Baptism of Converts

2 November, 2009

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.


God’s desire for unity

2 December, 2007

John 17 is often sited for the cause of the ecumenical movements desire for reconciliation of “Christians”. It is true that Christ said these things but when the Scriptures are considered closely then it appears that the ecumenical movement has taken the words out of context.The unity that Christ desired in firstly grounded in Faith (John 17: 8-9) and in Himself, which also unites one into the Trinity (John 17:21-26). It is not a desire for all people to be united as an end in itself but all to be united in Himself. Those in Him are one because He is one. Thus unity is found not in humans agreeing with each other but in agreeing with Christ.

This agreement with Christ is through faith. This does not mean only the act of believing itself but also what one believes. One may be sincere and faithful in one’s belief but if one does not believe in Christ then such a belief is of no avail. Thus, union with Christ requires a union of faith, being of one mind and believing the same thing, the faith of Christ.

The Fathers of the Church summarised this Faith in the Creed, or the “Faith”. The Nicene-Constantinoplian Faith (as the Greek word for Creed is literally translated.) Thus, to accept the Faith of Christ and to be united to Him requires one to accept this Faith as it is without adding to it or subtracting from it. Unfortunately, the western Churches, added to this Faith and began to confess something different from the Faith of the Church. Eventually, when they showed themselves entrenched in the proclamation of this different Faith they became separated from Christ.

Being separated from Christ means separation from the Church and from the Holy Spirit. Even though those in many of these groups are referred to as “Christians” and their gathering/organisations are called “churches”, they are not properly so unless they are united to Christ, sharing one Faith with Him and with those whom also share this Faith. Because the Church on earth is the Incarnate presence of Christ, then it is seen in its physical presence that is linked through the laying on of hands, baptism and the Eucharist. Without the participation in these there is no participation in the Church. Those who have broken the physical connection with the Church must, along with accepting the Faith of the Church, also be physically reunited with the Church before being reunited with her. So, groups outside the Church cannot reunite with the Church by a mere confession of the Faith but they must each personally be physically brought back in the Church and established in the Church with a properly ordained Priest under a recognised Bishop.

On these grounds, the talk of reunion with those groups outside the Church, such as the various Protestant Churches, the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church, is a mistaken, if it is based on a premise that these bodies are real Churches in Christ between whom there has somehow been a rift rather than a cutting off. Rather, it must be understood that a “reunion” of those other churches, also called “Christian churches”, can only come about not through an agreed declaration of faith that is acceptable to all within their present “traditions”, as if these are all different expressions of the one Tradition, but through repentance and the agreement with the Faith of the Church, abandoning their own “traditions” and accepting those of the Church. Each person so “reuniting” (“uniting” is a better term because almost all such persons have never been united personally to Christ, the Church) with the Church must be physically established in the Church through baptism, or perhaps at least the physical anointing of chrismation as an act of economy once they declare the Faith of the Church and renounce errors. There can be no corporate “reunion” because outside of Christ there is no true unity in a church but rather a collection of individuals. Only in Christ is the Church truly united and one body.

So, God does desire union, but in Himself, in Christ and in His faith, in accepting His words. Christ prays for those accepting His words and not for the world. Those bodies separated from the Church are not churches in the true sense of the word and Christ does not desire the union of such groups as an end in itself but rather repentance and coming to Him to be united to the Church. There is a requirement for the Church to accept those who desire to repent but none to unite with other groups who claim to be Christian and even hold many of the same beliefs. Rather it is to speak the truth clearly in love to keep open the way for repentance, while rejecting those who refuse to repent of error as sons of perdition because in this state they are indeed bound for eternal perdition being apart from Christ; it isn’t “nice” but it is the reality. Christ’s love requires that the errors need to be identified in discussions and the truth made clear to allow repentance. Identifying common areas of faith helps to ground teaching of understanding towards the truth but it is the errors that have caused the division and these need to be constantly noted and shown for what they are. One must accept what the Church, Christ, accepts and reject what the Church, Christ, rejects. Again, it is of no avail to accept what the Church accepts but fail to reject what she rejects, that is leaving those groups persisting in error and joining the Church, the pillar of the Truth.

Mixed “Marriages”

20 May, 2007

Let no Orthodox man be allowed to contract a marriage with a heretical woman, nor moreover let any Orthodox woman be married to a heretical man. But if it should be discovered that any such thing is done by any one of the Christians, no matter who, let the marriage be deemed void, and let the lawless marriage tie be dissolved. For it is not right to mix things immiscible, nor to let a wolf get tangled up with a sheep, and the lot of sinners get tangled up with the portion of Christ. If, therefore, anyone violates the rules we have made let him be excommunicated. But in case persons who happen to be still in the state of unbelief and to be not yet admitted to the fold of the Orthodox have joined themselves to each other by lawful marriage, then and in that event, the one of them having chosen the good start by running to the light of truth, while the other, on the contrary, has been held down by the bond of delusion for having failed to welcome the choice of gazing at the divine rays (whether it be that an unbelieving woman has looked with favor upon a man who is a believer, or vice versa an unbelieving man upon a woman who is a believer), let them not be separated, in accordance with the divine Apostle: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbeelieving wife by the husband” (1 Cor. 7:14).

Canon 72, Council of Trullo (Sixth Ecumenical Council)

There is a sad state of much disobedience in this matter and allowance of mixed “marriages” with those outside of the Church. Disobedience to Christ is bad enough in this matter but let us examine what is happening here and hopefully those of a right mind will be repulsed by the idea of such a marriage and never trouble the clergy to permit such a thing.

Why is my language so strong? Why have a put quotes around the word marriage? It is because once the Mystery of marriage is better understood, it will be realised that there is true marriage between someone in the Church and one outside, not in the Mystery of marriage. There is a union in the flesh but this only serves to heighten the problem.

Marriage is the Mystery of the union of Christ and His Church. The man is the icon of Christ and the woman is the icon of the Church. Their union as husband and wife is the union of Christ and the Church. They become one flesh in Christ. Each family is a small Church in Christ and thus marriage finds its place in Christ. As with all aspects of Christian life our life is in Christ and everything finds its place in Him. If it cannot then it is to be rejected from our lives because what is not in Christ is dead.

Only a baptised man in the Church can be Christ because only such a man can truly have Christ and be in Christ. Only a baptised woman in the Church can be the Church, the body of Christ because only in the Church does one become united to His body and partake of it. So the Mystery of marriage can only be fulfilled between those in the Church. To marry someone outside the Church in Christ is impossible because those outside the Church cannot fulfil their place in the Mystery of marriage and the marriage is not a true marriage in Christ but something outside him and of the flesh. (It should nevertheless be respected as marriage in that there is still a union on flesh and to avoid an excuse for adultery. Also, in respect of secular law that recognises the union.)

This is not to mention that when a believer lives as one flesh with an unbeliever then they are uniting the flesh of Christ with one unbaptised and this confers a similar burden on their soul as if the unbeliever were to dare to receive communion. Would you dare to share holy communion with heretics? Then why share your body, or rather Christ’s body with them in marriage? Such a thing should not occur.

An exception to this is when one partner comes into the saving body of the Church and the other remains outside or if one’s partner should decide later to leave the Church. In this case the faithful partner sanctifies his/her partner for the sake of the children. They should not depart because this would case many other problems but if the unbeliever decides to leave of his/her own will then so he/she should be let free. There is no true “marriage” in Christ and so no breach of the Mystery. It is a state of economy but not the fulness of the Mystery in Christ.

More on Responsibility and Infallibility

18 May, 2007

One aspect of lay responsibility is the use of St Vincent’s Canon, which is the universal rule for distinguishing heresy from truth. Its use is in consistent with the responsibility of the faithful and not with an unerring centre of truth. Thus laity using the Canon to determine whether a particular is teaching heresy is an act of responsibility, which, from the above, is an inescapable aspect of a genuine Christian life. It is a cross that must be borne. This is contrary to the notion that a Christian has only to follow the unerring centre of the Church. This does not require theological responsibility apart from the acceptance of the unerring centre as such and obedience to it.

Why an unerring centre insufficient? A Christian must grow to perfection in his entire life, in every aspect “You therefore be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:40 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all arrive to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be infants, being tossed as by waves, and being carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in regard to deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love, we may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ–from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the working of the measure of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the edification of itself in love.” (Eph 4:11-16) All the faithful grow into the fullness of Christ and by the way of the cross. We are all left with trials in every aspect because it is through these that we grow, without such trials we remain children and fail to grow into the fullness of Christ. Also, we each supply to the building of the whole body, so our responsibility extends not only to our own learning but that of the entire body. Although not all are apostles, Popes, Patriarchs or teachers, we all share in the growth of the body as it is our own body. But we must do all in love. An unerring centre removes the responsibility of each and all. There is no need for this responsibility because the faith of the centre is always sure. Thus we cannot all live this responsibility and we cannot all grow fully into Christ because all dogmas point to Christ, not as a concept but as the One in whom all live in fullness. We live the dogma because the dogma is Christ. Every aspect of life in Christ is shared by all.

Thus an unerring centre is not just a disincentive for responsibility it precludes the laity from the fullness of responsibility regarding the faith and hence the fullness of life in Christ. The Church ceases to live, to exist; it dies. (Note: this does not remove the order of the Church into its various ministries and orders. Not everyone is an apostle or priest, not everyone is permitted to teach publicly, nor to offer the Eucharist in the Liturgy but all may teach in private, all offer themselves in sacrifice personally in their daily lives. We all share in the life of the Church but the public aspects are restricted to those called to show forth the fullness of the Mystery of the Church in Christ. An infallible centre is not able to be shared in private but each and all. Neither does this negate the infallibility of the Church or the surety of the Faith. It places this is Christ, whose infallibility is manifest in the weakness of man without losing His infallibility or the freedom of man. All men support each other in love so that through this love we may grow into Christ. An unerring centre does not need support and so puts itself apart from this bond of mutual love and the unity of the faithful.)

The Orthodox Mind

14 May, 2007

“…the Christians’ unified knowledge of the truth, that it is the simplest and most divine of all, or rather it is the only true and single and simple knowledge of God.” St Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names 7:4; P.G. 3:873A

“By the same divine laws the ends of the earth are welded and joined together in one Orthodoxy.”

“Again, in the Orthodox faith there is no room for one jot of anything alien, belonging to a different understanding or of a different quality.” Archimandrite Vasileios in Hymn of Entry pg 22, 30.

“Now I beseech you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same opinion.” 1 Cor 1:10

These quotes come rather out of the context of the work of Archimandrite Vasileios, whose work is difficult to extract quotes from because of the unity of the context in which each statement rests and is supported. Nevertheless, these snippets provide testimony for the thoughts below.

There is some talk of having an Orthodox mind, especially among those who come into the Church as adults. This mind is also important regarding relationships between various Christian assemblies. This Orthodox (more generally, Christian) mind is really the mind of Christ; it is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit; it is the transcendence of human wisdom to the very mind of God. Its thoughts become inexpressible and theology becomes silent. Nevertheless, it grants a sure knowledge of the Truth, which is Christ. This truth is manifest not only in words but in every aspect of those in Christ. Theology shines through the words, deeds and silence of the Saints. This mind knows no falsehood, it knows no human opinions, it is all Christ and Truth.

Now in our weaknesses as humans very few manifest this reality fully and our own impoverished opinions remain. Theologoumenon are permissible due to our weakness but in truth we must accept the full truth of Christ and submit and die to all of ourselves. There is no minimal level of truth to believe but there are certain beliefs where there is no permissibility for our weakness. These are those dogmas sealed by the Fathers, in the Spirit, in the Councils. To refuse these is to refuse Christ. We must take care to avoid setting our opinions for ourselves in concrete lest they be proved false and neither should we judge another absolutely wrong for such opinions lest they be found right. In Christ the fullness of the Truth can be known but as we travel on our paths into Christ we will inevitably have such opinions but in humility.

Regarding the relationships with Roman Catholics, the Orthodox see the theologies, developed doctrines and their incarnation in music, art and the way of life through the history of Roman Catholics, as they diverged from Orthodoxy, as something alien and different. “By contrast, scholastic theology and intellectual constructions do not resemble the Body of the Lord, the true food, nor His Blood, the true drink. This is how indigestible and inhumanly hard the mass of scholasticism seems to the taste and the mouth of one accustomed to the liturgy of the Church, and it is rejected as something foreign and unacceptable.” Archimandrite Vasileios in Hymn of Entry pg 22, 36.

If it be objected that scholasticism is not the De Fide teaching of the Roman Catholics, it was nevertheless considered an acceptable understanding and quality in the Western churches for some time and it is this fairly general acceptance that shows to the Eastern Churches that the Orthodox mind was not in those churches, otherwise they would not have accepted such a different and alien way of thinking. Scholastic thinking did approach the East and some accepted it but they were considered as beginning to think outside the mind of the Church and such ways of thought did not become generally established. It is good to see those in the West moving away from Scholasticism but there would need to be a rejection of Scholasticism as an acceptable understanding before the Orthodox mind can take root in the West. There cannot be different understandings or theologies in the Church as Christ is one and Truth is one. Theology is not about the opinions of men but the Truth of Christ manifest in the Saints.

Theology is indivisible from the whole life of the Church and centred on her Liturgy. It is grounded in Christ and in the Church’s obedience to Christ. Not only changes in thought but changes in Liturgy and ways of life also signal a different understanding and something foreign to Christ and the mind of Christ, so all these aspects of western development show, in the Orthodox mind, that the West have lost the mind of Christ, and hence the Spirit. Thus, placing the Western churches outside the Church and Christ.

Among those in Orthodoxy with all its faults and lack of central unity, there is a very strong sense of a common voice, a common mind and a common opinion among those who have submitted all their lives to Christ in obedience, especially the Saints from across the Orthodox lands. There may be many opinions among Orthodox today but among the Saints and among those living in obedience to Christ, there is a strong unity and oneness of mind and this in not from having common teachers except the Lord Himself and the Spirit, who guides us into all truth.


13 May, 2007

I was having a discussion with an Anglican theologian over Easter and during the discussion he mentioned that I tended to focus on the differences between Orthodoxy and Anglican/Protestant/Roman Catholic beliefs and teachings. On reflection this is quite true. It does tend to make one more adversarial in discussion with those of different thoughts but this is not necessarily a bad thing or something that can be set aside.

Why? I believe that when it comes to matters of Faith and potential heresies, it is precisely the differences that matter. Maybe early heresies had much in common with Orthodoxy, especially those of the Miaphysites, Monophysites and Nestorians. However, even with almost everything in common, especially the Miaphysites, one difference in doctrine is sufficient for heresy and separation from the Church.

It is these differences, even if only on one particular point of Church teaching, that are the cause of heresy and separation and these differences that need to be corrected. I also believe that these differences require one party to repent of a false opinion and accept the true opinion that is held by another. One party, representing the Church, will be true to the teaching of Christ and the Church, and is in no need of repentance. The other teaching differently does need to repent.

I cannot accept that all parties are wrong because then it would deny the Church being the pillar and foundation of the Truth and infallible, or that it is truly incarnate and has a definable and visible footprint on earth. I also do not think that Fathers would have been ignorant of the differences in teaching and made a mistake in anathematising a heresy, or even quickly reuniting with those whose teaching was clear of heresy. Especially in those Councils considered Ecumenical and genuine by later generations, that is as Infallible and of God, I cannot accept there was a mistake in declaring a heresy or that they were too strict on the matter. That would to be to put our opinions above those of Saints and much more those of God. I do not believe that we can do this.

Rather I believe that we must examine these differences and discuss them not mainly to unite different bodies but to enable us to make an informed choice as to what we personally believe and to enable us to repent of false beliefs. Making the point of the differences forces us to have to chose what we believe and make a stand of faith. Thankfully, the Church is a Body and larger than individuals so one can choose which group is that body on the matter of a few crucial aspects of doctrine without having to examine every individual doctrine because once a group is accepted as being the Church then the other doctrines can be accepted in good faith.

Focusing on the similarities can be very nice and warming but it veils the need to make a choice of faith and leads to the potential of thinking that the Church is not of one mind and faith. Either one fails to see the need of repentance and joining the Church to one’s salvation or one fails to see the Church as being what the Scriptures declare it to be, potentially leading to the destruction of one’s soul and that of others led astray in effectively denying the Church or remaining outside her.

I prefer to less “nice” by taking “sides” rather than being “nice” and denying Christ. I am yet to be persuaded that this approach is mistaken from the Gospel and the Fathers. Although I believe that God loves all men equally in the Church and outside the Church, I also believe that the way to heaven is a narrow path and easy to stumble either side and a small error can lead one off the way.

Reflections on Theology(s)

13 May, 2007

Having entered into a few conversations with Roman Catholics, I am beginning to sense that there isn’t a single unified theology in Roman Catholicism. The impression that I am getting is that Roman Catholics have a number of theologies and they can accept Orthodox theology as another acceptable theology alongside Scholasticism for example. (This reminds me of Hindus accepting Christ as another God among their own and they cannot see the problem with this.)

I am also getting the sense that the various theologies in themselves fail to give coherent frameworks within which to understand and fit the De Fide teachings of Roman Catholicism. This leaves an impression that the Roman Catholicism consists of a set of teachings that lack a true inner logic and coherency. It is rather a patchwork of teachings most maintaining on paper those Catholic teachings also held by Orthodox, although the inner understanding of these teachings may differ from the Orthodox understanding, but also some derived from the influences of certain theological or pietistic trends within Roman Catholicism, that are not necessarily connected by an inner logic of the faith.

So, Roman Catholicism seems to accept Orthodoxy in theology but cannot seem to understand the Orthodox refusing to accept its theologies. They believe that the Orthodox are deluded seeing irreconcilable differences between the two. Perhaps this may be understood from their own lack of an inner logic to the faith and a lack of expectation that such a logic can exist. Rather all theologies are human speculation about the De Fide teachings of Roman Catholicism. They are error prone and are not expected to provide an inner coherency to faith.

Although there are a variety of opinions expressed by a variety of Orthodox believers, I believe that there is one inner logic to the Orthodox Faith. It is not a matter of only a set of propositions and systems but rather much more holistic in character that can be manifested in “systems” but transcends these; it may be better explained by an intuition. This is not a vague intuition either because it leads to a remarkable consistency of thought and practice among Orthodox. More properly it may be explained by the inner unity of the Logos, and the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. God forms the heart of the theology and it finds its unity in Him. There cannot be a multitude of theologies because these are a product of human speculation but Orthodox theology is the expression in thoughts, words and practice that are manifestations of the Logos. Note: this inner logic applies holistically to all aspects of Orthodox Life. Faith and discipline are not divorced but derive from the same source and are tied to the same logic. Discipline in no more variable than dogma because both express the fulness and unity of the Logos.

For Orthodox some Roman Catholic teachings contradict this inner logic (not secret knowledge of Gnostics) and thus cannot be part of the Faith; they are heresies. There is no reinterpretation of them within another theological framework or even an argument that the contradictions occur because the logic is beyond man. This latter point is in part true but I believe that even though the logic of God transcends man when it is mapped, using this in analogy to, without equating to, mathematical techniques, onto human knowledge it maintains its consistency even in human terms. The logic transcends but does not oppose human logic.

Anyway, these are my impressions at present regarding Roman Catholicism.