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Fr. George Dragas

The Manner of Reception of Roman Catholic Converts into the Orthodox Church

with Special Reference to the Decisions of the Synods of 1484 (Constantinople),1755 (Constantinople) and 1667 (Moscow) *


of the Holy αnd Great Church of Christ

οn the Baptism of Converts from the West

Since many are the means by which we are made worthy of attaining to our sαlναtion, and some of these are interconnected and form α sequence with each other in α ladder like manner, so to speak, all aiming at one and the same end. First of all, then, is the Baptism, which God delivered to the sacred Apostles, such being the case that without it the rest are ineffectual. For it says: "Unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven "(John 3:5). The fιrst manner of generation brought man into this mortal existence. Ιt was, therefore, imperative, and necessarily so, that another more mystical manner of generation be found, neither beginning in corruption nor terminating therein, whereby it would be possible for us to imitate the author of our salvation, Jesus Christ. For the baptismal water in the font takes the place of the womb, and there is birth for him who is born, as Chrysostom says (PG 59:153); while the Spirit which descends οn the water has the place of God who fashions the embryo. And just as he was placed in the tomb and οn the third day returned to life, so likewise they who believe, going under the water instead of under the earth,in three immersions depict in themselves the three-day grace of the resurrection (Gregory of Nyssa PG 46: 585), the water being sanctifιed by the descent of the Αll-holy Spirit, so that the Body might be illumined by the water which is visible, and the sοul might receive sanctification by the Spirit which is invisible. For just as water in α cauldron partakes of the heat of the fιre, so the water in the font is likewise transmuted, by the action of the Spirit which is invisible (Cyril of Alexandria, PG 73:245). It cleanses those who are thus baptized and makes them worthy of adoption as sons. Not so, however, with those who are initiated in α different manner. Instead of cleansing and adoption, it renders them impure and sons of darkness.

Just three years ago, the question arose: When heretics come over tο us, are their baptisms acceptable, given that these are administered contrary to the tradition of the holy Apostles and divine Fathers, and contrary to the custom and ordinance of the Catholic and Apostolic Church? We, who by divine mercy were raised in the Orthodox Church and who adhere to the canons of the sacred Apostles and divine Fathers, recognize only one Church, our holy catholic and apostolic Church. It is her sacraments, and consequently her Βαptism, that we accept. Οn the other hand, we abhor, by common resolve, all rites not administered as the Holy Spirit commanded the sacred Apostles, and as the Church of Christ performs to this day. For they are the inventions of deprαved men, and we regard them as strange αnd foreign το the whole Apostolic tradition. Therefore, we receive those who come over to us from them as unholy and un-baptized. In this we follow our Lord Jesus Christ who commanded his οwn disciples tο baptize, "in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19); we follow the sacred and divine Apostles who order us to baptize aspirants with three immersions and emersions, and in each immersion to say one name of the Holy Trinity (Apostolic Canon 50); we follow the sacred Dionysius, peer of the Apostles, who tells us "to dip the aspirant, stripped of every garment, three times in α fοnt containing sanctified water and oil, having loudly proclaimed the threefold hypostasis of the divine Blessedness, and straight α way to seal the newly baptized with the most divinely potent chrism, and thereafter to make him α participant in the super-sacramental eucharist (Οn Ecclesiastical Hierarchies, ΙΙ: 7, PG 3:396); and we follow the Second (canon 7) and Penthekte (Canon 95) holy Ecumenical Councils, which order us to receive as unbaptized those aspirants to Οrthοdoxy who were not baptized with three immersions and emersions, αnd in eαch immersion did not loudly invoke one of the diυine hypostaseis, but were baptized in some other fashion.

We too, therefore, adhere to tlιese divine and sacred decrees, and we reject and abhor baptisms belonging to heretics. For they disagree with and are αlient to the divine Apostolic dictate. They are useless waters, as St. Ambrose αnd St. Athanasius the Great said. They give nο sanctifιcation to such as receive them, nor avail at all to the washing away of sins. We receive those who come over tο the Orthodox faith, who were baptized without being baptized, as being unbaptized, and without danger we baptize them in accordance with the Apostolic and synodical Canons, upon which Christ's holy and apostolic and catholic Church, the common Mother of us all, fιrmly relies.

Together with this joint resolve and declaration of ours, we seal this our Horos, being as it is in agreement with the Apostolic and Synodical dictates, and we certify it by our signatures.

Ιn the year of salvation 1755,

+CYRIL by the mercy of God Archbishop of Constantinople

+MATTHEW by the mercy of God Pope and Patriarch of the great city of Alexandria and Judge of the Oecumene

+PARTHENIOS by the mercy of God Patriarch of the holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

It is clear from this Ηοros that the main objection to Roman Catholic Baptism was primarily the manner in which it was celebrated. There are clear references by nuance here to the absence of triple immersion and to the Western innovation of celebrating baptism by aspersion, which was sanctioned by the Council of Trent. The historian Sergios Makraios particularly stresses this point.(32) The Kollyvades of Mount Athos, Eustratios Argenti and, in the nineteenth century, the erudite scholar priest Constantine Oikonomos also defended it. The distinguished contemporary professor of Athens University, Protopresbyter George Metallinos, has produced a sustained defense of this position. His book, I Confess Οne Baptism ...,(33) also recently published in English translation by St. Ρaul's Monastery of the Holy Mountain (1994) is extremely valuable for the strict canonical view (or αkribeia view) on the reception of converts into Orthodoxy. The only weakness of this book lies in its failure to review carefully the arguments for the lenient canonical view (or economic view) which utilizes Chrismation for the reception of converts into Orthodoxy along with confession of the Orthodox Faith and denunciation of heterodox errors. Fr. Metallinos would have provided a fully convincing argument, had he produced as careful an analysis of the view of the 'opponents,' as it were, of Cyril V and the Synod of 1755 and had he exposed its canonical deficiency (i.e. one-sidedness).

The Latin opposition to Cyril V intensified after his Synodal decisions of 1755 and so his second downfall was brought about in 1757.(34) Kallinikos ΙΙΙ or IV (35) (previously Metropolitan of Proilavou) replaced him but he too was overthrown by the people as "a Frank" and "Latin- minded" and replaced by Seraphim formerly of Philippoupolis. Kallinikos' views were set out in a treatise, which was written in 1753 while the controversy over re-baptizing Latin converts to Orthodoxy was at its height. This treatise was published from Cod. 122 of the Library of Zagora in 1931, and it is important to review it here in order to gain a real insight into the view of the opponents of Cyril V.(36)

The text is divided into two sections: one dealing with the Armenians and the way they were always received into the Orthodox Church and the other, with the Latins and how these too were received into Orthodoxy. It argues that Chrismation and Confession, or signing of a Libellus (Statement) of faith, were the main norms for accepting converts into the Orthodox fold in both cases. Particularly interesting is the discussion over the Latin baptism by aspersion, which included sealing with saliva and putting salt in the mouth of the candidate for baptism. Kallinikos explains that Thomas Aquinas first introduced these customs in the West at the time of the Emperor Ioannis Vatatzis i.e. some 530 years since this innovation started. Symeon οf Thessaloniki, says Kallinikos, had already criticized the Latins fοr not using a triple immersion. The objections then, raised against Western Baptism were not something relatively new, but had had earlier roots. Why was it that previously the Church of the East tolerated such Western practices, Kallinikos asks, and now it finds them intolerable?

The decision of the Synod of 1755, however, continued to be normative for many cases but not without exceptions: Ιn 1760 Ioannikios III allowed Ananias of Pringipos to receive into the Orthodox Church an Armenian by Chrismation alone.(37) Ιn 1786 Patriarch Prokopios issued α Canonical Regulation to Gerasimos formerly of Raska, whereby he was given the right to baptize the Uniate Narkissos who willingly and without any external pressure sought to join the Orthodox Church.(38) Α similar Regulation was issued in 1803 by Patriarch Kallinikos formerly Metropolitan of Nicaea, who remarked that Roman Catholic baptism does not procure salvation.(39) Constantine Oikonomos, writing to his friend Alexander Strouzas in Russia in 1846 refers to the reception of two Latin priests by Patriarch Germanos in 1844 by re-baptism.(40) Ιn 1846, however, Patriarch Anthimos VI, formerly Metropolitan of Ephesus, received Makarios of Amida (Djarbekir) and many other Roman Catholics by the signing of an appropriate libellus of faith.(41) Α year later Patriarch Anthimos VI received a certain Latin named Athanasius who was a close friend of Makarios of Amida by the signing of a libellus.(42) Ιn 1860 under Ρatriarch Ioakim ΙΙ of Constantinople (1860-3, 1873-8) the Antiochian Throne received 50,000 thousand Roman Catholics and Melchites by Chrismation and the signing of an appropriate libellus, dated: Constantinople, 26 November 1860 and signed by Oikonomos Jean Habib and Gabriel Pjibaras.(43)

Αll these examples clearly indicate that the decision of 1755 did not become a universal norm. This was formally acknowledged in 1875 when α Patriarchal and Synodal Decision was sent to all Bishops everywhere, whereby the manner of reception of Latin converts was left to the judgement of the local Bishops.(44) Ιn 1878, however, another Synodical Epistle (dated 24 Apr. 1878) stipulates that not merely Chrismation but re-baptism as well should be the norm for receiving Latins into Orthodoxy.(45) Ιn 1879,(46) 1880(47) and 1 (48) other Synodal Decisions adopt the economy of receiving Latin converts only by Chrismation and the signing of a libellus.(49) Yet, rebaptisms of Latin converts did not vanish. They were practiced especially in the Holy Land and in Syria.(50)

Ι believe that collecting and carefully reviewing these Patriarchal Synodical documents exposes the real nature of the 'problem' and opens up the way towards an adequate solution. Το my mind, there is here a sort of asymmetry that deals in an either/or way with the ecclesiological paradox of schism and heresy, which cannot be either explained away or rationalized in a way that an one-track solution tends to promote. The document that has attracted my attention more than any other in this connection is the Patriarchal and Synodical Encyclical of 1875.(51) Ι believe that it has grasped the whole issue in the most responsible and realistic way. Its strength lies in that it recognizes the true nature of the problem and refrains from providing a clear-cut solution. This implies sensitivity, maturity and charisma that elevate the Great Church of Christ to the pedestal, which belongs to it by sacred tradition and divine favor.

Patriarchal αnd Synodical Letter (26 May 1875)

"Having considered in synod the matter under discussion, namely, the baptism of the Latins, that is, whether it can be regarded as valid or not, we saw clearly in the historical facts and the ecclesiastical enactments of various times, that this matter bears many pros and cons and has had many advocates and opponents, which certainly has not escaped Your Excellency. For even before the Schism, Patriarch Kerularios used to baptize the Latins who converted tο Orthodoxy, as it is stated in the Pittakion which Humbert, the Exarch of Leo ΙΧ left οn the Table of St. Sophia against Patriarch Michael, αnd from an epistle of this Patriarch tο Patriarch Peter of Alexandria and from the fact that this act of Kerularios appears to have fοund many imitators as time went οn. Indeed the Lateran Synod of 1215 criticized the Orthodox for re-baptizing the Latins, i.e. the converts from the Latin Church. After the Schism, however, we have, αmong the many others, Mark Eugenikos, who pronounces that we should only anoint the Latins with Myrhon, and besides, there are synodical decisions, such as that summoned in 1207, and that summoned in 1484 under Patriarch Symeon in which the other three Patriarchs were present, οn which occasion the well known Acolouthy was composed, and also another one in 1600 summoned in the Royal city and another one summoned in Moscow by Patriarch Ioasaph of Moscow in 1667 on which occasion two other Patriarchs from the East were present, Paisios of Alexandria and Makarios of Antioch. All these declared that only with Myrhon (Chrism) should we perfect the converts from the Western Church. Οn the other hand we have the Decision taken in Moscow in 1622 by Philaret Patriarch of Russia and the Horos which was issued under Cyril V, Patriarch of Constantinople in 1755 αnd which became accepted by all the then Patriarchs, which indicates that they [the Latin converts] should be baptized. Thus, the baptisιn of the Westerners, was sometimes regarded as valid, because it wαs done in the name of the Holy Trinity and was referred to the proper baptism, and sometimes as invalid, because of the many irregularities of form with which it was clothed with the passage of time by the constantly increasing vain study of the Western Church. Hence, the Most Holy Russian Church, taking its lead from obvious reasons makes use of the Decisions of the newer Synod of Moscow under Patriarch Ioasaph of Moscow, discerning that they are contributive tο the benefιt of the Church in that place, whereas the Churches in the East consider it necessary for the benefit of Orthodoxy to follow the Horos which had been issued under Cyril V. Since these things happen to be such, it is left to the spiritual discernmeιτt of Your Excellency αnd of the rest of the Synodical members to accept or reject the use of economy which another Church has upheld for more than two centuries without wανering, if, as she writes, this economy implies many benefits to the Church there and secures her from encroaching dangers. Whenever, then, the local orthodox Churches might be able tο gather together, then, with God's help, the desired agreement οn this subject will take place, as with others as well."(52)

Ιn the above document, the Holy Synod looks to the future for a unanimous Orthodox solution to the 'problem' of reception of cοnverts from the Western Church into Orthodoxy. Ι believe that the solution is already there. It is not uniformity, but the freedom, which characterizes the Orthodox position. Such position lays stress οn the act of the Holy Spirit who perfects (teleioi) in us all that the Lord has accomplished for us objectively.


* This paper was prepared for and read at the Orthodox/Roman Catholic Dialogue (USA) in 1998.

32. See Makraios' text in Sathas, bibliography (1885).

33. Οp.cit. Bibliography (1983) and (1994).

34. See Makraios οp. cit. and bibliography Savrames (1933) and Gritsopoulos (1959).

35. Apart from Makraios' and Hypsilantes' accounts see Dyovounites, bibliography (1915).

36. See Kallinikos Proilavou, bibliography (1931).

37. Gedeon, Κανονικαί Διατάξεις, op.cit., tom. 2, p. 256.

38. Cf. Ekklesiastike Aletheia 1906, p.47. Cited by Germanos of Ainos, οp.cit.

39. Gedeon, Κανονικαί Διατάξεις, οp cit., tom. 2, p. 88.

40. Cited by Germanos of Ainos, οp.cit. p. 375.

41. Germanos of Ainos, οp.cit. p. 315. See further details οn this in L. Petit, οp. cit. pp. 132ff.

42. ibid. p.315. Also Delikanes Πατριαρχικά Έγγραφα ii, (1904) pp. 323-327.

43. See. L.Petit, op.cit. pp.133f where the text of the Libellus is produced in French translation. See also Ζ.Ν.Matha , Athens 1884, p. 182. For the original Greek document of the Patriarchal and Synodical Memorandum for this occasion see Karmires, Τα Δογματικά και Συμβολικά Μνημεία, vοl. ii, pp. 993-998.

44. Theotokas, Νομολογία, bibliography (1897) p. 369, cited by Germanos of Ainos, p. 316.

45. Theotokas, Ibid. p. 370.

46. Theotokas, Ibid. p. 370.

47. Theotokas, Ibid. p. 371.

48. Theotokas, Ibid. p. 371.

49. Theotokas, Ibid. p. 316.

50. See, L. Petit, οp.cit. p. 135.

51. For this text see, Μ.J.Gedeon, Kavovικαί Διατάξεις, οp. cit. tom. ii ( 1889) pp. 365-373. Cf. also Μ.G. Theotokas, Νομολογία, ... and Agathangelos of Chalcedon, bibliography ( 1931).

52. The text was taken from the Memorandum of Metropolitan Agathangelos of Chalcedon to His Αll-Divine Αll-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Photius, published in Ορθοδοξία, 6:66 (1931 ) pp. 418-9. The translation is mine. Another edition is in Karmiris, Τα dογματικά και Συμβολικά Μνημεία, vοl. ii, pp. 977f.

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