Receiving Catholic Converts by Chrismation, Not Baptism, is the Ancient Traditional Orthodox Practice

For converts who have been baptized outside the Church, reception by Chrismation is the canonical tradition of the Church. This has been taught by many Orthodox Saints, such as St. Vincent of Lerins and St. Mark of Ephesus. This was affirmed by the Council of Trullo, the 1667 Synod in Moscow, the Council of Jerusalem, and many other authoritative councils and synods. Thus, it is the rule for most Orthodox churches around the world today . . . 


Hello everyone, this is Kabane the Christian (Seraphim Hamilton). 

Again, I've been gone for a while. I've not stopped thinking about YouTube,  but I've just been very busy and it would have been unwise to produce substantial videos every day. But I'm nearly done with exams now, so I wanted to get back to making some videos.

Today I want to talk about Catholic/Orthodox issues, otherwise stated as East/West issues, that's more of an accident of history. I want to talk about what precisely divides Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. 

Now, before I say anything else, I want to say that I'm going to be presenting my view as an Orthodox Christian who's done more reading than most people about this particular issue, but from the outset there are going to be other people in the Orthodox Church who disagree with me, some of them from the left, and some of them from the right. 

I would also want to state that what I am trying to do here is based on my concern to be faithful to the tradition of the Church. And I say that to preempt any concerns that I'm some kind of Latinizer or ecclesiological liberal. Even where my views aren't as rigorous as most, I would say that they are firmly grounded in the tradition of the Church, perhaps, I would argue, more than what are seen as the more rigorous or quote-unquote "traditionalist" approaches today.

So before I get into the actual differences that Orthodoxy has with Roman Catholicism, let me briefly survey the similarities. Now you will sometimes hear that Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are two sides of the same rationalistic scholastic coin, and I'm here to tell you that that is wrong. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are incredibly similar. They are more similar to each other than Roman Catholicism is with Protestantism. 

Now a lot of Orthodox kind of self-identification today is predicated on this idea that Orthodoxy is somehow opposed to the Roman Catholic/Protestant system, which is supposed to be basically one tradition. That's wrong. The reason this is wrong is because it's new. 

I said that I wanted to base myself on this tradition of the Church, and here's the truth about the tradition of the Orthodox Church. Criticisms of Roman Catholic theology in Orthodoxy traditionally — and I'm talking about in the medieval period once there was a severance in communion between East and West, and Byzantine theologians and Russian theologians began writing about the issues — criticisms have not been based on method principally. You don't start hearing this stuff about scholasticism being wrong as a method until you get to the 20th century, particularly by theologians such as Father John Romanides, who, in his effort to distinguish Orthodoxy from Catholicism, I believe, ended up seriously distorting Orthodoxy in many respects. 

In the medieval period there were plenty of Byzantine theologians who studied the Scholastics, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, revered the Scholastics, and appropriated scholastic theology in their own work. And I'm not just speaking about the so-called Latinophone party who were seeking union with the Latin Church, but also of saints such as Saint Gennadius Scholarius, who studied St. Thomas fervently, and disagreed with him fervently on, I would say, three principal issues, maybe four: papal primacy, the precise Catholic interpretation of that, the procession of the Spirit, that is, the Filioque, the doctrine of the divine energies, and the Immaculate Conception, because Thomas denied the Immaculate Conception, but Saint Gennadius Scholarius affirmed it. 

So, already you can start to see some of the differences between the way that these differences were presented in the medieval period and in the modern period by many Orthodox people. But scholasticism as a method was was not really criticized.  Fr. George Florovsky in the early 20th century and into the late 20th century wrote about the tendency in Orthodoxy to attempt to reduce theology to mysticism and to denigrate the role of reason in Christian theology. 

There's a wonderful article on this written by Father Matthew Baker (blessed memory) about the redemption of Reason in Christian theology according to the thought of Florovsky. He's universally regarded, including by saints such as St. Justin Popovich and Elder Sophrony Sakharov as the preeminent theologian of the 20th century, Orthodox theologian. 

And Florovsky called the attempt to denigrate the place of reason within Christian theology Neo-Appollinarism. It was the incarnation of Christ. In the Incarnation the Divine Logos took on a human mind, thereby redeeming it and giving us the capacity to think philosophically about theology, and thereby state the truth in very precise, metaphysically rigorous terms. 

Scholasticism as a method is not a problem. The thought of St. John of Damascus in terms of its method resemble in some ways what the medieval Latin scholastics sought to do.

Now this isn't to say that scholasticism is the only valid method of theology. It is one valid method, but it's not the only one. The Fathers of the Church pursued many different ways of approaching the great questions of Creation, and this is one of the legitimate, this is part of legitimate theological diversity. Not doctrinal diversity but theological diversity, differences in approach, differences in emphasis. The truth of God is infinite and therefore we can state it in an infinite number of true ways. 

So that's from the outset, because this whole thing about Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, two sides of the same coin, I think it's certainly wrong.

Roman Catholics and Orthodox, we share in common our teaching that salvation is the real transfiguration of the human creature in Christ. We are both sacramental in our theology. We believe in the apostolic succession of the priesthood, the concrete presence of Christ in the Eucharist,  the real efficacy of baptism to regenerate the human soul in Christ by the Spirit, and deification, which is affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's affirmed by St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, and other Latin theologians. We are both liturgical in our worship. There were, of course there have been a myriad of abuses since the Second Vatican Council, which I think of principally due to the Mass promulgated 1969 that Pope Paul the Sixth and not the Second Vatican Council itself, though there were elements in Vatican two which pointed towards him. 

But Roman Catholic and Orthodox, not only are very, very similar, I believe strongly that there are real and important differences which have to be solved before communion can be restored. But we shouldn't overemphasize the differences and create an entire mythology based on the idea that we need to be traditional, when in reality such a mythology is decidedly untraditional. 

So, speaking about theological similarities, what about Rome's ecclesial reality? What does the Orthodox Church say about whether Rome is the church or not? 

Now in circles on the internet you will hear a lot of complaining about anything which refers to Rome as a church. Rome is not a church, they say. Rome is a sect. Rome has no true sacraments. They're not baptized. They don't have the Eucharist, it's just bread and wine. Their priests are just like people, as are their bishops, as is the Pope himself. They're just laypeople. The only church is the Orthodox Church.

Now I believe the Orthodox Church is the true church. I believe it's the one Church of the Creed. But that does not mean that there is no genuine ecclesiality in Rome or even Protestantism. I believe Protestants are baptized Christians, mostly.

Now if you go to places like Orthodox info, they will have articles describing the schizophrenia of alleged ecumenists and branch theorists like myself. I don't believe in the branch theory, I'm not a hyper ecumenist — I believe ecumenical dialogue that's committed to truth as Florovsky did — and I'm not endorsing the way the ecumenical movement moved through history, because there have been a lot of silly abuses and a lot of ridiculous statements that way overstep the line. But mostly when you see these articles it is not schizophrenia on the part of anybody. It is just a failure to really try to understand what folks like me are saying. 

Now, for those outside Orthodoxy, who are wondering about the Orthodox position, I will state this (and this is of some significance for those inside Orthodoxy as well): the practice of the Orthodox Church overall and mostly by far is that we receive Roman Catholic priests without reordaining them; we vest them. We receive a person who has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit by Chrismation without baptizing them, or sometimes even by confession of faith. 

By the way, we also chrismate those who have left the church but returned. So when we chrismate somebody, that doesn't actually mean that they haven't received the sacrament earlier.  

This is the practice of the great majority of the Orthodox Church. The conception that we only, or that there is no sacramental reality outside the church is pretty local. It is prevalent in Greece and in the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. 

The best practice was only adopted in the 1970s, and by the way, for those who are getting ready to comment, I'm aware of the so-called economic theory and I'm gonna get to it in just a few moments. 

So most of the Orthodox Church does not rebaptize, doesn't reordain Roman Catholic priests, and it thereby acknowledges sacramental reality in Roman Catholicism. This is what the ecumenical Patriarchate has stated. It's what these, the para-organizations of  Orthodox bishops in America has stated. It's what's taught in most catechisms. It's what most bishops and priests teach: that there is real ecclesial reality outside of the Orthodox Church.

This is what Fr. Florovsky said in his article on the limits of the church, which is now a very famous article. But it's a remarkable article in a couple ways. First of all, it's a very very thoughtful approach. It's very creative, and creative in the good sense, in the sense that Maximus the Confessor was creative. It's also remarkable because of the ways that it anticipates Vatican II. You will often hear from what I would call rigorous, and I use that term non-polemically, those who believe that here's no sacramental reality outside the church, you often hear that Orthodox who believe in this are stealing from Vatican II. Well, actually it's the other way around. Vatican II was drawing on trends in Orthodox theology. 

Bt what Florovsky says is that throughout the history of the Church, the Church has received converts from other Christian, Trinitarian traditions with their baptisms intact, and if they have preserved the priesthood they have not reordained them.

But Florovsky says, well, sacraments don't exist apart from the Church. Sacraments are constitutive of the Church. The Eucharist is that which creates the Church, and they are received and produced within the Church. So there are two options. You can either take the Cyprianic view, which is that sacraments outside the Church are not sacraments at all, which raises the question of how we can not reordain or rebaptize people when they come to the Church, or we can say the Church is operative in these other communities, but not fully present. So in other words, there are degrees of ecclesiology. 

Now the critical point here when we affirm the Orthodox Church as the one church, is that before marks of the church are constitutive of its being. So if a person is validly baptized — and I don't have any problem with the concept of validity, it's just a way of saying it's real baptism — if a person is validly baptized outside of the Orthodox Church, they have certain markers of ecclesiology. But because not all of the markers are present, that community as a community is not thereby constituted as being a member of the Church of Christ, even thought the church is operative outside of the canonical boundaries the Orthodox Church. This is what Vatican II itself is saying, and as I say, it was drawing on Florovsky. 

Vatican II does not teach the branch theory and neither did Florovsky. If you say that this is the branch theory, you don't understand the branch theory, or you don't understand what is being said here. This is the concept that there are degrees of ecclesiology, but the Orthodox Church alone is constituted as the Church of Christ in the world. If you don't understand that, read Florovsky's article, or just listen to this again. But please don't say it's the branch theory, because it's not. 

Now, with that said, we want to address the economic interpretation. So, essentially the argument from economy begins with the fact that we do receive people without rebaptizing them. We do receive Roman Catholic priests without reordaining them. 

Now the problem which is presented to a person who believes there's no sacramental reality outside the church us that this has happened enough, and it has happened often enough, that if you don't believe that those people have thereby been received into the Church, you really don't know whether a priest is a priest or a bishop is a bishop, and then the man whom he ordains wouldn't be a bishop, so hypostatic succession could be broken. And then there are all the unbaptized people who are receiving Communion, who are participating in the life of the Church, and who may even be serving as priests, that you're just left with a terrible uncertainty about whether any of the sacraments around you are actually happening. 

So that won't work. So the explanation which has now become popular in Greece (it's a very local thing) is that we receive people by Chrismation through sacramental economy. And economy is a canonical term which means that we do not apply the strict sense of the canons. 

So, for example let's say you have an outburst of anger. The canons might prescribe a five-year excommunication for that: that is the strict application of the canons. But economy is applied and that is loosened - you can receive Communion after going to Confession. That's what economy is. 

Now the argument is that if somebody has received the true form of baptism or the true form of ordination then by economy the Church can, by Chrismation, fill that form with grace, thereby rendering the baptism effective at the moment of their reception into the Church. 

This is not the idea, by the way, that the baptism is thereby rendered sanctifying, in that it can operate outside the Church, but it has no power to lead to salvation outside of it. This is the idea that actually the baptism is made to exist at the moment of Chrismation, and the same for ordination to the priesthood. That's the sacramental theory, or the economic theory perception into the church. It's very popular. It is often stated as if this is the doctrine of the Church.

As a preliminary remark, what this would entail was essentially that almost all of the Church is in heresy, because this is affirmed by virtue of the idea that I've set forth to you. That there is genuine ecclesiology outside the Church is not some local idea which the ecumenical patriarch alone believes. This is formally affirmed by the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Slavs. So that's the majority of the Church right there.

This is why I would suggest that if you're truly consistent with this idea that there is no sacramental reality outside the Church, it's going to push you towards Old Calendarism in terms of the schismatic old calendarists, the so-called 'true Orthodox churches'. It's gonna push you in that direction because according to St. Maximus we are not to have communion with heretics. So if this is a heretical idea, then I don't know why you're communing with us. 

But more to the point concerning the tradition, it simply cannot be a case of sacramental economy, because economy is by definition a loosening of the canons. It is not the strict to the letter application of the canons. But reception by Chrismation or confession of faith for those who have been baptized outside the Church is the canonical tradition of the Church. This was affirmed by the Council of Trullo, it was affirmed by the 1667 Synod in Moscow, it was affirmed by the Council of Jerusalem, and it has been affirmed by many other local and ecumenical synods, and thus it is the rule for most Orthodox churches around the world today. It cannot be sacramental, it cannot be a case of canonical economy, because this is what the canons prescribed. The canons prescribed reception by Chrismation or confession by somebody who has been baptized in the name of the Trinity outside of the Church. So you have to find some other term to account for the idea. That it's economy is just, it's a self-contradiction, it's nonsense, theologically, economically speaking. 

Second, it's very new. It's a very new idea within the church. This really developed in the 18th century. In the 18th century there was increasing proselytization from the Uniates. I'm sorry if you don't like that term, that's just the best term for them, what they were always called until the middle of the 20th century. So if you're offended by the term then you just need to get a thicker skin. 

There was increasing proselytization by the Uniates, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople had a council in 1755 where they stated that all converts from Rome would now be rebaptized, and that there were no true sacraments outside the Church. This decision then became incorporated into the Rudder, which is a compilation of the canonical tradition by St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite.

Now, I only know this because I have a friend who is studying right now in Athens. But there has been a recent discovery about Saint Nicodemus that is going to be earthshaking in this dispute, and that is that in the earliest form of the Rudder St. Nicodemus actually forbade rebaptism. He prescribed exactly what the Council of Trullo prescribed. He prescribed what the 1667 synod of Moscow described, and that was because he was a great scholar of the canonical tradition. He knew that the canonical tradition was firmly against the idea that we would rebaptize those who were baptized in the name of the Trinity. What happened was that this was immediately after that 1755 Council, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople refused to allow Nicodemus, who was a monk and a faithful son of the Church and obedient to his Bishop, refused to allow him to publish it if it contradicted that very recent and very innovative council. So they either interpolated the present texts into the Rudder, or they made Saint Nicodemus write what is presently written, and what is there in present forms of the Rudder, which is the first indication that the economic interpretation has prevailed. 

So that is where it comes from. When you look beforehand in the history of the Church, you don't find it there. The council in Jerusalem states explicitly there are sacraments outside the Church. It really leaves no ambiguity to it. I recommend you read the texts concerning sacramental, concerning the reception of Roman Catholic. St. Mark of Ephesus, after the council of Florence, forbade the baptism of Catholics. This is not economy. He forbade it. You cannot forbid the strict application of the canons. 

Saint Basil the Great prescribed that if you were a schismatic you would be received by confession or by chrismation and what St. Basil means by schismatic versus heretic is not what we mean by it. For example, he includes Arianism as schismatic, but not heretic, because for St. Basil a heretic is somebody who denies something as significant as the threeness of God. And I know I just said Arians were included in schismatic not heretics. It's because the Arians would have said that Jesus was God, but the way they interpreted that was different than how the Church interpreted it at the Council of Nicaea. 

And many people quote St. Basil in favor of the rigorous view, but in fact when you read St. Basil's first canon, actually what he's doing is he's giving a history of the dispute. The most famous instance of this dispute within the history of the Church is in the 3rd century, and it is a dispute between St. Cyprian of Carthage and Pope St. Stephen of Rome. Pope Stephen is a saint of the Orthodox Church. And essentially what happened is that there was a practice in North Africa of receiving any schismatic into the church by full baptism, and St. Cyprian said that sacraments cannot exist outside of the Church.

Now here's the thing: many rigorous today will cite St. Cyprian as representing their view, which they take to be the constant and traditional practice of the church. However, it was an innovation in North Africa, and St. Cyprian knew it. He stated in response to St. Stephen that the practice of receiving people by confession or Chrismation was simply an ancient error, because St. Stephen said this is not the practice of the Church. The universal practice outside of North Africa in some parts of Asia Minor was to receive schismatics by Chrismation or confession of faith. 

St. Vincent of Lerins who wrote the Commonitorium, (He is the source of the famous Vincentian canon. You know, this is always, everywhere, and by all, that's the criterion of Orthodoxy), St. Vincent of Lerins used this as an example of how this Canon could be applied to disputes within the Church, which is strange given that this Canon is always cited by rigorists in defense of their own view of tradition. 

But St. Vincent actually took the dispute between Cyprian and Pope Steven to be settled in favor of Pope St. Stephen. He said that the practice which is received by the Church today is the practice of St. Stephen, of not baptizing those who come into the Church who have already been baptized in the name of the Trinity. And he says that this is the traditional practice of the Church. 

Another example, these are random examples from Church history, is St. Mark of Ephesus. Read what St. Mark of Ephesus stated at the council of Florence about Rome, and ask whether he was talking to people whom he did not believe to be bishops or priests. Saint Mark of Ephesus clearly regards Rome as having genuine ecclesiology. He addresses the Pope as he would a bishop. He spoke of this as a wound within the Church of Christ. If you want to see a very erudite study of St. Mark, look at Fr. Christian Cap's study on the council of Florence and the person of St. Mark of Ephesus. St. Mark clearly did not hold the rigorist view. And I'm citing these people, because it is so often stated that the Saints are universal on the rigorist view.

St. Philaret of Moscow was the metropolitan of Moscow in the 19th century, and he was very influential in the theology of Fr. George Florovsky. St. Philaret speaks, in his conversation with a seeker, he speaks of the separation between East and West as a wound in Christ's body, and he speaks of the Western church as a wounded, half-dead limb. And instead of calling Rome a false church, he calls them not purely true. And again, he is a saint of the Church.

Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, again I don't know if I pronounced that correctly, but next to Florovsky is the greatest theologian of the 20th century from the Orthodox Church. He was a man who was imprisoned for his faith, and he at times had the prayer of the heart. A man of great personal sanctity and also of academic brilliance in his dogmatic theology, he states that non-Orthodox confessions have ecclesiology in them, but they are not fully constituted as part of the Church. And he says in one sense, we might speak of the Church as including all of the baptized, every Christian confession separated from it, everybody who has some degree of ontological participation in this reality. But in another sense we would speak of the Church as only the Orthodox Church. You can find that, I believe, in the fourth volume of the English translation of his dogmatic theology. 

Elder Sophrony Sakharov spoke of degrees of communion with the Church, and he was a student of the theology of Fr. Florovsky. And he wrote a letter to Florovsky at one point, asking Florovsky to help him stay on the royal road of the fathers. So Florovsky is not merely an academic theologian, as if that could be separated from ascetic elders, but he was studied by men of great personal sanctity, such as Elder Sophrony. 

So while there are certainly many holy men who hold the rigorist view, and I'm not impugning people who hold the rigorist view, I'm not saying that they hold it because they're hateful or whatever, I'm just saying that there is a very strong case to be made against it from tradition. 

So, what does this all mean with respect to Rome? What I mean with respect to Rome is that Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology are more similar than they are different. There are very important differences, and we are going to get to those in the next video. And also we do not regard Rome, or I do not regard Rome, and I think the tradition as a whole is behind this view, we do not regard Rome as completely in the sacramental wilderness. The Church of Christ is operative in Rome, but it is not fully constituted as a member of her . So it's always going to be a yes and no kind of question.

So in my next video I'm going to be talking about the big differences, namely papal dogmas, the procession of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the divine energies, and then maybe some other minor issues such as questions about the Immaculate Conception, questions about purgatory, indulgences, stuff like that. 

So thanks for listening, and I will see you next time. 

  • Shqip
  • العربية
  • English
  • Français
  • Deutsch
  • Bahasa Indonesia
  • Italiano
  • Português
  • Русский
  • Español