Here is a presentation given at a conference of the Orthodox Theological Research Forum recently held in Oxford:
Briefly, it seems that the much of the difference between the present Roman Catholic understanding of the role of St Peter in the Church and that of the Orthodox understanding is connected with the models of what it is that each Pope of Rome assumes on ascending the throne. Is it as bishop of the first See of the Catholic Church, or is it as an heir to the authority of St Peter? Is his status of Pope bound to his status as Bishop or to an inherited authority that is not dependant on being Bishop? Is the position dependent on the See of Rome and its location or only on a legal recognition of a candidate as being the legitimate heir of the Papacy? These are some of the questions arising from the model presented in Ullmann and that from an Orthodox perspective. I will fill this post later with more thoughts, but it is largely to allow the continuance of a discussion begun elsewhere. Please feel to drop in any comments about this particularly or in general about the place of St Peter focusing on patristic evidence and possible theological/ecclesiological models for understanding it.
There is a pressing issue on how converts are to be received into the Church from various groups. The main area of varying opinion is the reception of converts who received a baptism in the name of the Trinity, especially from Anglicans or Roman Catholics. The seem to be two contrasting positions with those who insist on not rebaptising and those who do, e.g. Mt Athos. There is also a third position that allows for either approach: that is rebaptising is acceptable, and generally preferred, but not rebaptising may be acceptable as an economy provided certain conditions have been met.
Which position(s) conform to the Sacred Tradition? Looking through the debates and variety of views held in the early Church in which one party held that we should not rebaptise, St Stephen and St Leo the Great, Popes of Rome, and the other that we should, St Cyprian of Carthage and St Firmillian. St Basil the Great recommends maintaining the custom of the local Church but favours rebaptism and that the form of baptism be at least that of the Church in all points of faith. The Saints seem to contradict themselves on a very serious matter. Is there a reconciliation of them or a common census to the matter by the Church? The answer is yes, although one that may not please those looking for a simple fixed approach.
Firstly, the Fathers accepted the Canon, and hence arguments, of St Cyprian of Carthage and thus rejected the argument of the Popes of Rome that insisted that the form of baptism must not be repeated because it can only be given once, even though it does not confer any grace or salvation to those receiving the form outside the Church. The Fathers held that the one Baptism of the Church is the one conferred by a Priest of the Church not only one application of the baptismal form. Outside the Church, there is no Holy Spirit and hence no Priesthood and so no baptism, that is no baptism that brings man to be a son of God. (Note: the dependance of baptism of the Priesthood; it is not a function of the laity.) Also, rejected by both St Cyprian and St Leo is any effect of baptism outside the Church, so at best the baptism is an empty form and nothing more. There was no sense that a baptism outside the Church caused the baptised to be “born again” nor to receive forgiveness of sins. Such a view is heretical because it is a denial of the Church and the mystery of one baptism.
However, the Fathers did not accept the position of St Cyprian without qualification. The Church, i.e. Christ, permitted converts from some heresies to be received only with Chrismation, i.e. by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, while the Fathers rejected the argument that the form could not be repeated by the Church, they accepted that the form could be received by the Church without repetition in certain cases and for the matter of economy. This is the position of St Basil the Great. This meant that the practices of those would insisted on not rebaptising did not affect the souls of those being received by Chrismation only and also enable certain converts of certain groups to be accepted without baptism, where there could be uncertainty about who baptised them but they knew that they received the form of baptism.
Where does this leave us with the converts of today? Canonically, all converts need to be baptised if they are not within the excepted groups mentioned by the Fathers in the Canons. However, following St Basil there is room for economy to be used in particular cases, such for example the Roman Catholics and this economy was used by various Fathers at times. This economy though does depend that the form of baptism, applied outside the Church, is the same as that of the Church and this is the major issue regarding the present forms of baptism used outside the Church, which are no longer exactly as the Church baptises (The form is not only the name of the Trinity but also three immersions in water each in one name of the Trinity. Also there should have been an anointing of oil and the baptiser could be a potential Priest). Although, there is still sufficient connection if the form used could be accepted as used in the Church for baptism by economy.
Although, as stated earlier, things are a bit vague regarding the limits of economy, i.e. the meaning of the same in all aspects of the faith, it would seem that the best option is to baptise all converts, excepting perhaps those from Uniate or recent schisms, who have exactly the same form of baptism. There is some room for those who are obstinate about already receiving a baptism to be received by Chrismation but there should be no rule that all members of a particular group should not be baptised on entering the Church. Also, any acceptance of some effect of the baptism outside the Church, that is outside the jurisdictions of canonical Orthodox Bishops, as somehow giving the baptised some connection to the Church should be rejected. This was thoroughly rejected by St Cyprian, whose the Fathers in the Ecumenical Councils accepted. There is no Priesthood outside the Church and hence no baptism, apart from empty form and this has been the consistent teaching of the Fathers both Eastern and Western.
Why the Court? This is an English means of expressing the Greek word transliterated as Bema. It is often translated judgement seat or tribunal. I will use Court, though, because it captures a range of meanings that can be understood in the Greek.
Why mention the Court? The area of Orthodox Temples were the Altar is located is named Bema in Greek. Why is this area called Bema? Because it is the Holy of holies, the symbol of the dwelling of God and the centre of His reign. Thus, the area is also defined by something other than the Altar, even though it is correct to define it by the Altar. A royal court is defined by the throne upon which we identify the sovereign. Thus also the Court of a Christian temple is identified by the throne. The throne is what chiefly identifes this area of the temple, not the Altar, which has is set before the throne, thus fulfilling the mystery of the dispensation of Christ.
So, when we build temples we must place a throne in this area and an altar before it, so it truly becomes the symbol of the dwelling and reign of God. It is not the Cross that is to be located at the eastern end but the Throne.
There is one Church. In the Old Testament this was realised with one place of worship. In the New Testament worship is permitted in any place. However, to maintain the mystery of one Church, only one church may worship in each place. The Church is centred on her Bishop, that is on Christ, who is one: one Christ, one Bishop. So, in each place there is only one Bishop.
The “area” of a place can only be defined by territory. This realises that the Church is in the world; it has a definable physical presence and location. This presence cannot be defined by other catagories. All mankind is one in Christ; there is neither Greek nor Jew. To define a church by human categories such as language, culture or ethnicity is to deny the union of all in Christ that transcends all human distinctions. It would be a human organisation defined by the human categories.
So, the present situation with Orthodox churches those Bishops have jurisdictions that are not only defined by exclusive territorial areas is in effect a denial of the Church. It is a situation that can only be justified by an heretical doctrine of the Church.
May we quickly repent of such organisation and order the churches as they should be by territories encompassing all Orthodox believers regardless of their human distinctions and trust that the one Christ is with each Bishop regardless on his language, ethnicity or other such distinction. As regarding liturgcal usages these are the right of the Bishop by better set by a region of Bishops, such as in a particular country, so that there may be consistency of practice.
May we also remember the tradition of order among the Bishops that was established to bring unity among the Bishops not by authority but by consensus. Also, none of the Bishops or Patriarches should act outside his territory with the consent of all.
Here is a copy of a Canon Law essay that was recently submitted and received a distinction. It takes what may be described as a position of supporting an unchanging continuation of the Canons. This position is very hard to maintain due to the evidence. The relationship between the rhetoric of the Canons and the practical dealing with the Canons is difficult to reconcile. The essay is an attempt to substantiate the rhetoric more closely in trying to explain the practice in a manner that equates with the rhetoric of unchanging Canons. However, the marker found some of the arguments rather forced and unconvincing and even perhaps seemingly contradictory. Nevertheless, he commented that the essay does bring to the fore that the works of many modern writers on the subject have looked at the practice of change and from this have either dismissed or interpreted that rhetoric to make it of little effect and that this approach is not consistent with the tradition.
So, the essay is here, with its weaknesses, to provide some thoughts on the issues from a position seeking to remain faithful to the rhetoric by harmonising this with the historical practice. It is also a warning to those who hope or believe that another Ecumenical Council can make wide sweeping changes to the Church’s Canon Law or to its traditions.
I look forward to any comments or feedback to help develop understanding of these issues, which still require much theoretical work to come to a satisfactory answer.
I have attached a paper written for my Master’s Degree entitled: “Discuss the filioque in the background of Orthodox ecclesiology, the theology of deification and the Orthodox Biblical exegetical methodology.” It received a good mark but there were questions as to how well is represents the Orthodox view on things. Feel free to raise any critiques of it.
Themes in Orthodox Theology