Although he’s not a canonized saint, Patriarch Dositheus II of Jerusalem is an important figure in the inter-Orthodox debate regarding whether or not sacraments exist outside the canonical boundaries of the Church. This is because it was Patriarch Dositheus’ confession of faith that was ratified as dogmatic at the Council of Jerusalem +1672, wherein the following was decreed:

Moreover, we reject as something abominable and pernicious the notion that when faith is weak the integrity of the Mystery is impaired. For heretics who renounce their heresy and join the Catholic Church are received by the Church; although they received their valid Baptism with weakness of faith. Wherefore, when they afterwards become possessed of the perfect faith, they are not again baptized. (Confession of Dositheus, Decree 15).

Those who, like myself, believe in the reality of sacraments outside the Church, take this decree at face value: if someone receives a valid baptism while in a state of heresy or schism, but then later decides to join the Orthodox Catholic Church, the baptism they received does not need to be repeated because it was, in fact, a real sacrament. As straightforward as this seems, my detractors will point out that it’s not so clear.

In the broader context of the Council, they’ll say, the sacraments of the heterodox are implicitly called invalid, such as Decree 17, which states that the sacraments can only be performed by Orthodox clergymen who were ordained by canonical Orthodox bishops. Whereas I would interpret Decree 17 as stating that it is illicit (i.e. canonically irregular) for the non-Orthodox to perform the sacraments, however not impossible, my detractors will read this as saying that the heterodox are indeed incapable of performing the sacraments. With that, they’ll interpret Decree 15 as not referring to all heretics, but rather simply an individual who was baptized in the Orthodox Church, apostatized, and then came back to the Church. Such a person, they’ll argue, doesn’t need to be rebaptized because he received baptism in the Church, however the heterodox do need to be rebaptized because they did not.

So there we have it, two interpretations of the Council of Jerusalem +1672 on the question of sacramental validity, both of which seem quite plausible. So, how do we break the tie in this particular case? Well, as my detractors are quick to point out, we shouldn’t separate the theology of the Councils from the theology of those who were there, thus if we want to know what the Confession of Dositheus was trying to teach us on this question, we should look to the writings of Patriarch Dositheus himself to see where he lands, and indeed, my detractors are usually one step ahead of me on this. They’ll usually point me towards the following statement made by Dositheus in his own theological writings:

Those who are without good cause Baptized without three emersions and immersions risk being unbaptized. Therefore, Latins who perform baptism by aspersion commit mortal sin. (Quoted from [schismatic] Archbishop Chrysostomos, Common Misunderstandings on the Reception of Converts)

There we have it, Patriarch Dositheus says that the Latins commit a mortal sin whenever they baptize someone because such a person risks not actually being baptized, a sentiment that seems to lend itself towards the pro-rebaptism stance, which can then be read back into Jerusalem +1672 itself. Pretty open and shut, right? Not so fast.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual argument Dositheus is making. He writes that because the Latins have turned an exceptional form of baptism, namely aspersion, into the rule, they run the risk of being unbaptized, and thus commit a mortal sin. This is quite odd, because if Dositheus believed that the Latins were unbaptized simply by virtue of being separated from the Church, why would he say that they “risk being unbaptized” (note: not that they are unbaptized) when they baptize by pouring, rather than simply saying they are unbaptized for being heretics? In other words, why does Dositheus locate the risk of the Latins possibly being unbaptized, not in the fact that they are heterodox, but rather in the questionable form of baptism that they’re using? Quite simply, it’s because Dositheus believed in the reality of sacraments outside the Church.

How do I know this? It’s because Dositheus himself tells us in the very same volume that the above mentioned quote comes from! After recounting the famous debate between St. Cyprian and Pope St. Stephen on the question of rebaptism, Dositheus writes the following:

So [St. Cyprian and his followers] misinterpreted the apostolic tradition and narrowed down the meaning of what the Apostle says [one faith, one Lord, one baptism] in a general sense… So The great Cyprian wrote decisively in conciliarity, saying that the heretics, according to what Jeremiah said in the second chapter, “left the fountain of living water, and hewed out broken cisterns for themselves, which could not hold water” ( Jer. 2:13 ). Therefore Jerome also wrote in the dialogue against the Luciferians: “Blessed Cyprian tried to avoid the commonly visited lakes, and not drink someone else’s water.” That is why Cyprian rejected the baptism of heretics, but in vain. However, he did not do this out of love for disputes and did not approve this decision with anathema, and therefore was not condemned as a heretic, because he did not persist in his opinion. (Quoted from Sergei Fedorov, The Reality of Sacraments Outside the Church)

As is quite clear, Patriarch Dositheus believed that St. Cyprian was wrong about the question of rebaptizing heretics! Not only does he say that Cyprian’s position was a “misinterpretation” of apostolic tradition, but he even says that the only reason Cyprian wasn’t condemned as a heretic for this was because he “did not persist in his opinion.” This is quite a shocking revelation, especially for those who have grown accustomed to thinking of Dositheus as a supporter of rebaptism. Clearly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Once it’s understood that Patriarch Dositheus followed the tradition of Pope St. Stephen, Pope St. Sixtus II, St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope St. Siricius, St. Optatus of Milevis, St. Jerome, Pope St. Innocent I, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, Pope St. Leo the Great, the Council of Carthage +419, Pope St. Gregory the Great, and St. Isidore of Seville, in recognizing the validity of sacraments outside the Church, it should be clear why my above given interpretation of Jerusalem +1672 is the most plausible. Namely, that when Decree 15 stated that heretics have valid baptisms and thus don’t need to be rebaptized upon entering the Church, we are to take this in its literal and plain sense, given that’s clearly how Dositheus (whose confession of faith constituted the Council) would have read the decree himself.

This point is further solidified by the fact that, just a few years earlier, the Pan-Orthodox Council of Moscow +1667 endorsed this “Augustinian ecclesiology” in forbidding and condemning the rebaptism of Roman Catholics; and the implication of this, that heretics have valid sacraments, was explicitly confirmed just a few decades later in the 1723 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs:

We reject as a most disgusting abomination [the opinion] that a lack of faith violates the fullness of the Sacrament. Because heretics (whom the Church accepts after they rejected heresy and joined them to the Catholic Church), despite the fact that their faith was initially flawed, received a perfect baptism; therefore, when they subsequently acquire perfect faith, they are not re-baptized. (Ibid.)

And again, in 1903, the Holy Synod of Moscow reaffirmed the teaching of the Church on this matter in a letter to the Church of Constantinople:

We believe in the sincerity of their faith in the Most Holy and Life-Giving Trinity and therefore we accept the baptism of both. We honor the apostolic succession of the Latin hierarchy and receive the clergy who come to our Church in their present dignity. (Ibid.)

Thus, it’s no wonder why this clear affirmation of the reality of heretical sacraments would go on to be explicitly endorsed by a fair number of recent saints, including St. Philaret of Moscow, St. Theophan the Recluse, St. Nicholas of Japan, St. Seraphim Sobolev, and Hieromartyr Daniel Sysoev (see appendix below). This also makes sense of why the great Russian theologian Fr. Georges Florovsky would go on to write his fantastic article, “The Limits of the Church,” wherein he demonstrates the weakness of the widespread (but minority) opinion of those who believe that there are no sacraments outside the Church, instead advocating for the traditional Russian, and simply Orthodox, belief that heretics can and do perform the sacraments outside of the Church’s canonical boundaries: it’s because this position was dogmatically affirmed for the Orthodox Church via the Confession of Patriarch Dositheus. Thanks for reading!

Appendix: Modern Fathers Against Rebaptism

St. Theophan the Recluse:

We are private individuals; and in their opinions they must conform to the decision of the Orthodox Church. It seems that our Church is condescending to Catholics and recognizes the power of not only the baptism of the Catholics and other sacraments, but also the priesthood, which is very significant. (Quoted from Sergei Fedorov, The Reality of Sacraments Outside the Church)

St. Nicholas of Japan:

The sacrament of the episcopate is mutually recognized by us [with Catholics] and respected. (Ibid.)

St. Seraphim Sobolev:

Among the errors of Vladimir Solovyov, one should also refer to his calling Catholicism the Church. Catholicism should be called a schism with heretical confession, due to which, although there is apostolic succession with the sacraments here, but the inner regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit is not effective for Catholics and, therefore, it does not regenerate and does not save them. Vladimir Soloviev is even more mistaken when he calls Protestantism the Church. There is no regenerating grace here at all, for there is no sacrament of holy chrismation and there is no apostolic succession. Therefore, Protestantism , as an unauthorized gathering, is even farther away, than Latinism, from the Orthodox Church… although, according to the apostolic succession, the inner regenerating grace is communicated in Catholicism through the sacraments of baptism and chrismation. (Quoted from Valery Sinilschikov, St. Seraphim Bogucharsky on the reality of heretical sacraments)

Fr. Daniel Sysoev (hieromartyr):

St. Tarasius speaks not as just a person, but as the chairman of the Ecumenical Council. This [that we recognize valid sacraments outside the Church] is the official answer of the Council to the question of the monks about the possibility of ordination among heretics. all 1 session is devoted to this. So it is the official teaching of the Church, expressed at the most serious level… If the sacraments were not performed outside the canonical boundaries of the church, then there would always be one rite – Baptism. The opinion of St. Hilarion that all the sacraments [of heretics are invalid] is not based on the Tradition, and contradicts the spirit and letter of the canons, that in the unification they are given impulsively. Sacraments from personally uncondemned heretics are accepted because they are not personally condemned. This is a manifestation of the authority of the keys that the Church has. (Quoted from a forum he commented on before his blessed repose)

St. Philaret of Moscow:

Mark you, I do not presume to call false any Church which believes that Jesus is the Christ. The Christian Church can only be either purely true, confessing the true and saving divine teaching 0without the false admixtures and pernicious opinions of men, or not purely true, mixing with the true and saving teaching of faith in Christ the false and pernicious opinions of men… but I just simply look upon them; in part I see how the Head and Lord of the Church heals the many deep wounds of the old serpent in all the parts and limbs of his Body, applying now gentle, now strong, remedies, even fire and iron, in order to soften hardness, to draw out poison, to clean wounds, to separate out malignant growths, to restore spirit and life in the numbed and half-dead members. In this way I attest my faith that, in the end, the power of God will triumph openly over human weakness, good over evil, unity over division, life over death. (Quoted in Fr. Georges Florovsky, The Limits of the Church)

Anyone baptized in the name of the Trinity is a Christian, no matter what confession he belongs to. (Quoted from Sergei Fedorov, The Reality of Sacraments Outside the Church)

Note: This should be taken together with that fact that St. Philaret also prepared a rite for receiving Roman Catholic priests into the Church, wherein they are to be received without baptism, chrismation, or ordination, i.e. they are received as already possessing holy orders (source).