, 1911. It was carried to the shores of the United States by Archbishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes of Scotland who first planted the Church in this country as "Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church" (“Regionary Bishop of Scotland Sues Chronicler of Nobility.” New York Tribune (New York). 1915-07-13. p. 4. LCCN sn83030214. Retrieved 2013-12-14). Internet Source:
We share the Holy Orthodox Faith with the Eastern Orthodox Churches but we remain, at this time, an autocephalous (self-governing) Western Orthodox Church. Our Church maintains the best of both the Orthodox Christian East and West.
If you feel ostracized from your faith community because you are divorced or if you find yourself struggling with sin and just simply not accepted please do not hesitate to visit us. We believe the Church is the refuge of sinners and that Our Lord is the Divine Physician offering the spiritual medicine for our souls through the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments.
Come and worship with us!