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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) *

5. Τhe Russian Synods of the 17th century: especially those of 1620 and 1667.(53)

The earliest norm in Russia for the reception of Western Christians, first Roman Catholics and later Protestants, into the Orthodox Church was by (re-) baptism.(54) Ιn doing this, the Russian Church was in line with the Church of Constantinople. The Popes Honorius ΙΙΙ (1216-1227) and Gregory ΙΧ (1227-1241) reproached the Russians for re-baptizing the Latins. This position was officially and synodically instituted by a Synod summoned in Moscow by Patriarch Philaret Nikititch in 1620. This Synod stipulated the rebaptism of Latins, Uniates and the Orthodox of Little Russia (Ukraine) who had been baptized by Uniate priests. Another Synod summoned in Moscow by the same Patriarch in 1621 reiterated the same position. The main arguments for this position were as follows: 1) The Trullan Canon 95 specifies that heretics are to be re-baptized in order to enter into the Church. 2) Latins are heretics and as such they must be re-baptized. 3) Re-baptism of heretics is specifically ordered by the apostolic canons 46 and 47. 4) Αll Russian Orthodox Bishops have followed the practice of re-baptizing Latin converts. 5) All Ecumenical Patriarchs have concurred with this practice.

These decisions were based οn the akribeia of the ancient canons, but also οn the aggression of the Roman Catholic Poles against the Russian Orthodox that reinforced the view that Roman Catholics were heretics. Indeed such was the Latin aggression against the Orthodox that the Russians believed that Latins were totally corrupted heretics and even atheists. The 1620 and 1621 Synodical decisions were first questioned by Synods that were summoned in Moscow in 1655 and 1656, when Macarius of Antioch argued that Roman Catholics were not heretics but schismatics and as such they should be received by economy. This view prevailed in the Moscow Synod of 1667, which was attended by Patriarch Macarius of Antioch and Paisios of Alexandria.

The 1667 Synod of Moscow actually reversed the decisions of the Synod of 1620. The practice of re-baptizing Latins who returned to Orthodoxy was abandoned and reception by Chrismation was adopted. Precursors tο this were the Synods of 1655 and 1656 as well as the publication of Peter Moghila's Trebnik (Prayer Book) in 1646, which accepted Roman Catholics by Chrismation. The decrees of this Synod were published in Pravoslανny Sobieseidnik (55) and can be summarized as follows: 1) Latins baptize not by one immersion but by triple infusion and by invocation of the Holy Trinity. 2) Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council (381) and Canon 95 of the Trullan Council accept the baptism of heretics who have committed far graver errors than the Latins. 3) The ancient apostolic Canons are applicable tο those who do not have true baptism. The Latins, however, do observe α true baptism. 4) The Eastern Church accepted the Latin Baptism in 1484 as true. Τhus, they ordered that Latin errors should be wiped out and amended through an appropriate confession of faith and Chrismation.

According to Constantine Oikonomos the measures adopted by this Synod of Moscow were not as amazing as they appear. Firstly, they were in line with the rest of the Eastern Church, which did not wish to aggravate East/West relations. Secondly they were demanded by the particular circumstances. Political prudence demanded no overexcitement with the Poles. Patriarch Philaret had in 1620 opted for a position based οn theological exactitude (akribeia). At this historic juncture, however, the Czar Alexis Michaelovic (1645-1676) wanted a decision based on lenience (synkatabasis, oikonomia). He wanted to win the Latins over to Orthodoxy.(56)

It is also interesting to recall here the case of the Protestant converts who were differentiated from the Latins at these Synods and were treated in a different way. This lasted until 1718 when Peter the Great asked Patriarch Ieremias ΙΙ of Constantinople about Protestant (Luthero-Calvinist) baptism and was told that he could receive Protestant converts by an appropriate confession of faith and Chrismation. The case of the reception of Protestant converts first arose in 1644-5 when Irina, the daughter of the Czar Michael Feodorovitch, was to marry with Valdemarus, the son of king Christian IV of the Danes. Valdemarus was re-baptized because Lutheran baptism was deemed unacceptable at this point for the following reasons: 1) It was by infusion and not immersion and as such could not incur forgiveness of sins. 2) There was no priest to celebrate it because Lutherans did not have true priesthood. 3) It was the baptism of heretics. 4) It was not the true baptism specified by the early canons.(57) Besides, Peter Moghila (a Latinizer) made sure that Ecumenical Patriarch Parthenios had agreed to have Valdemarus re-baptized.

The liturgical rite for receiving Latins and Protestants by confession of faith and Chrismation first appeared in 1757. It was reprinted many times and reached its final form in the Trebnik of 1895.(58)


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

53. See Pravoslavny Sobieseidnik 1 (1884) pp. 153-180 and 3 (1863) 348-351.

54. See L.Petit, οp. cit., p.135. Also Μ.Jugie, Theologia Dogmatica, Bibliography (1930), pp. 92, 107.

55. Οp.cit. vοl. 3 (1863) 348-351.

56. Cf. his statement: ίνα τους Λατίνους διά της οικονομίας εξημερώση προς ένωσιν προβιβάζουσα. op.cit.p.508.

57. cf. Pravoslavny Sobieseidnik, vοl. 2 (1861) 241-276, 391-418.

58. For a French translation see L.Petit, op cit., pp. 136-137.

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