Ecumenism Awareness: Baptismal Ecclesiology

This page is provides a brief overview of the differences between traditional Orthodox belief and that which is adhered to by the so-called "Orthodox" ecumenists.

The principles stated in the left column of the chart below are derived from various articles and books on the Church that can be found listed throughout the site, but especially on the page containing articles on Orthodox ecclesiology.

The statements in the right column are derived or taken directly from official documents written or cited by Orthodox ecumenists, especially the Toronto Statement (which is continually referred to by these same ecumenists as one of the foundational ecclesiological statements for their involvement in the WCC). The reader should know that ecumenists are well-versed in the art of  political rhetoric (what one might call "double speak"). Therefore, they might easily point to certain statements, taken out of context from their official documents, that would make it appear that the sentences in the right column constitute a "misrepresentation" of their views. However, the accuracy of these statements, as well as the conclusion of "double speak," is easily verified by one who conducts a careful study of the many official documents issued by them. These can be found on the References and Terms page.

Traditional Orthodox "Orthodox" Ecumenists
As Jesus Christ was declared by the Fourth Œcumenical Synod to be one Person in two Natures, which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, and no separation; and as He is the Head of His Body, which is the Church (Eph. 1:22-23), the Church is One and cannot be divided. The Church is One and should not be divided. Or, The Church is One and cannot be divided; but one must realize that the Church is made up of many churches that are all mystically one with Christ because of our common Baptism. The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1920 was addressed to "The Churches of Christ Everywhere."
Christ's High Priestly prayer does not enjoin that the faithful members of His Body be one with those who have fallen away from Her, nor does He regard the Faithful and those who have fallen away as one. But He beseeches the Father to preserve His Church in the God-given unity which She already experiences in His truth, love, and glory. Christ's High Priestly prayer refers to a union of the churches that will come about in the future. As the WCC Vision Statement says, this oneness is both a "gift" and a "calling." There is oneness already in Christ's mystical Body but we must work together to make Christ's prayer a reality.
The invisible sphere of the Church is the Heavenly (Triumphant) one, in union, without confusion, with the Earthly (Militant) sphere. The boundaries of the Earthly sphere are determined by Orthodox Baptism and fidelity to the Orthodox Faith. The invisible sphere of the Church is the mystical Body of Christ that contains all those Christians, irrespective of their formal beliefs, who have received Baptism in their church. It also means the Heavenly sphere, of course, but it does not only mean that.
Although the Divine Energies (God's Grace) permeate all of Creation and act externally upon man to bring him to repentance (aided by his conscience, made in the image of God), the special or ecclesial Grace which truly unites man to God is found only in the Church, the "eternal keeper of Divine Grace" (St. Seraphim of Sarov). Therefore, Holy Baptism can only be conferred by the Orthodox Church. Furthermore, when heterodox Baptism is declared "valid" by the Church it means only that the Church recognizes as valid the proper form (triple immersion and emersion in the name of the Holy Trinity) of Baptism, and can thus, "by economy," fill this empty form with Her special Grace without having to repeat the rite. "Baptismal theology" is very important for our efforts to achieve Christian unity. We believe that Baptism—Orthodox or heterodox—delimits the Church, establishing Her "baptismal boundaries." In this way, She includes Orthodox and heterodox (albeit partly and not visibly), who are held together by the "baptismal unity" of the Church. Application of this theology requires the "mutual recognition of sacraments"—i.e., official declaration of the validity of heterodox sacraments per se, as opposed merely to "by economy" when a person is joined to the Orthodox Church.
The traditional term "Sister Church" is reserved solely for other Orthodox churches in communion with each other. Also, the terms "brother" and "sister" (in Christ) traditionally refer only to other Orthodox who are one in Christ's Body: "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism." "Sister Church" is rightly applied to non-Orthodox churches such as the Roman Catholic Church, the various Non-Chalcedonian Churches and perhaps the Anglican Church, for these are historic churches whose priesthood has been recognized by Orthodox churches at various times. This recognition flows from baptismal theology, which recognizes the validity of heterodox Baptism per se, and thus all of their sacraments, for they are inseparable.

Key Related Articles

Baptismal Theology: by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos). Comments on the agreed statement on heterodox Baptisms reached in 1999 between the SCOBA and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in America.

Ecumenism and "Baptismal Theology": The Protestant "Branch Theory" of the Church in a New Form. Translated from the Greek periodical Orthodoxos Enstasis kai Martyria.

Did St. Cyprian Change the Doctrine of the Church?, by Protopresbyter George Grabbe.

Ecumenist "Double Speak": The Ecclesiological Schizophrenia of the Orthodox Ecumenists, by Patrick Barnes. A survey of Ecumenical texts which prove that Orthodox ecumenists affirm the Branch Theory.

The Mystery of Baptism and the Unity of the Church: The Idea of "Baptismal Unity" and its Acceptance by Orthodox Ecumenists. By Fr. Peter Heers. In this paper the author refers to Vatican II theology on ecumenism, especially as it pertains to Baptism. The "Decree on Ecumenism" he mentions in footnote 32 can be found here on the Vatican's official Web site. This document has heavily influenced the Orthodox ecumenists.


[F]urther discussions on the theme of baptism are urgently necessary. For without mutual recognition of baptism all other ecumenical efforts are literally left hanging in the air: they amount to nothing more than friendly gestures and interchurch diplomacy, and lack theological substance, commitment and consistency. And even mutual recognition of baptism really makes sense only if it is backed by a fundamental common understanding of baptism—and its ecclesiological consequences.

—Cardinal Walter Kasper, "Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of Baptism"

The Hesychastic and Eucharistic presuppositions of an Orthodox stand critical of ecumenism make it profoundly clear that the foregoing two forms of dialogue express two absolutely incompatible spiritualities; ecumenism is a completely new "ecclesiological stand," and hence, since 1920, we have literally had an "ecclesiology of innovation," which has provoked a radical change in the theological thinking and conscience of the Orthodox ecumenists, along the lines of the thinking of the heterodox communions.

—Archimandrite Cyprian, Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement, p. 40.

All the heresies distort the [sic] ecclesiology as well. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, every alteration in the teaching about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about the way to man's salvation also has ecclesiological consequences.

It can be said that if there is a great heresy today, it is the so-called ecclesiological heresy. And this should be confronted by the Pastors of the Church. There is great confusion today about what the Church is and who are its true members. We confuse or identify the Church with other human Traditions, we think that the Church is fragmented and split up, and furthermore, we are ignorant of the Church's way of salvation. Thus it is in confusion about this great theme.

—Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos (Church of Greece), The Mind of the Orthodox Church, Chapter I, p. 20.