Common Misunderstandings on the Reception of Converts
A Reply to Father John Morris
by Archbishop Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios
Dear Father John [Abraham]:
As you know, I do not consider it appropriate for Bishops
to engage in the kinds of exchanges that occur on the various Orthodox computer forums.
Nor do I have time to do such an unfruitful thing. However, from time to time I have
posted a few comments, when requested by others to do so, and this especially in instances
where I have felt that clarification might prove helpful. Since you asked me to comment on
Father John Morris' posting in response to comments [in blue] which, though from another
individual, are essentially those which I and others have expressed in the pages of
"Orthodox Tradition," I will do so. I have no interest in debating anyone, and
certainly will not engage in any exchange whatsoever (something that I do not think that
Hierarchs should do in an informal and often impolite forum); however, I will clarify some
of the issues which Father John raises. You may post my words, if you like, or simply
consider them personal. The choice is yours.
I will intersperse my remarks (preceded by the initials
"A.C." and terminating with the word "END") with the posting that you
sent me, which contains both Father John's responses (F.J.) and the
comments which provoked them.
> The canonical standard does not
require that ALL heretics are baptized. It
> does require that heretics NOT
baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity
> with triple immersion are
F.J.: Although triple immersion is most
certainly the norm in the Orthodox Church, it is not an absolute requirement for baptism.
The Church has long recognized baptism administered without immersion in cases of
emergency. Once again, whatever was lacking in the non Orthodox baptism, including triple
immersion, is provided by entrance into the Church and the Sacrament of Chrismation.
A.C.: Triple immersion in the name of the
Trinity is, of course, an absolute requirement for Baptism in the Orthodox Church.
Emergency Baptisms are precisely that: acts of emergency. They do not suggest that the
established Apostolic form of threefold immersion in water, and in the name of the Holy
Trinity, is not the indispensable form of Baptism found in Scripture, the Holy Canons, and
the Patristic consensus. In fact, though there is a diversity of opinion on the subject,
the prevailing canonical "norm" for the treatment of those Baptized in an
emergency situation is that, if the candidate lives, the proper ritual should be performed
by a Priest. Moreover, a male so Baptized is, according to one canonical tradition, not
eligible for Ordination (see, for example, the 47th Canon of Laodicea, among
others). We see, here, how strict the standard actually is. When, in 1932, these issues
were discussed in a synodal forum by the Church of Greece, it became immediately apparent
that they were complex and not easily understood from a canonical or historical
perspective. This should serve as a warning against employing the exceptional case of
emergency Baptisms, as Father John does, in arguing against the exactitude of Baptism by
threefold immersion in the name of the Trinity.
Father John has also adopted the nomenclature of other
writers on this subject, such as Professor John Erickson, which leads to misunderstanding.
The issue is not one simply of absolute requirements or conditions, as we normally
understand these words, versus diversity, but of exactitude as opposed to oikonomia
(economy). I will discuss this matter at greater length below, but I mention it here to
bring us back to an Orthodox paradigm in discussing these questions: a paradigm in which
the question is not one of varied practice, but of a "canon" (used in the
classical Greek sense of the word, meaning an "exact standard") from which, by
condescension, the Church allows, in the presence of compelling reason, some deviation, if
Let me also point out that the Mystery of Baptism is not
simply a matter of entry into the Church and Chrismation something like confirmation in
the Latin Church. Orthodox theologians, under Western influence, have begun to think in
such categories, but they fail to capture the ethos of the Church and the witness of the
Fathers. Baptism is illumination, a spiritual and physical means by which Grace is
internalized in the individual and by which the spiritual faculty is enlightened (hence,
the term "photismos" is used to describe this primary Mystery both in ancient
and fairly contemporary texts). Baptism entails a return to a certain balance between the
elements of the human person, wherein Grace works fully effectually and therapeutically.
Chrismation is the seal placed upon this mystery of regeneration, and when it is used in
cases of "economy," it does not function mechanically or serve as some symbolic
ritual; rather, it also imparts the Grace which it is meant to seal.
F.J.: It is wrong to argue that the use of
economy has not become the normal practice when receiving converts into the Church. In
1888 the Patriarchate of Constantinople revoked the "Oros" of 1755 and decreed
that economy should be used when receiving converts. In 1903, the Church of Greece issued
a similar decree. In the United States, virtually all canonical Orthodox receive converts
who have been baptized through Chrismation as provided for in the Ecumenical Guidelines of
SCOBA, the Priests Guide of the Antiochian Archdiocese, the Priests Handbook
of the Greek Archdiocese and the services of the OCA.
A.C.: Father John has simply not done
his reading, here. Nor is his thinking correct. It is absolutely wrong to argue against
the standard of Christian practice, which is Baptism by threefold immersion in the name of
the Trinity. Declaring the standard to be null since it is not "normal practice"
today is, once more, to confuse the issue by incorrect terminology. There have been many
times in which the Church, acting out of "economy," has departed from the
standard; that is, it has set aside the practice of Baptism and has received converts
through Chrismation. Whether this was done in the past, is done now, or was done more
times than it was notsuch things are neither here nor there. Just as truth is not a
matter of the majority view ("One man with the truth constitutes a majority,"
St. Maximos the Confessor tells us), so correct practice is not defined by the number of
times that exactitude is not followed. Nor does the Churchs condescension serve as a
model; in Orthodoxy, we are always called to the standard, not to the exception.
History being less than ideal, the Church has not always
been able to adhere to exactitude in carrying out its salvific mission. Thus, human
imperfection and historical circumstance have often dictated changes in policy with regard
to "economy," and these always with an eye towards the pastoral responsibilities
of the Church. Hence, Father John argues against himself when he uses, as an example of
the standard practice of the Church, the exceptional decisions by Constantinople and the
Church of Greece which he cites above. Historical circumstance is not binding, but is in
all cases a mitigating factor. It should never be called the "standard," at
least in the context of the Orthodox paradigm which I set forth above. Moreover, his
citations are misleading, as we shall see below.
F.J.: There are numerous examples of
converts such as St. Elizabeth and her sister Tsarina Alexandra, Fr. Seraphim Rose, Bishop
Kallistos Ware and others who were received through Chrismation.
A.C.: This anecdotal evidence is of little
significance. St. Elizabeth and St. Alexandra were received into Orthodoxy at a time when
the ecumenism of our age was unknown. Moreover, if we read their letters and diaries, they
converted by a conscious rejection of their former confessions, not to mention a formal
rejection of the same. Father Seraphim Rose, as I can demonstrate from personal
correspondence, always regretted his reception into Orthodoxy by Chrismation, for which
reason he unfailingly Baptized converts from Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, and this
not a few in number. At the time of his acceptance, once again, there was no confusion in
the Orthodox world about the nature of reception by "economy," as there is
today, and, while I cannot speak for Bishop Kallistos (Ware), the historical record and
Father Seraphims very open statements on the matter leave no doubt that these other
individuals were fully aware that the "acceptance" of their heterodox baptisms
was not a recognition (this word and the word "acceptance" are often abused by
ecumenists in a way that they should not be, incidentally) of Grace outside Orthodoxy (the
real issue at hand, as we shall see below), but the filling of an empty, ineffectual
ritual through the condescension of the Church.
And it speaks for itself that, when not exercised by a
Saint (his spiritual Father) and when undertaken in an atmosphere in which the exception
becomes the standard, Father Seraphim did not favor the exercise of economy in receiving
converts into Orthodoxy. This is an important point and his witness should not be
misrepresented. Even I, who am very conservative on this matter, have Priests who were
received into Orthodoxy by Chrismation (as was my own grandmother). This does not mean
that I support unfounded statements to the effect that this is the standard of the Church
or that, in these times of ecumenical insanity and when "economy" is used to
demonstrate that the Orthodox Church recognizes, along with her Mysteries, the empty
sacraments of the heterodox, one is justified in making the exception the standard.
>Anyone converting to Orthodoxy is
baptized, with rare exceptions. This is
>because there is no baptism outside of
the church, so the term "baptized
>again" is misleading.
F.J.: This statement is historically
incorrect. Requiring a Catholic or Protestant to be baptized when they convert to
Orthodoxy is the exception.
The normal practice through the centuries has been to
receive converts who were baptized "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit," by profession of faith and Chrismation. This practices has been
mandated by Pan Orthodox Councils in Constantinople in 1484, Moscow in 1667 and Jerusalem
in 1672, as well as decrees of the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1888 and the Church of Greece
A.C.: In the Pedalion, St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite
observes that the local Council of Constantinople, convened in 1484, condemned the Latins
as heretics and decided to receive Latin converts by Chrismation, but only on their
written rejection of the heresy of the Latins. This he says was to avoid further
difficulties with the Latins, following the failed union council in Florence. We should
also note that the Latins were not at the time 950 years into heresy and separation from
Orthodoxy, as they are now.
In the 1620-1621 Synod of Moscow, the Church of Russia
decided to receive converts by Baptism only. In 1667, the Great Synod of Moscow reversed
this decision and decided to receive converts by Chrismation.
As early as the seventeenth century (1670s), Patriarch
Dositheos of Jerusalem, in his Dodekabiblos, argues that Latins coming to Orthodoxy
should be Baptized. (Needless to say, this applied to Protestants, as well.) He even
called the practice of baptism by aspersion "a mortal sin." This rule was
subsequently relaxed to allow for "economy."
In 1718, Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople also
supported the use of economy in the Russian Church because of certain political realities
and because of the difficult situation presented by incipient Uniatism.
The Oros of the Great Church in 1755, which called
for the Baptism of the heterodox and which was co-signed by Alexandria and Jerusalem and
later endorsed by Antioch, remains in effect to this day. It was NOT officially withdrawn,
as Father John claims, in 1888, when Constantinople adopted a policy of accepting
converts by Chrismation in some circumstances.
As for the 1903 directive of the Church of Greece, it
applied only to its clergy in diaspora. In fact, it was not until 1932 that the Church of
Greece even published a service for the reception of Latins by "economy," and
this after a synodal forum which (supra) addressed the entire issue of the
heterodox in an ambiguous manner and under the sway of an Archbishop who had moved from a
rather traditional stance to that of a committed ecumenist. To this day, both in Greece
and on Mt. Athos (which is, as we know, directly under the jurisdiction of
Constantinople), the common form of receiving converts into Orthodoxy is through Baptism.
A thorough reading and study of the policies of the various
Orthodox Churches regarding the reception of both Latin and Protestant converts leads a
prudent reader away from the sweeping and inaccurate generalization which Father John
offers. First, we are not dealing with mere policies, but with the realities of history
and pastoral demands. Dealing with Uniates in Russia, some of whom were Baptized by
Orthodox Priests and some of whom were for generations part of the Latin Church
(Uniatism), involves condescension of one kind. The unique years of Orthodox immigration
present condescension of another kind. But in no manner whatsoever can one argue that
these circumstances set a new "standard." How could this be possible, given the
apparently contradictory outline of "policies" that I have presented only in
brief above? Is the Orthodox Church incapable of a consistent policy? Again, the matter is
not one of policy, but of pastoral condescension to the needs of the People of God. The
standard of threefold immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity remains; only human
weakness and the trials of history change.
F.J.: This was also the practice of the
Russian Orthodox Church in Exile until fairly recently. For example, Fr. Seraphim Rose was
received by Chrismation with the blessing of St. John of San Francisco, because he was
baptized by a Protestant minister in his youth.
The Church is the guardian of the Sacraments and has the
power to validate that which is invalid or complete that which is incomplete. Therefore,
the reception of a convert by Chrismation is not to be interpreted as a recognition of
Sacraments administered outside of the Orthodox Church.
A.C.: The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
has for many decades received converts both by Chrismation and by Baptism. So have many
moderate Old Calendarists, incidentally. The Church is, indeed, the Guardian of Her
Mysteries . She does not "validate" or "invalidate" that which is
outside the Church; this is Her role from within. Rather, she endows by
"economy," if She so wishes, the empty sacraments of the heterodox with the
Grace of Her Mysteries, as we noted above, doing so as She wills and where She wills, but
acting in condescension in such a way as to uphold, at all times, the standards of our
Faith. And so, both St. John (who also Baptized many converts) and Father Seraphim would
NEVER have accepted the statement that the "norm" for receiving converts into
Orthodoxy is Chrismation. This is not a wise statement.
As for the guidelines of the so-called
"canonical" Orthodox Churches, which are so compromised by ecumenism, we will
simply pass over them without comment. SCOBA guidelines fit into the same category. These
are the same "official" Churches which would argue that Father Seraphim, St.
John, and I (since our Ordinations derive from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), are
uncanonical schismatics. One wonders about the sobriety or spiritual stature of such
In the end, the issue here is not "economy," but
the desire by many ecumenists to exploit the pastoral dimensions of Orthodoxy in the
service of their religious syncretism. In a recent article in St. Vladimirs
Theological Quarterly, Professor John Erickson argues openly that we Orthodox accept
the baptisms of the heterodox. Having redefined "economy" in such a way as to
dismiss its traditional definition, he has created a new theology of openness. Like Bishop
Maximos of Pittsburgh, he misuses St. Basils famous First Canon (avoiding the
Saints own interpretation of the matters contained therein) so as to make of
Orthodoxy a religion which is all-inclusivesubtly suggesting that we traditionalists
consider it "exclusive." By twisting the teachings of the Fathers, separating
the Canons from spiritual life, ignoring the Patristic consensus, and redefining issues in
a language that is unknown to the Church (the antipodes of "inclusive" and
"exclusive," for example, are a set-up for those who properly argue for Orthodox
primacy), they have made of Orthodoxy something that it is not. To paraphrase a well-known
Serbian theologian, "They are creating within the confines of Orthodoxy a religion
which lacks its content." Hence, the exception becomes the standard, if simply
because we have redefined the meaning of exactitude in the Orthodox Faith.
To exercise proper "economy" is not to argue for
historical precedent or from the statistical mean or median. Exactitude expresses the
consensus of the Church, which is not an intellectual belief, but a manifestation in word
and directive of the ineffable: revelation "operationalized." Those who apply
this standard attempt, in all ways, to achieve perfection and to adhere to what is exact.
They are guided in such attempts by spiritual discretion (pneumatike diakrisis),
not by the preoccupations of a given age ("inclusiveness," "communion
ecclesiology," "shared love"), inspired by an inner knowledge of the
spiritual state and condition of those entrusted to them. Acting together, such spiritual
individuals always reflect the consensus of the Church, since they exist, through
Apostolic Succession, forever in the unity of Apostolic Truth. In one case, they apply the
exact standard. In another, they apply "economy." They are guided not by a mere
intellectual grasp of the Canons, but by a communion with the wholeness of Apostolic
Tradition. Thus, what St. John of San Francisco did by "economy" is valid; what
an ecumenist does in the name of "economy" to further his ecumenistic
agendathis is not only wrong, but it does violence to the spiritual Truth of
Orthodoxy. Like it or not, this is the real issue. And no spiritual Father who truly
communes with the Churcheven if the "official Churches" should
(ironically) render him a "legalistic fanatic" or a heretic or
schismaticwould ever call the "economy" of the reception of converts by
Chrismation into the Orthodox Church its "standard." To do so would be to cut
himself off from the subtle golden chain of Holy Tradition that links contradiction to
contradiction in perfect harmony through the spirit of pastoral love. It would also
separate contemporary Orthodoxy from its roots in Scripture and the Early Church.
I strongly suspect that, since so many converts in America
have been received by Chrismation, it is THEY who have much to prove in the argument over
"economy." Applied for good reason by a spiritually sober clergyman in rare
instances, I see nothing wrong with "economy." But we have now come to the point
that converts want Baptism to be the exception and find everything wrong with applying
this standard of canonical exactitude. This is because, in the artificial Orthodoxy of the
SCOBA and the "mainstream," there are many who feel the spiritual consequences
of the abuse of "economy." They see the minimalism in their spiritual lives;
they recognize what is missing; and they react, not with humility (in which case they
would be covered), but with fury. Orthodoxy needs men and women who, if they have not been
properly received, either accept this and trust in the Church oras in those cases
where they really thought that they were changing "rites" and were unaware that
Chrismation entails Baptism into Orthodoxy, when properly appliedseek to correct
their Baptisms (something which is done, albeit secretly, on Mt. Athos and in many of the
more traditional "official" Churches). I am not offering this advice
offhandedly. As "peasants in church attire" and "the trash of the
streets," to quote the words of the Constantinopolitan ecumenists about us Greek Old
Calendarists (or "Calendarists," as I see us called in the queer lexicon of
some), I often tell people, when they ask what I am, that I belong to what is considered a
"sect" of the Greek Orthodox Church. I do not, of course. I am a True Orthodox
Christian. But a man who knows himself can afford the doubt of others. And when I am asked
about my position, I am never silent. I point out in what way I am correct. A man who
lives in improper innovation, however, doubts himself. And hence all of the hatred for us
traditionalists on the part of the ecumenists.
These latter comments, which may seem gratuitous, are not.
They get to the heart of this matter. Since I know Father John to be a sincere and
dedicated clergyman, I must emphasize that these observations are not addressed to him.
They are, as I have indicated, consequential to the issues that he raised. However, his
approach to these issues, however unwittingly, is shaped by the thinking of Orthodox
ecumenists, as is the thinking of many. These ecumenists are not adequately facile in the
Fathers, in Orthodox spiritual life, and in the language of the Church, even if they hold
forth as theologians and academics in institutions that their public relations czars have
made more than they actually are. Their thinking and nomenclature should be avoided by all
of us, traditionalists and "official" Orthodox alike, since they lead to
misunderstanding and the folly of ecumenism. And since we traditionalists are no longer
allowed to publish in the journals and periodicals that these ecumenical
"experts" publish, let alone sit with them in public dialogue, there is little
to check this danger.
Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna
+ + +
Further Comments by Bishop Auxentios
F.J. quotes the Archbishop:
"In the Pedalion, St. Nicodemos the
Hagiorite observes that the local Council of Constantinople, convened in 1484,
condemned the Latins as heretics and decided to receive Latin converts by Chrismation, but
only on their written rejection of the heresy of the Latins. This he says was to avoid
further difficulties with the Latins, following the failed union council in Florence. We
should also note that the Latins were not at the time 950 years into heresy and separation
from Orthodoxy, as they are now."
F.J. responds: "I fail to
understand what difference how long Rome has been separated from Orthodoxy makes. Is a
modern Roman Catholic less separated from Orthodoxy than a Roman Catholic was in 1484? The
answer is that they are not. One is either in the Church or one is outside of the Church,
how long they have been outside of the Church is irrelevant."
Comment. If one reads with care such pertinent
documents as St. Basils First Canon, St. Nikodemos complex commentary thereon,
and the acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, in particular, we see quite clearly that
heresy does involve a temporal element. A single generation of heresy takes a lesser
spiritual toll than longer periods of heresy. Moreover, Churches may fall "ill"
from the influence of heresy (as did Rome long before the Schism) and yet not find
themselves deprived of Grace, according to St. John Chrysostomos. When illness passes to
morbidity, the process of separation becomes final. The question is not simply one of
being "in" or "out" of the Church (such a thing is decided not by
decrees and administrative decisions, but in the spiritual realmafter all, Grace did
not cease in the Latin Church on a certain day in 1054), but involves the gradual loss of
Grace and its therapeutic efficacy over time. This is not to say that the gravity of
heresy is not an issue, but even here one can persuasively argue, as the Blessed Justin
Popovich does, that the heresy of the Latins has indeed become more pronounced over time:
the effects of spiritual diseaseheresyintensify as time passes. Hence, there
were Latin Christians, even long after the Great Schism and even through the union
councils, who were still Baptized in the Orthodox manner. That is not something that can
be argued today, except in the most isolated of instances. Likewise, Papal infallibility
is a dogma today. It was not in the fifteenth century. One can go on.
Archbishop Chrysostomos observes: "As early as
the seventeenth century (1670s), Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem, in his Dodekabiblos,
argues that Latins coming to Orthodoxy should be Baptized. (Needless to say, this applied
to Protestants, as well.)"
F.J. responds: "I do not know
what reference you are making to Patriarch Dositheos. However, his Confession, which was
approved by the Council of Jerusalem (or Bethlehem) in 1672 states: Moreover, we
reject as something abominable and pernicious the notion that when faith is weak the
integrity of the Mystery is impaired. For heretics who abjure their heresy and join the
Catholic Church are received by the Church; although they received their valid Baptism
with weakness of faith. Wherefore, when they afterwards become possessed of perfect faith,
they are not again baptized."
Comment: Father John is addressing a different
issue here than the one at hand. The well-known comments of the Patriarch on the Baptism
of the Latins, a specific instance of heresy, is found in the work cited by His Eminence
and is quite clear in its position: "Those who are without good cause Baptized
without three emersions and immersions risk being unbaptized. Therefore, Latins who
perform baptism by aspersion commit mortal sin" (Dodekabiblos in The
Writings of the Presbyter Constantine the Economos, Vol. I, p. 93 (Athens, 1862).
Archbishop Chrysostomos observes: "In 1718,
Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople also supported the use of economy in the Russian
Church because of certain political realities and because of the difficult situation
presented by incipient Uniatism."
F.J. responds: "The point is
that it was approved for whatever reason. That means that it is legitimate to use economy
when receiving converts."
Comment: The argument is not whether economy can be
used in receiving converts. We are concerned with how the exception (economy and
Chrismation) became the assumed or would-be standard, as it has today.
Archbishop Chrysostomos observes: "The Oros
of the Great Church in 1755, which called for the Baptism of the heterodox and which was
co-signed by Alexandria and Jerusalem and later endorsed by Antioch, remains in effect to
this day. It was NOT officially withdrawn, as Father John claims, in 1888, when
Constantinople adopted a policy of accepting converts by Chrismation in some
F.J. responds: "The decree of
1888 stated that economy would be the norm. To me that is a withdrawal of the Oros of
1755. Actually, there is every reason to question the legitimacy of the Oros of 1755. It
was issued without the approval of the Holy Synod of Constantinople. It also revoked a
decision of a Pan-Orthodox Council. One might well question whether or not a Patriarch on
his own authority has the right to issue decrees that lack the approval of his Holy Synod
and which overrule the decisions of Pan-Orthodox Councils. Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch
refused to sign the Oros of 1755 precisely because it lacked the approval of the
Holy Synod of Constantinople. Patriarch Sylvester can hardly be accused of a pro-Roman
bias since he was himself involved in a bitter struggle against the pro-Roman party in his
own Patriarchate which formed the Melkite Church. In any case the decree of 1888 makes the
Oros of 1755 of mere historical interest. Fr. Georges Florovsky called the Oros of 1755,
"a private theological opinion, very late and very controversial, having
arisen in a period of theological confusion and decadence in a hasty endeavor to
disassociate oneself from Roman theology as sharply as possible."
Comment: Father John follows, here, the rather
uneven scholarship of Bishop Kallistos (Ware), whose treatment of these matters, as well
as the works of the so-called post-Byzantine writers, contained primarily in the book Eustratios
Argenti, shows an inchoate approach to not a few Church issues. There is, in fact, no
reason to question the validity of the decree of 1755, since this Oros was issued
in response to the condemnation, earlier, by Patriarch Cyrils Metropolitans of the
anti-Latin treatise of Christopher the Aitolian (which has, at times, been wrongly
attributed to Argenti). The Patriarchs opponents (who were anti-Papist themselves),
were, according to Father Metallinos, seeking to avoid antagonizing the Latins, for which
reason the Patriarch dissolved the Synod. Cyrils decree and his bold actions,
however, were vindicated, subsequently, by the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, who
signed the Oros, and which would have been signed by Sylvester of Antioch, too,
according to Runciman, were it not for the fact that he was traveling in Russia; and this,
again, because he was opposed to the schism caused by the Latin-minded in his own Church.
Indeed, one might say that it was the Oros of 1755 which was Pan-Orthodox in
nature, not the Council of 1484, the policy of which Cyrils decree reversed. (And
once more, we must remember that we are not talking exclusively of Chrismation versus
Baptism, but of official guidelines for practices that were quite diverse.) The conclusion
that Metallinos rightly draws here, in our opinion, is that 1484 was not normative, for
which reason prevailing practice dictated Cyrils directive, which was enormously
popular among the Faithful and clergy. It reflected the conscience of the Church.
As for the simple decrees of 1888 and 1903, as His Eminence
pointed out, Father John makes of them things that they simply are not.
Patriarch Cyril, it can be argued, in fact, expresses the
Patristic and Hesychastic traditions of the Church in his understanding of its standard
with regard to the reception of converts from heterodoxy. St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, the Kollyvades
Fathers, and Athanasios Parios, the famous ecclesiastical writer, see the Patriarchs
decree as wholly consistent with the universal teachings of the Church. Research regarding
Cyrils ties to the most sober spiritual leaders of the timethe true measure of
catholicityis wanting, but certainly he stands in circles of great repute and in the
tradition of Argenti.
While I am wholly unfamiliar with the particular quotation
from Father Florovsky used by Father John , it is not unlike Father Georges to comment,
and especially in his earlier writings, with unease about attitudes and decrees that
challenged his own ecumenical leanings. Two things can be said. In this instance, Father
Florovsky expresses an opinion which is at odds with that of Church Fathers and certainly
at odds with his later views. Father John would be interested to know that I was
received by Baptism into the Orthodox Church with Father Georges blessing. This
speaks rather decisively to the fact that Baptism, as he held, is an expression of the
canonical exactitude by which converts are received into Orthodoxy, even if Chrismation is
an option "katoikonomia."
Archbishop Chrysostomos states: "As for the
guidelines of the so-called canonical Orthodox Churches, which are so
compromised by ecumenism, we will simply pass over them without comment. SCOBA guidelines
fit into the same category."
F.J. responds: "The decisions
of the canonical Orthodox Church do matter, for canonicity matters. The issue is neither
the validity of non-Orthodox Sacraments nor is it ecumenism. The issue is how does the
Church receive converts. Even Archbishop Chrysostomos is forced to admit that it is
perfectly legitimate for a bishop to decide to receive a convert by Chrismation as an ace
Comment: Churches are not "canonical."
This is a wholly Latin notion. Father Schmemann wrote an
excellent essay on this subject some years ago which everyone should read. Churches
are either Orthodox or not, and this by virtue of Apostolic Succession, the manifest
action of Grace (whether they produce Saints and evidence the therapeutic Grace of our
Faith), and follow the Canons. The issue is precisely the validity of non-Orthodox
sacraments, as His Eminence pointed out, since the reception of converts by economy is
being openly misrepresented by ecumenists as proof that the Orthodox Church recognizes
Grace among the heterodox. And this is, of course, an issue pertinent to ecumenism. Once
more, to paraphrase him, economy exercised by right-believing Bishops for correct reasons
is valid. All else is suspect. As Father Metallinos says, "Only the actions of the
truly Orthodox, that is, of those Saints who have beheld God, constitute an expression of
Orthodoxys knowledge of itself." Canonicity is not the issue; spiritual
discretion and spiritual transformation are.
Archbishop Chrysostomos writes: "To do so
[i.e., to argue that Baptism is NOT the standard method of receiving converts into
OrthodoxyB.A.] would be to cut himself off from the subtle golden chain of Holy
Tradition that links contradiction to contradiction in perfect harmony through the spirit
of pastoral love. It would also separate contemporary Orthodoxy from its roots in
Scripture and the Early Church."
F.J. responds: "What the
Church does in Holy Tradition not the theories of theologians. In Pan-Orthodox Councils in
Constantinople in 1848, Moscow in 1667 and Jerusalem in 1672 as well as decrees by
Constantinople in 1888, the Church of Greece in 1903, and SCOBA, responsible Orthodox
authorities have decided that economy should be used when receiving converts.
Comment: The consensus of the Church as it is
derived from the whole of Church history and the synodal witness determines what is
authoritative. And this authority is expressed in the witness of the Holy Fathers, which
is the Holy Tradition of the Church and which begets that which makes a decree viable.
This is not determined by simply citing the synods which agree with what we or SCOBA
handbooks decide to consider binding and "normative," while ignoring or
dismissing all else. We must seek that continuity which holds together various sources.
There have always been opposing views in the Church. However, there also exists a
consensus, once more, that is drawn from the perfect standard of the Church
(exactitudein this case the reception of converts by Baptism) and which transcends
the apparent vicissitudes of pastoral economy.
F.J. observes: "Thus
Archbishop Chrysostomos arguments are really without foundation. Indeed, if one
reads his statements carefully, he confirms my conclusions."
Comment: This is perhaps an incautious statement.
His Eminences observations express the Patristic witness. To be sure, both
Father John and the Archbishop affirm together that there are no Mysteries outside
Orthodoxymaking them both anti-ecumenical, in effectand that the exercise of
economy in no way suggests that there are. But in reality, the Archbishop addressed
something far beyond what Father John sees; that is, he directed himself towards
instances of the abuse of economy in the very name of ecumenism. I think that the
Archbishop has pointed out, too, that the synodal record is not a simple one and that it
must, once more, submit to the pronouncements of prophecy over the parameters of the mere
Thank you, Father John, for your comments on this
matter. I will leave it where it is. We could go on arguing over history and opposing
assessments and sources forever. Each to his own is the spirit of our age, in which
spiritual primacy seems to be lost on artificial notions of the same, and so we must
Your Humble Servant,
+ Bishop Auxentios
+ + +
"As recently as 1933 the Holy Synod of Antioch
laid down that all converts to Orthodoxy received by clergy in its jurisdiction should be
baptized, save in cases where a dispensation had been granted. Thus while the application
of economy is not excluded by this decision, it is not envisaged as a normal
practice." [Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church Under Turkish Rule,
by Timothy [Bishop Kallistos] Ware (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 106-107.]