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Question 236

Morning pater, this may have been asked before but why are we so strict on who we allow to be God parents. I am God father to Catholic children. But I wasn't technically allowed to have them as my daughters. I understand our faiths differ but we all believe in the same God. I feel that as orthodox we are not moving with the times in certain aspects.


Answer to Question 236


I’m not sure what you feel the church has to do to be moving with the times, maybe you can give us your opinion of your expectations of what the church should be doing that she isn’t doing. 


I will begin with the question if all Christians are the same? If we were then the divisions that exist today would not exist. It is not enough to say that we believe in Christ therefore we are the same no matter what denomination we belong to. The fact is we are not all the same and neither do we believe in the same things. To understand this we must go back to the early Church that Christ instituted. Christ the High-priest established the church and gave spiritual authority to his Apostles. This authority was then conferred by the Apostles to others who were chosen to be ordained with the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority. This authority is known as the Priesthood and consist of a hierarchical order of first Bishops, then Priests and then Deacons. No one can enter this priesthood by himself, a bishop must be ordained by other bishops within the same body of the Church that Christ established. This is because there is only one Christ, therefore only one church of which he is the head. If a bishop breaks away from this church he automatically forfeits the priesthood, because the Body of Christ cannot be divided. One either remains within this Body or leaves and loses the sacramental authority.


Up until 1054 the Church in the East, now known as the Orthodox Church and the Church in the West, now known as the Roman Catholic Church were in complete union because they were one Church with the same Church Fathers, the same Saints, the same doctrines, the same Sacraments, but more especially the same priesthood. When The Roman Catholic Church chose to separate themselves from this union in 1054 they placed themselves outside of the Body of Christ. This means that they automatically lost the grace of the priesthood because they broke the chain of Apostolic Succession. Without the Apostolic Succession of the Priesthood, they were now in fact just ordinary laymen and had no authority either to baptize or to ordain anyone. Thus because they forfeited the priesthood they couldn’t impart the grace of the Spirit to others. By what I am saying I do not intentionally want to attack anyone’s faith so no-one should take offence. I am only stating historical facts and logical reasoning concerning the body of Christ which cannot be divided and which is verified by the Canons of the Church. 


If then the Roman Catholic Church and all the other Churches that have developed from the Reformation do not have the Priesthood, then all those millions of people who believe they are baptized are not truly baptized because baptism is a Sacrament and must be performed by a Priest with Apostolic Succession. All those that say they have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we may ask: “do they indeed have the Holy Spirit?” Who gave it to them? The Holy Spirit was given to the Church on the day of Pentecost and The Apostles in turn, passed on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to others by the laying on of their hands upon the heads of the faithful. We read in the Acts of the Apostles: “Then laid they their hands on them, [those who were baptized] and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8: 17). It also says: “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them” (Acts 19: 6). We see then that the gifts of the Holy Spirit is given by the laying on of hands, but not just anyone’s hand, but a hand that has been ordained unto the Priesthood which has Apostolic Succession.


So coming back to the question of whether all Christians are the same, the answer is a definite No. People may call themselves Christians because they believe in Jesus, but a true Christian is a person who have been baptised into his Church and received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christ cannot be divided therefore the Church cannot be divided and cut into 1000s of small pieces each presenting itself as the Church of Christ. St. Paul said “There is One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God.” Eph 4:4-6) Thus in the eyes of the Orthodox Church a Roman Catholic or Protestant isn’t baptized and therefore cannot be a Godparent to an Orthodox child. 


But in recent years we have seen Catholics standing as second Godparents. The Church has allowed this as a dispensation - what we call “economia” because she understands that we live in multi-racial and multi-religious societies and close relationships with non-Orthodox cannot be avoided. But the second Catholic Godparent doesn’t actually take part in the service: he/she simply stands next to the first Godparent who is the only Godparent the Church officially recognizes by entering his/her name on the Baptism certificate and in the Church’s register. The Greek word for sponsor is ‘Ανάδοχος’ and means someone who receives and in the case of a baptism it refers to the Godparent receiving in his/her arms the baptized child. In truth there can only be one Ανάδοχος because only one person actually receives the child from the baptismal font.