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An Agreed Statement of The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation

Baptism and "Sacramental Economy"

St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, New York, June 3, 1999


For the past three years the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has directed its attention to the concluding section of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: in particular to the confession of "one baptism," and to the faith in one Holy Spirit and in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" to which this single baptism is so closely related, and with which it constitutes an indivisible unity. We have chosen to consider this topic, first of all, as part of a larger and continuing reflection on baptisms constitutive role in establishing and revealing the fundamental character of the Church as a communion. Secondly, we wish to respond to the criticisms made by various groups of the statement issued by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches at Balamand, Lebanon, in 1993, "Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion," especially to protests against that statement's call for an end to the practice of rebaptism of converts (n. 13) and its reference to the Catholic and Orthodox communions as "sister churches"(n. 14). Finally, we recognize that our consideration of these protests directs us back to earlier statements which our own Consultation has issued: "The Principle of Economy" (1976); "On the Agenda of the Great and Holy Council" (1977); "On the Lima Document" (1984); "Apostolicity as God's Gift to the Church" (1986); our "Response" (1988) to the "Bari Document" issued by the International Commission in 1987; and finally our "Response" (1994) to the Balamand document itself. In drafting this present statement, we have elected to take our own advice and to offer a "deeper historical and theological investigation" of whether "our churches do in fact find the same essential content of faith present in each other" ("Response to the Balamand Statement," n. 9).

In the following sections we shall endeavor a) to summarize our findings regarding our common understanding of baptism, as well as its unity with the life of the Church and the action of the Holy Spirit; b) to elucidate the problems which, in relatively recent times, have arisen with respect to the mutual recognition of each other's baptism; and c) to present our conclusions, together with certain recommendations which we feel are necessary, in order that on various levels our dialogue be established on a solid and unambiguous foundation. Only if we have reached clarity on our common understanding of baptism, we believe, can our churches proceed to discuss, charitably and truthfully, those issues which at present appear to constitute genuine impediments to our unity in the one Bread and Cup of Christ.

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