Thursday, March 13, 1997
Very Reverend and Reverend
Archimandrites, Hegumens, Hieromonks,
Archpriests and Priests
Diocese of the West
The Lord's blessing be upon you!
Recently, I've become aware of a lot of discussion and controversy in Orthodox circles here in America on the topic of the proper way to receive, for example, Roman Catholics and Lutherans, into the Orthodox Church, and how Roman Catholic and Lutheran clergy become Orthodox clergy. While it is on the one hand inspiring to observe our clergy and people engaged in thought, discussion, even debate on holy topics, it is also disturbing to me when some of those engaged in these discussions and debates seem to minimize or give only a passing, slight nod in the direction of the practices that have been passed on to us, and seem to feel that any theological conclusions they may reach on these topics must be reflected in practice. It is most perplexing, too, that the labels of conservative and liberal, so inappropriate to Christian, as opposed to political, thought, are applied to one or other position on the topic, frequently in a way completely contradictory to the meaning of those political labels.
The practice of our Church, the Orthodox Church in America, and that of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America ("The Metropolia"), as likewise that of the Russian Mission and Missionary Diocese and Archdiocese that preceded them, in the matter of the reception of heretics is very clear: it is the practice that obtains and has obtained in the Russian Church for centuries, at least since the time of Peter the Great. It may be found and studied in the Service Books of the Church of Russia [in both its "native" conformation (The Church of Russia) and "foreign" (Abroad) conformation]. According, for example, to the Book of Needs published at Vladimirova between the wars by the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia, that differs in no respects from previous and subsequent Books of Needs published by The Church of Russia, Roman Catholics are received, after undergoing the Office for the Reception Converts printed in the same book, immediately into Communion and are imparted the Holy Mysteries at the ensuing Liturgy without further ado, unless they have not been Chrismated (i.e., are coming from the Latin Rite of the Roman communion and not from the Uniates), in which case they would be chrismated. No provision at all is provided in the Service Books to receive Roman Catholics in the manner of receiving Jews and Mohammedans, i.e., to baptize them.
The prescribed practice printed in our Service Books has been in force and active use for centuries, and it cannot be considered only a temporary episode of Economy in the life of the Church. When candidates for the LayingonofHands to the honorable Priesthood promise to observe the liturgical order of the Church, they are promising (failing a contrary directive from their Bishop) to follow the prescribed rites printed in the Service Books. And the overturning of the prescribed practice without a preceding directive from a Synod or council would be an example of innovation. Oddly enough, some that would advocate this consider themselves to be "conservative."
My own predecessors in the see of San Francisco followed these Service Books. They are the Service Books of the Church of Saint Innocent and of Saint Tikhon. They are the Service Books of the Church of such luminaries as the evermemorable Metropolitans Antony (Khrapovitsky) and Anastassy (Gribanovski). I know of no oral or written guidance given by any of the foregoing luminaries altering the received practice in this matter.
Saint Elisabeth (Elizaveta Fyodorovna), recently added to the calendar of Saints of the Russian Church, was received into the Orthodox Church (as was likewise her sister, the sainted Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna) from the state German Lutheran Church where she had been baptized as a child, through the Rite of the Reception of Heretics with ensuing Chrismation--without a new Baptism.
Recently a book touching heavily on the topic of the baptism of converts by a Professor of the state Church of Greece, Professor Metallinos, has enjoyed a wide readership in American Orthodox circles. Whatever may be one's opinions and convictions vis-ı-vis the conclusions of Professor Metallinos on the question, one must realize that these conclusions have significance only insofar as they might appear inter alia on the agenda of a Synod of Bishops or a Church Council that would decide to reexamine the received practice of our Church. One need not read Professor Metallinos's book to find support for the peculiar position of the Greek Church(es) on the topic: in fact, one would expect to find the practices of the state Church of Greece being welldefended by all Her Faithful children. I have appended, as "Attachment One" to this letter, an excerpt from the collection of the Canons of the Orthodox Church with commentaries by a noted, authoritative canonist outside the boundaries of the state Church of Greece, Bishop Nikodim of the Serbian Church. This is an authoritative statement on what is, in fact, our received practice by a Hierarch at least as widely respected on the topic of Church canons as Professor Metallinos. I don't present this attachment as justification or defense for a practice that I uphold because I believe it to be my duty as a Bishop. I'm presenting it in the interests of clarity, and I want to add to the ongoing discussion and debate a document that should assure everyone that any Priest or Bishop of the Orthodox Church in America that receives Roman Catholic heretics by Chrismation or Lutheran or Anglican heretics by Chrismation is not some kind of "looseshotgun Liberal" motivated by ecumenism or the heretical "branch theory" of ecclesiology, but is someone that is following a practice totally obedient to the received practice of our Church.
I also feel it incumbent on me to comment on the reception of Roman Catholic clergy and their becoming Orthodox clergy. I've attached my own translation of the prescribed "Office of Receiving a Priest of the Roman Church into Communion with the Orthodox Catholic Church", that is the venerable and centuries old practice of the Church of Russia, of the Russian Mission and Missionary Diocese in America and its successors, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America ("The Metropolia") and the Orthodox Church in America.
As I commented on the reception of two sainted German princesses into the Orthodox Church when discussing the reception of Laity, I would like to point to the reception of St. Alexis Toth (Tovt) of Minneapolis and WilkesBarre. St. Alexis was received according to the rite outlined in the attached document, i.e., by Confession of Faith, Penance, and vesting in the Altar after the Cherubicon. How could it be otherwise? Can one imagine Bishop Vladimir or Bishop Nicholas, the two Russian hierarchs of the day, contravening the established practice of the Russian Church and insisting the St. Alexis be ordained according to the formula for ordaining Laity? (And I may remark that St. Alexis came to the Russian Orthodox bishop in San Francisco in the first place because a Roman Catholic hierarch did not recognize his Priesthood! One may only imagine how history might now differ if the Russian Orthodox Bishop in San Francisco had also refused to recognize his Priesthood and that of many subsequent Clergy of the Church!)
Recently a Hierarch of our Orthodox Church In America received a Priest from the Roman church exactly as our Tradition requires, yet this action was, scandalously, publicly decried by a few clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church in America, and at least one temporarily lost soul went so far as to adopt the custom of the heretical Amish and shunned the Priest that had been received into the community of Orthodox clergy in the prescribed fashion! Dearly beloved and esteemed brother Priests and Shepherds! Let's always be governed in our conduct by the Tradition of our Church and not by the temporary passions of the day that may splash like waves of the sea of life against the hull of the holy Ship of our salvation, Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Let's preserve what has been handed on to us! Neither I nor His Beatitude, nor any of the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America are reckless opponents of Church Order or Discipline. We do not "take our cues" from anything but what we have received. The Orthodox practice of receiving Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans as described by the Serbian Bishop Nikodim and the Orthodox reception of Roman Catholic priests as outlined in Nikol'sky are not any sort of indications that our Hierarchy is hostage to ecumenism, branch theory, relativism, positivism, scholasticism, liberalism, indifferentism or any other "ism" conflicting in any way with the Holy Tradition, but a sign of their obedience.
During the time when Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South was serving the Church as Bishop of Berkeley, a letter was sent out to all the parishes in the then Diocese of San Francisco that directed that "across the board" Roman Catholics as well as Anglicans and Lutheran and Calvinists previously baptized with water and in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, would be received by Chrismation. That policy remains in effect.
At our next meeting of the venerable clergy, I want the manner that we receive converts to be on the agenda. Right now, the practice may vary too widely from parish to parish to characterize it. Further, some questions I have been given lead me to believe that there is some confusion on what our practice is and should be. Therefore, in the interim, I ask all the Rectors to receive heretics according to the format in the Service Book translated by Hapgood. That means a life's confession, a definite, specific and public and renunciation of specific wrong teachings formerly held, Absolution according to the formula printed in that Office, and ensuing Chrismation of the Convert on all the places prescribed and then Communion of the Holy Mysteries.
Assuring you of my constancy in prayer and sending a blessing,
With love in Christ,
DISTRIBUTION: His Beatitude and Members of the Holy Synod
1. Excerpt from Bp. Nikodim's "Pravila."
2. Excerpt from Nikol'sky's "Ustav."
RULES (Canons) OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH with Explanations.
Nikodim, Bishop of Dalmatia and Istria.
Translated from the Serbian.
Saint Petersburg. The Saint Petersburg Theological Academy.
[Webmaster's Note: Quotations from the Russian, included by His Grace for clarity, have been transliterated for online distribution by the editor.]
(Preceding the following is a discussion of the differences of opinion of East and West)
Therefore, being governed, on the question of Baptism done by a nonOrthodox community (obschestvo), by the general injunctions (predpisaniyami) of the councils and Fathers, one may thus delineate the principle of the Orthodox Church: Baptism as something instituted by Jesus Christ may be accomplished only in His Church and consequently only in the Church may it be correct and salvific; however, if other Christian communities located outside the Orthodox Church hold the conscious intention of bringing the newlybaptized into Christ's Church, i.e., have the intention to communicate to him Divine Grace through Baptism in order that he would become through the power of the Holy Spirit a true member of the Body of Christ and a reborn child of God, then this Baptism also may be considered effective insofar as it is done on the foundation of faith in the Holy Trinity, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, for where such a Baptism is given and received, there it must operate with Grace (deistvovat¼ blagodatno) and Christ's support cannot fail to be there. Every community that perverts the teaching about God and does not recognize the Trinity of holy Persons in the Godhead cannot perform a correct baptism, and a baptism done in it is not Baptism because such a community lies outside Christianity. By virtue of this, the Orthodox Church recognizes as effective and saving the Baptism of every Christian community located outside Her boundaries, whether it be heretical or schismatic, truly (istinno) done in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Bishop Nikodim adds a footnote: "According to the practice of the Greek Church, Roman Catholics converting to the Orthodox Church must be baptized again. We are not in a position to express our judgment relative to this practice, since we don't know how it is that the Greek Church applies the first rule of Saint Basil to Roman Catholics. We will only remark that this is exclusively the practice (isklyuchitel'no praktika) of the Greek Church and also that both in Russia and Serbia Roman Catholics are received into the Church without a new Baptism...¾
1 This office was formulated by Metropolitan Philaret because of the case of the reputed incorrect bringing into Orthodox Communion of the Abbot Maundreli. See "Letters of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow to A.P.M. 1832-1867.
2 In the periodical "Readings of the Imperial Society of History and Antiquities" (1892, book 4) the basis for this is set out that clergy coming from among the heretics being united to the Orthodox Church, about whom there is no doubt of their having been baptized and ordained, must be received by only presenting a written confession of faith and condemnation of their heresy as was practiced by the Seventh Ecumenical Council with regard to the conversion of the Iconoclastic bishops and other clergy, etc., and they must be received, each in his priestly rank, according to the 8th canon of the First Ecumenical Council, i.e., vested.
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