The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

TALK ON THE NECESSITY

OF BAPTISM

8th OCTOBER 2009

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After a very long 4 months summer break I’d like to welcome you all back to our weekly Thursday meetings. Since we first began in January of 2007 we have covered a vast range of spiritual subjects as well as interpretations of the Sunday Apostle and Gospel readings. This season I’d like to try something new. Occasionally I think it would be beneficial to all to have an open question and answer day where everyone can pose questions on any religious matter. That of course means that I will be putting myself in the hot seat, but if there are questions I can’t answer immediately then I will try and answer them the week following. But for today I’d like to begin with a close look at Baptism of converts. As Baptism is the first Sacrament of the Church so then is it also appropriate for our first talk.

This summer I had quite a few adult Baptisms and I think something should be said as to why in Limassol we insist (as also does the community of Mount Athos) that all candidates must be received through baptism and not simply by the application of Chrism (Myron). I was also of the opinion that the Russian Church also insisted on Baptism, and was very surprised to hear from someone who visited me in September that he had been received into the Orthodox Church in Russia only through Chrismation. He is actually the main reason why I decided to talk on the subject of the necessity of being received through baptism and only baptism. If you surf the internet you will find that the majority of Orthodox churches in the Diaspora accept converts from the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and other churches that confess the Holy Trinity only through the anointing of Holy Chrism. In reality, what this actually means is that they accept the Baptism of these churches as “True” and consider that by receiving someone through Baptism as equal to a rebaptism which is totally forbidden; for as the creed clearly states: “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.”

What then is the correct procedure to receive converts? Are the majority of the Orthodox Churches correct in not Baptizing or are we who insist on Baptism? If they are correct then are we in Limassol totally disregarding the canons of the church by re-baptizing? If so, then according to the Holy Canons we should be deposed from our duties. There are many Canons dealing with how we should accept people from other churches and the Church has at times found it necessary to use what in Greek we call “Economia”. This is an idiom of the Greek Church and there is no equivalent translation in English. What it means is that the Church economises on the strictness of the Canons, a dispensation, a concession or special consideration used for the good of someone’s salvation. In our times “Economia” is used freely especially during confession where we rarely apply the penances mentioned in the Canons. But can we use “Economia” when it comes to the first sacrament that initiates someone into the Church? Let’s take the Canons in order and see where they lead us.

The Apostolic canons, being the first in order do not allow for any “Economia” and in fact call for “κατακρίβεια” translated as rigorism, strictness or accuracy to the letter with no accommodation for any deviation from the law. There are three Apostolic canons dealing with baptism of converts: Canons 46 and 47 and also canon 68 which for the moment we won’t consider because it mainly deals with the baptism and ordination of heretic priests.

Canon 46 states:

We order any Bishop, or Presbyter, that has accepted any heretics’ Baptism, or sacrifice, to be deposed; for “what concord has Christ with Beliar? or what part has the believer with an infidel?”

The present Canon prescribes if any Bishop or Presbyter shall accept a heretics’ Baptism as correct and true, or any sacrifice offered by them, it is ordered that he be deposed from his office.

Canon 47 states:

If a Bishop or Presbyter baptize anew anyone that has had a true baptism, of fail to baptize anyone that has been polluted by the impious, let him be deposed, on the ground that he is mocking the Cross and death of the Lord and not making a distinction between the true priests and the false priests.”

This canon deposes any Bishop or Priest who baptises a second time someone who has received a “True” baptism. The important word here is “True” which means in the very same manner, as Orthodox Christians are baptized by an Orthodox Priest. Thus if a Bishop or Priest re-baptizes someone who has already been baptized by the Orthodox Church as though he were utterly unbaptized then he is to be deposed because only one Baptism has been handed down to us Orthodox Christians (Eph. 4:4) by our Lord as well as by the divine Apostles and the holy Fathers, because the Cross and the death of the Lord, in the type, or similitude, of which baptism is celebrated, were but one and with a second baptism the Priest would be re-crucifying and publicly ridiculing the Son of God with a second death. 

This same canon also deposes any Bishop or Presbyter who refuses to baptize with the regular baptism of the Orthodox Church someone who has been polluted, by which is meant a person who has been baptized by the impious, or, in plainer language, heretics, because he wrongly and mistakenly thinks that the polluted baptism of heretics is a type, or similitude, of the cross and death of the Lord, which, however, it is not, and for this reason he accepts it and holds it to be equal to the baptism of the Orthodox Christians. And in addition because he fails to distinguish the true priest of the Orthodox from the false priests of the heretics, but, instead, accepts them both as equally true.

In short the canon does not recognise the baptism of heretics because it doesn’t recognize their priesthood and according to another canon only a priest can perform the sacrament of Baptism. As to whether the Roman Catholic Church or any other church has the power of the Priesthood, St. Basil in his 1st Canon mentions concerning all heretics and schismatics that: they have no longer the grace and communication of the Holy Spirit because they have broken off the succession. For although the ones who were the first to depart had been ordained by the Fathers and with the imposition of their hands they had obtained the gracious gift of the Spirit, yet after breaking away they became laymen, and had no authority either to baptize or to ordain anyone, nor could they impart the grace of the Spirit to others, after they themselves had forfeited it. Wherefore they bade that those baptized by them should be regarded as baptized by laymen, and that when they come to join the Church they should have to be re-purified by the true baptism as prescribed by the Church.

Another local Council of Carthage headed by St. Cyprian also decreed that all schismatics and heretics must be baptized. Although only a local council, it was accepted and sanctioned by the 2nd and 6th Ecumenical councils so it has universal authority. The council stated that: baptism administered by heretics and schismatics is unacceptable, and they ought to be baptized when they return to the Orthodoxy of the Catholic Church and it gives many reasons to support its decision:

1) Because there is but one baptism, and because this is to be found only in the Orthodox Church. Heretics and schismatics, on the other hand, being outside of the Orthodox Church, have, in consequence, not even the one baptism.

2) The water used in baptism must first be purified and be sanctified by means of prayers of the priests, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit; afterwards it can purify and sanctify the person being baptized therein. But heretics and schismatics are neither priests, being in fact rather sacrilegists; neither clean and pure, being in fact impure and unclean; neither holy, as not having any Holy Spirit. So neither have they any baptism.

3) Through baptism in the Orthodox Church there is given a remission of sins. But through the baptism administered by heretics and schismatics, inasmuch as it is outside of the Church, how can any remission of sins be given?

4) The person being baptized must, after he is baptized, be anointed with the myron prepared from olive oil and various spices, which has been sanctified by the visitation of the Holy Spirit. But how can a heretic sanctify any such myron when as a matter of fact he has no Holy Spirit because he has been separated from it on account of heresy and schism?

5) The priest must pray to God for the salvation of the one being baptized. But how can a heretic or a schismatic be listened to by God when, as we have said, he is a sacrilegist and a sinner (not so much on account of his works. but rather on account of the heresy or schism, these being the greatest sin of all sins), at a time when the Bible says that God does not listen to sinners.

6) Because the baptism administered by heretics and schismaties cannot be acceptable to God as baptism, since they are enemies and foes with God and are called antichrists by John.

Thus for all these reasons and others the Council of Carthage, with an eye to accuracy and strictness, insisted that all heretics and schismatics be baptized, adding also the remark that any baptism administered by heretics or schismatics is unacceptable. And they proved this with many Scriptural quotes and especially by St. Paul the Apostle who said, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). For, if the Orthodox Church is one and the true Baptism is one, then how can the baptism of heretics and schismatics be a true Baptism at a time when they are not included in the Orthodox Church, but have been cut oft from it as a result of heresy? But if the baptism of heretics and schismatics is a true Baptism, and that of the Orthodox Church is also a true Baptism, then there is not one Baptism, as St. Paul says, but two, which is quite absurd. They also added, that this idea of not accepting a baptism of heretics was not a new or recent one of their own, but on the contrary, an old one and one which has been approved by their predecessors. But for those who would say that the Canon of the Carthage Synod was only a canon of a local church we remind them that it was confirmed and ratified by the holy Sixth Ecumenical Council (Canon II), and so from being merely a Canon of a local and partial Synod it has now become a Canon of an Ecumenical Council by reason of its having been confirmed and ratified by the latter.

But the Church in general did not treat all heretics and schismatics in the same way. The 1st Ecumenical council showed a great “Economia” to some and allowed them to be received only by the laying of hands and by a written libel document whereby they renounced and anathematized their heresy and every other heresy that was opposed to the teachings of the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Second and the Six Ecumenical Councils also showed leniency to many heretics and accepted them back into the fold with three different ways 1) by the laying of hands and by a written libel document 2) by Chrismation and 3) through Baptism.

St. Basil divided the different Schismatics and heretics into three groups – The Parasynagonists, the Schismatics and the Heretics. What do these three catogories mean?

The Parasynagonists were those insubordinate presbyters and bishops who because of their having fallen into mistakes were deposed canonically from the holy orders, but who refused to abide by the Canons and to accept them as authoritative but tried their own cases and declared themselves innocent of any wrong doing and proceeded to perform the rites of the episcopacy and of holy orders in general on their own authority, in other words by themselves; and others went along with them. renegading from the Orthodox Church.

Schismatics were those who were at variance with the Orthodox Church, not on the subject of dogmas of the faith, but on account of certain ecclesiastical differences which with a little understanding and willingness on both sides could easily be resolved.

Heretics, on the other hand, were those whose difference or quarrel was directly and immediately one concerning the faith in God, or, more explicitly speaking, those who had separated and had become utterly removed from the Orthodox Christians with respect to faith and dogmas.

The Parasynagonists could be united again with the Church with the sole condition of considerable repentance and conversion; and priests and clerics returning from their number might be allowed to retain the same order and degree and rank that they possessed formerly.

Heretics, on the other hand, who returned to Orthodoxy, had to be baptized as though they were unbaptized heathen, since the Fathers of old judged that the only true and acceptable baptism is the baptism which does not depart at all from the faith, whereas the baptism performed by heretics they judged to be absolutely inadmissible, on the ground that it is contrary to the principles of the right belief and consequently is to be utterly rejected.  

But as for schismatics there were two opinions that became acceptable and put into practice. The first as we have already seen was the opinions of St. Basil and the Council of Carthage which dictated a rigorism, a strictness and insisted that in general all schismatics. upon joining the catholic Church, have to be baptized, since once they split away from the Church they lost the gracious gift of the priesthood through which could be performed ordinations and baptisms and so could no longer baptize others or ordain anyone, and in general are unable to impart the grace of which they were deprived as a result of their schism.

The other opinion was the use of “Economia” which allowed them to be accepted back into the Church only through Chrism as long as the baptism in their schismatic church was performed in the name of the Holy Trinity and that it was by three immersions into the water as observed by the Orthodox Church. In fact not only schismatics but also heretics like Arians and Macedonians were accepted in this way because in the beginning they baptised in exactly the same way as the Orthodox. On the other hand, the other heretics and schismatics whose baptism the Church had refused to recognize, had changed the ceremony of baptism and had corrupted the rite and was no longer in the form and style prescribed by the Orthodox Church. There were so many heresies and schisms and each adapted baptism according to their own heresy: some would only baptise with one immersion, others two, some would baptise in the name of the Holy Trinity while others would baptise only in the name of the Father or in the Father and Son or some other unorthodox formula.

Now why when the Apostolic Canons strictly forbade the recognition of a baptism by a heretic or schismatic did the later councils accept some of them? The only reason was for the sake of “Economia” because they certainly would not have frowned in the face of the Apostolic Canons which command the complete opposite. But what was this “Economia”? Why did the Fathers allow something they all knew was wrong and contrary to the faith. The “Economia” here was the survival of the church. They employed “Economia” and accepted the baptism of Arians and of Macedonians who were clearly heretics with the aim and hope of their returning to the faith and receiving full understanding of it, and in order to prevent them from turning their fury against the Church, because they were great in numbers and a strong force with powerful positions and close to the kings. The Orthodox Church had to be diplomatic in her dealings with these enemies of the Church and, as a matter of fact, they accomplished this purpose and realized this hope. For, thanks to this “Economia” the attitude of those men became gentler towards the Orthodox Christians and within the space of a few years they either disappeared completely or very few of them remained.

But these were heresies of the early centuries; what about the Roman Catholic Church, how did the Church regard them, and how did the Orthodox Church regard their baptism? In the early years after the Great Schism the Roman Catholic Church was considered a schismatic church and their baptism was accepted because up to the 12th and 13th century they still baptized the same way as the Orthodox with three immersions. In time they added dogmas contrary to the beliefs of the Orthodox and so now with different beliefs they were no longer a schismatic church but a heretical church and as such the “Economia” allowed to certain schismatics according to all the canons of the Church was no longer valid. Their baptism was no longer recognized because according to the canons no heretical baptism is considered as a true baptism because they no longer have the grace of the priesthood. They have become laymen as a result of their having been cut off from the Orthodox Church, and no longer have with them the grace of the Holy Spirit with which Orthodox priests perform the mysteries. But this is applying the strict rule of rigorism, can there be room for “Economia”? Again according to the canons the answer is clearly no. 

The Latins, in other words the Roman Catholic Church, are considered as unbaptized because they changed the form of their baptism and no longer observe the three immersions which have to be administered to the one being baptized, as the Orthodox Church has received instructions from the Holy Apostles from the beginning. They introduced the idea of affusion, which means the process of pouring a little water on the head of the child, or aspersion by which they sprinkle a few drops of water three times on the infant’s forehead. So the Latins are unbaptized because they do not perform the three immersions and emersions, in accordance with the Apostolic tradition. With the rigorism of the Apostolic canons the Roman Catholic baptism is invalid because they are heretics and with the “Economia” of the later Synods their baptism is again invalid because their baptism differs from ours, so why do the majority of the Orthodox churches accept their baptism as true and receive converts with chrism only?

Can it be that the Orthodox and Apostolic Church has deliberately disregarded the Apostolic and Synodical Canons? This is best left unanswered but this was not always the case because there is evidence from the Roman Catholics themselves as attested by the local synod in the Lateran of Rome held in the year 1211 that the Orthodox had been baptizing the returning Westerners.  For it says in its fourth Canon that the Easterners, meaning the Orthodox, would not hold services wherever Westerners had been holding services unless they first purified the place by the ceremony of sanctification. And afterwards it says that the Easterners themselves rebaptized those joining the Orthodox Church on the ground that they had not had a holy Apostolical baptism.

But some time later the Church again employed “Economia” and accepted the baptism of the Latins. The “Economia” was again diplomatic and employed for the salvation of the church because Papism, or Popery, was then in its prime and had all the forces and powers of the kings of Europe in its hands, while, on the other hand, our own kingdom was breathing its last breaths. If that “Economia” had not been employed, it would have been the same as saying to the Latins that they were not Christian but heathen which would have forced the Pope to rouse the Latin races against the Easterners, take them prisoners, kill them, and inflict countless other barbarous acts upon them. But that was all in the past and today we have nothing to fear from the Pope’s power: he can no longer inflict upon us any harm so what need is there any longer of “Economia”?

The Church allowed a great “Economia” by accepting the Latin converts with Chrism only and this was simply because our race could not afford, in the plight in which it then was in, to excite any further the mania of the Pope. The Orthodox churches should keep in mind that “Economia” is used as a temporary measure, there is a limit to “Economia” and it is not something indefinite or permanent. That is why Theophylactus of Bulgaria says: “He who does anything as a matter of “Economia”, does it, not as simply something good, but as something needed for the time being (commentary on Gal. 5:11). Today the need of “Economia” has passed away, but whereas in the past the church feared for her survival, today, many in the church fear that any change would harm Ecumenical efforts for a reunion. In attempts to be on friendly terms with the World Council of churches many of our bishops have been wrongly influenced in renewing the “Economia” of the past. It is time for the Orthodox Church to stop fearing what others might say or think of her. Orthodoxy means right worship and we must learn to once again live up to what we proudly proclaim: Rigorism and the Apostolical Canons must once again have their place.

In our group we have members who have been born into Orthodoxy, others who have as adults been baptised into Orthodoxy but also some who have been received only through the application of Myron. To them I would not dare say that we do not accept them as Orthodox, but I would urge them to think hard on what they have heard today. In truth they have been accepted as members of the Orthodox faith and receive Holy Communion, but according to the Holy Canons they are still unbaptized. It is a matter of faith and salvation. Our Lord himself said that “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the kingdom of God.” And again “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16) Thus to be saved one must be baptized. Can one afford to leave it to chance that when he or she passes over to eternity that Christ will accept their heretic baptism as valid? I personally wouldn’t take that chance and would insist on receiving baptism.

To those who are now contemplating on joining the Church, I would advice them to not accept Chrismation only but argue and insist that they must be received into the Orthodox Church through Baptism and if the local Church authorities deny their right to baptism then they should search for an Orthodox Church that is not afraid of offending the World Council of churches and practices the Orthodoxy handed down to us by the Apostles. The holy mountain Athos has always stood firm to this belief and we also in Limassol have adopted this fearless faith. It remains for the other Orthodox Churches to realize the error of Chrism only and follow suit. But this will not be something easy to do and will open up more problems, especially in the Diaspora, because as soon as the acceptance of heretic baptisms is officially not recognized then those of the Anglican and Roman Catholic church who wish to marry an Orthodox in the Orthodox Church will not be able to unless they are first baptized into the Orthodox faith, because their own baptism would no longer be valid and they would in fact be recognized as unbaptized. The fact that these marriages are accepted today is because of the baptism “Economia” that still exists. To be fair, we also in Limassol still allow the baptism “Economia”, because although we insist that all converts must be baptized, when it comes to mixed marriages, we turn a blind eye and accept Anglican and Roman Catholic baptisms as valid.