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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


B. Baptism within the Rites of Initiation

1. One Moment in a Single Action: In ancient times, initiation into the Church was understood as a single action with different "moments." Thus in Acts 2:38-42, we find baptism with water directly followed by the reception of the Holy Spirit and "the breaking of bread" (Eucharist) by the community; other texts in Acts present the gift of the Spirit as preceding baptism (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-17). This continuity between the various stages of initiation is consistently reproduced in the oldest liturgical texts and in early patristic witnesses: baptism with water in the name of the Trinity, a post- (or pre-) baptismal anointing and/or laying-on of hands invoking the Spirit, and participation in the Eucharist. The present-day ordering of the Eastern Christian rites of initiation and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the Roman liturgy preserve this unity. In the case of infant baptism, medieval Latin practice separated this unity of action, deferring confirmation by the bishop and Eucharistic communion to a later date. Indeed, the distinction which is customarily made today in both churches between baptism and chrismation, or confirmation, was never intended to separate the reception of the Spirit from incorporation into the body of Christ, whose quickening principle is the same Spirit (see, e.g., Rom 8:9-11, as well part III, B5 below).

2. The Method of Baptism: In ancient times, and in the contemporary Orthodox Church, baptism is administered as a threefold immersion in water hallowed by prayer and oil, while the baptizing minister invokes the Holy Trinity. In the Roman rite of the Catholic Church since the later Middle Ages, baptism has usually been administered by the infusion or pouring of water sanctified by prayer and the sign of the Cross, accompanied by the Trinitarian invocation. In past centuries and even today, some Orthodox have protested against infusion as being an invalid form of baptism, basing their protest on the mandate of baptismal immersion implied in such Biblical passages as Rom 6.4 ("We were buried with [Christ] by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life") . This criticism, however, should be measured against the following considerations: a) "immersion" in the ancient church did not always mean total submersion--archaeological research indicates that many ancient baptismal pools were far too shallow for total submersion; b) the Orthodox Church itself can and does recognize baptism by infusion as valid in cases of emergency; c) for most of the past millennium, the Orthodox Church has in fact recognized Catholic baptism as valid (see our discussion in Part II below).

3. The Symbolism of Baptism: Baptism is at once a death and a new birth, a washing-away of sin and the gift of the living water promised by Christ, the grace of forgiveness and regeneration in the Spirit, a stripping-off of our mortality and a clothing with the robe of incorruption. The baptismal font is the "tomb" from which the newborn Christian rises, and, as the place of our incorporation into the life of the Church, the "womb" and "mother" of the Christian, the pool of the divine light of the Spirit, the well-spring of immortality, the gate of heaven, entry into the kingdom of God, cleansing, seal, bath of regeneration and bridal chamber. All these are meanings the Fathers saw in this sacrament, and all of them we continue to affirm.

4. The Non-Repeatability of Baptism: It is our common teaching that baptism in water in the name of the Holy Trinity, as the Christian's new birth, is given once and once only. In the language of fourth-century Fathers of East and West, it confers the indelible seal (sphragis, character) of the King. As the definitive entry of an individual believer into the Church, it cannot be repeated. To be sure, the grace of baptism may be betrayed by serious sin, but in such cases the modes prescribed for the recovery of grace are repentance, confession, and -- in the Orthodox usage for apostasy -- anointing with the sacred chrism; reconciliation with the Church is never accomplished by baptism, whose repetition we have always recognized as a sacrilege. C. The Results of our Investigation: "We Confess One Baptism"

The Orthodox and Catholic members of our Consultation acknowledge, in both of our traditions, a common teaching and a common faith in one baptism, despite some variations in practice which, we believe, do not affect the substance of the mystery. We are therefore moved to declare that we also recognize each other's baptism as one and the same. This recognition has obvious ecclesiological consequences. The Church is itself both the milieu and the effect of baptism, and is not of our making. This recognition requires each side of our dialogue to acknowledge an ecclesial reality in the other, however much we may regard their way of living the Church's reality as flawed or incomplete. In our common reality of baptism, we discover the foundation of our dialogue, as well as the force and urgency of the Lord Jesus prayer "that all may be one." Here, finally, is the certain basis for the modern use of the phrase, "sister churches." At the same time, since some are unwilling to accept this mutual recognition of baptism with all its consequences, the following investigation and explanation seems necessary.

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