The modern-day restoration of the Western Orthodox tradition is due in large part to the faith, zeal, and labours of those who persevered in the face of great opposition, some of whom we name below.
St Irenaeus of Paris (Louis-Charles Winnaert) - feast: 3rd March
The modern resurgence of Western Orthodoxy began with stirrings within the heart of a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Louis-Charles Winnaert, who uprooted himself from all that he had known, and began the arduous journey in which he would allow the Holy Spirit to lead him to his true home, where he would become the father of the many who would follow after him and become his spiritual descendants. Thus he is known as The New Abraham.
Born on the 4th of June, 1880 in Dunkirk, Louis-Charles had long desired to be a priest, and was ordained in the Roman Catholic church in 1905. However, he soon came to realise that this did not represent the form of Christianity for which he longed.
This began a long pilgrimage through various ecclesiastical homes, including a period in the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht (1921-1922), close relations with the Anglican church, a brief association with the Liberal Catholic church (where he was consecrated as a bishop but with which he broke due to its theosophist ideas), and some time spent as an independent bishop, single-handedly leading his own jurisdiction. Despite the apparent instability of this journey, his motivation during this whole time was his devoted search - his quest - for authentic Apostolic Christianity, where he and his flock could work out their salvation in Jesus Christ.
This he eventually found in the form of the Orthodox Church, which he discovered in 1927 and spent the last few years of his life seeking to enter.
On this journey, Winnaert found an ally in the person of one of his spiritual children, Yvonne Barde, whom he met in 1928 and who became a dedicated supporter of his quest. Louis-Charles and Yvonne were of one mind and one heart in this purpose and found true spiritual kinship with each other. In order to avoid any question of scandal due to the time they spent together, they were soon married.
With his vision of a local Orthodox church living its faith and sacramental life according to the Western liturgical and spiritual tradition, Winnaert encountered many trials along the way, overcoming the hurdles placed before him by those who were suspicious of this plan and who were driven by other concerns.
Winnaert persevered with his petitions, both to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and later to the Patriarchate of Moscow, and ultimately had his wishes fulfilled. In 1936, Patriarch Sergius of Moscow issued a decree that Louis-Charles Winnaert and his flock were to be received into the Russian Orthodox Church, with a blessing to continue as a Western Rite vicariate under his care. They would be permitted to continue in their western spiritual and liturgical customs, as a modern-day expression of the same western traditions known to the first-millennium saints of this part of the world.
This became a reality early the following year, when on condition that he lay aside what was considered his canonically irregular marriage (for this was contracted after his ordination), he was received into the Orthodox Church, tonsured as a monk, and raised to the dignity of an archimandrite, taking the monastic name of Irenaeus, after St Irenaeus of Lyons. Thus, after a long journey and having made many sacrifices, Fr Ienaeus had finally come home.
By this time, Fr Irenaeus was in poor health and was born into heaven on the 3rd of March, 1937. Yvonne remained a pillar of the Western Orthodox movement for the remainder of her earthly life, until she fell asleep in the Lord in 1997.
Although Fr Irenaeus was only formally an Orthodox Christian for the final few weeks of his life, his journey to Orthodoxy, which spanned nearly a decade, and his wider search for the Church of Christ, was characterised by a determination to answer the call of God. It is due to his faithfulness to the vision of an Orthodoxy that is accessible to western peoples and that builds on the foundation of the Orthodox spiritual heritage of the West, and his resilience in the face of the trials that were put in his way, that many thousands have come to Christ who might otherwise never have found a home in the holy Orthodox Church.
Archimandrite Irenaeus was canonised as a saint of the Church on the 2nd of February, 2020, and intercedes for all of his spiritual descendants before the throne of God.
Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Get out of your own country, from your kindred and your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and in you all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed.'
- Genesis 12: 1-3
St John of Saint-Denis (Eugraph Kovalevsky) - feast: 30th January
Born in St. Petersburg in 1905, the teenage Eugraph Kovalevsky emigrated to France with his family in 1920. From 1925 he led, notably with Vladimir Lossky, the Confraternity Saint-Photius, whose programme was "the rebirth of Orthodoxy in the West" by studying and implementation of local liturgies from the time of the undivided Church.
He was an ally of Fr Irenaeus (Winnaert) and was closely associated with the establishment, by the 1936 decree of Metropolitan (and future Patriarch) Sergius of Moscow, of the "Western Orthodox Church" - which later took the name of "The Orthodox-Catholic Church of France". After Fr Irenaeus fell asleep in the Lord, the newly-ordained Fr Eugraph took up the torch and faithfully led the Western Orthodox communities for the remainder of his earthly life.
For the liturgical use of the latter, Father Eugraph worked tirelessly to restore the ancient Gallican rite, which was practised in the West prior to the reforms of Charlemagne. The restored rite has come to be known as the Divine Liturgy according to Saint Germanus of Paris.
In addition to the Mass, he restored an entire cycle of the Divine Office closely based on Benedictine usage, as well as full provision for the sacramental life of the Church, and a distinctive iconographic style for use by the Western Orthodox Christians under his care.
Ordained a priest in 1937, Father Eugraph was primarily responsible for the Western Orthodox Church until his falling asleep in 1970 - a period that was not without its difficulties. Fr Eugraph was not without his detractors, who calumniated his person and called into question the legitimacy of his work, particularly when it became known that Patriarch Alexy of Moscow had planned to have him consecrated as bishop to serve the Western Orthodox flock, and seeds of jealousy began to take root. All of these difficulties he faced with grace and serenity, and with the single-minded determination to fulfil the Gospel call of Christ to go out and teach all nations.
Some years after leaving the Patriarchate of Moscow, Fr Eugraph was indeed consecrated bishop with his episcopal See at Saint-Denis. He was consecrated at the hands of Archbishop St John Maximovitch, thus becoming possibly the first Western Orthodox bishop consecrated since the time of the Great Schism, and certainly the first in modern history.
On the 11th of October, 2008, Bishop John of Saint-Denis was canonised as a saint of the Church.
Thus, the two primary restorers of the Western Orthodox Church are numbered among the saints and intercede for us before the throne of God.
'Let them be rejected who teach that local churches should be united by the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, which alone fully expresses Orthodoxy, instead of teaching that the diversity of rites is characteristic of the Church of Christ. This new trend, under the guise of piety, disfigures the whole and universal Orthodox Tradition.
'Let them be rejected who, in their madness, claim that the Orthodox Church is only eastern and that the Western Orthodox Church cannot exist, that western peoples are doomed to be Christians of Roman or Protestant denominations, instead of professing that the Church founded by Christ has its children running to it "from the West, the North, the sea, and East like stars lit by God" (St John of Damascus), and that every nation, every race, and every language has its place in this unity.
'Indeed, this new trend is spreading in Orthodox circles with alarming speed, tempting ordinary people by blaspheming the words of Christ: "Go, teach all nations...". It breaks the apostolic net and allows a multitude of fish - peoples caught in the wonderful catch - to return to the watery abyss. They impose monotony where there should be diversity, and tear apart what should be one.
'Some, more sophisticated, invent the theory: "We agree in principle. The early Church had different liturgies. The Orthodox Church is not against this - we recognise this - but we do not see the possibility of practical implementation. It is better in the current situation to have only one rite."
'A strange position, which is contrary to the truth! Can I say, "I love you in principle, but I reject you in practice"? They want the Word not to be incarnate and are reminiscent of those who exclaim: "My God, my God! May your will not be done!"
'The Liturgy is Orthodox not because of the unity of the rite, but because of the Orthodoxy of its content. It is Orthodox when its texts, chants, and gestures speak of an unchanging Faith.'
- Saint John of Saint-Denis
St John the Wonderworker (John Maximovitch) - feast: 2nd July
St John was loved during his earthly lifetime and venerated after his falling asleep for his missionary zeal, pastoral care, charitable works, and administrative diligence. As bishop, he cared for the flock of Christ from his various sees in Shanghai, Brussels, London, and San Francisco.
However, many of the stories of his life omit the chapter during his time in Western Europe, when he was an ardent supporter of the Western Orthodox missions.
Archbishop John was known for his love of the saints, particularly the local saints of wherever he found himself. Despite being a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, he would not permit his clergy to offer services in which only the Russian saints were commemorated but insisted that they also call upon the saints of the place. He came to know their lives of the saints, and led pilgrimages to their holy shrines and sites associated with them.
After our church's sad departure from the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in 1953, it was then Archbishop John who ultimately received us under his episcopal care, under the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. It was he who tended to the pastoral and spiritual needs of our clergy and people, who assisted with the development and confirmation of the legitimacy of our restored Gallican rite as an authentic expression of the Orthodox Faith, and who tirelessly petitioned the ROCOR Synod of Bishops to assent to the consecration of Fr Eugraph Kovalevsky as bishop of Saint-Denis to give stability and permanence to the Western Orthodox flock under his care. It was at his hands (and those of Bishop Theophilus of Sèvres) that Fr Eugraph was consecrated and took the name John-Nectarius.
Sadly, Archbishop John and his missionary efforts were not universally loved among his brother bishops on the ROCOR Synod and, after his falling asleep in the summer of 1966, it was only a matter of months before efforts began to undo his missionary outreach and to force the flock in Western Europe to abandon their Western Orthodox spiritual and liturgical heritage and adopt the Russian Byzantine forms of service, efforts which were resisted with holy zeal by Bishop John-Nectarius.
Archbishop John was entered into the church's calendar of saints in 1994.
Even from heaven he has continued to protect his flock, and through the mercy of God and at St John's intercessions the Western Orthodox mission has overcome calumny, opposition, and phyletism, and to this day the mission continues to grow and spread, bringing many to life in Christ.
Like a spiritual daystar in the expanse of the heavens,
you encompassed the whole world and enlightened human souls,
hence your name is glorified from east to west.
For you shone with the grace of the Sun of Righteousness,
O John, our beloved shepherd.
Therefore, do not cease to entreat Christ
to have mercy upon our souls!
'I am very concerned that my remote position does not make my jurisdiction unified (with the Church of France) and I wish the Church of France to find its head as soon as possible, in accordance with the will of the French clergy and faithful. Unfortunately, very few bishops support me in this sense; I cannot get support from my friends. Metropolitan Anastasius understands me perfectly.
At the meeting of bishops studying Church affairs, I again raised the problem of the Church of France. Then, with sorrow, the Metropolitan said that he felt a great responsibility for the fact that we did not complete the work of the French Church, rejecting those who came to us. He said: "We will give answer for this to the Heavenly Judge..."
Unfortunately, most bishops only recognise rituals that are familiar to them from childhood, they are unable to see beyond them.'
- St John the Wonderworker, from his letter to St John of Saint-Denis, 7 August, 1963