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

- Two -

How the question of the reception of the heterodox was resolved in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Opinions and Church legislation on this question

Toleration towards non-Russians has always been a characteristic of the Russian state system and this contributed towards the strengthening of the great Russian empire, which was made up of many nationalities all living on equal principles. This same tolerance was likewise a characteristic of the Russian Orthodox Church with respect to the non-Orthodox, as was rightly pointed out by Russian historians. Professor A. V. Kartashev writes: "The relative toleration of Russians with respect to other religions and Christian confessions was a distinguishing trait of the pre-Mongol period."[43] Professor N. Talberg correctly notes: "The Russian Church distinguished itself for toleration of non-Orthodox."[44] Latin churches serviced by Latin clergy were found in Kiev, Novgorod, Ladoga, Polotsk, Smolensk, Pereyaslavl and in other places. In his "Outlines of Russian Church History" Prof. Kartashev provides interesting evidence about Russian interrelation with the West.[45] There were vital commercial and political contacts between the Russian and Western people. Foreign representatives and merchants from all parts of Europe could be found in Russian cities. Russia received Christianity before the great division of the Churches, therefore, the West, in the ecclesiastical sense, was not seen as a hostile world. Prior to the baptism of Rus’ and throughout the long history of Russia we see that the Vatican had great hopes of including the Russian Church as one of its own. Russian princes, beginning with St. Vladimir, were respectful and polite in their responses to the Popes, but strongly held on to Greek Orthodoxy. For a long period the Russian Church was headed by Greek metropolitans who, after the division of the Churches, maintained a hostile line towards the Latins. Prof. Kartashev writes:

"The Russians, under the influence of the Greek metropolitans who looked upon everything Roman in a dark light, and in part motivated by the rivalry over the control over Rus’, needed time to gradually adopt the extreme Greek point of view."[46]

It is interesting to note that a number of polemical works against the Latins have been attributed to those metropolitans, but all of them, as pointed out by Prof. Talberg, were written in a calm and well-meaning tone with respect to them.[47] However, in their instructions to the Russians they advocated an extreme intolerance towards the Latins, forbidding marriages with them, any social intercourse, sharing a meal with them and even feeding them from one’s dishes. Any dish from which a Latin partook of food was to be washed in a special way, accompanied by a prayer. Professor Kartashev writes:

"However, the theory did not immediately overcome the inertia of the living practice and in this case the established attitude of peaceful and well-meaning relations of the Russians towards the non-Orthodox and Western European people was evident throughout the whole pre-Mongol period."[48]

Russian princes continued to join in marriage with all Latin courts, and daughters of Russian princes when marrying would adopt the Western rite, and at times even the daughters of foreign sovereigns would continue to maintain their own Latin services while in Russia.[49] Under the influence of the friendly ties with Italy, the feast of the Translation of Relics of St. Nicholas to Bari was instituted in Russia, celebrated on May 9. The churches of Vladimir and Suzdal’ reflected the influence of the Romanesque style since they were built by Italian architects. The "Korsun Gate" in Novgorod’s St. Sophia Cathedral was of German origin. Prof. Kartashev notes:

"In Novgorod people lived so closely with foreigners that simple women would not hesitate to approach Latin priests for certain services, apparently without fear of their heresy and not finding them too different in their external appearance from their own clergy."[50]

Prince Iziaslav Yaroslavich did not hesitate to approach Pope Gregory VII for assistance, even after the division of the Churches, to get rid of an usurper. Although the request was fruitless, the prince was not questioned nor criticized.

The Metropolitan of Kiev Kirik (Cyricus, or, according to some sources, Cyril), in response to St. Niphon (†1156), Bishop of Novgorod’s query about how to receive Latins that come to Orthodoxy gave him the following directive:

"If a Latin wishes to come under Russian law, let him attend our Church for seven days. He is to be given a new name. Each day four prayers are devoutly read in his presence. Then let him bathe in the bathhouse. He will refrain from meat and dairy products for seven days, and on the eighth day, having bathed, let him come to Church. Four prayers must be read over him. He is dressed in clean clothes. A crown or a wreath is placed on his head. He is anointed with Chrism and a wax candle is placed in his hand. He receives Communion during the Liturgy and henceforth is considered a new Christian."

With such close relations between the Russians and Western people during the pre-Mongol period, it is unlikely that the Russians re-baptized those Latins who expressed a desire to accept the Orthodox faith. Such re-baptism would be the equivalent of not recognizing them as Christians. In large Russian cities that were characterized as commercial and political centers one could find both a Russian Orthodox culture as well as a Latin, Western one. The contacts between them were beneficial to both. Later, this situation had to change.

The Greek Church did not practice re-baptism of Latins that came into the Orthodox Church. Greek metropolitans stood at the head of the ancient Russian Church, and it is hardly likely that they would have promoted something, which was foreign to the Greek Church itself. In the above-cited directive of the Kievan Metropolitan Kirik (Cyricus, or Cyril) to Niphon of Novgorod we see that there is no mention of any re-baptism of Latins converting to the Orthodox faith. As for the Russians, we saw that their relations with the Latins were cordial, which was what the Greek metropolitans who headed the Russian Church at that time taught them.

Among the Russian saints we find some foreigners whom God led to Russia where they worked for the salvation of Russian souls, serving and saving themselves in the lands of the Russian Orthodox Church, where God glorified them as Russian saints.

I will name some of these. St. Anthony the Roman, born and educated in Rome at a time when the Western Church already separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church. His parents secretly preserved their piety and passed this on to their son. In 1106 St. Anthony the Roman miraculously was carried by waves to Novgorod. Here the Saint lived the rest of his life, and in many fruitful ways enriched ancient Russia’s monastic tradition. It should be noted that St. Nicetas of Novgorod received St. Anthony with great honor and love as someone sent from God. A question could formally be raised: is St. Anthony considered Orthodox? He was born and baptized in Rome at a time when there were no Orthodox clerics in Rome. At that time Rome was the Pope’s citadel, the Pope was not only its bishop but also its secular ruler to whom the territory belonged.[51] History knows nothing of any kind of a "catacomb Orthodox Church" in Rome. Papal Rome was always and in all respects loyal to everything Latin. St. Anthony could not have received baptism and other sacraments in any place except in the Latin churches of Rome, which is understandable. There were Orthodox territories in Italy’s South, which were subject to Byzantium, and Greeks lived there. St. Anthony was not a Greek but an Italian and lived in the territory belonging to the Roman throne. His native tongue was Latin as is evidenced by his Latin Bible with which he was buried in Novgorod. St. Nicetas of Novgorod could have legitimately raised the question about a public reception into Orthodoxy of a monk coming from Latin lands, born and baptized in Rome. But as we can see from the Life of St. Anthony the Roman, St. Nicetas received the Roman monk without the slightest hesitation, as someone sent to him by God’s will. The Saint’s decision could have been prompted not only by St. Anthony’s miraculous arrival, but by that general attitude of cordiality towards the non-Orthodox that, as we have seen, was so much in evidence in the environs of Great Novgorod, one of the most important centers of European trade. Such other centers of trade, notwithstanding the prevalence of a particular religion, were also religiously tolerant, as we see in the examples of Venice and Hamburg.

The Blessed Isidore, Fool-for-Christ, Wonderworker of Rostov, living in the 15th century, was German by birth and a Latin, as is seen from his Life. Deeply loving Russian Orthodoxy, he dedicated his life here to spiritual feats, saving himself in the environs of Russia and working for the salvation of Russian souls. God glorified him as a Russian saint. One can find nothing in his extensive Life about him being re-baptized upon accepting Orthodoxy.[52]

Another Rostov saint, St. John the Hairy (†1591), judging by his Latin Psalter which was found after his death and which he used, was also a foreigner who loved Orthodoxy and attached himself to Russia where God glorified his saintliness. Although his Life is little known, there is nothing about him, which indicates that he was re-baptized upon coming into Orthodoxy.[53]

St. Procopius of Ustiug was the only foreign Russian saint of whom the Prolog says that in accepting Orthodoxy in Great Novgorod, he "was baptized." There are a number of unclear things in his Life: the contemporary edition of his Life states that "he received Orthodoxy," without indicating by which rite he was received into the Orthodox Church.[54]


There is no basis for assuming that the Russian Church re-baptized Latins coming into Orthodoxy during the pre-Mongol period. The Greek metropolitans that headed the Russian Church belonged to the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate, which, in its turn, did not re-baptize Latins when receiving them into Orthodoxy. Only extraordinary events could bring about the situation whereby the Russian and the Constantinopolitan Churches would change this ancient practice and changed over to the re-baptism of Latins and those Protestants whose baptism was performed in the name of the Holy Trinity. The practice of re-baptizing the non-Orthodox was late in coming in the history of the Russian Church. It was brought about as a result of a number of events, which will be briefly described below.

The Russian Church unexpectedly found herself in great danger from the Latins who came to impose Latinism in Russian territories, acting with fire and sword. The Russian people, led by their valiant princes such as St. Alexander Nevsky (†1263) and St. Dovmont-Timothy of Pskov (†1299), were forced to defend their faith and their fatherland with their blood from the invading Latins. All this could not but bring about a radical change in the attitude of Russians towards the non-Orthodox. Earlier cordiality towards them was replaced by a feeling of indignity and detestation. The humble Russian monastics could no longer view armed monastic orders, sheathed in iron and carrying death and desolation with them, as their brothers in Christ. Just as in another time the Crusaders engendered an irreparable unprecedented fissure in the relations between the Roman Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, so did the Teutonic sword-bearing monks engender irreparable harm in the relations between the Roman Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Later events resulted in further deterioration in these relationships.

Pope Eugene IV attempted to subjugate the Russian Orthodox Church through the Kievan Metropolitan Isidore. With the expulsion of Metropolitan Isidore, pointed polemical literature began in Russia to be directed against the Latins. In this way both in practice and in theory the Russian people saw the Latins as mortal enemies of Orthodoxy and Russia. The severe persecutions against the Orthodox in the neighboring territories of Southwestern Russia, about which Moscow knew and lamented, engendered hatred against the Latins.

A later attempt by the Latins, working with the assistance of Catholic Poland and through the False Dimitri and Marina Mnishek [a pretender to the Russian throne and his Polish wife, †1614], to completely destroy Russian Orthodoxy in the State of Moscow itself and in the sacred Kremlin overflowed the Russian peoples’ cup of wrath. The peoples’ bitterness was such that after the False Dimitri was killed (17 May 1606) the mob broke into the Kremlin and killed three cardinals, 4 Latin priests and 26 "foreign teachers." It is interesting to note that during the reign of the False Dimitri a question arose about the official acceptance of Orthodoxy by Marina Mnishek as a Russian Czarina. The Greek metropolitan of Moscow, Ignatius, received her into Orthodoxy not through baptism but through chrismation, for which his successor Patriarch Philaret, held him blameworthy. Professor Kartashev notes:

"The strict and uniform Russian practice of re-baptism was established later, in 1620, by Patriarch Philaret. But even then a part of the Russian episcopate spoke against this."[55]


The Russian Church decided to re-baptize non-Orthodox, in this case Latins, coming to the Orthodox Church at the Moscow Council of 1620. These decisions were the result of Patriarch Philaret's insistence. We will examine what they called for and how they were carried out.

The sufferings experienced by the Russian Church and personally by the Metropolitan of Rostov Philaret, the future Patriarch of All Russia, which during the Time of Troubles were brought about by the Latins who by means fair and foul, were determined to subjugate the Russian Church and win it over to a Unia with Rome, with a total disregard of everything Orthodox and everything Russian, only exacerbated the Russian antipathy towards the Latins who, during those alarming times, were looked upon as spiritually mortal enemies. Notwithstanding all this, a number of Russian bishops maintained the position that upon receiving Catholics into the Orthodox Church it was sufficient to anoint them with Holy Chrism and not to re-baptize them. It is only as the result of what can be described as crude personal pressure on the part of Patriarch Philaret, the Moscow Council of 1620 decreed that Latins be re-baptized upon converting to Orthodoxy.

Patriarch Philaret expressed himself about Patriarch (or Metropolitan) Ignatius, who was deposed without any juridical process:

"Patriarch Ignatius, currying favor with heretics of the Latin faith, accepted Marinka [Marina Mnishek], of the heretical popish faith, in the cathedral church of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos, without performing a holy baptism according to the Christian law, but only anointed her with the Holy Chrism and then crowned [married] her with that unfrocked reprobate and then gave the Body and Sacred Blood of Christ to both of those enemies of God – to the reprobate and Marinka. For this fault he, Ignatius, was deposed from his throne and ministry by the holy hierarchs of the great and holy Russian Church according to the holy canons, as having violated the canons of the Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers."[56]

After this, Patriarch Philaret placed blame on the locum tenens of the patriarchal throne, Metropolitan Jonah, for not re-baptizing Latins. Professor Kartashev writes:

"An accusation from two Moscow clerics came to Patriarch Philaret that Metropolitan Jonah did not permit a re-baptism of two Poles, Jan Slobodski and Matfei Sventitski, who came into Orthodoxy, but only that they be chrismated and admitted to communion. Reference was made by Jonah upon the ancient practice according to "Niphon’s Questions to Kirik.’[57] The patriarch summoned Metropolitan Jonah for an explanation and reproached Jonah for introducing a novelty by not ordering the re-baptism of Latins. In order to put Jonah down with his authority, the patriarch included this matter on the agenda for the next plenary session of the Council on October 16, 1620. Philaret himself appeared with an accusatory speech proving that heretical baptism is not a baptism but ‘nothing more than defilement.’ This is why Patriarch Ignatius was deposed, for failing to baptize Marinka . . . . All heretics lack valid baptism. All of Patriarch Philaret’s theological arguments points to the awesome decline in the level of knowledge among the Russian hierarchs of that time and especially that of Philaret himself who was infected with a passionate hatred for the Latin Poles. Patriarch Philaret said: ‘The Latin papists are the most vile and ferocious of all heretics since they include in their law all the condemned heresies of the ancient Hellenic, Judaising, Arian, and heretical faiths, along with the pagan idol-worshipers, along with all the damned heretics with all their imagination and activity.’ Turning towards Jonah Philaret asked: ‘How dare you begin to introduce here in this capital city things that are contrary to the canons of the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers and direct that the Latins, who are worse than dogs and conscious enemies of God, be brought in not through baptism but only through Chrismation?’ Then Patriarch Philaret placed a ban on Metropolitan Jonah, forbidding him to serve. All the arguments and references offered by Metropolitan Jonah were rejected by Philaret." Not concerned with any archival or historical data, simply so to say, on his own, Philaret announced: "In our Moscow State, from its very founding, it has never been that the Latin heretics and other heretics were not baptized." According to Patriarch Philaret’s declaration, Latinism is the repository and source of all heresies.[58] Within two weeks the question arose about receiving Uniats that were leaning towards Orthodoxy along with other Slavs that were infected by the spirit of Calvinism. Patriarch Philaret decreed that everyone, even those baptized Orthodox who later left Orthodoxy, must be re-baptized. Those who were baptized by pouring and not by immersion must also be re-baptized. These rigorous decisions had unfortunate results. A massive return of fellow Slavs did not take place. In 1630 even a Uniat Archbishop Athenogenes Kryzhanovski was re-baptized. Originally he had purely Orthodox ordinations up to and including the rank of Archimandrite. He was lured away to become a Uniat archbishop. Upon his return and after his re-baptism he was re-ordained."[59]

The decree of the Moscow Council of 1620 about the re-baptism of Latins, Uniats, Lutherans and Calvinists was soon recognized to be in error and was repealed very quickly. The decree was reached only as a result of the hatred towards the non-Orthodox because of the persecution by them, which the Russian Church suffered, as was pointed out by Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow, author of the monumental history of the Russian Church.[60] Another historian of the Russian Church, Archbishop Philaret (Gumilevsky) writes: "The decision is incorrect in the light of the Church’s teaching, but is understandable because of the terrors of that time."[61] Patriarch Nikon, with his brilliant mind, could not but recognize the error of that decision and rescinded it twice. During the Church Council of 1655, Patriarch Nikon and the Council fathers decreed that the re-baptism of Poles is illegal and repealed the need to receive them into Orthodoxy by re-baptism, directing this to be done by chrismation.[62] At the Church Council that took place in the following year (1666) presided over by the same Patriarch Nikon, the same subject was once again brought up for discussion. Metropolitan Macarius writes:

"It was felt that it was necessary to debate this matter once again. All Russian bishops were invited to this new Council along with the metropolitan of Kazan. The Antiochian Patriarch Macarius again insisted that the Latins should not be re-baptized when converting to Orthodoxy and had a heated argument with the Russian hierarchs. He tried to convince them by making references to their own books of Canons. To support his argument, he presented an extract from some ancient Greek book brought from Mt. Athos, which made a detailed analysis of the subject, and in this way compelled the Russian bishops to submit, however reluctantly, to the truth. This extract, signed by Macarius, was presented to the sovereign (Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich), translated into Russian, printed and handed out. The Tsar issued an Ukaz that prohibited the baptism of Poles and others belonging to the same faith. Not satisfied with all this Macarius, who soon left Moscow, sent a letter to Nikon about the same matter. Along with this Patriarch Macarius wrote to Patriarch Nikon that "the Latins must not be re-baptized: they have the seven sacraments and all seven Councils, and they are all baptized correctly in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit with an invocation of the Holy Trinity. We must recognize their baptism. They are only schismatics, and schism does not make a man unfaithful and unbaptized. It only separates him from the Church. Mark of Ephesus himself, who opposed the Latins, never demanded their re-baptism and accepted their baptism as a correct one."[63]

The final and decisive ruling on this subject was the decree of the Great Moscow Council of 1667. Patriarch Joasaph II took part in the Council, which took place during the reign of the same Aleksei Mikhailovich.

Here is how we read about it in Metropolitan Macarius’ "History of the Russian Church":

"The rite for the reception of Latins into the Orthodox Church was now completely changed. It is known that in accordance with Patriarch Philaret Nikitich’s Conciliar Statute, Latins were re-baptized in Russia. Even though at the time of Patriarch Nikon, upon the insistence of Patriarch Macarius of Antioch, who was then in Moscow, it was twice decreed at the Council that Latins would not be re-baptized in the future, the deeply rooted custom of re-baptizing remained in practice. This is why Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich proposed that the Great Council should discuss and make a decision on this question. The Council fathers carefully reviewed Patriarch Philaret Nikitich’s statute and came to the conclusion that the laws were incorrectly interpreted and applied to the Latins. They then referred to earlier Council statutes whereby it was forbidden to re-baptize even Arians and Macedonians in the event of their coming into Orthodoxy, and even more so, the fathers said, Latins must not be re-baptized. They referred to the Council of the four Eastern Patriarchs held in Constantinople in 1484, which decreed not to re-baptize Latins upon their coming into Orthodoxy, but only to anoint them with Chrism, and which even composed the actual rite for their reception into the Church. They referred to the wise Mark of Ephesus who, in his epistle addressed to all Orthodox, offers the same teaching and decreed:

‘Latins must not be re-baptized but only after their renunciation of their heresies and confession of sins, be anointed with Chrism and admit them to the Holy Mysteries and in this way bring them into communion with the holy, catholic Eastern Church, in accordance with the sacred canons (Chapter 6)’."[64]

Since 1718 the Spiritual Council [Synod] decreed not to re-baptize Protestants who were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.[65] From that time the Russian Church never returned to the re-baptism of Latins, Lutherans, Anglicans and Calvinists. Later the Russian Church decreed that confirmed Roman Catholics and chrismated Armenians be received by the third rite, i.e., through confession and repudiation of heresy. Lutherans, Calvinists and other Protestants who were baptized by triple immersion (or by pouring), to be received by the second rite, i.e., by chrismation and repudiation of heresy. They were chrismated because in the first place they do not have such a sacrament and secondly, they do not have a priesthood based on apostolic succession. Anglicans and Episcopalians are likewise received through the second rite because it is questionable (as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow wrote) whether their church has preserved apostolic succession.

Russian theologians strictly adhered to the view of not re-baptizing Latins, Armenians and those Protestants who were baptized in their churches in the name of the Holy Trinity. Members of the royal household, who previously were Protestants, were received into Orthodoxy through chrismation.

In Archbishop Benjamin’s well-known "Novaya Skrizhal’" ["New Tablets of Law"] we read the following:

"All heretics are divided into three types. To the first belong those who do not believe in the Holy Consubstantial Trinity and do not perform baptism by triple immersion into water; these, along with pagans and Muhammadans are to be baptized as directed by Canon 19 of the First Ecumenical Council. Heretics of the second type are those who believe in the One God in the Trinity and are baptized by triple immersion, but have their own delusions and heresies and with the exception of baptism either do not recognize other sacraments or, in performing other sacraments improperly, reject chrismation. They are not to be baptized because they are baptized, but, following the repudiation of their heresies and confession of the Orthodox Faith, are to be united to the Church by way of the sacrament of Chrismation, as is prescribed by Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council. The third type of heretics, called dissidents, maintain all the seven sacraments including chrismation, but, having separated from the unity of the Orthodox Church, dare to add to the pure confession of faith their own delusions, which are contrary to the ancient teachings of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church, and introduce many pernicious views into the church and, in rejecting ancient pious rites of the Church, introduce new traditions, which are contrary to the spirit of piety. These we do not baptize for the second time nor do we anoint them with the Holy Chrism. After the repudiation of their delusion and repentance from their sins, they confess the Orthodox Symbol of Faith and are cleansed from their sins by the prayers and hierarchical absolution."[66]

Bishop of Smolensk Parthenius’ book "On the Duties of Parish Priests," which was approved by the Synod for all churches, contains rules for the proper rites for the reception into the Orthodox Church of those Latins and Protestants that were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. Some are to be received by the third rite; others by the second. Those priests who would like to re-baptize Latins and Lutherans are referred to as "ignoramuses." (§82)

In 1858 the Sacred Ruling Synod published the rites that detailed in which way and by which rite the non-Orthodox coming into the Orthodox Church are to be received. One of these is titled: "The Rite for Receiving into Orthodoxy Those Who were Never Right-believing and from Their Youth were Not Brought up in the Orthodox Church, but Who had a True Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Metropolitan of Moscow Philaret prepared a rite for receiving a Roman Catholic priest who is to be received by the third rite, without any repetition of baptism, chrismation or ordination.[67] But such a priest can preserve his sacral rank in the Orthodox Church only in the event that he remains celibate, i.e., he had not violated his vow made at the time of his ordination by marrying. If he had been married before his conversion to Orthodoxy, he is received as a layman and does not preserve his right to his sacerdotal rank.[68]

Archbishop of Astrakhan Sergius’ book "Rules and Rites for the Reception of Non-Orthodox Christians into the Orthodox Church" (Viatka, 1894) gives the three rites for the reception of non-Orthodox into the Orthodox Church on the same basis and understanding as of the above-noted authors.

To counter the accusations directed against the Orthodox Church by Old Ritualists of all stripes, for not re-baptizing Latins, Lutherans and Calvinists, Metropolitan Gregory published his book "The Truly-Ancient and the True Orthodox Church of Christ," which presents apologetic explanations for doing so in Part 2, Chapters 33 and 34. Also see Transactions of the Kiev Theological Academy, June-August 1864, "On the Reception of Non-Orthodox Christians into the Orthodox Church: Historical and Canonical Analysis against the Priestless." See also the article in Khristianskoye Chteniye, June 1865, "Analysis of the Principle Upon Which the Priestless Justify Their Practice for the Re-Baptism of the Orthodox Upon Converting Into Schism."

The rites, on the basis of which the Orthodox Church performs the conversion to Orthodoxy of Roman Catholics and Protestants, are given in Fr. K. Nikolsky’s "Manual for the Study of the Order [Ustav] of Services." It also contains a number of instructions and directives from Church authorities on this subject.

The well-known S. V. Bulgakov’s "Reference Book for Sacred Ministers" lists in detail how to perform each of the three rites by which the heterodox and non-Orthodox are received into Orthodoxy. There is also a listing of directives and instructions from Church authorities on these subjects.[69]

We find the same directives and rules in other manuals for parish clergy and collections of Church decrees on various topics.


We will now list a number of regulations of the Russian Church on the subject of the reception of Latins and Protestants into Orthodoxy.

As we noted above, the ultimate legislation which prohibited the re-baptism of Latins upon their conversion to Orthodoxy, was the decree of the Great Moscow Council of 1667, Chapter 6.

The most recent legislation prohibiting the re-baptism of those Protestants whose baptism is performed by triple immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity was the decree of the Spiritual Council of 1718.

Other decrees and directions later promulgated by Church authorities were based on the above two decrees. These can systematically be given as follows:

  1. The blessing [permission] of the diocesan hierarch is not required for each instance of uniting of Roman Catholics, Armenians, Nestorians, Lutherans and Calvinists to the Orthodox Church. Only in special situations and in the event of a mass conversion must the hierarch be notified in order to obtain his blessing and instructions.[70]

  2. Joining the Orthodox Church is preceded by instruction and affirmation of the teachings of the Orthodox Church, with the learning of certain prayers.[71]

    As for the sick, every accommodation is made for them and the instruction is given in the light of their strength and their reception should not be delayed.[72]

  3. A written statement is taken from those coming to Orthodoxy that they are accepting Orthodoxy of their own will. Their reception is entered in part one of the parish’s baptism, marriage and death register. In some parts of the Empire where the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox live together, it is a requirement that the local authorities notify the local Roman Catholic priest or the Lutheran pastor if a member of their parish converted to Orthodoxy.

  4. Then the actual appropriate rite follows by which the non-Orthodox person is received into the Church. Although the following is repetitious, we feel that it is appropriate to reiterate the legislation of the Russian Church on this subject.

    Non-Orthodox persons are received by one of three rites:

    Persons in danger of death who wish to be received into Orthodoxy are to be received through the priest’s laying on of hands and the dying person’s confession, after which he receives the sacred mysteries. This order is appropriate with respect to a Roman Catholic or an Armenian. Lutherans, Calvinists as well as Episcopalians should be received by the anointing with the Holy Chrism on the brow, followed by communion with the holy mysteries. A funeral is performed according to the Orthodox rite.[73]

These were the basic laws of the Russian Church with respect to the reception of non-Orthodox into Orthodoxy.[74]

Bulgakov similarly summarizes the methods for the reception into Orthodoxy as follows:

There are three rites for the reception of those turning to the Orthodox Church: baptism, chrismation, and repentance and communion with the Sacred Gifts.

Pagans, Jews and Muslims are received into the Orthodox Church by means of baptism. In addition, those followers of Christian sects that deviate from the fundamental dogmas of the Orthodox Church, reject the Orthodox teaching on the Holy Trinity and the performance of the sacrament of baptism (such as Eunomians who rejected the equality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity and performed baptism with a single immersion into Christ’s death, or Montanists who performed baptism in the name of the Father, Son, Montanus and Priscilla,) are likewise to be received by means of baptism.

Those sectarians who perform baptism correctly by three immersions with the Divinely formulated words: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," but err in particular dogmas of faith (Arians, Macedonians and others) are to be received by means of Chrismation.

Dissenters from the Church who have a legitimate hierarchy but are separated from the Orthodox Church on questions of moral, ritual or disciplinary matters as well as dogmatic teachings of a secondary level (Donatists, Eutychians, Nestorians) are to be received by means of repentance and repudiation of their errors.

The Russian Orthodox Church conforms to the laws of the ancient Church in similar situations. Recognizing that baptism is the essential condition for entering into the ranks of her members, she receives Jews, Muslims, pagans and those sectarians distorting the fundamental dogmas of the Orthodox Church, by means of baptism. She receives Protestants by means of Chrismation. Those Catholics and Armenians who were not confirmed or chrismated from their pastors, she likewise receives by means of chrismation. Those Catholics or Armenians who were confirmed or chrismated, she receives by means of the third rite: through repentance, repudiation of errors and reception of the Holy Mysteries."[75]

With respect to members of the Anglican Church, Bulgakov is of the opinion that a priest cannot assume the responsibility upon himself by receiving them through the third rite and must receive them through the second rite, by means of chrismation, as was done at the time of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow. In case of doubt, the priest is obliged to consult with the diocesan authority.[76]

Archpriest Nikolsky summarizes the subject of the reception of non-Orthodox as follows:

"The sacrament of chrismation, separate from baptism, is performed upon the heterodox uniting with the Orthodox Church, but only upon those who, having received proper baptism, have not been chrismated, such as Lutherans, Calvinists and those Roman Catholics and Armenians who were not anointed with Chrism (not confirmed)."[77]

Roman Catholic clergy, as noted above, are received in their order, following their repentance, repudiation of heresy and confession of the Orthodox Faith. The actual rite for the reception of a Roman Catholic priest into Orthodoxy was compiled by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow.[78]

With respect to the validity of the Anglican clergy’s orders, Metropolitan Philaret neither rejected nor recognized them and recommended their re-ordination upon coming into Orthodoxy, with the observance of the conditional formula: "If you are not ordained." In the opinion of come Russian scholars (e.g., Prof. V. A. Sokolov), the Anglican Church preserved the apostolic succession and all sacraments of the Church. In the opinion of others, such is not the case. There have been no authoritative determinations by the Church on this subject.[79]

The Russian Church received Uniats who desired to return to the bosom of the Orthodox Church with great joy. They returned to Orthodoxy as individuals, as parishes and as whole dioceses. During the reign of Catherine the Great, up to two million Uniats united with the Orthodox Church. In the 19th century, Uniats converted to Orthodoxy by the thousands. How did the Russian Orthodox Church receive them? She received them with love. Their very desire to reunite with the Holy Orthodox Church was sufficient to proclaim that they were her children. The love of the Mother Church set aside all impediments and all rites by which they should be received into Orthodoxy. Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky, in describing his audience with the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1843 writes that he informed the Patriarch that in 1841, 13,000 Uniats reunited with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch inquired: "Did you baptize them?" Bishop (then an Archimandrite) Porphyrius Uspensky gave a negative reply, explaining to the Patriarch that "the Uniats, by their inner conviction and faith, have always been in communion with our Church and had no need to be re-baptized."[80] When the Uniats were reunited with the Orthodox Church in 1916, as the Russian army occupied Galicia, the Russian Church once again expressed an exceptional cordiality: the Uniats were received as "our own." There was not the slightest emphasis that they are leaving something and coming to something new. The Holy Russian Church received them as her children simply in response to their desire to be children of the Orthodox Church. Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich was in complete accord with this delicate and magnanimous treatment of them.[81]


To summarize the material presented on this subject we will say that in ancient times the Russian Church did not re-baptize the Latins who converted to Orthodoxy. Re-baptism was introduced for a brief period (from 1620 to 1667) as a result of those horrors that the Russian Church and the Russian people experienced from the Latins and from Catholic Poland during the Time of Troubles. Since 1667 — with respect to the Latins, and from 1718 — with respect to Lutherans and Calvinists, the law for re-baptism was repealed once and for all. Concurring with the views of our prominent theologians, the Russian Orthodox Church’s legislation followed that tradition and the rite for the reception of non-Orthodox into the Orthodox Church was established. These views and these laws were distinguished by the humane and tolerant principles that were characteristic of the Russian Church. Where there is Truth, there will be strength and magnanimity. O, how marvelous is our great and wise Russian Church!

Footnotes and Endnotes

Web Editor's note: the original publication had both footnotes and endnotes. For Internet publication all notes have been converted to endnotes.

[43] Prof. A. V. Kartashev, Outlines of Russian Church History, v. 1, pp. 264-265. Back to referring section.

[44] Prof. N. Talberg, History of the Russian Church, p. 71. Back to referring section.

[45] Kartashev, op.cit. Chapter on The Uncoupling from the West, pp. 263-266. Back to referring section.

[46] Ibid, p. 263. Back to referring section.

[47] Talberg, op. cit., pp. 71, 73. Back to referring section.

[48] Kartashev, op. cit., p.264. Back to referring section.

[49] Ibid, p. 264. Back to referring section.

[50] Ibid, p.266. A number of works are devoted to the description of relations between the Russian Church and the West. One of the most significant examples on this subject, in our humble opinion, is the three volume work of P. Pierling, La Russie et le Saint Siege, Paris, 1897. Back to referring section.

[51] The popes were strict rulers. Thus, one pope is gratefully remembered for making the streets of Rome safe for residents and pilgrims. He did this by ordering that all suspicious characters be hanged. The popes had a good and loyal police force. "Santa Uffici" (Sacred Chancellery) had a "Bocca de la Verita," an opening in the wall where anonymous denunciations could be dropped off and that brought about a great fear among the Roman residents. The popes may have had personal enemies, but the popes had no fear of enemies on the principle of faith. Such were unknown in Rome. Back to referring section.

[52] Lives of the Saints, compiled by St. Dimitri, Metropolitan of Rostov, for May 14. See also Fools-for-Christ in the Eastern and Russian Church by Ioann Kovalevsky, Moscow, 1895, pp. 238-249. Back to referring section.

[53] Kovalevsky, op. cit., pp. 249-251. Back to referring section.

[54] Ibid, p. 161ff. Back to referring section.

[55] We can note here that Russian historians characterize Marina Mnishek’s reception of Orthodoxy as strictly a political act. The policy of the False Dimitri was permeated by the goal to Latinize the Russian Church. See: Metropolitan Makarii, History of the Russian Church, v. X, pp. 99-122. See also Prof. Kartashev, op. cit., v. II, p. 60. As for the aims of the False Dimitri, there is also a view that he, probably, wanted to be a real Russian Tsar and not a lackey of Rome and Warsaw. Professor Platonov in his book about Boris Godunov correctly notes that there is nothing worse than to raise calumny against a dead person who cannot make a rebuttal. Back to referring section.

[56] .Kartashev, vol. 2, p. 98. Back to referring section.

[57] Idem. Back to referring section.

[58] Kartashev, pp. 96-97. Back to referring section.

[59] Ibid, p. 99. Back to referring section.

[60] Metropolitan Makarii, History of the Russian Church, v. XI, p. 232. Back to referring section.

[61] Cited in Prof. Talberg, op. cit., p. 467. Back to referring section.

[62] Metr. Makarii, op. cit., vol. XII, pp. 175-175. Back to referring section.

[63] Ibid, pp. 196-197. Back to referring section.

[64] Op. cit., p. 786. For the original text see Acts of the Moscow Councils 1666-1667, Moscow, 1893, pp. 174-175. Back to referring section.

[65] Nikodim Milash, op. cit., p. 592, note II. Back to referring section.

[66] Archbishop Benjamin, Novaya Skrizhal’, 16th ed., SPb, 1899, pp. 475-476; [see also Jordanville reprint of the 17th edition, §79, p.506]. Back to referring section.

[67] Found in Nikolsky, Manual for the Study of the Order [Ustav] of Services, 1900 ed., pp. 685-686. Back to referring section.

[68] Bulgakov, Reference Book for Sacred Ministers, 1900 ed., p. 947, note 2. Back to referring section.

[69] Ibid, p. 929 and notes on p. 948. Back to referring section.

[70] Decrees of the Holy Synod, 1840, II, 20. 1865, VIII, 25. Statute of the Spiritual Consistory, 22, 25. Back to referring section.

[71] Tserkovnye Vedomosti, 1893, 28. Practical Instruction [for Rural Pastors], 181ff. Back to referring section.

[72] Tserkovnye Vedomosti, 1891, 21, p. 280. Back to referring section.

[73] Instruction of the Sacred Synod, 1800, Feb 20, note 4. See more details about this in Nikolsky, op.cit., p. 684 Back to referring section.

[74] About some special situations of some heterodox coming into Orthodoxy, which are not directly related to our subject, see Compilation of Directives and Notes on the Problems of Pastoral Practice, Moscow, 1875, pp. 73-75. Back to referring section.

[75] Bulgakov, op. cit., pp. 928-929. Back to referring section.

[76] Ibid, p. 929, note 1. Back to referring section.

[77] Archpriest Nikolsky, op. cit., p. 678. Back to referring section.

[78] In the journal The Annals of the Imperial Society of History and Antiquities (1892, book 3), there is material indicating that clerics, uniting with the Orthodox Church from heresy whose baptism and ordination is unquestioned, should be received only by giving a written confession of the Orthodox Faith and the repudiation of their heresy, as was the practice of the Seventh Ecumenical Council with respect to bishops and other clerics who were Iconoclasts. These must be received in conformance with Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council, each in his clerical rank, by vesting them in accordance with their rank. See Archpriest Nikolsky, p. 686, note I.. Back to referring section.

[79] See Bulgakov, op. cit., p 948, notes. Back to referring section.

[80] Porfirii Uspensky, Book of My Life, v. 1, p.173. Back to referring section.

[81] Protopresbyter George Shavelsky, Memoirs of the Last Protopresbyter of the Russian Army and Navy, v. II, pp. 33ff.

The Russian Church was tolerant towards the non-Orthodox. Prof. N. Zernov’s book Orthodox Encounter (1961) gives some historical material about the meetings of Russian theologians and hierarchs with non-Orthodox theologians and hierarchs, especially with Anglicans, from which one can appreciate the broad views of the Russian Church. Narrow views and confessional fanaticism was foreign to her. I would like to add on my part that while I was at the ancient Cathedral of York I saw, preserved under glass with great reverence, an Omophorion of a Russian hierarch that the latter presented to the Archbishop of York. We can recall how cordially the Russian Church received the well-known Palmer and how open she was towards him. He, on his part, enriched the Russian theological literature with his remarkable work about Patriarch Nikon.

Russian hierarchs in most cases stood by the principle that "the divisions between Christian denominations do not reach the heavens." It is well known how tenderly and attentively the righteous Father John of Kronstadt related to the non-Orthodox, maintaining a correspondence with them. Queen Victoria, to whom the English translation of Father St. John of Kronstadt’s work My Life in Christ was dedicated, reverently received the book and reflected upon its author with the greatest respect. Here is an extract from the Anglican theologian Birkbeck’s book Two Days in Kronstadt (1902), pp. 277-295:

"[Fr. John’s] face was as usual, calm and had a bright smile. He moved with difficulty between the rows of attendants, all of them pressing to kiss his hand or receive his blessing. Among them I noticed not only several German Lutherans, but also two Muslim Tartars who were waiters in the restaurant and who also asked for and received his blessing. His influence reached far beyond the boundaries of the Orthodox population."

Father John of Kronstadt had conversation with an Anglican archbishop and upon his exit from the guesthouse he was pressed once again by the attendants. (As is known, Metropolitan Anastassy participated in the writing of this book, having been a student of the Theological Academy).

The relations of the Russian Orthodox Church with the non-Orthodox was permeated with such nobility and cordiality. It is not likely that anyone could accuse St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, or the righteous St. John of Kronstadt of not being firm in their Orthodoxy! On the contrary, it is precisely this strength — theirs and that of the Russian Church — that allowed such magnanimity and tolerance in the approach towards the non-Orthodox. Where there is Truth — there will be freedom, and strength, and magnanimity.

Back to referring section.

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