If you plan on voicing your disagreement with my article, please actually address the arguments I put forward. If your comment is just a list of quotations or links saying “read this idiot,” then I’m not going to approve it. I’m looking for constructive criticism of the arguments I make in this article because I find these arguments incredibly persuasive. Simply dismissing them isn’t going to change my mind.
This is an issue I’m still working through to an extent (so I am open to correction, and I’m not claiming to be the authoritative voice of the Church on this question), but I believe I am coming to the conclusion that the Orthodox Church does indeed recognize the baptisms of Roman Catholics and (the majority of) Protestants as valid. I used to be a big proponent of “economic” baptismal theology, however in this article I’m going to highlight the reasons that made me change my mind.
[See here for all of the exact quotes referenced in this article.]
First, the 2nd Ecumenical Council (canon 7) taught that heretics such as Arians and Apollinarians were to be chrismated and not rebaptized, and the 6th Ecumenical Council (canon 95) taught likewise that Monophysites and Nestorians are to be received into the Church via a confession of faith. This is significant because the error of the Arians was indeed a Trinitarian heresy (a denial of the full deity of the Son and Spirit), yet despite this, the Council Fathers still accepted their baptism. Even more important for today is the fact that Monophysites and Nestorians still exist (non-Chalcedonians and Assyrians), and thus canon 95, which says that they are to be received by a profession of faith, is still applicable to these groups. And so at the very least, if you want to “strictly apply the canons” with respect to receiving converts from the Monophysite and Nestorian churches, you do that by receiving them through a profession of faith! If you were to rebaptize these two groups, far from strictly applying the canons, you would actually be in violation of the canons that specifically deal with them. This is especially true given the fact that, as I’ve described before, St. Basil’s canons on rebaptism (which were accepted by the 6th Ecumenical Council) not only allow for the recognition of baptism outside of the Church, but they say that we have to strictly obey the canons on this matter. Thus, if the canons recognize baptism outside of the Church, we have to obey this.
Moreover, the same 6th Ecumenical Council that accepted the canons of Sts. Basil and Cyprian (which are often cited as “proof” of rebaptism being a canonical practice) also accepted the canons of the Council of Carthage +419, which said the following about the baptisms performed by heretics:
Canon 57: For in coming to faith they [those who were baptized by Donatists, i.e. heretical schismatics] thought the true Church to be their own and there they believed in Christ, and received the sacraments of the Trinity. And that all these sacraments are altogether true and holy and divine is most certain, and in them the whole hope of the soul is placed, although the presumptuous audacity of heretics, taking to itself the name of the truth, dares to administer them. They are but one after all, as the blessed Apostle tells us, saying: One God, one faith, one baptism, and it is not lawful to reiterate what once only ought to be administered. [Those therefore who have been so baptized] having anathematized their error may be received by the imposition of the hand into the one Church, the pillar as it is called, and the one mother of all Christians, where all these Sacraments are received unto salvation and everlasting life; even the same sacraments which obtain for those persevering in heresy the heavy penalty of damnation.
As is clear, the authoritative Council of Carthage, following the teachings of St. Augustine (who was at the Council), regarded the sacraments performed by heretics as “true, holy, and divine,” and said that for this reason we are not allowed to rebaptize heretics coming into the Church. In other words, this Council taught that we cannot baptize heretics who have already been baptized, because their sacraments are actually the Church’s sacraments. This may sound strange given that the 6th Ecumenical Council accepted both this teaching and the teaching of St. Cyprian that all heretics are to be rebaptized, so what’s going on here? The 11th century canonist Zonaras explains:
Thus, the opinions of the Fathers gathered at the council with the great Cyprian do not refer to all heretics and all schismatics. Because the Second Ecumenical Council, as we just pointed out, makes an exception for certain heretics and grants its sanction for their reception without repeating the baptism, demanding only their anointing with the Holy Chrism provided that they renounced their own heresies and all other heresies. (Quoted in Archimandrite Ambrosius, On the Question of the Order of Reception of Persons into the Orthodox Church, ch. 1).
That St. Cyprian’s teaching regarding the baptism of heretics only applies to some heretics and not all was later picked up by St. Mark of Ephesus (an expert on the Ecumenical Councils), who explicitly cites canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council in his explanation for why Roman Catholics are to be chrismated, even going so far as to say that “Latins must not be rebaptized [but rather only chrismated]… in accordance with the sacred canons.” It’s very important to keep in mind that the reason why St. Mark says we don’t rebaptize Latins, is not because of ekonomia (which would have been totally inappropriate at the time), but rather because this is what the canons teach. This belief was also repeated by his spiritual son, St. Gennadius Scholarius, and would go on to be the standard Orthodox belief as professed by all authoritative Pan-Orthodox Councils, starting with all four Patriarchates ratifying this prohibition on rebaptizing Latins at the +1484 Council of Constantinople.
The next Pan-Orthodox Council to do this would be the Council of Moldova +1642, also ratified by all four Patriarchates, which approved of St. Peter Mogila’s profession of faith which stated, in agreement with the teachings of Sts. Mark and Gennadius and the +1484 Council, that “the mystery of baptism is not to be repeated” on converts who were baptized in the name of the Trinity. Interestingly, however, the Council also states that chrismation is allowed to be repeated on those coming into the Church, however it does not say that this is always necessary.
Next, we have the Pan-Orthodox Council of Moscow +1667, which condemned the teachings of a previous Moscow Synod that called for the rebaptism of Roman Catholics; and in its explanation for why Roman Catholics are to be chrismated and not rebaptized, does the Council appeal to some kind of ekonomia? Nope! The Council cites canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council, the Council of +1484, and the witness of St. Mark of Ephesus, demonstrating that all of these sources have been synodically received as authoritative with regard to the question of receiving converts, and they all point towards one conclusion: we do not rebaptize converts who have received a Trinitarian baptism. Notice again that the reason why this Council says we don’t rebaptize Latins is not because of ekonomia, but rather because of akrebia, that is, because it’s what the canons and Fathers have taught.
The next Pan-Orthodox Council to uphold the traditional teaching on the reception of converts was the Council of Jerusalem +1672 (also ratified by all four Patriarchates), which said that those who baptize in the name of the Trinity have “valid baptisms” and because of this, they “are not again baptized.” The significance of this cannot be overstated. Not only does the Council of Jerusalem not say we don’t rebaptize heretics because of ekonomia, but rather it says that the reason we don’t receive heretics through baptism, is because their baptisms are already valid, thereby following the unanimous western patristic tradition of Sts. Stephen, Sixtus II, Augustine of Hippo, Siricius, Leo the Great, Optatus of Milevis, Jerome, Innocent I, Vincent of Lerins, Fulgentius of Ruspe, Gregory the Great, and Isidore of Seville. Such a belief is considered “modernist” by many “traditionalist” Orthodox today, yet this is the ancient and authoritative teaching of the Church.
[Some have tried to argue that Jerusalem +1672 only spoke of heretics within the Orthodox Church having “valid baptisms,” and that Patriarch Dositheus himself called for the rebaptism of Roman Catholics, however I don’t agree with these critiques for the following reasons: First, the language of the Jerusalem Synod can be read either way, and I will admit that by itself, it doesn’t have to read as an endorsement of baptisms outside the Church. However, if we read Jerusalem +1672 together with Moldova +1642 and Constantinople +1484 (as the majority of Patriarchates today do), then this is indeed the conclusion we draw, because both of these Councils canonically hashed out what it is that makes Roman Catholic baptisms acceptable. Second, Patriarch Dositheus never said Roman Catholics need to be rebaptized, he merely said that baptism without triple immersion runs the risk of being invalid (not that it actually is), and because Latins risk this, they are thus committing a sin (and sins do not equate to invalid sacraments). Importantly: this teaching was not ratified by the Synod, but was the Patriarch’s private opinion.]
One of the only seemingly authoritative Councils that reversed this historic practice of the Church was the 1756 Synod of Constantinople, which called for the rebaptism of Roman Catholics and Protestants (though not by name). This Council was ratified by four Patriarchates, however I would posit that this Synod was not authoritative, for these reasons: The Synod of 1756 was never received nor ratified by the Patriarchate of Moscow, which has repeatedly taught, since the Council of +1667 and another Synod in +1718, that rebaptizing converts from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism is a violation of the canons and Fathers. Moreover, as is evident from the above, the 1756 Synod was overturning the consistent teaching the Church’s authoritative Councils and Saints from the very beginning of the Church up until its own day, citing theologically bankrupt reasons. In the words of the 19th century bishop and canonist Nikodim Milaš:
The decision that each Roman Catholic as well as each Protestant who wishes to convert to the Orthodox Church is to be baptized anew was made by the 1756 Council in Constantinople during the time of Patriarch Cyril V. This conciliar decision was motivated by the Western Christians’ being baptized by pouring and not by three immersions. Since the only proper form of baptism is only that which is performed by three immersions, it follows that Western Christians must be considered not to have been baptized since they were not baptized in that manner and consequently, they must be baptized when they want to convert to the Orthodox Church. This decision by the above mentioned Council in Constantinople was called for by extraordinary circumstances, which arose in the 18th century in the relations between the Greek and Latin Churches, and was a reaction on the part of the Greek Church towards the aggression against that Church on the part of Latin propaganda. From a formal point of view the motivation for this decision has some basis since the Orthodox Church’s canons call for the baptism to be performed by triple immersion of the one baptized into the water and the term baptism itself, is derived from the act of immersion, and the same canons condemn that baptism which was done by a single immersion as was done by various heretics of the first centuries of the Christian Church. But the Church has never condemned that baptism which was done by pouring. Not only that, but the Church itself permitted such a form of baptism in the event of need and considered baptism by means of pouring as not contrary to the apostolic tradition. Therefore, the above-noted decision of the Constantinople Council cannot be considered as binding for the whole Orthodox Church since it is contrary to the practice of the Eastern Church of all centuries and particularly, to the practice of the Greek Church itself from the time of the division of Churches to the time of that Council in Constantinople. (Quoted in Archimandrite Ambrosius, On the Question of the Order of Reception of Persons into the Orthodox Church, ch. 3).
And lastly and most significantly, this Council was not received by the Church, not even the Patriarchates that ratified it in the first place! This becomes evident today because the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, i.e. the Sees that would be necessary for the 1756 Synod to be binding, explicitly contradict the teachings of this Synod, instead professing the faith of the Councils of +1484, +1642, +1667, and +1672, which they had all ratified in the past together with the rest of the Church, thus showing that these are the Councils that have truly been received by the Church Catholic. As any official Greek or Antiochian Orthodox website will tell you: “When receiving those coming into Holy Orthodoxy from religious confessions who profess a belief in the Holy Trinity and baptize with water in the Name of Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Church from ancient times has done so through means of Holy Chrismation or a profession of the Faith.” Especially significant is that this statement from the Church of Antioch cites its practice as being “from ancient times,” clearly alluding to all of the Ecumenical and Pan-Orthodox Synods that have authoritatively taught that Roman Catholics and Protestants have valid baptisms, showing the reception of the “Russian” tradition (which is simply the Ecumenical, Pan-Orthodox, and Patristic tradition) on this particular issue.
Likewise the Ecumenical Patriarchate together with the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem, under whose authority the 1756 Synod was held, at the recent Synod of Crete +2016, followed the lead of St. Mark of Ephesus in citing canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the 6th Ecumenical Council as the “basis of the canonical principles of Orthodox ecclesiology,” clearly alluding to the idea that the baptism of heretics is recognized as valid, something that the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its exarchs in America have put into practice throughout their jurisdictions by receiving Roman Catholics and Protestants via chrismation. All of this is, obviously, contra the teaching of the 1756 Synod, thereby showing its rejection by the Church (notice once again that none of these Patriarchates cite “ekonomia” as their reasoning for allowing reception by chrismation, but they all cite akrebia, i.e. the strict application of the canons and Fathers that say we are to chrismate and not rebaptize), a point further solidified by the fact that Crete +2016 refers to Constantinople +1484, Moldova +1642, and Jerusalem +1672, as “Great and Holy Councils,” listing them alongside the Photian and Palamite Councils of the post-schism era, while making no mention of the Synod of 1756. This is significant because, as shown above, all of these Councils forbade the rebaptism of heretics, and Roman Catholics in particular (+1484 even contains the service used for the reception of Roman Catholics by chrismation), something that the Synod of 1756 unilaterally rejected. And of course this position, and its broader ecclesiological implications, are also boldly upheld by the Russian Orthodox Church today:
The Orthodox Church, through the mouths of the holy fathers, affirms that salvation can be attained only in the Church of Christ. At the same time, however, communities which have fallen away from orthodoxy have never been viewed as fully deprived of the grace of God. Any break from communion with the Church inevitably leads to an erosion of her grace-filled life, but not always to its complete loss in these separated communities. This is why the Orthodox Church does not receive those coming to her from non-orthodox communities only through the sacrament of baptism. In spite of the rupture of unity, there remains a certain incomplete fellowship which serves as the pledge of a return to unity in the Church, to catholic fullness and oneness… The ecclesial status of those who have separated themselves from the Church does not lend itself to simple definition. In a divided Christendom, there are still certain characteristics which make it one: the word of God, faith in Christ as God and saviour come in the flesh (1 Jn. 1:1-2; 4, 2, 9), and sincere devotion. (Jubilee Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox.”)
Thus it’s clear that, because our foremost saintly experts on the Latin Church, namely Sts. Mark of Ephesus, Gennadius Scholarius, and Peter Mogila, all taught that rebaptizing heretics (Roman Catholics and Protestants in particular) was an error, and because this teaching was ratified by four authoritative Pan-Orthodox Councils, most of which cite the above mentioned Ecumenical/Pan-Orthodox Councils and Fathers who spoke on this topic, and because it is the official teaching and practice of all Orthodox Patriarchates today (including those who supposedly rejected it at the Synod of 1756), I think it can be said that this is the definitive position of the Orthodox Church on this question: those who are baptized outside of the Church in the name of the Trinity, do indeed have valid baptisms, and should not be rebaptized upon entering the Church.
What are the theological implications of this apparent fact? To avoid the risk of falling into error, I’m not going to speculate on that. However I will say that I generally find myself agreeing more and more with the writings of Seraphim Hamilton on this topic, specifically his article “Why I’m Not a Sacramental Rigorist,” as well as the overall position of the great 20th century Orthodox theologians and saints, including Fr. Dimitru Staniloae (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 2), Fr. John Meyendorff (Sister Churches: Ecclesiological Implications of Tomos Agapis), St. Sophrony of Essex (Striving for Knowledge of God), and St. Philaret of Moscow (Conversation between a Seeker and a Believer), which is summarized well by Fr. Georges Florovsky:
“If beyond the canonical limits of the Church the wilderness without grace begins immediately, if schismatics have not been baptized and still abide in the darkness that precedes baptism, then perfect clarity, strictness, and firmness are even more indispensable in the acts and judgements of the Church. Here no ‘forbearance’ is appropriate or even possible; no concessions are permissible. Is it in fact conceivable that the Church should receive sectarians or heretics into her own body not by way of baptism simply in order thereby to make their decisive step easy? … One may ask who gave the Church this right not merely to change, but simply to abolish the external act of baptism, performing it in such cases only mentally, by implication or by intention at the celebration of the ‘second sacrament’ (i.e. chrismation) over the unbaptized. Admittedly, in special and exceptional cases the ‘external act’, the ‘form’, may indeed be abolished; such is the martyr’s baptism in blood, or even the so-called baptisma flaminis. But this is admissible only in casu necessitatis… For in the Church herself the conviction has arisen among the majority that sacraments are performed even among schismatics, that even in the sects there is a valid, although forbidden, hierarchy. The true intention of the Church in her acts and rules would appear to be too difficult to discern, and from this point of view as well the ‘economic’ explanation of these rules cannot be regarded as convincing.” (The Limits of the Church)
While I won’t claim that everything in this article is dogma, I will say that, at the very least, you cannot honestly call someone who holds the position of Fr. Florovsky a modernist heretic. There is simply too much patristic and conciliar evidence against the popular “economic” view of this question, that one must concede that the view expressed by Fr. Florovsky is a legitimate theological opinion to hold. I also just want to stress that I don’t think those who believe in the idea of “ekonomia” are heretics or anything like that, I just don’t think they’re correct when they say that rebaptism for converts is the norm and chrismation is the exception because, from everything that’s written above, it seems to be the other way around. Thanks for reading!