Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, October 1961

Part 1 of 2

[This essay was written by Metropolitan, later Patriarch, Sergii (Stragorodsky) and first published in the JMP in 1935 (No. 23-24). The importance of the subject, the authority of the author and the unavailability of this essay to the wide circle of our readers convinced us to reprint Metropolitan Sergii's essay. Editors]

The prestige of our contemporary Church hierarchy, its Divinely established rights and authority, rests on the historical fact of its Apostolic succession. This is the present teaching of the Orthodox Church, and such was its ancient teaching during the period of the "undivided" Church as is customarily expressed in the theological literature of the West. It is not surprising that the heterodox groups separated from the Church who wish, unlike the Protestants, not to sever themselves from their past, preserve this teaching and value the Apostolic succession of its hierarchy, if they are able to prove it. The question of Apostolic succession inevitably comes up in any attempt of union of heterodox groups with the Orthodox Church or, as the subject is posed, again in the West, in conjunction with judging the rights of one or another self-established "Church" (Old Catholics, etc.) with respect to their being a part of the Church Universal. For example, there is a mass of theological literature on the Anglican hierarchy with both those who oppose and those who support its recognition, resting their case on Apostolic succession; with the former rejecting it and the latter proving it.

 The question is raised: how does the Orthodox Church look upon the preservation of Apostolic succession among heterodox hierarchs? Do these circumstances have, in her eyes, any significance other than historical? In other words, does the substantial presence of succession have any bearing on the judgement by our Church of a particular heterodox group and specifically of its clergy?

There is a view which would respond to this question with a definite NO. Christ's Church, say those who side with this view, sees itself as the sole earthly treasury of redemptive grace ("I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"). She alone has the authentic Apostolic hierarchy which distributes the Mysteries of salvation. The heterodox groups separated from the Church, no matter how they may differ among themselves: whether they apparently have an Apostolic hierarchy or not, those who desire to have a priesthood and those who do not recognize it, all form, as far as the Church is concerned, one common homogenous mass which is lacking in grace, Christians only by the inaccurate application of that term.

It is true that the Church has three orders for the reception of heterodox: one is through baptism, as if they were pagans, the other through chrismation and the third through repentance, with clerics, in the latter case, received in their present order. These three orders for reception in no way presuppose some kind of a three tier heterodoxy: in the one instance the Church would recognize no sacraments, with others a recognition of baptism and with the third not only baptism but chrismation and ordination, and in each appropriate order for reception, completing that which is lacking.

Applying a stricter order for reception to one heterodox group and a more liberal order to another

The correctness of the above view is demonstrated, it is said, not only by its faithfulness to dogma but by its continuous development and especially in the radical change in the Church's practice in relation to the heterodox. For example, the Russian Church at first received Catholics through the third form and in existing orders. Later it started to re-baptize and then again returned to the former practice, which it presently maintains. The Greek Church, on the other hand, at first received Catholics as we do, but since the XVIII C. began to re-baptize. At the same time the Greek Church not only avoids criticizing our practice but under certain circumstances is ready to make an exception to their strict rule. In recognizing Anglican orders the Greek Church logically must liberalize and perhaps already has liberalized its practice with respect to Catholics (a reminder that this was written in 1935. Ed.) This inconsistency is found in the practice of the ancient Church with respect to various groups (e.g. Donatists and others). It is futile to try to find some kind of a system in this variety and to find appropriate dogmatic foundations for the practices of the Church. There is no system here and the Church does not need any dogmatic basis to apply, instead of the first form, the second or the third. The Church can act here in complete freedom, choosing at its own discretion that which is more appropriate under given circumstances and what is more beneficial in a given time.

The above view expresses a dogmatic consistency and by immediately dispelling any doubt and lack of clarity in relation to the heterodox. It is sufficient for an heterodox to come into the Church's vineyard and whatever he brings with him, the Church will reward him equally as with her own faithful sons. Thus the late Archbishop Hilarion answered an Anglican professor: "Stop wrestling with the question whether you have (sviaschenstvo) valid orders or not. Come directly to the Church. She will receive you without any humiliation, without re-baptism, without re-ordination, and will give you, from her plenitude, a place in the bosom of the Universal Church of Christ, valid (blagodatnoye) priesthood, and everything".

We do not however, have the Catholic principle by which a dogma determines history. We Orthodox cannot close our eyes to the witness of the latter. Seeing a conflict between dogma and history we must first ask ourselves whether we correctly understand the Church's dogma. In the present instance what history shows is not in favor of the present understanding. The Church's practice with respect to heterodox is truly extremely inconsistent and unstable.The importance of ecclesiastical economy in the case of the reception of heterodox is very great. In all this however, there is a firm line which the Church, in its practice, does not cross. This line is the absence of proper Apostolic succession in the episcopal ordination of a given group (along with the Apostolic teaching on the priesthood). No matter how persistent be the conclusions of ecclesiastical economy, the Church does not receive such members into its bosom by the third form (without chrismation) and in no way would receive a cleric without an Orthodox ordination. For example a Lutheran pastor, a Scottish presbyter, an
Old Believer preceptor, and such others, can be exemplary individuals and worthy of Orthodox priesthood but they cannot be admitted to Orders without ordination since they would not receive implicite the grace of priesthood through repentance (in the third form).

Thus the presence of Apostolic succession prominently identifies a particular group of heterodox out of the whole mass. Only those who preserved that succession will be received by the Church among its clergy without ordination. Does the Church recognize such ordinations valid (blagodantnye)?

The defenders of the view under discussion explain things differently. The Church, they say, holds precious the Apostolic succession as such, and in this case does not want to violate the external forms, preserved since the Apostles, even if these forms outside the Church became empty, having lost the content of Apostolic grace.

The evidence of the Church's practice again do not present the Church's teaching in that light. For example our rule for receiving Catholic priests in their order is extended to such a point that if such a priest for example, wishing to get married, does not want to be admitted in his order, nevertheless after being received into the bosom of the Orthodox Church, will be considered not simply a layman but a laicized priest and as such he would never be eligible to receive Orthodox ordination. It is difficult to concede that this is only because of the Church's respect for an empty form, she would deprive an otherwise worthy person of becoming an Orthodox cleric especially since her laws permit the married state for its clerics.

If it can be said that the Church in this instance punishes a moral instability undesirable in a cleric, a rejection of a burden (cross) once accepted, why then should the Church not punish a Lutheran pastor, an Old Believer leader and such others who, at the time of admission into the Church do not immediately enter the Orthodox clergy and who later will seek this?

The Church understands Apostolic succession not merely as an external mechanical transfer of the very act of ordination but also the faith connected with this act namely the preservation of the Apostolic teaching on the grace of priesthood within a given group.

This doesn't tie in too well with the view being analyzed. To receive an empty form lacking in grace, and at the same time to believe, in accordance with the Apostolic teaching, that one is receiving Divine grace, and to experience with this the appropriate thoughts and feelings, would be a self-delusion or, in theological language, a novelty. Novelties are not to be indulged in but should be fought with all available means. It would appear that in this case the Church somehow is attempting to keep the person undisturbed in his novelty, as if it is afraid to disturb the person's false convictions that he received effective grace in his heterodox ordination. Leaving aside the need for an Orthodox ordination the Church invents a special order for reception, that through the Mystery of repentance to convey implicite, and imperceptibly to the recipient, the grace of priesthood. Thus it would be closer to the truth and to the teaching of the Church to assume that where, outside the Church, the Apostolic succession, i.e. the Apostolic form of ordination and the Apostolic teaching about the grace of the priesthood has been preserved, there in the mind of the Church, ordination is not simply a form without grace and thus is not repeated in receiving such clerics into the Orthodox priesthood.

It is more correct to understand the Church's teaching in this manner than to invent some kind of imposition of sacraments implicite, for which no evidence can be found in the Church's canons or in Patristic literature and in fact there are sources which oppose this.

We must admit that this subtle invention simplifies pastoral and missionary practice and dispels all doubt. For example, a person considering himself Orthodox, receives Communion and then discovers that he has not been baptized. What to do? Answer: inasmuch as he has received communion he received the plenitude of grace and is not in need of baptism. Or: upon the reception of whole Renovationist parishes, what to do with infants chrismated by the Renovationists? Answer: Administer communion to everyone during the first Liturgy and the problem is over. But these advisors are in effect throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Wishing to avoid unnecessary noise and embarrassment which is inevitable in the performance of sacraments for those who considered themselves or were considered by others as having received the sacraments, the advisors conclude "what if ?" and leave open to doubt a more important problem: are the sacraments of any benefit for those who have not formally entered the Church? Is this not food for the dead? In any case, Canon 1 of Timothy of Alexandria states: a catechumen who receives communion by mistake is not relieved from being baptized as if he has already received the plenitude of grace without baptism, but he must be baptized without completing the catechumenate. ["Let him be illumined i.e. baptized, for he is called by God"]

In general, Church canons are completely against "what if" [conditional] conclusions in such important cases where the matter is a re-birth in grace and sanctification even of a single person. According to Carthage 83 [72] an infant whose baptism is questionable should not be brought to communion, thinking that he will receive everything. The canon states " . . .all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments." This was considered of such importance that the Trullo Council (E.C. VI:84) found it necessary to reiterate the Carthage canon for the ecumenical practice. Thus the Church in its canons prefers to risk the repetition of the non-repetitious sacrament (Apost. 47) rather than teach of the possibility of this sacrament implicite. Evidently, the reason for such a teaching appears to be most appropriate.

One can be certain that if the Church of Christ had any doubt about the authenticity of heterodox sacraments, it would have in all sincerity expressed this doubt, directing that the essential ones be repeated and it would not try to hide these doubts, the more so of its certainty in the ineffectiveness of the mysteries, by granting them implicite.

I think (as I proposed in my essay in JMP '' 2-4 for 1931) that many things in the relations of the Church with the heterodox will be understood if we do not overlook the fact that the heterodox do not think of the Church as something independent and completely foreign to them, as adhering to a different creed, that the heterodox fall into the category of the fallen or penitents: the fallen excluded from participating in the mysteries, some excluded from prayers, but somehow they still remain in the Church and under its influence. The heterodox are separated from the Church more so than the fallen; they not only sin but they do not recognize the Church and fight against it. However the Church's relation to them is as if they were fallen. This is clearly condemned "...hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 1:23), but by no means malevolently and not with enmity "saving with fear". The Church " hands them over to Satan so that their spirit may be saved" (I Cor. 5:5). In other words the Church's relations with heterodoxy is one of the functions of the Church's judgement broadly understood to be a corrective measure for the fallen. It is natural that this relationship reflects the general functions of judgement.

It is important to point out in this case a general negative trait which characterizes the Church's court, that while it can take away (permanently or temporarily) what was given in the mysteries, it cannot on its own authority grant that which can only be received through the mysteries: the court cannot recognize one who is not baptized to be baptized; a layman to be a priest, etc. This is especially so with the heterodox: those whom the Church does not find to be properly baptized cannot be received without baptism; those who do not have proper priesthood are not taken into its clergy without its own ordination.


If the Orthodox Church receives heterodox clerics in their order because it recognizes their priesthood, how can we reconcile the accepted historical fact of changes in treating these grpups by the Church, for example Roman Catholics?

It should not be overlooked that the Church does not treat uncritically ordinations performed within its bosom. There are any number of Orthodox ordinations which are declared to be invalid.

"Concerning Maximus the Cynic . . it is decreed that Maximus never was and is not now a Bishop . . since all which has been done concerning him or by him is declared to be invalid" [E.C. II:4],

even though he was an outstanding Orthodox and received his ordination from proper Orthodox bishops. This includes all those canons which proclaim invalid those Orthodox ordinations performed with substantial deviations from the canons such as without the approval of the Metropolitan [EC I:6], by a bishop from another diocese [AC 14:, 35] and on a strange cleric [E.C.I:16; Sard. 15, Carth. 91, and others].

At the same time the practice established by these canons is found not to be immutable. History regularly shows examples of exceptions from the canons. This because the Church's canons are not dogmatic definitions in matters of faith, deciding the question once and for all, and they do not act automatically. They are first of all given as a guide for Church courts and consequently, every departure from them assumes a special decision by the court. Specifically when speaking about the invalidity of orders under certain conditions, the canons speak only about the power of the Church court to find these ordinations invalid. This means that in case of need and considering the circumstances of the matter at hand or simply in applying Church economy the court can withhold its chastising sword and leave the ordination in question as valid. Church history knows of events when Orthodox bishops forced by extraordinary conditions or extraordinary malfeasance, held court and passed judgement beyond the boundaries of their territories, deposed bishops and clerics, replacing them with others. These acts were justified in the Church's consciousness and remained in force (e.g. acts of St. John Chrysostom, and others).

In making similar exceptions to the canons the Church never established precedents by this for the future and does not give anyone the right to justify their violation of the canons based on such precedents. Church economy does not repeal nor even dilute the force of the canon. It has in mind the specific situation and its unique nature and in this way restricts its action. The canon remains in force for all and the Church court can pass judgement on the guilty, unless it finds a need to apply the principle of economy.

This more or less is the basis for relations between the Church and heterodox organizations. The substantial difference is only in that in the sphere of the Church court the dealings are with individual transgressors of Church canons whereas in the other instance the relations are with whole groups of transgressors, more or less organized and united in each case with some kind of a particular deviation. The judgement of one individual representing the group inevitably is based on the judgement of the whole group.

As the sole earthly possessor of the power to bind and loose and the sole treasury of saving grace, Christ's Church has the opportunity and the right to declare all ordinations outside the Church to be invalid. However, guided by the argument of Church economy, the desire to bring about the salvation of a greater number of people, the Church does not implement its power in all places and at all times. The ordinations in heterodox organizations which retained both the Apostolic teaching and the form of ordination, the Church retains this in force, it in some way recognizes these as valid, because from this it makes proper conclusions: for example it does not repeat baptism or chrismation performed by those clerics. In all this the non-implementation by the Church of its basic right with respect to a particular group of heterodox organizations by no means indicates a refusal of the Church to do so forever. When conditions of Church life change and the leniency towards a given heterodox group no longer provides for the salvation of a greater number of people and even more so results in a direct hinderance to this, the Church returns to its basic right and rescinds the dispensation and again binds what was loosened. This explains the apparent non-systematic and changing relations of the Church towards heterodox organizations.

For example the Old Catholic and the Belakrinitza hierarchies both base their origin on individual ordinations. The Orthodox Church unconditionally rejects the latter hierarchy and declares all of its acts as invalid, and those who enter the Church are received through chrismation. Our Church likewise does not recognize Old Catholic hierarchy. At this time no one knows how they are treated in the Greek East. However the relations of ruling Church circles towards the Old Catholics (at least in the past) has been most sympathetic both from our part and in the East. Particularly, individual consecration was not an unconditional impediment for the recognition of the Old Catholic hierarchy. In justification, reference was made to the acceptance by Western practice of individual consecration (one bishop and two specially empowered abbots). Perhaps this departure became established because the bishop's office, in view of the development of Papal authority, does not differ much from that of the presbyter. Be that as it may, but if the Old Catholics truly adopted for themselves the teaching of the ancient undivided Church, and would not resort to dogmatism, analysis and arguments about details of teaching and ritual, and if the leaders would be less imitative of Protestants, it is very possible that Old Catholics would have by now received in communion with the recognition of their hierarchy.

There is a lot in common with the beginnings of Anglicanism and our Renovationists. Here as there the beginning was a rupture from their Patriarch and the legitimate hierarchy united under him (as much as this can be said about Catholic hierarchy). There as here the legitimate diocesan hierarchs declined to participate in the first episcopal consecration. Here as there the first consecration was performed by some kind of incidental bishops, in part vicars, and in part completely retired, their authority being defined it appears, by the fact that the legitimate Church had not in a timely manner placed them under a ban.

The Anglican hierarchy did not receive universal recognition from the Orthodox Church. However if the notorious "rapprochement of the Anglican Church with the Orthodox" would move along a normal ecclesiastical way, if the Anglicans as an organization truly struggled to look for the true Church and valid priesthood, if their quest would not at times be obscured with the thought of first attaining the recognition of their hierarchy (which in its time was so rudely rejected by the Roman pope) and in the event of that to remain with all that which is theirs, then the reunion of the Anglicans with the Orthodox Church could very well have taken place and the question of the hierarchy, most likely, would have been resolved in the positive sense.

On the other hand the Renovationists have been judged by our Church in the full strictness of the canons, although gradually. Declaring that Revisionism is a schism the Holy Patriarch with the bishops gathered in council, could have immediately deposed or at most suspended all disobedient bishops and clerics which would have required that the return of the Revisionists to the Church be by the second rite (through chrismation). But the Patriarch in 1923 exercised his authority only partially with respect to ordinations which in addition to being unauthorized, had other canonical defects. The Patriarch proclaimed as invalid the episcopal status of married bishops and ordinations performed by them, as well as the ordination to clerical status of digamists or those married to widows, etc. Only in April 2, 1924 was a prohibition placed upon the Renovationist leaders ( thus extending to all in communion with them). From that date we do not recognize Revisionist ordinations as valid as well as other sacraments including chrismation even though the old Myro, appropriated from the Church, may have been used. This is because the Holy Myro is not some kind of a self-acting matter which can be applied by anyone and would result in a "sacrament". The Church teaches that the sacrament of chrismation is performed by a bishop and is only delegated to the presbyter (meaning one who is not suspended). Chrismation, performed by a deacon or a layman, would not be a sacrament.

Such an inconsistent approach to circumstances seemingly of equal standing can be explained precisely by the consciousness of the Church's benefit from a practical pastoral point of view. Old Catholics and Anglicans fell away from Rome at the time the latter was in schism. Their departure was substantially out of the schism, although to this time they have not been united with the Church. They should not be criticized for their separation but for taking so long to bring it about. Their separation certainly weakened the Roman schism and in this way partially strengthened the position of the Orthodox Church. It is natural for them to look upon our Church as an ally and to look to it with interest and sympathy, and for our Church to engender the hope that concessions toward them would serve for the salvation of the greater number of people. On the other hand the Belokrinitza and the Renovationist hierarchy are aiming to strengthen the schism by their antipathy to the Church and to stifle the desire of the faithful to unite with valid priesthood by false imitations of it and in this way to push aside Orthodox hierarchs and to step in their place. The aim of such organizations [bodies] is not to strengthen but to weaken the Body of the Church. This is why the approach to the first two bodies is by way of Church economy whereas in relations with the latter the Church sees no basis for departure from the strictness of the canons, in any case until such time as the position of these two, and others like them, does not change for the better.

Incidentally, do we not violate Apostolic Canon 68 by re-ordaining clerics returning from certain schismatic groups? It is pointed out that the canon prescribes reordination only if the ordination was performed by heretics but in this case we are not dealing with heretics but with schismatics. However, in the first place the word "heretic" in canonical language has two meanings: the broad (a literal meaning of the word heretic), which defines anyone who is separated from the Church, and the specific, which defines anyone separated from the Church on the basis of belief. In the second place, heretical ordinations are repeated precisely because they are ineffective ("for those who have been . . . ordained by such persons cannot be either of the faithful, or of the clergy") that is, they give nothing. However any improper ordination can be declared invalid as seen from the above-cited Church rules, including that of the schismatics. The difference in the process of annulling a valid or an invalid ordination is very much a significant matter. Someone receiving a valid ordination can only be "deposed from office", that is, he is deprived of what was valid. He not only is deprived of the order which he attained but of the whole clerical status. Thus a bishop deprived of his office cannot remain a presbyter (E.C. IV:29). A deposed individual cannot be ordained anew. On the other hand an improper ordination is looked upon as ineffective, as if it never took place and he who received it, can remain in his former office which he had at the time of the invalid ordination, provided that as a result of obtaining an irregular ordination he is not subject to deposition from his previous office, according to Apostolic Canon 35. For example, according to researches by Bishop Li'l of Arrive (see c. VII, Alexandria and Egypt; '17 Cellophane Movement), the Alexandrian presbyter Calif, among others, received an invalid episcopal consecration from Meletuis (Meletian schism during the time of Bishop Alexander, predecessor of St. Athanasius of Alexandria). After the Meletian ordinations were declared invalid, "Kalif died a presbyter" (according to St. Athanasius) which would not have been the case if he (Kalif) had been "deposed" from his episcopal office. Having remained a presbyter he undoubtedly preserved, if not the moral, but the formal eligibility to be a candidate for a bishopric. The possibility of this second (in reality the first) consecration cannot be disputed.

Thus in spite of the obviously negative views of heterodox ordinations described above, it is more correct to think that the Church does not repeat heterodox ordinations (when it finds Apostolic succession maintained by the body in question) not because of the value placed on Apostolic forms but because it considers such ordinations as valid. However this does in no way mean that outside the Church there can be valid (blagodatnyie) sacraments: the Church recognizes grace among heterodox only because it finds it "not alien" to the Church "ek tis ekklesias" (Basil Canon I {see text in Milash II, p.367}), and only as long they remain as such. Preserving a "certain degree of relations" with them (even though officially eucharistic and prayerful relations have been broken) the Church somehow gives them the opportunity to partake of the crumbs of grace from the plentiful table from which it nourishes its faithful children. Grace outside the Church does not exist and the Church, having the power to "bind and loose" can continue to preserve this "certain degree of relations" with heterodox when it coincides with its own mission (the salvation of people), as well as to discontinue this relationship, that is to break the flow of grace and to turn that organization into a condition without grace, which in effect should be the case with all those outside the Church. On the other hand local Orthodox Churches, separated from each other by distance and acting within its own environment could become estranged from a heterodox organization (e.g. Roman Catholics) on its own, while others remain in its present status. This is the reason for differences in inter-Church practices. But these are temporary occurrences which will last only until there a universal agreement.

Part 2 of this document.

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