Ad Orientem: The Ruthenian Recension

science | Oct 09, 2010 | By David Petras

In our previous article, we traced the story of the Liturgy in our church since the time of its union with Rome. As we have seen, first for cultural reasons, and then for political reasons, what happened was the formulation of a rite that was faithful to its original heritage in the Byzantine Empire but which was modified just enough so that it could be distinguished from the Orthodox Church.

In order for it to be clearly Catholic, practices of the Roman Catholic Liturgy were imitated at many points. However, this solution did not prove to be satisfactory. Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky was, instead, to achieve a liturgical reform based on the principle of a deliberate return to traditional values.

In 1900, Andrew Sheptytsky became the metropolitan of Lviv, before the publication of the "Liturgicon." He was an imposing man with a strong will. At first he supported the Lviv reform, but then made a pastoral visitation of his extensive diocese.

He became convinced of the need for the reaffirmation of the purity of the Byzantine rite. His conviction in this matter must be understood in the spirit of the time. Sheptytsky was thoroughly trained in scholastic theology, and was completely committed to the Catholic Church.

His motivations would be considered mixed today, though they were progressive at the turn of the 20th century. Certainly one of his motives was the conversion of the Russian Orthdox to Catholicity. To this end, in 1907, he received the Blessed Leonid Fedorov into the Catholic communion and in 1917 sent him to Russia as exarch, hoping to establish an Eastern Catholic hierarchy that, by the use of a pure Russian rite, he might win the Orthodox over to Catholicity.

Process of purification

Whatever the motivation, Archbishop Sheptytsky began a process of purifying the Eastern Catholic rites of all latinizations to return to a pure Byzantine form. In this, he was assisted by his friend and scholar Father Cyril Korolevsky (born Francois Charon). Korolevsky was uncompromising in his campaign against latinization, and even Archbishop Sheptytsky thought he was uncharitable in his attack on it in his 1927 book "L’Uniatisme."

Obviously, though, what Sheptytsky was doing was turning the church around just after another type of decision had been made. In 1926, Bishop Josaphat Kocylovsky of Przemysl approved a "Trebnik" to be published by the Basilian order at Zhovkva.

Meets with opposition

It was at this point that Sheptytsky felt that action must be taken. He called for a conference of all the Ruthenian bishops that met in 1927. The bishop of Uzhorod sent a representative, and Bishop Dionysisu Nyarardi of Krizhevci (Croatian) was particularly active. The archbishop met with strong opposition from his suffragan bishops, Bishop Kocylovsky, who countered that everything had to go through Rome, and Gregory Khomysyn, bishop of Stanislav, who was an out and out opponent of "byzantinization." In a March 1931 pastoral letter the latter stated that "byzantinization" comprised in itself all the heresies of the East. Rome, in fact, later asked Bishop Khomysyn to retract his statement.

In the meantime, Archbishop Sheptytsky went ahead on his own and published a new "Liturgicon" cleaned up of latinizations in 1929 and a slightly revised edition in 1930.

Rome oversees editing

Naturally, his suffragan bishops were enraged by this action, and at the 1933 meeting petitioned Rome to oversee the editing of the liturgical books. Rome formally accepted their petition on Jan. 10, 1938, requesting the proceedings of the Inter-eparchial Liturgy Commission from 1930 to 1935. The Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, headed by Cardinal Tisserant, was to be in charge of the project, which was directed by Father Cyril Korolevsky. Korolevsky’s working principle was simple: if there was a practice that was agreed upon by all the Ruthenian sources, he followed that practice. If there was disagreement in the Ruthenian sources, he followed the Russian Synodal text (Niconian).

The result was clear, the Liturgy in most cases simply followed the Russian books, which Korolevsky judged to be better, except in a few instances where there was a unanimous Ruthenian counter-practice. Therefore, here we see a deliberate reform, an attempt to return to authentic tradition. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was published in 1940, and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great in 1941.

On Sept. 10, 1941, the congregation wrote a circular letter to all of the bishops announcing the edition and mandating its use. When Metropolitan Sheptytsky received a copy of the new edition, he said, "Now you can let your servant go in peace. I can now die because all questions of our Liturgy are finally settled, and rule, order, and uniformity will be introduced into our church." The full three Liturgies, as well as the liturgical propers and the office was published in 1942.

Along with other liturgical books published from that time until as late as 1973 this is what is now called the "Ruthenian Recension." These books are considered the model for the form of the Liturgy of the Byzantine Slav churches united with Rome.

"Recension" is not a word that we use everyday, but it is borrowed from the Latin word "recensio." The dictionary defines it as "a revision of a text, based on a critical examination of sources." This describes accurately the work of Father Cyril Korolevsky and his commission in Rome.

To know about this recension is essential for an understanding of our liturgical tradition and how our worship of God, who saves us through his cross and resurrection, has come to be the way it is today. 

Archpriest David M. Petras serves in the Eparchy of Parma OH and is a professor at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary. He is the author of the  book, “Time for the Lord to Act: A Catechetical Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, available at Byzantine Seminary Press.

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