Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Important: Russian Church and N. American Episcopal Assembly Tackle Baptism vs Chrismation Debate

Via Byzantine Texas
On 21 March 2011, the Inter-Council Presence’s Commission on Attitude to Non-Orthodoxy and Other Religions met at the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. The session was chaired by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk.

The participants discussed the results of the work done by the Commission during its first year and a draft document on the Accession of non-Orthodox Christians to the Orthodox Church. The Commission decided to form a working group and invite experts to study various aspects of the practice of accession to the Orthodox Church through the Sacrament of Chrismation and its history. The Commission set up a working group for study and classification of sects. Other working groups will consider the question of the accession rite for the Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, Anglicans, the Reformed, Lutherans, and Old Catholics. (A similar discussion is going on in the American Episcopal Assembly not only with the intake of converts but of the process for clergy as well (e.g. Is vesting sufficient?)

Draft documents on the practice of accession to the Orthodox Church will be submitted to the Commission’s next session in June 2011.

I think this is excellent news. It is time that the Orthodox Church make some effort at establishing some sort of guidelines for the reception of converts that are uniform at least in N. America. The Russian Church also has some division since ROCOR repudiated the guidelines in the Great Book of Needs in the early 1970's and adopted a more rigourist approach to the reception of converts. The Moscow Patriarchate (and the OCA) still follow the guidelines contained in the Book of Needs (last updated during the reign of Czar Alexander III). Those guidelines generally provide for reception by Chrismation and Confession for non-Orthodox Christians coming from Confessional and Trinitarian denominations, including most of the so called Mainline Protestants as well as Roman Catholics provided they received a Trinitarian Baptism that at least approximates the intent of the Orthodox Church from their previous spiritual home.

On the other side, ROCOR, the Serbian Church, the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the monks of Mt. Athos and unofficially many parish clergy in Greece and the Balkans are generally more conservative and require converts to be Baptized in all but unusual circumstances. Many of these jurisdictions have accepted the controversial decree of the Synod of Constantinople (1755) declaring all Western sacraments, including baptisms, to be void of any grace and mandating that they be baptized into the Church when converting.

In addition many Orthodox (including me), while not on board with the 1755 synod, have become increasingly concerned by the doctrinal self destruction now rampant within the Mainline Protestant churches. It has reached the point where it is debatable whether some of these groups are in fact confessionally Christian churches at all. One need only look at what is going on in the Episcopal Organization for an example. The simple truth is that we just don't know what any Episcopal "priest(ess)" is doing, or thinks they are doing when they baptize someone anymore. It is not possible with a striaght face to call the the Episcopal Organization confessionally anything. It has become the church of "What's Happening Now."

During the reign of Alexander III of blessed memory, whatever problems the mainline Protestants had, we knew they were Christian and that they had a sacramental understanding of Baptism. I respectfully submit that in far too many cases this is no longer true. Times and circumstances change. When this happens the Church should reevaluate the relevant aspects of church discipline.

This is a good and overdue topic of discussion.


Fr John W Fenton said...

The simple truth is that we just don't know what any Episcopal "priest(ess)" is doing...

I think the issue with women priestess is not, per se, problematic since they have as much standing in the eyes of the Church as Protestant male clergy; i.e., neither are in orders. However, female clergy have consistently resulted in baptismal formulae that undermine or negate Trinitarian protestations (pun intended).

Much more problematic, then, are the baptisms of those Protestant groups formally espousing Trinitarian theology which no longer espouse it in practice when they permit baptisms according to any number of formulae using any number of media. This problem is found even amongst those Protestant groups which oppose female clergy.

Hence, it seems, more and more, that the only baptisms which can be accepted are those by Roman Catholics. (The exceptional rogue priest is just that--an aberration against which the Church has always to contend.)

Anonymous said...

..and what about those poor married converts who received into jurisdictions where they were told that their reception by chrismation filled up with grace not just the empty form of their previous immersion, but filled up grace their previous ceremony of marriage? And then find out that they are not "Orthodox Christians in good standing" when they visit other jurisdiction for having never been married in the Church?

David Di Giacomo said...

There are jurisdictions who remarry converts? This is the first I've heard of it. Which ones?

Matushka Anna said...

David, marriage of converts is fairly standard in the Greek Archdiocese, I believe. In fact I know a couple who were received into the Orthodox Church in the OCA, then when they later began attending a Greek parish they were denied Communion until they were crowned.

Anonymous said...

The above comment was NOT in fact by Matushka Anna, but by me. I didn't realize she was still signed in to her google account. My apologies.

David Di Giacomo said...

Interesting. My wife and I were received in an OCA parish by baptism (at our request), but the thought of remarriage didn't even occur to us that I can remember, nor did anyone suggest such a thing. Mind you, there were some in the parish who seemed a bit troubled by the fact that we were being baptised instead of just chrismated, as I recall.

Also, when we visited a Greek parish and told him which parish we were from, he immediately admitted us to communion. But perhaps things are different here in Canada than in the U.S. Do you think perhaps the case you mention might have been rooted in OCA/GOA rivalry in the U.S.? In Canada we have a pretty good relationship with the Greek Metropolis, I'm told.

VSO said...

The Antiochian priest who brought me in never told me i had the option of a real Baptism. I say "real" because I reject my previous one (does it really matter from where?) and for a few years as I got to know more about Tradition and Patristics I began to doubt I was really Orthodox. That's why I say, "Baptize them all."

Besides, Fred Phelps baptizes in the name of the Holy Trinity. Extreme example I know but you get the point.

Jon Marc said...

There does seem to be a range of practices when it comes to reception and having the marriages of converts blessed by the Church (or not as the case may be). That aside, the world of Alexander III really was rather different. Receiving Roman Catholic clergy by vesting at that time made sense - their rites were essentially Orthodox (enough to be blessed for use by convert parishes in Russian Poland) and it could be argued that they have some sort of episcopate. But now, after Vatican II, can we really say that we are so close that vesting makes sense anymore?

Anam Cara said...

One of the services I went to as a catechumen in Germany was the crowing of a marriage. The couple had been married for years, but the husband had just converted. I am hoping that someday, my husband will convert and we can have our marriage crowned, no matter how old we are or how many years we have been married.

I was baptized 60 years ago in the Lutheran church and was told that since it was a Trinitarian baptism, I had no need of being rebaptised. There have been a number of times since my Chrismation that I have wished that I had been baptized when I became Orthodox.

I agree with VSO: baptise them all!

Anonymous said...

The OCA does a great disservice to its married converts by not marrying their married-in-the-world couples.

As to which jurisdictions marry-in-the-Church: Greek Orthodox (worldwide), Russians (worldwide) which basically means mostly every Orthodox which puts the OCA in the minority. A strange lack of praxis that separates their not-married-in-the-Church couples from the larger Church.

In my experience, the Greek Orthodox have allowed OCA not-married-in-the-Churchers to commune simply because the Greek priests assumed wrongly that this Mystery was done for these couples.

After all, why should these couples withhold their marriage from the blessing of the Church or why would the Church withhold this blessing upon the union of husband and wife?

LOTS more work to be done on the mysteriological front...

My wife and I (OCA) demanded an Orthodox marriage when we found out about our "not an Orthodox in good standing" prior to a visit to the local Greek Orthodox parish.

Men: Don't even bother to try to commune on Mount Athos in an married-but-not-married-in-the-Church state.

Chris Jones said...

baptise them all!

I understand the thinking that lies behind this, but am constrained to point out that the ecumenical canons are a good deal more nuanced. If one wants to be loyal to the Apostolic Tradition, it does not make sense to want to be stricter than the canons of Nicaea (canon 19) and Constantinople I (canon 7).

CJ said...

For those jurisdictions that require converts to be re-married, how do they handle situations where one spouse converts but the other does'nt? Is the convert denied communion?

Teena Blackburn said...

CJ: When I approached the Greek church in the city where I live, I was told they would not accept me for conversion because my non-Christian husband (whom I had married before attempting to convert), was not interested in becoming Orthodox as well. I was told this was standard practice-it was either both of us or neither of us. So much for concern about the salvation of my soul. I went to another jurisdiction that happily accepted me. If I visit the Greek church, that same priest now gives me Holy Communion. I guess I'm good enough since a brother Orthodox accepted me, but he and his jurisdiction were not interested.

CJ said...


Thanks for sharing. If I convert, it wouldn't have been at a Greek parish anyway. It's good to know it's not a universal practice.

Dale said...

If one needs not only to be rebaptised, but remarried as well, does this not make all the children of such unions bastards? And one's own ancestors all in hell? I thought that this had all been worked out during the Donatist controversy...St. Stephen, Pope and Martyr, pray for us!