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Frequently Asked Questions About "On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church"

Updated: Sep 9, 2023


The team at Orthodox Ethos has compiled answers to the following questions we have received since the release of "On the Reception of the Heterodox", to encourage the faithful in going deeper in the spiritual life while providing clarity to a few common misconceptions regarding the content of the book.

"But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine..." St. Paul, Letter to Titus


1. Why is the book anonymous?

  • We were encouraged by bishops and elders to publish this not with individual names but as “The Orthodox Ethos.” We put the link to the team members on the Copyright Page.

  • We suspected (and in the first days after the book’s release this suspicion was overwhelmingly validated) that those who were eager to denounce the book (most of whom hadn’t read it) would focus solely on leveling ad hominem attacks against the authors while not substantially addressing the book’s contents.

  • We wanted to produce a book that relies primarily on the quotes of saints, councils, Fathers and reputable historians such that the authors who published the text would be unimportant because the authority of the text relies primarily on sources recognized as authoritative. We also want people to focus on the contents of the book and not get distracted by the personal details of those who helped to write it.

  • Anonymous authorship is not uncommon in the history of the Church. Concerning Frequent Communion by St. Nikodemos was initially published anonymously and Way of the Pilgrim remains a tremendously influential text without known authorship.

2. What is the Church? Are there Mysteries outside of the Orthodox Church?

  • As the book demonstrates in Chapter 2, the Church is the organic body of Christ and is Christ Himself (the True Vine, cf. John 15:1-11). In the Nicene Creed the Church confesses faith in “one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” and “one baptism for the remission of sins”. The Creed proclaims that there can only be one Church and the “one baptism for the remission of sins” can only refer to baptism done in the one Church. As St. Basil the Great stated in his Canon 1 that was adopted by the Ecumenical Councils, when priests and bishops of the Church depart in schism, they lose the grace of the Holy Spirit and become laymen, unable to bestow the Holy Spirit on others through baptism or ordination. The Orthodox Church is the one Church and the Holy Spirit does not work through the sacraments of the non-Orthodox for remission of sins, purification, illumination, and theosis.

3. Lots of emphasis is placed on following the canons. Is this legalistic? They are only guides and not laws, right?

  • A canon is NOT best described as a guide. The term in Greek means “a yard stick” or “a measuring rod.” When buildings are constructed, they turn out well when measurements are followed exactly (according to akrivia), however, sometimes necessity requires a deviation from the design measurements (by economia) to achieve the end product. To say a canon is a guide is not etymologically or theologically precise any more than an architectural drawing can be said to be a mere guide. Exceptions to the rule may occur in both instances but are considered exceptions by necessity.

  • The Seventh Ecumenical Council in Canon 1 adopted canons from the previous Ecumenical Councils, named regional councils and Holy Fathers and ordered that these canons “remain unwavering and unshakeable,” to be embraced “entire and unmovable,” those who wrote the adopted canons were declared to have been “guided by the light dawning out of the same Spirit” and who prescribed “rules that are to our best interest.” It is of the utmost impiety to dismiss as “legalism” that which the entire Church has for centuries declared to be inspired by God.

  • The canons are not laws. Thus, we have economia, the management of the household of Faith, and the Fathers describe what a temporary departure from the rule consists of. It is essential to properly understand economia, without which anarchy or legalism result.

  • It is true that there are many types of canons, and that penitential canons have been applied with increasing leniency and economy over time. However, this does not take away from a consistent witness of the Ecumenical Councils and Fathers over Church history with regard to the standard for reception into the Orthodox Church (baptism) and the necessary presuppositions for the application of economy (triple immersion baptism in the name of the Trinity and necessity whereby baptism by immersion is impossible). This is demonstrated in the book.

4. Are not the bishops responsible for exercising the canons? Do not bishops have the discretion or prerogative or charisma to exercise economy? Can or should the laity go against the bishop's position on these canonical matters if his position is not in line with the teachings of the Councils and Fathers?

  • Bishops certainly have the prerogative to apply economia, as do priests with the blessing of their bishop. All Orthodox Christians (as much as their position allows) are responsible for following and upholding the canons.

  • However, this does not mean they always and inevitably apply economia properly, nor do the Fathers teach that blind obedience is inherently profitable regardless of the advice and instruction given. Economia may be applied by the bishops, but that does not mean it is applied well or in accordance with the Gospel and Holy Fathers.

  • In the book we discuss in Chapter 8 the understanding of the Church that economia is temporary and can never become the rule (Canons 29 of Trullo and 17 of the First-Second Council). Economia is only to be employed for a time based on a need. The exercise of economia does not and cannot become a rule or precedent.

  • Following the Fathers, every faithful Orthodox Christian is responsible for confessing the Faith and speaking out against distortions to the Faith and practice of the Church. Church history is filled with examples of not only renowned holy men but also simple laymen urging bishops to adhere to the Gospel, or even resisting heretical imperial edicts backed by the bishops.

  • When bishops are consecrated they pledge to uphold and follow the canons. All Orthodox Christians, first of all those among the Episcopacy, are charged to follow and submit to the Ecumenical Councils. This is the teaching of the Councils themselves and the God-illumined saints and Fathers. If the Councils, canons, saints and Fathers are recognized by the Church as guided by the Holy Spirit and a bishop or priest or anyone else teaches something that contradicts these God-inspired teachings, by following such a bishop we could be following man rather than God (cf. Acts 5:29). It goes without saying that consecration to the episcopacy does not bestow infallibility and obedience in the Church must not be blind but must have both humility and discernment.

5. Does the book say that we should follow contemporary elders rather than councils of bishops? Or can a monastic-led position opposed by bishops be established as Church dogma?

  • No, the book does not teach that we should follow contemporary elders rather than councils of bishops. In the Orthodox Church the Ecumenical Councils are considered infallible, not because a certain number of bishops or patriarchs participated, but because the councils were recognized as following the teachings of God-inspired Holy Fathers and their teachings were recognized as inspired not only by the bishops but also by the clergy and faithful.

  • Are there no Robber Councils, even with a great number of bishops? Do we only follow whatever the latest councils decree? The Fathers never believed that. Where do the Ecumenical Councils place the authority which they invoke? On previous councils or the Holy Fathers? The Holy Fathers. Do we liturgically commemorate the Councils or the Fathers of them? The services are for the Holy Fathers. As Fr. George Florovsky and others have pointed out, the Holy Fathers are of greater authority than Ecumenical Councils because Ecumenical Councils derived their authority from the Holy Fathers whom they followed.

  • As St. Symeon the New Theologian taught, it is impossible to follow the ancient Fathers if one is not following the contemporary saints and Fathers who serve as living links to the ancient Fathers. For this reason, we must look to the God-bearers of our times (whether lay monastics, priests, or bishops), those filled with the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Ecumenical Councils, to determine how to understand and apply the God-inspired teachings of the past in our own times.

  • We see monastic-led positions struggle against an erring episcopacy or synod frequently in Church history and often the monastics were those inspired by God and confirmed in time by the Church consensus. Some examples are iconoclasm with the Studion monastery (which led them to have this exact reputation of holding the bishops accountable in the following centuries in Constantinople) and St. John of Damascus. St. Maximos the Confessor was not mentioned by name by the Sixth Ecumenical Council but his role was critical in orchestrating the local council in Rome that denounced Monothelitism, and this local council led to the Sixth Ecumenical Council where Monothelitism was universally condemned. While the 9th Ecumenical Council was led by St. Gregory Palamas who was a bishop, he represented and defended the experience of the hesychastic Athonite monks as the foundation of Orthodox theology and heart of the Church, and rejected the merely academic and philosophical approach to theology which leads to heresy. Ideally, bishops are consecrated from the hesychasts, as was the case with Patriarch Cyril V of Constantinople who initiated the 1755 Council of the Three Patriarchs.

  • Bishops are supposed to be selected from those who are purified and filled with the Holy Spirit such that all bishops, priests, and laypeople who are filled with the same Spirit should speak with one voice and have the same mind, the mind of Christ. There should be no opposition or contradiction between bishop and holy elder (just like in the Old Testament there was not meant to be opposition between priests and prophets). Such conflicts result between bishops and monastics only in the case of rogue and unpurified monks acting out of pride; or when bishops are not selected due to their degree of holiness, purity, and prayer but rather based on other criteria such as how much theological education they have, their interest in having a place of importance in the Church, a desire to be involved in the Church in a way that does not require either marriage or monastic obedience, and other factors not associated with their degree of prayer and holiness.

6. Not being a bishop, does this issue even matter to me? Isn't the bishop accountable for these mistakes (if they are mistakes) and not me?

  • Canon 102 of the Council of Trullo explains that priests and bishops are spiritual physicians who must exercise great care and discernment in the application of the canons for the healing and salvation of those under their care, lest by applying the canons undiscerningly they exacerbate the patient’s spiritual illness rather than healing them. The councils call for priests and bishops to be deposed for various violations (i.e. not baptizing in three immersions) not arbitrarily but because harm results to the faithful when bishops and priests violate the canons, just as when a doctor is disciplined for malpractice due to harm caused to the patient from his malpractice.

7. Much of your argument relies on the Ecumenical Councils, but are they infallible? Don't they create future dogmatic problems?

  • “Infallibility” is an often-misunderstood term. Some Orthodox are opposed to the use of the term because of the peculiarly heterodox context in which the term has been employed, in particular by the Roman Catholics adopting the teaching concerning the infallibility of the Pope of Rome and then the Protestants reacting against this by declaring that only the Scriptures are infallible. In “A critical view of the applications of theology” Romanides argues that “infallibility” applies to those who speak from a place of theosis and on matters concerning Church dogma and of the process of purification, illumination and theosis. As shown above, the Seventh Ecumenical Council declared the canons and councils which came before to be unmovable and inspired by God. As such, we would do well to carefully follow and uphold these teachings that were adopted and ratified by the whole Church over centuries rather than assert that we know better than the Ecumenical Councils.

  • The Ecumenical Councils were called to address specific heresies and problems that were pervasive at the time. The Councils were not called to define and explain the dogmas and teachings in an exhaustive manner, anticipating and preventing the emergence of any future heresies. It is not the fault of the Councils that later heretics came along promoting other heresies that had to be addressed through additional councils. To say that the Ecumenical Councils “created” or “set up” problems for future councils is extremely impious and with such a view one might as well blame the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles for not expressing themselves clearly enough in the Gospels and Epistles, since heresies arose even after their publication and dissemination. The fact that heresies arose after each of the Ecumenical Councils is not the fault of the Ecumenical Councils.

8. St. Cyprian's canon was abrogated by future councils, right?

  • No. This is a historical falsehood promoted by Roman Catholics since St. Cyprian rejected the teachings of St. Stephen on the reception of the heterodox and the followers of the Pope cannot accept the fact that the Ecumenical Councils embraced St. Cyprian’s teaching on the topic and rejected that of St. Stephen. This myth has been promulgated using mistranslations of canons from the 419 Council of Carthage and from the Council of Trullo, as we demonstrate in the book.

  • St. Cyprian’s ecclesiology was adopted by the Ecumenical Councils, commemorated by St. Basil, praised in his hymnography, and recognized as the teaching of the Church by many academic theologians today too, such as Met. Kallistos Ware and Met. Hilarion Alfeyev.

  • By contrast, the ecclesiology of St. Augustine was unknown to the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils and unknown in the East before the Great Schism. On the reception of converts, the Ecumenical Councils adopted canons from Council of Carthage under St. Cyprian and from St. Basil who also upheld the authority of St. Cyprian, while adopting no such canons from Western saints or Fathers.

9. It is said by many that the “normative” method of the reception of the heterodox today across the Church is not baptism but chrismation. Doesn’t this mean that the Church has spoken?

  • “Normative” is not a criteria used by the Fathers. If that was the case, we would all be Arians still or Monothelites, since such positions did become “normative” at certain times in the Church. “Normative” is not a patristic category. Just because something is normally practiced or believed does not mean it is true and does not mean it is from God or immune from the evil one.

  • We hope that all local Orthodox synods will strive to follow the Orthodox teaching on the reception of the heterodox by conforming local policies to the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, canons and Fathers of the Church on this topic.

  • As shown in the book, what is today seen as “normative” for the reception of the heterodox is not based on the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, canons and Fathers but rather on the Roman Catholic Council of Trent and the influence of Latin academic and scholastic theology on Orthodox priests and bishops after the 16th century. It is important that this influence be understood and recognized in order to return again to patristic rather than Latin Scholastic and heterodox criteria.

10. Does the book argue that there is no grace at all outside the Church?

  • We address this in Chapter 19. The Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and fillest all things” but the divine energies operate only through the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church for man’s purification, illumination and theosis. If the Holy Spirit worked throughout creation in the same manner as in the Holy Mysteries, there would be no need to attend Church nor to receive the Mysteries.

11. Does this mean outside of the Orthodox Church is "undifferentiated darkness", that God does not act outside of the Orthodox Church, and that all non-Orthodox will go to Hell?

  • Understanding how the grace of God works in the world generally versus in the Mysteries of the Church and defending the Church's teaching on salvation does not mean we should go around telling people they are going to Hell. We need to preserve and proclaim what Christ taught the Church regarding the way to salvation but pray for the souls of all who are departed, knowing that only God is the final judge. In declaring that only in the Orthodox Church have the grace-filled Mysteries and way of salvation been preserved, we should desire that all become Orthodox for their salvation rather than worry about how many people might be condemned, leaving this matter ultimately to God.

12. This begs the question: “What is salvation?”

  • Do the Fathers speak of salvation as being saved from Hell or going to heaven? No. Salvation as “going to heaven” is not even found in the Bible. Salvation is organically uniting with the Body of Christ like a branch grafted onto the true vine (cf. John 15:1), thereby tapping into divine energies (i.e. grace) for purification, illumination and theosis. Salvation means the healing of man from the sickness of sin and becoming like God by grace. For our theosis and salvation, participation in the grace-filled Mysteries of the Orthodox Church is indispensable.

13. Is this ecclesiology "unloving" towards the non-Orthodox?

  • It is not unloving to share with people the way to salvation and to speak up about what is true. It is important that we speak the truth in love and not tell lies for the sake of a false love. A love that hides the truth is a false and demonic love.

  • These teachings on ecclesiology are not pharisaical and legalistic. In the book we cover these topics at length and tried to allow the choir of saints, their canons, and a well-defined consensus of our Holy Fathers to speak for themselves. If it is "unloving" and legalistic to say there are no sacraments outside of the Orthodox Church and that converts must be received by baptism, then innumerable saints across time and space were unloving and legalistic. It would be extremely impious to think that we have greater love than the innumerable saints who declared with one voice that there is no grace in non-Orthodox sacraments.

14. Does OE believe that when converts are received by chrismation alone, that Holy Chrism makes up what is lacking as some claim?

  • What “OE” believes or not is insignificant. What the Ecumenical Councils hold is paramount. In the book, on page 104, Chapter 5, we read: “In cases where it was uncertain as to whether a person had previously received the apostolic form of baptism, the Council, significantly, did not suggest that chrismation or reception of Holy Communion could fill whatever might be lacking in such cases.”

  • This is not our teaching but we repeat, as stated, Canon 80 of the Council of Carthage in 419, which was adopted by an Ecumenical Council without reservation or qualification (unlike some other canons of this Council of Carthage) and this teaching was repeated in Canon 84 of Trullo. They teach when the correctness of the baptism is in doubt and there are no witnesses to verify whether someone was baptized correctly in the Church, it is best to run the risk of baptizing them twice in the Church than to leave them without purification and sanctification. These canons do not say that if there is any doubt about whether a person had been correctly baptized in the Church that they should be chrismated and that chrismation would fill whatever is lacking.

15. How does OE understand scholasticism as used in the book?

  • Scholasticism is not merely rational thinking, as some oddly purport. The word has a specific definition and is understood by the whole of the academic world to have certain implications. Scholasticism submits the traditional Christian teaching to Aristotelian categories. This is the basic definition found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, Collins dictionary, Oxford Reference, and New World Encyclopedia, to mention a few. From an Orthodox perspective, the deposit of tradition in the West was corrupted and greatly obfuscated by the development of scholasticism that put revelation of God at the same level or subservient to pagan philosophy. In Thomas Aquinas, for instance, we see very little reference to the teachings of the God-inspired Holy Fathers but instead all subjects are examined based on clever philosophical reasoning. Scholasticism also pursues knowledge of God through academic study, an approach rejected by the 9th Ecumenical Council under St. Gregory Palamas which showed that true theology is the fruit of purification of the heart and noetic prayer.

16. Why does OE not refer to Met. Peter Mogila as a saint?

  • We do not say in the book that he is not a saint but we did not include “St.” before his name because although some local Orthodox churches do celebrate his memory, this recognition is not universal, especially in the Greek-speaking world, and many of the Russian and Slavic sources we used regarding him (Archbishop Basil Krivoshein, St. Hilarion Troitsky, Fr. George Florovsky) did not refer to him as “Saint.” Met. Peter Mogila and his influence remain very controversial even in those local churches which have glorified him as a saint. Patriarch Cyril Lukaris is a hieromartyr canonized by the Church of Alexandria. However, the book also does not refer to him as a saint. Such questions distract from the importance of the main discussion of ecclesiology put forward by the book.

17. What is the book's position on Latin Captivity?

  • Latin Captivity or more generally “Western captivity” is a term used by some Orthodox scholars to point out the historic reality that many Orthodox, while under the oppression of Islam, sought education in Western nations and this brought about a pseudomorphosis of Orthodox theology. Many Orthodox during this period adopted the terminology of the Post-Schism Latin Scholastics and some inadvertently adopted teachings which are not consistent with the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils and Fathers. Fr. George Florovsky discusses this in his Ways of Russian Theology and many scholars have agreed with his observations.

18. Is not the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 of greater authority than the Council of the three patriarchs in 1755?

  • The two councils agree more than most realize. As we explain in the book, the assumption that these councils contradict each other is based on a mistranslation of Decree 15 of the 1672 Council. This council understood triple immersion baptism as a necessary presupposition for reception by economy. The 1755 Council decreed that all heterodox should be received by baptism because they are heretics (and this alone is sufficient reason to baptize them per the Apostolic Canons and the teachings of the Fathers), but also by this time the non-Orthodox had universally departed from the practice of baptism in three immersions which the canons require as a presupposition for economy. This article by Patrick (Craig) Truglia on these two councils further reiterates these observations:

“Constantinople (1755) is not specifically a council asserting akrevia. It is in fact a council following the canonical logic of economia and applying the discipline of forbidding baptisms due to defects in form.”

19. Does the book reference the “Sacramental Rigourism” article?

  • Yes, it was one of a few articles that initially instigated the creation of this book. We don’t refute it line by line because some deceptions found there need context or need Orthodox principles explained beforehand to rightly understand the patristic consensus and criteria. The book made sure to address all of the claims in this article as well as claims made by similar popular articles written by others on this topic.

20. What does the history of the Church show about the Orthodox view on the reception of converts?

  • Read the book! The detractors against the patristic position have taken it upon themselves to reinterpret history and come up with an innovative tradition which incorrectly explains a pseudo-patristic consensus of receiving converts. We unpack those mistakes and misinterpretations in the book and provide essential context.

  • Reception of Latins by baptism was nearly universal in the Greek and Russian churches after the Schism but there were some exceptions if triple immersion had been retained. St. Mark of Ephesus was an exception in allowing Latins to be received by chrismation but when he accused the Latins at Florence of not maintaining baptism in triple immersion he was said to be mistaken, and this was before the Latin Council of Trent formally approved of abandoning triple immersion baptism. In Russia, Latins and other heretics were universally received by baptized until the dubious council of 1666-1667. The Council of 1755 signed by the three Patriarchs insisted that all converts be received by baptism since after the 16th century Council of Trent Latins and Protestants had universally abandoned triple immersion baptism and should therefore be considered like the Eunomians and baptized.

21. What are we to make of the historic practices of the Church which has allowed reception of specific heretics by chrismation?

  • Reception by economy was never accompanied by any declaration that grace was present in heterodox sacraments. Economy was historically allowed by the Ecumenical Councils only in certain specific instances if the Apostolic form of baptism had been retained but those who did not baptize in three immersions in the name of the Trinity had to be received by baptism, such as the Eunomians. On the Eunomians, the canonists agree that they had to be baptized because they didn't practice the correct form, not because of any consideration about their "degree of heresy."

  • The form of baptism is an expression of a symbol. The Church repeatedly insisted that the form (and therefore symbols) must be correct and present for an exercise of economia. Symbols have meaning. Symbols are not fictitious or merely metaphorical. The Mysteries use symbols which are a union of invisible heaven & visible earth (meaning & matter). Physical actions embody spiritual truths. Now when meaning is aligned with divine revelation and speak the Truth (being a person, the God-man) these symbols become powerful, connecting one's life to the life of God. This is simply the way God created the world. This was intuitive in the ancient world. The Church’s strong insistence on the form being present to even allow for economia was because through the symbols communicating divine truth, divine life was able to be conveyed by the Spirit of Truth. The forms could not possibly be arbitrary and given a simple legalistic stamp of approval if they were false. With all of the Mysteries of the Church, it would be very impious to disregard what the Lord instructed the Church through the Apostles and flippantly insist that the Holy Spirit must act despite our disobedience and negligence. Those who seek to obey Christ and the Apostles will insist that all Orthodox Christians receive baptism in three immersions in the name of the Holy Trinity as Apostolic Canon 50 requires. This canon, in threatening with deposition any priest or bishop who disobeys, further demonstrates the absolute seriousness with which this canon must be followed. Historical examples of improper receptions that disregarded the canons and teachings of the Church, perhaps out of ignorance or misinformation, should not be used as excuses to continue in disobedience and ignorance.


Find On the Reception of the Heterodox Into the Orthodox Church: The Patristic Consensus and Criteria HERE, from Uncut Mountain Press.


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