On the Question of the Order of Reception of Persons into the Orthodox Church, Coming to Her from Other Christian Churches

By Archimandrite Ambrosius (Pogodin)

Originally published in Russian in Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya
(Messenger of the Russian Christian Movement)
Paris-New York-Moscow, Nos. 173 (I-1996) and 174 (II-1996/I-1997).

Translated with permission of the author by Alvian N. Smirensky

Translation Copyright © 2000 Alvian N. Smirensky. All Rights Reserved.
Publication Copyright © 2000. All Rights Reserved.
For information on re-publication write to webmaster@holy-trinity.org

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Introductory Notes - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Appendices

- Appendices -

Appendix One

In my "Notes on the Second Vatican Council" I brought out a number of examples showing that the patriarchs of Constantinople in the course of centuries had cordial relations with the popes of Rome. During the Second Vatican Council these relations were especially improved. In the light of this, Patriarch Athenagoras’ trip to Jerusalem for a friendly meeting with Pope Paul VI becomes understandable, followed by the patriarch of Constantinople’s visit with the pope and the latter’s response to the patriarch, as well as the return of those sacred items to the Orthodox which it times past the Latins took for themselves namely: the return of the head of Apostle Andrew the First-Called whom the Church of Constantinople claims to be her founder, and the return of the relics of St. Sabbas to the cloister bearing his name. The return of these sacred items without a doubt served to bring about closer relationships between the Greeks and the Roman Catholics. A Greek deacon and professor, who witnessed the return of the head of the Apostle Andrew told me about the grand solemnity with which the transfer of the relic, sacred to the Orthodox, took place. Apostle Andrew’s revered head, stored in a silver casket in St. Peter’s Basilica, was escorted by the pope and the Latin clergy and delivered by airplane to the Greek island of Patras by Cardinal Bea with his escort. The island’s populace all gathered at the airport. The prime minister, representing the King of Greece, presented a high Greek decoration to the cardinal from the king. Numerous religious processions, clergy in their vestments and up to thirty bishops met the sacred relic, the head of the First-Called Apostle, after its 600-year absence. It is difficult to describe the joy and the excitement when the elderly cardinal brought out the sacred relic. Preceded by the religious procession the relic was carried into the cathedral where Archbishop Athenagoras, head of the Hellenic Church along with the whole Greek episcopate and numerous clergy, celebrated a Divine Liturgy. At the end of the service the archbishop took Cardinal Bea by the arm and came out towards the people. There was an ovation by the people for the cardinal, asking him to relate the people’s profound gratitude to the pope. "We all cried," my informant told me, "the people cried, the bishops cried, the elderly cardinal cried." A Divine Liturgy, celebrated by a bishop, was served for forty days. The escorting and reception of the other sacred item — the return of the relics of St. Sabbas from Venice to his cloister in Jerusalem was just as solemn and touching. St. Sabbas told his pupils that his incorrupt body would be removed from his cloister and later would rest in the Lavra, which he founded. He pointed out that he would return to his cloister near the end of the world. A detailed description of the relic’s transfer from Venice to Jerusalem appeared on the pages of "Russkaya Zhizn’," No. 8793, by Mrs. V. Arturova-Kononova.

During the final session of the Second Vatican Council, an event took place that left a great impression upon all those present. Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI announced simultaneously that they are mutually lifting the excommunications and proclaim ineffective the anathemas placed upon each other in 1054. In Rome it took place as follows: The pope sat on his throne in St. Peter’s basilica. The senior cardinal read, on the pope’s behalf, an epistle sent by the pope to Patriarch Athenagoras in which the Pope expresses his regret that the Church of Constantinople was offended by the Papal legates. We deeply regret this and "all excommunications and anathemas that the legates placed upon Patriarch Michael Cerularius and upon the Holy Church of Constantinople, we declare to be null and void."

Just before that an epistle from Patriarch Athenagoras addressed to Pope Paul VI, in French, was read to all the people, in which the Church of Constantinople declared that all excommunications and anathemas that were placed upon "our sister, the Holy Roman Church, are declared to be null and void."

Following this, after both epistles were read, Metropolitan Meliton, chairman of the Rhodes convocation of Orthodox bishops and a senior representative of Patriarch Athenagoras, approached the pope. He was vested in a gold royal mantle and was escorted by two archdeacons. When the Papal epistle was read, the pope rose from his place, unrolled his manuscript-epistle, which was embellished in gold as befits those golden words to be written in gold, and showed it to the people. He then rolled it up and gave it to Metropolitan Meliton. When the metropolitan accepted the manuscript, kissing the pope’s hand, the pope embraced the metropolitan and exchanged the kiss of peace with him. The metropolitan’s back was towards us, thus we were unable to see the expression on his face. The pope was facing us, and at that moment his face was so radiant that it is only right to say that this was the face of an angel. It is difficult to convey that joy, that excitement, which at that moment seized all those present who numbered in the thousands. Many cried, everyone applauded as is done by the Italians and some, falling on their knees, raised their hands towards heaven in an expression of profound gratitude to God for that moment. When the metropolitan returned to his place, his path was accompanied by ovations which, I would say, were even louder than those accompanying the pope. Many, in tears, turned to me as a representative of the Orthodox Church saying that if the Vatican Council was convened only for this moment, it was worth the effort and the means expended for it. We all felt that we were present at one of the most notable, beautiful and moving moments in history. And I noted, not daring to affirm, that this was a special sign of a blessing from God. Perhaps it was only a natural phenomenon, but this was winter, the end of December. It was cold and heavily overcast. But at the very moment when the pope handed his epistle to Metropolitan Meliton, a bright ray of light broke through the basilica’s side window and the sun illuminated the pope and the metropolitan.

The Russian Church Abroad did not recognize Patriarch Athenagoras’ act, feeling that the patriarch was obliged to do something like this only with the consent of all the Orthodox Churches because the matter of the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches concerns all the Orthodox Churches. This is not only a personal relationship between the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople. We, the observers from the Russian Church Abroad, received a directive by telephone from our Church authorities not to be present during the ceremony of the mutual lifting of anathemas between the Churches of Constantinople and Rome. But we, after consultation with each other, felt that such a demonstration would be harmful for our Church, which we honorably represented. Our demonstration would not have been noticed. Of what significance would have been the absence of three individuals in the face of a mass of tens of thousands?

However, we felt that the mutual lifting of the anathemas, although it was a beautiful and noble gesture, added nothing of substance to the relations between the Orthodox and Roman Churches, since even prior to the Vatican Council, the relations between the Churches have of late, improved. The Vatican Council merely strengthened them thus the mutual lifting of the anathemas was a natural progression of these improved relationship between the Churches. If only such a mutual lifting of anathemas occurred in 1054 or shortly after, when there was still a unity of faith and dogmas between the Eastern and Western Churches, this would have brought about a oneness of the Church and without a doubt, the fate of the world would have been different.

Appendix Two

In one of its decrees the Vatican Council felt it possible and even desirable that Roman Catholics finding themselves beyond the vicinity of a Catholic Church, could receive the holy sacraments, including Holy Communion, from Orthodox Churches in their vicinity. Only the Moscow Patriarchate responded to this and announced a decision favorable to the Catholics, allowing them to receive Communion in Orthodox Churches where there were no Roman Catholic churches. This decision was accepted by the Patriarchal Synod on December 16, 1969 and was also affirmed at a later date. See Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate in English, 1983, No 4, p. 76.

Appendix Three

Sometime before the Vatican Council a Polish priest who spoke fluent Russian told me, with great feeling, of his experience. He was exiled to Siberia by Soviet authorities. Then, during the Second World War a Polish contingent was organized to be part of the British 8th Army. The Poles released from Soviet camps began to organize their own divine services. But they had no vestments, nor sacred vessels. They made vestments from sacking. Then they were told to contact the local Orthodox bishop. When the Polish priests came, they were warmly received by the Russian bishop who told them that he was really in a position to help them. He gave them Roman Catholic vestments, sacred vessels and other church articles. These items came to the bishop in the following manner. When the destruction of churches began in the Soviet Union, the local Roman Catholic bishop instructed his clergy to bring all church articles to the local Orthodox bishop saying, "Perhaps the Orthodox Church will manage to survive, but we Catholics don’t have a chance. So, let the Orthodox bishop have all our church articles and when he has the opportunity, he will return them to us." The Orthodox bishop, in returning all of the church articles said that he is overjoyed that the day did come when they could be given back to their owners. It goes without saying that this Polish priest became a friend of the Orthodox Church.

I had a minor experience, which I will now dare to relate. In 1952, I had a parish in Bradford, England. There were many refugees in this industrial city that had their own churches: Russians, Poles, Ukrainians and others. There was a substantial community of Galician Ukrainians here, who were Uniats. I was told that they were quite hostile towards us Russians. Once, at night, I had a call from the local hospital telling me that a woman "of your religion" was near death. Taking the Holy Gifts I hurried to the hospital. The night was not only dark but a heavy fog covered everything. One had to walk from one streetlight to another. I reached the hospital and was shown the ward where the seriously ill woman was laying in an oxygen tent. Here I learned that she was not Orthodox but a Galician Uniat. Her husband was sitting next to her, crying. I told him that she was not Orthodox but belonged to the Roman Catholic faith. It was urgent that any Roman Catholic priest be called. At the same time I assured the husband that I will not allow her to die without Communion, and if the Catholic priest could not come or does not come in time, I will give her Communion myself. The Catholic priest arrived quickly. He was an Englishman and did not know Russian or Ukrainian. I offered my help. I asked the sick woman if she repents of her sins and does she want to receive Communion. She answered, "Yes, Father" in her Ukrainian accent. I related her words for the priest and he gave her Communion. I was at the hospital several days later and was overjoyed to see that the sick woman was recovering quickly, and she was happy to see me. After this, I was walking on the street past a Galician club and was pleasantly surprised when all those who were outside the building doffed their hats and greeted me, a Russian priest, warmly. I told of this to our great hierarch, Archbishop John [Maksimovich] and said to him that I would have given Communion to the dying woman even though she was a Uniat. After this I was ready to accept any punishment that the Holy Orthodox Church would give me. Archbishop John’s reply was worthy of his sanctity and love towards people: "No punishment would have been given to you."

Appendix Four

While in Sydney, Australia, in 1956, I was called to see a dying infant. The tiny child, a boy, was in an incubator. I reached my hand through the opening in the incubator and sprinkled the infant with holy water three times, pronouncing the formula of baptism. I even had time to anoint him with Chrism. How can we speak about any kind of immersion?

While a priest in one of the villages in Srem, in 1949, I had the occasion to baptize an infant brought into my church. The winter was severe. The church was unheated and we were all dressed in overcoats, nearly shivering from the cold. The infant was well wrapped, only his head was showing. How was he to be baptized? The elderly priest, the parish’s former rector, told me to sprinkle him three times with Holy Water using a basil branch and say: "The servant of God (his name) is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen." This is what I did and this was the only way it could have been done.

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Introductory Notes - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Appendices