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A Letter to a Priest Concerning Corrective Baptism

by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna

Dear Father _________:


In his answers to liturgical questions (contained in his Extant Works [in Greek], a well-edited volume which was recently re-published in Thessaloniki), as I recall, St. Symeon does, indeed, address the issue of demonic influences on those who have been improperly Baptized. I cannot remember precisely what he says, but such an observation is not unique to him. Many spiritual Fathers to this day, including the late Metropolitan Callistos of Corinth, Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos, Elder Philotheos of Paros, the Blessed Metropolitan Glycherie of the Romanian Old Calendarist Church, and our own Metropolitan, have commented to their spiritual children on the spiritual deficits that accompany improper Baptism. The person who reported all of this on the [Orthodox Email Forum] "list," however, has confused a number of different sources and has perhaps overstated to some extent what St. Symeon observes, if my memory about the latter serves me well.

The question about correcting improper Baptisms is a delicate one, since the only canonical guides that relate to the performance of a "conditional" Baptism (for want of a better term, I will use what is actually NOT an Orthodox one) are those which address individuals whose infant Baptisms were called into question (because of the unavailability of records or witnesses, for example) or the question of the performance of a subsequent Baptism by a Priest, after an emergency Baptism by a layman of a critically ill person who then lives (and here, you will find that there are two opinions, that of a subsequent Baptism by a Priest being the prevailing custom). Nowhere, since ecumenism did not surface until the 19th century, is there any reference to the issue of the improper use of "economy" by clergy who erroneously teach that Baptism exists outside Orthodoxy and that Chrismation is a seal on this "baptism." It is the correction of this problem to which we are actually referring. (It is, of course, the actual teaching of the Church that Chrismation fills the empty and ineffective vessel of heterodox "baptism," creating Grace where it was not before.)

We have no clear guidelines, then, except those of common sense. It is not correct simply to go out and "correct" the reception of those who were received by economy into the Church, and especially if the Bishops who did so were right-believing and did not use—as the OCA clearly and openly does—economy as a way to support the ecumenical idea that Orthodoxy recognizes heterodox sacraments as equivalent to our Orthodox Mysteries (and at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, this heinous heresy is openly preached). When individuals are received by economy for no good reason and by modernist, errant Bishops, it is then that we should consider "correcting" their receptions. Only a Bishop or Synod, of course, should decide this.

As for how to do it, one should be conservative and not fabricate a service. The entire Baptismal service, beginning to end, should be done—exorcisms and all. Then a marriage should be performed. Baptism, contrary to the continual, illiterate, and dishonest misuse of a passage from St. Ambrose by some poorly educated but vocal "experts" in the OCA, renews one wholly. Marriage and no other associations or human conditions—and especially when "baptisms" are done by heterodox—survive the Baptismal font. To argue so is to be an enemy of the dogmas of our Church, which teach that Baptism cleanses us of everything, making us new creatures: the novus homo Christian regeneration. This consensus of the Church cannot be questioned, whether by those who are ignorant or by those who improperly read or pervert and misrepresent Patristic sources.

For the mediocre of mind and contentious in spirit, who constitute the majority of those calling themselves "theologians" in contemporary Orthodoxy, what I have said may raise these and similar questions about those whose receptions into Orthodoxy have been corrected: "What were these people before? Are their children bastards? What if they communed for years? Were they communing as non-Orthodox?" We leave such questions to the errant Bishops and Priests who created these problems in the first place, not believing that worries about the errors of modernists should impede correction by us right-believing Orthodox. The only place where these questions would have meaning would be in cases where right-believing Bishops have exercised economy, as they have every right to do. In such cases, it is improper to correct what is already prudent and proper and to question the spiritual discretion of our superiors. If they exercise economy for good reason and outside the hypocrisy of ecumenical politics, they act rightly. In short, the modernists have created a problem that we must correct. They can account and answer for the supposed contradictions and difficulties presented by our right action. As for correct economy used by right-believing clergy, fear those who would oppose it, question it, and—as I have learned is the case in some instances—secretly act without their Bishop’s permission to correct what is not incorrect, thus washing away, not sin, but the Holy Spirit.

As for the Priesthood, I can think of far more serious infractions than an improper Baptism that have been treated with economy in the Ordination of Priests. Many lie and accuse me of being corrupt for pointing this out, but we all know that it is true. Moreover, the only case in which Baptism impedes Ordination, to the best of my knowledge, is the case of a man Baptized by a layman in an emergency situation and who then lives. However, if he is subsequently Baptized by a Priest, as the prevailing custom would have it, this would not apply. At any rate, these are matters for right-believing Bishops and Synods and are not open to simple-minded legalistic interpretation. Economy, contrary again to what a rather unenlightened and inarticulate OCA source recently noted, is not something applied only where salvation is in question. First, all issues ultimately concern salvation. But second, it is precisely in the area of soteriology that economy NEVER applies (the violation of this rule is one of the deadliest pitfalls of ecumenism, which would stupidly equate love and salvation and thus, porperly deriving economy from love, improperly apply it to soteriology and ecclesiology, which are one in witness and intent). The economy proper to soteriology is the Providence of God, expressed in the unique Sacrifice of Christ, Whose Body is the Church. It is primarily in the areas of administration and pastoral matters, then, and not in soteriology, that economy applies. Ordination is administrative and pastoral in its dimensions.

I hope that this has helped, Father. I ask for your prayers, ask that you forgive me for any lapses in intelligently explaining these issues, and assure you of my poor blessings. You may, of course, quote anything that I have written. I am, with fatherly and brotherly affection,

The Least Among Monks,

Archbishop Chrysostomos