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The Reception of Converts and Related Matters


Webmaster Note: The following was written by Archbishop Chrysostomos to a young man who corresponded with the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies about an article that has appeared in several places and which can be easily misunderstood to suggest that the first primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) was a supporter of the irresponsible application of economy that we see by the contemporary "official" Orthodox jurisdictions in receiving the non-Orthodox into the Orthodox Church. I believe that His Eminence’s observations are of value.

The idea of "official" Orthodox Churches (largely the creation of ecumenism) and the notion of a "canonical" group of local Churches rendered legitimate by their communion with Constantinople and the "Primate of Orthodoxy," the Œcumenical Patriarch (an idea put forth recently by Olivier Clement and consistent with the neo-papist ecclesiology of the Orthodox innovators)—such contrivances are inconsistent with the very nature of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is "canonical" when it operates as it should (the true sense of "canonicity"), preserving and perpetuating the content of Holy Tradition, which in turn leads to the evidence and data of true confession, that is, sanctity, humility, and the resulting obedience to the primacy of the True Church, the Holy Orthodox Church. As for catholicity, it resides, not in administrative universalism, but in the unity which binds the fullness of the Church in every right-believing local community to the catholicity of a common Baptism, common confession, and enduring sanctity. Though Clement oddly enough evokes the writings of the late Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky in supporting his neo-papal views, it is Father Georges, himself, who has so consistently argued, on the grounds of the actual teachings of the Fathers, that the "facts" of spiritual life, not administrative bodies, yield authenticity in the Church; and these facts focus on spiritual transformation, holiness, the therapeutic restoration of the human in the Divine Mysteries, and the ultimate theosis (divinization or Glorification) of man and the cosmos.

Likewise, attempts to codify "oikonomia" ("economy"), making a rule of that process by which spiritual dispensation is exercised outside the normal categories of what can be codified, violate the spiritual nature of the Church. This is especially so, since "economy" is par excellence a pastoral matter. And if time and individual differences do not apply to the dogmatic or credal dimensions of the Church (which are symbols of unchanging, ineffable, noumenological Truths that rise above time and the person), all those things relating to the individual believer and the Church (that is, pastoral things) are, indeed, subject to time, place, and circumstance. This should be intuitively evident. We must not attempt to justify, then, the abuses of ecumenism and its religious relativism on the grounds that the application of economy in specific times by specific individuals constitutes a foundational principle for various innovative views of the Church or its Mysteries, and particularly when these new views violate both the unchanging spiritual nature of the Church and the rudimentary dogmatic and symbolic definitions of the Faith.

In simple terms, the primacy of Orthodoxy, as the very Church of Christ, and the existence of valid Mysteries ONLY within Her confines (notwithstanding intellectual speculation about the "wider boundaries" of the Church, and this even by pious Churchmen) are not things which are subject to debate or restatement. This is because they are not ideas, but are spiritual facts that have been revealed to us. The nature of the Church, Christ as Her sole Head and the source of Her unity, and the spiritual vision of the clergy (Bishops and Presbyters) also fall into the category of these universal spiritual Truths. These immutable Truths are the pillars of our Faith. Such things as Church administration and clerical rank, as well as the treatment of those who have fallen from the Church or who are separated from her, these are pastoral matters. They are affected by time and circumstance. Thus, we apply the dogmatic words of the Fathers universally. There can never be a Pope in Orthodoxy. The Church has no Head except Christ. There is no salvation outside Orthodoxy. The Mysteries of the Church are single and unique. We can, however, at the same time, admit that Church administration, the pastoral treatment of those outside the Church, the reception of converts, and so on, are subject to circumstance, history, and the needs of human beings in specific instances. We can even speculate about the boundaries of the Church (if soberly so), if we do not, at the same time, violate the dogmatic definition of the Church. And if we come to contradictions in doing this, we must always yield to the primacy of the Church and admit the inadequacy of theory or practice derived from the temporary phenomenon of given instances of dispensation (that is, the application of economy).

An article in the "Diocesan News," a publication of the Denver Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, recently attempted to justify the use of "economy" in the reception of converts into the Orthodox Church by referring to an article on the subject by the late and Blessed Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), first Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. This follows on the heels of a recent decision by the Œcumenical Patriarchate to receive individuals from a number of heterodox confessions by Chrismation, and not by Baptism, through the exercise of "extreme economy." The connection between Metropolitan Anthony’s article and this pronouncement from Constantinople is obvious: if the modernists are innovators, so was Metropolitan Anthony, since he favored a liberal policy in receiving the heterodox into Orthodoxy. In fact, having lost a group of its Faithful to the ROCA of late, the Southern Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America, in its official publication, "The Dawn," reprinted this article from the "Diocesan News," as though to argue against the conservative reaction to the ecumenical excesses of the OCA, which include the virtual transformation of the economy of Chrismation into the rule of reception—something not unlike the recent ruling from Constantinople about such divergent groups as Anglicans, Baptists, the Assembly of God, Methodists, and Roman Catholics.

There is no doubt that the author of the article in the Denver diocesan publication of the New Calendarist Greek Church in America had good intentions in developing a justification for his Church’s innovation, on the basis of the thinking of Metropolitan Anthony. Nonetheless, his appeal to this Prelate is rather ironic. At a time when modernists are publicly calling us traditionalists heretics and schismatics (both us Greek old Calendarists, who derive our "orders" from the ROCA, and the clergy of the ROCA itself), it is strange to see one of our "Fathers" used as an example of theological sobriety! Indeed, he is used to support an exercise of economy accepted by SCOBA, an organization filled with clergymen who would, were he alive today, characterize him, to paraphrase the Primate of the OCA in present-day reference to the ROCA, as the head of a "sect."

Let us also say that, since we are dealing here with a purely pastoral issue, one cannot cite the words of Metropolitan Anthony as normative. First, it should be quite obvious to anyone that an article which His Eminence wrote in 1927 does not in an unqualified way apply to the state of the Church seventy-one years later. At the time of his writing, Anglicans had not yet come to the pitiable theological state in which we find them today. Nor had the Roman Catholic Church abandoned its traditional piety. We now live at a time when many in the former church question the Resurrection, while the monastic foundation of the latter body (one of the few strong remnants of its legacy from an Orthodox past), has completely collapsed. Moreover, when individuals sought to enter Orthodoxy from these churches six decades ago, they did so out of a conviction that the Orthodox Church was, in fact, the True Church. They did not convert, as many do today, to a popular religion that they could mold and change. They did not imagine that they were merely changing rites. Nor was their conversion made easy. There was a spiritual sobriety among these converts that does not exist among most converts today. And if Metropolitan Anthony chose to exercise extreme economy (and one need not agree with all of his decisions, even in context), he did so with a spiritual goal in mind.

Today, why is there is such a frenzy about receiving converts by "Chrismation" and economy? We all know why, and we should be honest about it. When the Orthodox Church "recognizes" the empty form of the sacraments of the heterodox, She does not attribute to them Grace, as Metropolitan Anthony so clearly states in his appeal to the sixty-eighth Canon of the Council of Carthage. The Church creates Grace where it was lacking. There is no idea of "partial Grace" outside Orthodoxy. Is this, however, what we hear from modernist Orthodox today? Hardly. Some of the theologians at St. Vladimir’s Seminary have not only called into question this view of economy, but have even been so bold, twisting and misrepresenting the historical witness, as to suggest that Baptism is NOT the standard for receiving converts into the Church. Could any rational person imagine that Metropolitan Anthony would have supported such a violation of the Church’s teachings? Is it at all just to take his words about economy—those of a single Hierarch—and apply them to this age in such a way as to damage the very dogmatic definitions of the Faith upon which economy must never trample? I think not.

More to the point, Metropolitan Anthony, were he living today, would no doubt maintain the same position that we traditionalists uphold. If there is a place for economy, it is not in a time when Orthodox Hierarchs—whether or not they call us liars when we quote them—speak of Grace outside Orthodoxy, openly state that the mere Trinitarian formula of Baptism is a sign of Grace (outside the Church!), and speak of Orthodoxy as a Sister Church of Papism, a Church from which she has been separated for a thousand years. I doubt that Metropolitan Anthony would have received a heterodox clergyman, given today’s ecumenical world and theological innovation, by any act of economy. And I imagine that, rather than lend credence to the notion that Orthodoxy recognizes Grace outside Her boundaries, he would have advocated the reception of converts by Baptism, except in the very rarest of circumstances. After all, he upheld the primacy of Orthodoxy, which is unchanging. In pastoral matters, which are subject to circumstance, he would, in our time, have assuredly followed the "exactitude" by which we traditionalists (True Orthodox) witness to the absolute uniqueness of the Orthodox Church, outside of which there is no therapeutic Grace. To do otherwise would be irresponsible. And a man so concerned with economy could not possibly be irresponsible.

Two final observations. In the commentary attached to Metropolitan Anthony’s article in the "Diocesan News," much is made by the author about the tendency towards ecclesiastical anarchy among some traditionalists in the Orthodox Church. The author of these comments tells us that we must not use words like "heretic" or "schismatic" loosely, and that we should not act without the guidance of our Bishops and superiors. One cannot argue with what he says, and certainly there have been excesses among those resisting the innovation and modernism that curse the so-called "official" Churches. But let us not forget that it is the modernists who are now calling us traditionalists liars, heretics, charlatans, schismatics, and much worse. (And if anyone disputes this, I can cite ample evidence from the Internet, drawn from the words of an OCA Bishop and an Antiochian Archpriest.) And if such words were used in the past perhaps prematurely about the modernists, how can one describe, if not as an ecclesiological heresy, a statement by the Œcumenical Patriarch that the Orthodox Church and Papism are but the two lungs of the one Church of Christ? What, I ask, can one call this? And how can we not be scandalized when the same Patriarch who makes this statement also, at the same time, speaks against ecumenism, when it serves his purpose. We may be blind, we traditionalists, but we are not deaf. And when a blind man hears another speaking from both sides of his mouth, is he truly such an evil being when, despite his presumed blindness, he wishes to know which side of that mouth is speaking truly? Indeed, we see little to support the idea that high-sounding objections to hyperbolic language hold much water when we are chastised by those who insult us and speak to us in ecumenical "double-talk."

In consequence of what I have written, I would also think it prudent to respond to the notion, put forth again in the commentary on Metropolitan Anthony’s article, that clergy and Faithful do not have a right to break communion with their canonical Bishops. This is, of course, true, and the rupture of unity in Church administration should never be undertaken lightly. But the more important and over-riding issue of the right belief of a ruling Bishop is crucial here. And as I have pointed out, there is much to fear in the pronouncements of the modernists, at least until they tell us which of their two views of the Church prevails: that put forth when we "liars" and "schismatics" challenge them, or that preached in the domain of ecumenism (e.g., the slippery rhetoric of Balamand, a betrayal of Orthodoxy often called by the modernists a "victory"). Moreover, let us not ignore the fact that the Sacred Canons certainly allow for clergy and Faithful to break communion with Bishops who preach or embrace heresy, even before a Church synod or council has condemned them as heretics or their views as heretical. This action must be taken circumspectly, and certainly the provisions of this canonical walling-off can be abused. However, we should not so honor administrative order that it supersedes matters of conscience. Nor does the Church prevent or forbid temporary separations in administration, let alone flatly condemn those who follow their consciences in piety and in God-pleasing resistance, leaving it to time and the future judgment of the Church to vindicate their struggle. Once again, we must not apply what belongs to the temporal realm of administration in such a way as to thwart the ultimate spiritual witness of the Church. Were it not for resisters such as the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Maximos the Confessor, the Studite monks, the anti-unionists, the Hesychasts in the age of St. Gregory Palamas, the Kollyvades movement, the anti-Sergianist Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and the Bulgarian, Greek, and Romanian Old Calendarists, among others, the true unity of our Faith—which lies in correct belief—would long ago have succumbed to Jesuitical notions of the administrative prerogatives of officialdom. The "official" Orthodox, in whatever loyalty they still show towards Orthodoxy, owe an inestimable debt to Orthodox resisters, past and present.

Anti-Christ does not come to us in a foreign tongue and as an unbeliever. He comes to us in our own language and with a lukewarm commitment to the Faith. He speaks to us of love, while he hates us. He glorifies Martyrdom, but not that of faith and blood. He exalts unity, but not in Truth. He takes what is temporary and seeks to make it universal. He makes what is standard the exception and what is the exception standard. He elevates pastoral matters to a high level of priority, hiding thereby the fact that he is trampling on the absolute Truths which make economy possible in the first place. We must never succumb to his tactics, however noble and good our intentions. To justify innovation by appealing to a dated article by a Pastor living in a different field and with a different flock than our own, and particularly when that Pastor would have found the present-day Orthodox world worthy of tears, is a fall that we should all examine and avoid. It represents the great danger that befalls us when we attempt to justify that which cannot be justified. And it leads us unwittingly into the claws of Antichrist, who holds forth as much with Byzantine splendor as he does with the majesty of Latin Papism.

Archbishop Chrysostomos