The topic of the reception of heterodox Christians by the Orthodox Church addressed in your comment to our “MANIFESTO”1, is of broad interest, and I would like to share my response to you with our readers. For their benefit here is your comment in its entirety:
I appreciate the aim of this manifesto. However, I think that the idea that baptism is necessarily the way to receive heretics is far from established. When the Russian church decided to rebaptize Catholic converts in the seventeenth century, bishops of Eastern churches clamored to stop them. And the Russians did stop that practice. Baptism only became the normative means of receiving Catholics in the Greek church in the eighteenth century because of an obscure theological controversy that was inspired by a dubious figure. Just read the history, the answer is not clear. Sources: Fr. Ambrose Pogodin provides a good history here. Andrei Psarev examines a relevant canon here. Fr. John Erickson (I know) has a useful overview here.
It seems that you have not read carefully the particular paragraph concerning baptism.2 We are not saying that “baptism is necessarily the way to receive heretics”; rather, we are critical of the guidelines of the Ecumenical Patriarch who recognizes baptisms that take place outside the Church as valid–something the Church outright rejects–turning the oikonomia (the exception) into akriveia (the rule), and not allowing akriveia even by oikonomia!–something never before seen throughout the history of the Church.
According to Prof. Fr. John Romanides:
Orthodox Churches usually accepted into their membership individuals or Churches by means of either exactitude (akribeia ) or economy (oikonomia ).
- By Exactitude one is accepted by baptism, chrismation and profession of the Orthodox Faith accompanied by rejection of former errors.
- By Economy one is accepted by chrismation and profession of the Orthodox faith and the rejection of former errors.
Neither of these two means of entry into the Church is in itself a judgment on the validity or non-validity of the sacraments of the Church of origin, since there are no mysteries outside of the Body of Christ.3
Even the arch-ecumenist Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk confesses the one and only Orthodox FAITH concerning the question of sacraments outside the Church:
“The Augustinian understanding of the ‘efficacy’ of the sacraments was never fully accepted in the Orthodox Church. Such an understanding of the sacraments is unacceptable for Orthodox Tradition, for it is an understanding in which the grace inherent within them is considered autonomous, independent of the Church. The sacraments can be performed only within the Church, and it is the Church that bestows efficacy, reality, and salvation on them.”4
When and how to exercise oikonomia is a secondary issue, and it is left up to the discretion of the bishops and their episcopal synods when and how to apply it. The main issue that all Orthodox should and must agree upon is that baptisms that take place outside the Church are not valid baptisms. I briefly addressed this subject elsewhere many years ago. Here is what I wrote:
ACCEPTANCE AND RECOGNITION OF BAPTISM
(ACCEPTANCE DOES NOT MEAN RECOGNITION)
Acceptance addresses the issue how does the Church receive converts. Recognition addresses the “validity” of baptism.
The Church recognizes no baptism as “valid” that is performed outside of her. However, in the exercise of oikonomia (dispensation), at times and places and special circumstances, at the discretion of a bishop or synod of bishops, she accepts a baptism that resembles to a greater or lesser extent her baptism, of someone who is being received in the Orthodox Church from heresy or schism. Acceptance is not concerned with “validity” or recognition of baptisms performed outside of her, concepts which are foreign to her terminology and practice.
The fact that the Orthodox Church receives certain converts by oikonomia through Chrismation does not mean that the Orthodox Church recognizes a baptism performed outside her pleroma nor does she admit by such action that there is grace among the heterodox.
How the heterodox should be received has become not an issue of whether to exercise akriveia (strictness) or oikonomia (dispensation, exception), but an imposition by the ecumenists of their erroneous belief, namely that there is one baptism and that this one baptism is administered validly by anyone (even by non-Christians!), as long as the name of the Holy Trinity is invoked and water is used in any form.
Because of the prevailing ecumenism, it has almost become an article of faith that any baptism performed, whether inside or outside the Orthodox Church, is a valid baptism (so long as it is performed by invoking the name of the Holy Trinity). For this reason the Ecumenical Patriarchate no longer allows, under any circumstances, the reception of heterodox through baptism, because it is viewed as a repetition of the one true baptism. They will no longer allow the strictness to be applied even by oikonomia!!
Ecumenists are not willing to accept the patristic and synodal witness, that when the Church allows baptism by oikonomia she does so without addressing at all its “validity” outside the Church–which the ecumenists do because of their ecumenistic and synchretistic considerations.
I also ask you to look up the index entry “baptism” in my book The Heavenly Banquet5. I argue that especially in this country of “church-hoppers” the akriveia should be followed.
Coming back to your comment, I ask you: when you say – if you do – that Roman Catholics should not be baptized when they are received, is it because you believe the baptism conferred to them should be recognized as “valid” or because we don’t want to offend them, and we should not make conversion more difficult for them and therefore we should exercise oikonomia?
If you want to defend the validity of the baptism offered by the Roman Catholic Church, searching Church history won’t give you the answer. The current practice is that even if you wanted to be baptized it is not granted to you in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical (read ecumenist) Patriarchate, so it has become a moot point. In fact, conversions are discouraged because the Ecumenical Patriarch wants the Orthodox Church to be united with the Roman Catholic Church in toto, as two sister Churches who recognize each other as two lungs of the same body, and re-establish a broken communion caused by misunderstandings, therefore conversions [through Baptism] are no longer allowed.
But please tell me: why would anyone who has already received the “ONE baptism for the remission of sins” want to join the Orthodox Church since…
- he has received the laver of regeneration and has been spiritually reborn
- he has already received remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)
- he is already walking “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4)
- the doors to the kingdom of God are already wide open to him (John 3:5).
What more would one hope to obtain in the Orthodox Church that he has not already received?
If through a baptism outside the Orthodox Church one has been incorporated into the Body of Christ, it follows that one has become a member of the Holy Church, so what else would one be seeking? If one has this, the first and most fundamental of the Church’s Mysteries, one can receive all of the sacraments. If one has the authority to baptize, he also has the authority to offer the bloodless sacrifice. Why, then, would anyone abandon his Church in order to join the Orthodox Church?
We will address this subject more in our next post.
- Posted on March 10, 2017.
- “The [Ecumenical] Patriarch has given the directive to no longer receive those Christians who want to become Orthodox through baptism, because, he says, since they are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity they have a valid baptism. For us there are no Sacraments outside the Church.”
A Critique of the Balamand Agreement, Orthodox Christian Information Center, October 14, 2001.
Orthodox Christianity Vol. II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, p. 405.
- pp. 211-212. I wish everyone would have this book as a reference for many topics. [editor’s note: Order this book and receive a 30% discount by using the coupon code: 1BAPTISM at checkout. Order three or more of our books and receive 40% off by using the coupon code 4BAPTISM at checkout.