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Book Review from Craig Truglia for "On the Reception of the Heterodox"

"Fight to the death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you." (Sir 4:28)

As a layman, I cannot say I feel very personally invested in the question as to how those outside the Church ought to be received after their catechesis. I am not a bishop or priest and really have no say on the matter. My interest in many of these questions is purely historical. Then again, there is a basis in the real world I have to care. After all, I was received into the Church. I had to decide upon my own mode of reception. No one wants to choose wrong. I was warned years ago, by an OCA priest whose formation was at Saint Tikhon’s, that he preferred performing a “rebaptism” (i.e. baptism in the Orthodox form with all the necessary prayers, exorcisms, and three full immersions). His reasoning was pastoral–people’s consciences commonly nag them two or three years into the faith that somehow maybe they were not really baptized and therefore not really Christian. Fast forward six years. I am at my Godparents’ daughter’s graduation party. I am not sure what that makes her to me, my “Godsister?” Levity aside, the same priest attends the party. Imagine my surprise when he literally told me something along the lines of, “I don’t recommend rebaptism anymore after reading an article on Ancient Insights.” While this is a good article and it is worth mentioning that Theoria’s work on the subject is also well-researched, it is worth emphasizing that this priest in the real world changed his mind because of the research of a neophyte (Ben of “Ancient Insights” was a relatively new convert when he wrote the article) and an anonymous personality, Ubi Petrus (though I am certain he has a few more years on him). Hence, for all the complaints that “the laity are being misled by people on the internet they don’t know,” the reality is priests and bishops also use the internet. They make big decisions picking up information from sources other than Brill, Saint Vladimir’s Quarterly, and etcetera.

Honestly, I think the preceding is fine. Our clergy are mostly professionally trained at this point (though I am happy to come across a priest here or there that was ordained despite not having what has become a customary seminary education–I find this quaint in a good way). So, they know how to read a “quote mine,” check quotes and translations, understand the relevance of the quotes given, and etcetera.

Based on my own perusal of the subject, I initially did not understand the whole “rebaptist” view. The canons seem to plainly allow for the reception of those baptized outside the Church. So, one may reason in their simplicity, what is the point of rebaptizing them? Over the years, the more I attend services and read the Patristics, I start realizing that such a pragmatist view of the question is really not the right way to go about it. To quote Chris Rock (warning for language), “You can drive with your feet if you want to, it don’t make it a good idea.” In other words, just because something is possible (for reasons we will get into in a moment), this does not mean it should be normative or done lightly. A good example of this is Saint Hippolytus’ teaching in Apostolic Tradition that technically ordinations do not need to be performed on confessors: If a confessor has been placed in chains for the Name of the Lord, hands are not laid upon him for the office of deacon or elder. He has the honor of the office of an elder through his confession. If he isinstituted as a bishop, then hands will be laid upon him. (9:1) Clearly, there were priests serving liturgy in Rome without ordinations and even episcopal ordinations done mystically (without the man ordained bishop physically present) are not unknown in the hagiographic tradition. The canons (particularly Canon 8 of Nicea I) permit the reception of Novatian clergy simply by confession and repentance–and this is nearly 100 years after their schism where surely all of their episcopal succession was in schism. Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite makes it clear that the preceding is the correct interpretation in a footnote to the canon:

The laying on of hands here is not ordination, as one might perhaps suppose, but it consists in the action of those in holy orders laying their hand on the heads of such heretics, and thus accepting them as penitents.

Canon 95 of Trullo clearly stipulates that chrismation would still occur. In effect, they are treated as apostates from Orthodoxy and not those outside the Church. Now, I want to be specific. This does not mean the Novatianists were in the Church any more than the Uniates are who are received (in most cases) in almost the same exact way by the Russian Orthodox Church. Rather, they are treated as such. When I say, “Mi casa es su casa,” I may be treating you like family, but I am not legally recognizing you own my house.

And so, where the preceding has led me over the years has been a greater appreciation of the pastoral aspect of canons (reading Canon 102 of Trullo is a must). This ironically has brought me to the original position of the priest I spoke about shortly before. The answer whether one baptizes or not is ultimately pastoral. The canons make pastoral judgments oftentimes, but this should not be confused to mean that the ideal does not remain as such.

This is why On the Reception of the Heterodox Into the Orthodox Church: The Patristic Consensus and Criteria is so important. It does not list an author (it simply identifies itself as “an Orthodox Ethos publication.”) Nevertheless, it presents a copious amount of research to demonstrate that, to distill its thesis, the distinction between akriveia and economia (exactitude applied to what is correct and discretion in loosening such requirements) is in the fathers and canons. This is something that really does not get emphasized by the quote mines I linked to above. To have the fullness of faith, we need to be inclusive of this aspect of the Orthodox inheritance (which as the book shows in its eighth chapter is not an invention of Saint Nicodemus, but has a firm Patristic basis beginning explicitly with Saint Basil the Great).

Additionally, a most important point the book makes which is often neglected by “the other side” is that economia cannot be lawless. The canons and Patristic consensus govern, for example, we ought not to be receiving people with single immersion baptisms (i.e. like the baptists) without baptizing such catechumens with correct form. Sure, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas (of blessed memory) was received despite having such a baptism. Saint Gregory the Great (as the book points out) likewise permitted the practice for a period. This goes back to the Rockism before: “You can drive with your feet if you want to, it don’t make it a good idea.” Sure, it can be done just like we can close Saint Tikhon’s, Holy Trinity, and whatever other seminary and send all seminarians on a trip to Saudi Arabia–whomever survives does not need ordination according to Saint Hippolytus’ reasoning. Indeed, God is not bound by His own rules–but we are! These aberrations speak to God’s grace, but do not offer us the license for complete lawlessness and to ignore Sacred Tradition. This is why I cannot help but wonder why anyone alleges that Saint Niceodemus is an outsider, extremist, or whatever else on the question. His position seems to me to be very moderate, the via media we ought to follow. In short, the canons delineate two sides of the same spectrum and economy can be exercised according to specific rubrics and pastoral need. In fact, due to those presuming there is salvific grace in the sacraments outside the Church, something that those saints who oppose rebaptism from Augustine to Father Daniel Sysoev categorically and explicitly reject, pastorally the Church may be finding itself in the pastoral position to demand rigor. As the book articulately argues, the confusion in the present certainly provides justification for it. In certain fine points, the book has some pleasant surprises for the reader. I was surprised, if not a little scandalized, about the details surrounding the Council of Moscow 1666-7 (though I am convinced much more needs to be made available from the original languages to make this council comprehensible to us). The defense of Saint Cyprian contains the first published assertion of Saint Stephen of Rome’s practice being an innovation in his own day and quickly reformed, something my own research as shown in detail. The book also cleverly turns the tables on those who cite the Council of Jerusalem 1672, as the said council actually demands correct baptismal form. A good book review should always have its quibbles and critiques. Though in recent years even saints sometimes write with not a lot of caution concerning questionable things about previous saints outside the Patristic consensus, it is not something I personally approve of as my background is more strongly in reading the ancient saints where such caution was abundant. The book sometimes very plainly calls saints wrong, incorrect, etcetera which taken to it’s logical extent may lead to a fundamentally Protestant approach to Sacred Tradition where we cherrypick what we like and decry what we don’t. To be fair, Saint Cyprian has been on the receiving end of similar treatment–but I think we need to rise above this and allow all the saints to challenge our thinking. Even surface level contradictions may “complement” one another (as Father Daniel Sysoev sagely teaches), helping us understand the fullness of Sacred Tradition. (see Section 19 in Instructions for the Fisher of Men)

Additionally, there is a critique of a couple Pan-Orthodox synods (Jasy 1642 and Jerusalem 1672). In short, the book takes issue with their use of Latin theological concepts and acceptance of Roman Catholic baptism. The former is something I do not find overtly problematic, as overtime the Church has baptized many things used outside of the Church and appropriated an Orthodox meaning. Interestingly, the book leaves the door open for an interpretation of both councils that is more canonically restrictive than they are popularly understood, as Dositheus (the brainchild of the latter council) believed that baptisms must retain proper form and believed that many Roman Catholics still retained this correct form (three full immersions). In fact, Dositheus described the Roman Catholic practice of baptism via aspersion (i.e. sprinkling) as “mortal sin”(!), something extremely inconvenient to those who try to use his confession as a proof text against the defenders of the akriveia-economia distinction being upheld for the sacrament of baptism. Hence, what problem do these councils really pose to the book’s thesis if they presumed upon correct form in the baptisms they considered valid? Personally, I cannot see it. I see raising questions about the legitimacy of these councils as potentially harmful to their position and to a fuller understanding of the ecclesiology of Orthodoxy at large. However, much is to be said that these councils are not liturgically commemorated and lack popular reception among the laity. A good study can be made as to whether episcopal backing for dogmatization is sufficient, as the pan-episcopal receptions of these councils in of themselves, does not seem to settle the matter categorically.

Lastly, the book does not focus too much on the pastoral aspect of a large controversy in our day,

corrective rebaptisms. Here, I see the issue of “correctives” as pertaining to the same pastoral concerns that the canons address with akriveia and economia. Saint Pope Dionysius of Alexandria wrote to Pope Sixtus II of Rome on the question of someone who has been in the Church for years and communing, but under pangs of conscience due to his baptism being outside the Church (it is described as having wrong form and blasphemies, perhaps a Gnostic single immersion baptism in the name of Christ alone). To address his concerns, Dionysius gave the obvious response to him: “the long course of communion had been sufficient.” In other words, he was already communing His flesh and blood, he is a full Christian. There is no reason to worry. Dionysius ends what I believe is on an intentionally ambiguous note, that even still “he makes no end of his wailing, and shrinks from approaching to the table” due to the same pangs of conscience. (The episode can be read here on p. 221-222) As the book adequately addresses, Dionysius saw himself as a supporter of Cyprian. The point, though put diplomatically and

passive-aggressively, is that it would be “unpastoral” and unfeeling to not ultimately give in to the

demand of the individual. Just as deciding between akriveia and economia is a pastoral judgment call that has to take account of these real world things, it appears even the issue of correctives is the same in Dionysius’ eyes.

Father Seraphim Rose, who is on his way to wider canonization, likewise addresses the issue a few times:

Archbishop Averky has warned in his sermons, is by no means limited to baptizing those coming from other Orthodox jurisdictions or (most shocking of all) re-baptizing those who have already been receiving Holy Communion in our Church for months or years…(Letter on April 18/May 1, 1976) We are not fanatically against the “rebaptism” of those who insist on it, in cases where the bishop approves—but this should not be allowed to set a fanatical “tone” to our Orthodoxy, which is what shocked Andrew. (Letter on June 2/15, 1976)

[W]e have heard of the furor aroused by the Guildford “rebaptisms,” and this troubles us—not for the sake of the baptisms themselves (for our Church has been quite broad in its acceptance of different degrees of economy and strictness) as because of the tone of over-zealous “correctness” with which some people, at least, have greeted them…We strongly urged Andrew to do this, in written form, emphasizing to him that this does not mean changing his opinions about “rebaptism,” but only apologizing for any crudeness, etc. (Letter on June 24/July 7, 1976)

In the preceding, he is not talking about debate concerning “rebaptizing” catechumens. This became the norm in ROCOR (which he was part of) after 1971. As the first letter makes clear, the issue is over rebaptizing those already in the Church, presumably with improper form. Apparently, zealots who he opposed wanted to rebaptize those who were brought into the Church by the New Calendarist Greeks (i.e. the mainstream Greek Church) and whatnot. This explains Seraphim’s critical tone. However, one must notice the substance of his objections–its not over correctives more generally. He thinks that they are not (overly) objectionable if they have episcopal approval. Seraphim considers “economy and strictness” as the means one decides the question. He believes the convert should be petitioning the bishop for it (which reveals the same sort of pastoral concern Dionysius was citing). Seraphim goes as far as to make clear he does not want to convince the rabaptizers to change their minds. My concerns about rebaptism are two fold. First, I believe ultimately we will have canonized saints landing on both sides of the question and we will need to see what is legitimate in both views, and how they complement one another. Second, there is a pastoral aspect that should not be ignored. Those who favor the practice are not claiming those received in the Church, perhaps even with wrong form, are not Orthodox Christians. Rather, they are looking to right what was wronged. It seems to me in bad taste to reduce to mere pragmatism (“is it really necessary for salvation?”) something that is personal and different for every person. Years ago, Cyprian was asked rhetorically: What, then, shall become of those who in past times, coming from heresy to the Church, were received without baptism?

Cyprian responded: The Lord is able by His mercy to give indulgence, and not to separate from the gifts of His Church those who by simplicity were admitted into the Church, and in the Church have fallen asleep. Nevertheless it does not follow that, because there was error at one time, there must always be error. (Epistle 72, Par 23) Cyprian’s response to whether such correct reception is necessary for salvation is not necessarily, we always presume upon God’s mercy. However, just because something is not absolutely necessary it does not mean we can act lawlessly. His response is very sensible and it makes sense to apply it. It is also much more nicely put than Chris Rock’s earlier quip.

In conclusion, I believe the book is a worthy and necessary contribution to the subject of baptism. More than a few clergy will take notice. The book brings up subjects that need to be discussed and heeded. It is with regret that with the intent of breaking down dialogue, it will be cast as “extreme,” “fundamentalist,” and other slurs. This shuts down a much needed conversation we need to be having. I am happy that the Orthodox Ethos team is making it happen.

Published by Craig Truglia

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