by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Navpaktos and Hagios Vlasios
THERE HAS BEEN in the past, and there is in our own day, a good
deal of discussion about the Baptism of heretics (the heterodox ); that is,
whether heretics who have deviated from the Orthodox Faith and who seek to return
to it should be Baptized anew or simply Chrismated after making a profession
of faith. Decisions have been issued on this matter by both local and cumenical
In the text that follows, I should like to discuss, by way of example, the
agreement reached between the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops
of America and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in America  on
June 3, 1999. The Greek translation of the original text was made by Protopresbyter
George Dragas, a professor at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
in Boston [BrooklineTrans.], who also provided a summary and critique
of this agreed statement between Orthodox and Roman Catholics in America.
The basis of this document is the Balamand Agreement of 1993, Uniatism,
Method of Union of the Past and the Present Search for Full Communion,
which it evidently wishes to uphold.
The text on which we are commenting, that is, the agreement signed by Orthodox
and Roman Catholics in America and entitled Baptism and Sacramental
Economy, is based on several points, in my observation, that are
very typical of the contemporary ecumenical movement and indicative of its entire
The first point is that Baptism rests upon and derives its reality from
the faith of Christ Himself, the faith of the Church, and the faith of the believer
(p. 13). At first sight, one is struck by the absence, here, of any reference
to the Triune Godperhaps in order to justify this flexible interpretation
of Baptism. Faith, then, becomes the fundamental mark and element of Baptism.
The second point is that Baptism is not a practice required by the Church,
but is, rather, the Churchs foundation. It establishes the Church
(p. 26). Here, the notion that Baptism is not the initiatory Mystery
whereby we are introduced into the Church, but the foundation of the Church,
is presented as the truth.
The third point is that Baptism was never understood as a private ceremony,
but rather as a corporate event (p. 13). This means that the Baptism
of catechumens was the occasion for the whole communitys repentance
and renewal (p. 13). One who is Baptized is obliged to make his
own the communitys common faith in the Saviors person and promises
The fourth point is a continuation and consequence of the foregoing points.
Since Baptism rests upon faith in Christ, since it is the basis of the Church,
and since, moreover, it is the work of the community, this means that any recognition
of Baptism entails recognition of the Church in which the Baptism is performed.
In the Agreed Statement we read: The Orthodox and Catholic members of
our Consultation acknowledge, in both of our traditions, a common teaching and
a common faith in one baptism, despite some variations in practice which, we
believe, do not affect the substance of the mystery (p. 17).
According to this text, there is a common faith and teaching concerning Baptism
in the two Churches, and the differences that exist do not affect
the substance of the Mystery. The two sides each acknowledge an ecclesial reality
in the other, however much they may regard their way of living the Churchs
reality as flawed or incomplete (p. 17). The certain basis for the
modern use of the phrase sister churches (p. 17) is to be
found in this point. The Orthodox Church and the Latin Church are these two
sister Churches, because they have the same Tradition, the same
Faith, and the same Baptism, even though there are certain differences between
them. Hence, the following opinion is repeatedly affirmed in the text: We
find that this mutual recognition of the ecclesial reality of baptism, in spite
of our divisions, is fully consistent with the perennial teaching of both churches
(p. 26). Misinterpreting the teaching of St. Basil the Great, the signers of
this document aver that the two Churches, in spite of the imperfections
that exist, constitute the same ecclesial reality: By Gods gift
we are each, in St. Basils words, of the Church (p.
The fifth point is that the authors of the Agreed Statement find fault with
St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, who, in interpreting the views of St. Cyprian
of Carthage, St. Basil the Great, and the Second cumenical Synod, talksas
do all of the Kollyvades Fathers of the eighteenth centuryabout
exactitude (akribia) and economy (oikonomia) with regard to the
way in which heretics are received into the Orthodox Church. That is to say,
the Fathers have at times received heretics by exactitudenamely, by Baptismand
at times by economynamely, by Chrismation. However, even when the Church
does receive someone by economy, this means that She effects the mystery of
salvation at that very time, precisely because the Church is superior to the
Canons, and not the Canons to the Church, and because the Church is the source
of the Mysteries and, eo ipso, of Baptism, whereas Baptism is not the
basis of the Church. The Church can receive this or that heretic by the principle
of economy, without any implication that She recognizes as a Church the community
that previously baptized him. This is the context within which St. Nicodemos
interprets the relevant decision of the Second cumenical Synod.
Confusion is certainly heightened by the fact that one of the recommendations
of the Agreed Statement is subject to many different interpretations. According
to this recommendation, the two Churches should make it clear that the
mutual recognition of baptism does not of itself resolve the issues that divide
them, or reëstablish full ecclesial communion between the Orthodox and
Catholic Churches, but that it does remove a fundamental obstacle on the path
towards full communion (p. 28).
From this brief analysis, it is obvious how much confusion prevails in ecumenist
circles regarding these issues. It is also obvious that [Orthodox] ecumenists
understand the acceptance of the baptism of heretics (Catholics and Protestants,
who have altered the dogma of the Holy Trinity and other dogmas) to mean accepting
the ecclesial status of heretical bodies and, worse still, that the two Churches,
Latin and Orthodox, are united in spite of small differences, or
that we derive from the same Church and should seek to return to it, thereby
forming the one and only Church. This is a blatant expression of the branch
When there is such confusion, it is necessary to adopt an attitude of strictness,
which preserves the truth: that all who fall into heresy are outside the Church
and that the Holy Spirit does not work to bring about their deification.
In any event, baptismal theology creates immense problems for the Orthodox.
From the standpoint of ecclesiology, the text under consideration is riddled
with errors. The Patristic Orthodox teaching on this subject is that the Church
is the Theanthropic Body of Christ, in which revealed truththe Orthodox
Faithis preserved and the mystery of deification is accomplished through
the Mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Chrismation, and the Divine Eucharist).
The essential precondition for this is that we participate in the purifying,
illuminating, and deifying energy of God. Baptism is the initiatory Mystery
of the Church. The Church does not rest upon the Mystery of Baptism; rather,
the Baptism of water, in conjunction with the Baptism of the Spirit, operates
within the Church and makes one a member of the Body of Christ. There are no
Mysteries outside the Church, the living Body of Christ, just as there are no
senses outside the human body.
In closing, I should like to cite the conclusion of Father George Dragas, which
he appends to his Summary and Critique:
These recommendations will not win the agreement of all Orthodox,
and certainly not of those who are Greek-speaking (or Greek-minded), and consequently
they are, by their very nature, divisive. My primary reason for coming to
such a negative conclusion is that this inquiry into sacramental theology
is devoid of any ecclesiological basis and that it onesidedly interpretsor
rather, misinterpretsthe facts of Orthodox sacramental practice, and
particularly vis-à-vis the heterodox at different periods in the history
of the Church. These recommendations and conclusions and, indeed, the entire
Agreed Statement are the epitome of Western skepticism. Their acceptance by
Orthodox theologians signals a deliberate betrayal of Orthodox views and a
capitulation to the outlook of Western ecumenism. This is something that we
1. We have retained, here, for the sake of faithful translation, the word heretic,
though with some concern that many readers may assume that it carries with it
the vitriol that has been attached to it in Western Christianityand especially
since the Inquisitionor by some of the more irresponsible and less reflective
and spiritually-enlightened Orthodox traditionalists, today. We could have justifiably
used the word heterodox, which is not frequently used as an ad
hominem epithet, as the word heretic so frequently is, but which
simply indicates what both words actually mean: a person who holds to views
that deviate from established belief and, in the Orthodox Church, who accepts
an opinion held in opposition to the Patristic consensus and the conscience
of the Church. The word takes on wholly pejorative meanings, in the Orthodox
Church, only when applied to those who, in their absolute intransigence,
fail to succumb to the entreaties of the Church (and to spiritual sobriety),
in the face their of error, and thus cause harm to the harmonious ethos of Orthodoxy
and lead others into error and delusionTrans.
2. To be precise, the agreement in question was signed by members of the North
American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, meeting at St. Vladimirs
Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New YorkTrans.
Translated from the Greek original in Ekklesiastike
Parembase, No. 71 (December 2001), p. 12. Reprinted from Orthodox Tradition,
Vol XX, No 2, pp. 40-43.