Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Orthodoxy and Christian Dogmatics


Baptismal Theology

By the Rev. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios

Source: http://www.parembasis.gr/2001/01_12_15_12.htm

Both in the past as well as the present time, there have been innumerable discussions regarding the baptizing of “heretics”; in other words, if those who have deviated from the Orthodox faith and who later desire to return to it should be baptized anew, or chrismated only, after they have submitted a libel.

Local and Ecumenical Synods have issued relative decisions on the matter.

However, in the text that follows, I would like to refer to an example which is the result of an agreement between SCOBA (Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas) and the ACBC (American Catholic Bishops Conference) on the 3rd of June 1999. The translation of the original text into the Greek language was undertaken by the Rev. Protopresbyter fr. George Dragas, Professor of the Boston Seminary of the Precious Cross, who also provided a summarized description and critique on the joint agreement between Orthodox and Papists in America.

The basis of this text was the Balamand Statement in 1993: «Uniatism, method of union of the past, and the present search for full communion», which it appears to be desirous of supporting.

The text that we are commenting on here – that is, the statement signed in America between the Orthodox and the Papists – with the title “baptism and sacramental communion” is supported in certain points which –as I have noticed- are very characteristic and they display the entire content of the contemporary ecumenist movement.

The first point is that «baptism is based on the faith of Christ Himself, the faith of the Church, and the faith of the faithful, and it is from these that its entity is derived.” (13) At first glance here, one is impressed by the absence of the Triadic God; perhaps in order to justify every dilating interpretation of the Baptism. Faith, therefore, is a valid point and element of the Baptism.

The second point is that Baptism does not comprise an act that is demanded by the Church, «but rather, it is the foundation of the Church. Baptism comprises a foundation for the Church» (26). Here, the truth is presented that holy Baptism is not the “inductive” sacrament by which we are inducted into the Church, but that it is the foundation of the Church.

The third point is that «baptism was never perceived as a private ritual, but rather as a community event» (13). This means that the Baptism of catechumens constituted «a circumstance of repentance and revival of the entire community» (13). The Baptized one «is obliged to embrace the common faith of the community, in the person and the promises of the Saviour» (14)

The fourth point is the continuation and the consequence of the preceding ones. Since Baptism is based on the faith in Christ, since it is the basis of the Church and furthermore, since it is a community act, this means that recognition of Baptism also implies recognition of the Church. In the joint agreement it says:  «Both parties of this Joint Committee, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, recognize in each others’ traditions a common teaching and common faith regarding Baptism, despite the differentiations in practice, which we believe do not affect the essence of the Sacrament» (17).

According to the text, there is a common faith and teaching regarding Baptism in the two “Churches”, but also that the existing differentiations do not affect the essence of the Sacrament. The two parties recognize one ecclesiastic entity «in both of them, even if the one regards the other’s experience of the Church’s entity as faulty or incorrect» (17). This is the point where the “unerring basis of the contemporary use of the phrase ‘sister churches’” is found. The Orthodox and the Latin Churches are two sister Churches, because they have the same tradition, the same faith and the same Baptism, even if there are certain differences. That is why the view:  «We consider this mutual recognition of baptism’s ecclesiastic entity – despite our divisions – to be fully compliant with the perpetual teaching of both churches» (26) is repeatedly supported.  By misinterpreting the teaching of Basil the Great, they allege that the two “Churches” – despite the existing “imperfections” constitute the same entity of the Church. «Thanks to the gift of God, we are both “of the Church”, according to the words of Saint Basil» (26).

The fifth point is that saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite stands accused, who, when interpreting the views of Cyprian of Carthage, of Basil the Great and of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod, highlights (just like all the Philokalian Fathers of the 18th century) the precision and the oekonomia (special provision) pertaining to the method of inducting heretics into the Orthodox Church. In other words, the Fathers at times accept heretics with precision – that is, with Baptism – and at other times with oekonomia – that is, with Chrismation. But even when the Church does accept someone with oekonomia, it means that when accepting him, She is actually activating the sacrament of salvation, precisely because the Church supersedes the Canons, and not the Canons the Church; furthermore, because the Church is the source of the sacraments and of Baptism, and it is not the Baptism that is the basis of the Church. The Church can accept a heretic on the principle of oekonomia, without this meaning that She is recognizing as a Church the community that had baptized him previously.  It is from within this perspective that the related decision of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod is interpreted.

Of course, the confusion is heightened by the fact that among the proposals, there is a proposal that is interpreted in many ways. It says in the text that it should be clarified «that mutual recognition of the baptism does not also imply the solving of all issues that divide them, or the restoration of ecclesiastic communion between them, albeit it does assist in the removal of any basic impediment on the road to restoring full communion» (page 28).

From this small analysis, it becomes obvious how much confusion prevails in the ecumenist circles on these issues, as well as the fact that the acceptance of the Baptism of heretics (Papists, Protestants, who had altered the dogma on the Holy Trinity etc.) is interpreted as an acknowledgement of existence of a Church among heretics and even worse, that the “two Churches” – Orthodox and Latin – do have unity, despite the “minor” differences, or that we both originate from the same Church and must therefore seek to return and comprise the only Church. The Branch Theory is more than obvious here.

When such a confusion exists, then it becomes necessary to adopt the view of precision (which is what preserves the truth); that is, all those who succumb to heresies are outside the Church, and therefore there will be no action by the Holy Spirit for deification.  

At any rate, baptismal theology creates huge problems for the Orthodox. The text, only parts of which we saw previously, is obviously riddled, from the ecclesiological aspect. Patristic Orthodox teaching on this matter is that the Church is the Divine-human Body of Christ, in which the revelatory truth (the orthodox faith) is preserved and the sacrament of deification takes place, by means of the sacraments of the Church (Baptism-Chrismation-divine Eucharist) along with the necessary prerequisites, which are the partaking of God’s cleansing, enlightening and deifying energy.  Baptism is the inductive sacrament of the Church. The Church is not fitted to the sacrament of Baptism; rather, it is the Baptism of water in conjunction with the Baptism of the Spirit that take place within the Church which render a person a member of the Body of Christ. Outside the Church – the living Body of Christ – there are no sacraments, just as outside the body, there are no senses.

Finally, I would like to submit the Protopresbyter fr. George Dragas conclusion, following «a brief description and critique»:

«These proposals cannot possibly find all the Orthodox in agreement, and especially the Hellenic-speaking (or Hellenic-minded), and consequently, they are probably divisive, as far as their true character is concerned. The main reason that leads to such a critical conclusion is the absence of any ecclesiological background in all of this research regarding the sacraments, as well as the unilateral interpretation – or even misinterpretation – of the facts related to the Orthodox sacramental act, and in fact, the sacramental act as compared to the heterodox during various periods of time. These proposals, as well as the conclusions, and even the Joint Statement itself, reflect Western skepticism. The acceptance by the Orthodox theologians probably denotes an intentional betrayal of the orthodox positions and a subjugation to the western ecumenist prospects, and therefore unacceptable!!»

The contradiction between the heretical ecumenist text that was jointly accepted by ecumenist Orthodox and Papists, and the perennial decisions of the Church, can be found by the interested reader, in full detail, in our site’s special book : "I confess one Baptism…."


Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 5-11-2007.

Last update: 5-11-2007.