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Ecumenism Awareness: Baptism and the Reception of Converts

One of the most obvious manifestations of ecumenism in the Orthodox Church today is the controversy over how heterodox converts to Orthodoxy should be received into the Church. At the heart of this controversy is the so-called "Baptismal ecclesiology" of the Ecumenical Movement, which contradicts traditional Orthodox teaching. The following books and articles will help educate you on these issues.

Important Books

I Confess One Baptism, by Protopresbyter George D. Metallinos, D. Th., Ph. D. Dean of the University of Athens, School of Theology. Subtitled ”Interpretation and Application Of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council by the Kollyvades and Constantine Oikonomos (A contribution to the historico-canonical evaluation of the problem of the validity of Western baptism)“.

NOTE: The English translation of this book contains a rather important error in the translation of the Greek phrase «ως ετι εκ της εκκλησιας οντων», found in the First Canonical Letter of St. Basil the Great. The translators rendered it “who were still considered to be of the Church” (p. 128). It should instead be translated “as [those] recently being from the Church.” St. Hilarion (Troitsky) discusses this on page 43 of The Unity of the Church and the World Conference of Christian Communities when he writes that «ως ετι εκ της εκκλησιας οντων»

should be translated literally: “as recently being from the Church.” There is no thought here that schismatics presumably still belong to the Church, but the thought that they have recently gone out from the Church. In any case, belonging to the Church can hardly be expressed by the preposition εκ. It is difficult to conceive of belonging to the Church in the form of successive stages: the Church, unlawful assemblies, schism. If the words of St. Basil «ετι εκ της εκκλησιας» designated some sort of membership of schismatics in the Church, then an unlawful assembly must, in his opinion, belong more to the Church. Adherents of an unlawful assembly are received only be repentance. But what does St. Basil say about them: “If someone has been barred from divine services because he has been found guilty of sin and has not submitted to the canons, but has arrogated for himself the right of presidency and the priestly functions, and others, abandoning the Catholic Church (καταλίποντες την καθολικήν εκκλησίαν), have gone along with him…” How can one be in the Church, having left the Oecumenical Church? This would be some sort of incomprehensible self-contradiction to say that schismatics are still in the Church, and to affirm that unlawful assemblies have departed from the Church...

The Rev. Dr. Peter Heers, an American scholar serving as a Priest in the Church of Greece, examined the Greek in question and concluded, in agreement with St. Hilarion, that “St. Basil is therefore not saying they are of the Church, but that they are to be treated as / like those who are of the Church.”

The Unity of the Church and the World Conference of Christian Communities, by Saint Hilarion (Troitsky). Though written in the early part of this century, it anticipates the connection between ecumenism and the recognition of heterodox mysteries per se (i.e., outside of the Church). In this way it is surprisingly up-to-date. At only 72 pages it is easy to read and a very important work.

Excellent Articles

Strictness and Economy, by Protopresbyter Gregory Grabbe. Also contains the 1971 Resolution of the ROCA Synod of Bishops on the Reception of Converts.

The Development of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia's Attitude Toward Other Local Orthodox Churches and Non-Orthodox Christians, by Reader Andrei Psarev.

The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church: by Patrick Barnes. Addresses many of the issues concerning Holy Baptism and the reception of converts.

The Reception of Converts: Reflections on a Letter By Elder Maximos.

Contours of Conversion and the Ecumenical Movement: Some Personal Reflections, by Hieromonk Alexios Karakallinos. A talk delivered at the September, 2004 conference "Ecumenism: Origins, Expectations, Disenchantment", sponsored by the School of Pastoral Theology, The Aristotelian University, Thessaloniki, Greece.

The Reception of Heretic Laity and Clergy Into the Orthodox Church: A Reply to Bishop Tikhon's Letter of Instruction #10

A Letter to a Priest Concerning Corrective Baptism, by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

BEM and Orthodox Spirituality: by [Arch]bishop Chrysostomos of Etna; an extremely important assessment of the Holy Cross Seminary response to the 1982 Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry Statement (the so-called "Lima Document" or "BEM"). Fr. Daniel Degyansky notes: "The Orthodox Church has always allowed a relaxation of the Canons in individual cases of oikonomia, but never as an excuse for altering ecclesiastical policy. The contemporary practice of receiving converts to Orthodoxy by Chrismation alone, making what is an exceptional practice in individual circumstances a general sacramental policy, is a direct and obvious consequence of the ecclesiastical relativism implicit in the BEM statement." (Orthodox Christianity and the Spirit of Contemporary Ecumenism, below, 63 fn 96). Fr. Daniel is a priest in the OCA.

Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky: a brief article on this eminent Orthodox scholar, by a former faculty member and friend, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna. I include this article in this category because Fr. George's famous essay "The Limits of the Church" (Church Quarterly Review, Oct. 1933), written very early in his theological career, argues strongly against the principle of economia.

Baptism and the Reception of Converts: an excerpt from the Q&A section of Orthodox Tradition, XIV, 2-3 (1997) dealing with the position of Fr. Thomas Hopko, Florovsky, et al on this issue.

Further Thoughts on the Ecclesiology of Father George Florovsky, by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna and Father John Abraham.

Ecumenism and the Ecclesiology of St. Cyprian of Carthage: an excerpt from Orthodox Christianity and the Spirit of Contemporary Ecumenism, by Fr. Daniel Degyansky, a Priest of the Orthodox Church in America.

Father Thomas Hopko on BEM: by Archbishop Chrysostomos. BEM stands for the 1982 ecumenical document entitled "Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry" (a.k.a, the "Lima Document").

Common Misunderstandings on the Reception of Converts: A Reply to  Antiochian Priest John Morris.

Some Comments on Officialdom, the Sacred Canons, St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and the Continuity of Byzantine Thought, by Archbishop Chrysostomos.

The Basis on Which Economy May Be Used in the Reception of Converts, by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky.

The Reception of Converts and Related Matters: by Archbishop Chrysostomos. Contains comments on the views of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), recently used by the OCA to justify an improper use of economia.

Against Baptism By Pouring: An Epistle of Archbishop Nikiphor of Slovania and Kherson, 1754.

Pastoral Direction and Instruction on Orthodox / Episcopal Relations and Ministrations in America: the pastoral writings of Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn concerning the differences between the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion. Includes extensive comments about Anglican Mysteries [Sacraments]. Orthodox Life, Vol. 43, No. 6, 1993.

When Is a Chrismation Not a Chrismation? A Critique of the Recent "Agreed Statement" of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, by Hieromonk Patapios.

A Critique of a Critique: In Response to Professor John Erickson

Baptism and Grace: by Fr. Gregory Telepneff, ThD

The Manner of Reception of Roman Catholic Converts into the Orthodox Church, by Fr. George Dragas.