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Orthodox Baptism

In Response to The Illuminator

The Illuminator, an official publication of the Pittsburgh Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, published a response, last summer, to a question from a reader about Baptism. The reader called into question the "new practice" of Baptizing "those [already] baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity" when seeking entry into Orthodoxy, rather than receiving them by "profession of faith, or, if they are not confirmed, by Holy Chrismation." The Illuminator responded to this inquiry by making the following astonishing observations:

1) The Orthodox Church receives "all those baptized in the Holy Trinity and correctly professing faith in the Holy Trinity." Faithful from the "Oriental Orthodox Churches...are accepted by profession of faith only."

2) Those coming from confessions which "profess faith in the Holy Trinity but who do not have a true sacrament of confirmation (or Chrismation), as they do not have true (‘valid’) priesthood, are accepted by Chrismation."

3) "To treat Trinitarian Christians as unbaptized heathens is an injustice committed against Christian baptism, and eventually a blasphemy against God’s Holy Spirit Who is at work at any Christian baptism."

4) "When we confess faith in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, we do not mean by that Orthodox baptism, but any Christian baptism." The Holy Spirit is not "limited by human canonical boundaries we have established for our convenience. We cannot bind the spirit, and not allow Him to work with all the other Christians, just because some of us so decided."

5) "The Eighth Ecumenical Council restored the unity between the Eastern and Western Churches. The representatives of both Churches had agreed that the Roman primacy has to be exercised in the ‘West’...and the primacy of the Church of Constantinople had to continue to function within its own territory of the East....

"Also, regarding the Filioque clause (the procession of the Spirit and from the Son) was rejected by that Council as unauthentic and erroneous. 

"The problem with the West is that later it alienated itself from the teaching and authority of this Eighth Council.

"Obviously, when the West will return to the teaching of this commonly accepted Council by both East and West, Rome and Constantinople alike, the ‘Western,’ Roman Catholic Church will basically become Orthodox again."

6) The Orthodox Church "has never formally rejected the Roman Church as a Christian Church, as some of our fanatics may believe. True, a contemporary rejection of the Roman baptism by the Great Church of Constantinople for pastoral reasons has taken place. But this was corrected and readdressed, as soon as the cause of this rejection disappeared.

"Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the two ‘sister churches’ of old continue to recognize one another’s baptism, as well as the other sacraments celebrated in these churches."

7) The rebaptism by Orthodox of baptized heterodox Christians is inspired by "narrow-mindedness, fanaticism and bigotry."

If there is any doubt about what ecumenical gibberish can do to otherwise intelligent individuals, these points put such doubt to its final rest. Indeed, the wickedness of religious relativism has obviously led many Orthodox teachers to "believe a lie" (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). It behooves us, despite the fact that we traditionalists are constantly characterized in the publication in question as theological illiterates and bigoted troglodytes, to make a few comments about the several observations that we have taken from The Illuminator. We do so not in a spirit of contention or with disrespect, but simply to protect innocent Christians, who might be misled by such ideas, and to offer our modernist brothers a theological hand, hoping that they might still be pulled from the quagmire of political ecumenism—a spiritual rot, covering itself with the transparent wrappings of love and toleration, that works away at both the mind and the soul.

Let us take each observation from The Illuminator in turn:

1) The Orthodox Church recognizes the Baptisms of Her own clergy, which are performed not only in the name of the Holy Trinity, but by threefold immersion in water, preceded by the appointed prayers of exorcism and followed by Chrismation. In the Early Church, heretics were received back into the Church by Chrismation only if their Baptisms followed this form precisely and only if their separation from the Church was short-lived and did not involve an expansive rejection of the Orthodox Faith (in which case, some were accepted back into Orthodoxy by both Baptism and Chrismation).

Since the Non-Chalcedonian heretics, who were specifically condemned by at least one OEcumenical Synod, have been separated from the Orthodox Church for centuries, it is only by extreme economy that they are sometimes accepted back into the Church today by Chrismation. To imagine that they can be accepted by a profession of Faith alone is preposterous.

2) It is an interesting piece of theology which proposes that Christians who profess faith in the Holy Trinity, but do not have a valid Priesthood and lack a rite of confirmation, are nonetheless accepted by Chrismation, since their baptisms are apparently valid.

Precisely what is it, if not a valid Priesthood, that bestows upon these individuals a valid Baptism? Or is Baptism somehow not a Priestly rite? As for Chrismation, this is not what confirmation is in the West. It has always, in the Eastern Church, accompanied Baptism, acting as a seal and guard on that essential Mystery, or served to restore Grace to heretics who have fallen away from the Church. It is wholly faulty to believe that when the Church accepts the empty form of a heterodox baptism—creating Grace where it did not before exist—, it is somehow completing an unfinished "sacrament," let alone one performed by those who have no valid Priesthood (except when performing baptisms?) but who have valid Baptisms.

3) With regard to "unbaptized heathens," many of us traditionalists, the alleged source of such epithets, do not refer to heterodox Christians with such vile terms. We simply understand that, not sharing our Orthodox Baptism and our Orthodox mind, they are outside what we believe to be the True Church established by Christ. Furthermore, Orthodoxy is not just a Trinitarian Faith; it is a totality of belief and religious practice built upon and inseparable from correct Trinitarian belief. Indeed, can we not rightly ask if true Trinitarian confession can exist outside Orthodoxy, outside the very "pillar and ground" of Trinitarian truth (I Timothy 3:15)?

4) When we confess our belief in "One God" in the Symbol of the Faith, are we confessing belief, not in "an Orthodox God," but "any Christian God"? Do we Orthodox understand God in the same way that Roman Catholics and Protestants do? Do we accept the Trinity of the filioque, which is an integral part of the official confessions of the Latin Church and most Protestant denominations? No. Our God is an Orthodox God. Now, if we carefully define God in an Orthodox way, then how is it that we have no precisely Orthodox definition of Baptism, the means by which we are enlightened from within to respond to God and to our Orthodox Faith? In fact, as the writer of the response in question perfectly well knows, we do have a very distinct canonical definition of Baptism in the Orthodox Church, for which reason he dismisses the Holy Canons as "boundaries" that serve human "convenience." The Canons of the Church clearly define Orthodox Baptism as unique and singular, belonging to our Church solely. And, indeed, St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, the great canonical commentator, dismisses as invalid the baptisms of Roman Catholics, whom he calls "heretics," and of all other heterodox. In a Church where Holy Tradition, of which the Holy Canons are an integral part, has equal status with Scripture, as two equal sources of authority, one cannot dismiss the Canons as human conveniences without dismantling the entire structure of the Church. Nor can we dismiss the strict Canons which reject non-Orthodox baptisms as empty and without Grace without violating basic Orthodox theological principles.

5) Let us set aside for a moment the interesting but still controversial notion that an Eighth Œcumenical Synod restored unity between the Eastern and Western Churches and that Rome holds primacy in the West while Constantinople has primacy in the East. The fact still remains that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches divided in 1054 by mutual anathemas, a division which entered into the conscience of the Church centuries ago. While one can argue that the Œcumenical Patriarch is, indeed, an Eastern Pope and thus that Patriarch Athenagoras rightly lifted the mutual anathemas, with Pope Paul VI, between the Orthodox and Latin Churches three decades ago, the fact is that the Patriarch of Constantinople is simply the "first among equals." He must at all times submit to the conscience of the Church and has no authority unilaterally to lift anathemas which have taken root therein.

With regard to the Eighth Œcumenical Synod, better known as the council which put an end to the so-called "Photian Schism" (879-80), if it reunited the Eastern and Western Churches—ignoring what we have said about the historical reality of the Great Schism—, how do the Latins find themselves outside this unity now? Why do they still recite the filioque clause in their Creed? And why must they "become Orthodox again"? Moreover, this council by no means acceded to the neo-Papism implicit in the response of the The Illuminator, but simply addressed the administrative boundaries of the Roman and Constantinopolitan Sees.

6) Speaking for the "fanatics," certainly no traditionalist Orthodox believer has ever disputed the fact that the Roman Catholic Church professes to be Christian. We simply believe that it has an errant Trinitarian doctrine, an un-Orthodox Christology (e.g., the theology of the "Sacred Heart"), an incorrect Mariology, and a faulty ecclesiology. We believe that it is separated from our Church, has lost Grace, and is outside the sphere of Orthodoxy, the only place where "Sister Churches" can possibly exist. Since Roman Catholics are without the Grace of Orthodoxy, not only their baptisms, but all of their sacraments are invalid within the Orthodox Church. It is for this reason, and not for "pastoral considerations," that the Great Church has consistently received Roman Catholics into Orthodoxy by Baptism. Political ecumenism, not the correction of its errors by Rome, and this divisive lie alone, accounts for any change in the current practices of the Œcumenical Patriarchate.

7) The rebaptism of heterodox Christians by traditionalist Orthodox is inspired not by narrow-mindedness and bigotry, but by a consistent theology, concern for the souls of those estranged from the Church, and the courage to stand up to the intolerant bigotry of religious relativism as it is pushed upon us by Orthodox blinded to the uprightness of their traditionalist brothers, whom they have come to despise on account of a deluded "love" for the non-Orthodox and the worldly praise that these would-be friends bestow on them for the betrayal of the Faith of Christ.

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Political ecumenism and religious syncretism, the two major pre-occupations of Western theologians today, are incompatible with Orthodoxy. This is not because our religion teaches intolerance or a disdain for those who believe differently than we; indeed, it is the West, where these theological trends have become so popular, that gave birth to Papal primacy, the Inquisition, and notions of religious primacy. Rather, it is because the Orthodox Church—and this with profound humility before the burden which Truth imposes on those who freely choose to uphold it—knows Herself to be the criterion of Christianity, its standard, and its authentic expression. This criterion of truth cannot confess to equality with anything else, without ceasing to be the standard which it is. Its purpose is not to blend with Christian half-truths perhaps derived from its historical witness, but to serve as a beacon to bring those who have gone astray back to the true course of Christian belief. And in this, it is not guided by a sense of primacy or superiority, but by the burden of love. Contemporary ecumenism violates this love and renders it senseless, as we have seen in the foregoing words from a doubtlessly well-intentioned but wholly misguided and deluded Orthodox writer.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIII, No. 1, pp. 2-6.