Fr. George Dragas|
The Manner of Reception of Roman Catholic Converts into the Orthodox Church
with Special Reference to the Decisions of the Synods of 1484 (Constantinople),1755 (Constantinople) and 1667 (Moscow) *
The above view was presented to the American Orthodox Roman Catholic Dialogue in 1998. The Joint Committee finally opted for reception of Roman Catholic converts to Orthodoxy only by Chrismation. This American option is defended in an official document called Baptism αnd Sacramental Economy: Αn Agreed Statement of the North American Orthodox-Roman Catholic Theological Cοnsultation, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, New York, June 3, 1999.(62) This document, which has the nature of a proposal, raises several questions which do not pertain so much to the manner of receiving Roman Catholic converts to Orthodoxy (i.e. by Chrismation), since as we have seen this is canonically admissible on economic grounds, but to the reasons which have been adduced in its defense. This Postscript is no place for a full discussion on this, but one or two questions are perhaps appropriate.
One obvious question relates to the rejection in this document of the distinction between akribeia and oikonomia as a 'Greek innovation' that was introduced by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite!(63)
Another question, which is really derived from the previous rejection, is the characterization of the varied nature of Orthodox praxis οn the issue of the reception of Roman Catholic converts as inconsistent, especially when compared to the Roman Catholic praxis, which is viewed as consistent! Is it not true that consistency or lack of consistency are established on the regular praxis of the Church in receiving non-Christians into the Una Sancta and not on exceptional cases, such as those of the reception of schismatic and heretical Christians into the Church? Have the Roman Catholics kept the praxis of the ancient undivided Church, i.e. the akribeia of the ancient canons cοncerning the administration of holy Baptism? Is it not the case that Roman Catholics have been inconsistent, if not innovatory and even contradictory, in the celebration of Baptism at different times and places? Or is it unjust to view as inconsistent the Roman Catholic indiscriminate 'openness' towards Orthodox and other Christians concerning their Baptism (and now their Eucharist) from the point of view of the received apostolic faith and practice?
Finally, if the Orthodox doctrine of Baptism is indeed the same with the Roman Catholic one as the Agreed Statement claims, and if it is true that sacramentology goes hand in hand with ecclesiology, as the Geron Metropolitan Chrysostom of Ephesus has reminded us in his recent book, could it be claimed pari passu that Orthodox ecclesiology is the same with the Roman Catholic one? Has then the ecclesiological issue that divides Orthodox and Roman Catholics been resolved? Is it not fair to maintain that as long as there is division between these two (and indeed any other) Churches, the Cyprianic-Augustinian dilemma, which is somewhat parallel to the Orthodox akribeia-oikonomia dilemma, is bound to exist?
It seems to me that such questions are unavoidable, but hopefully the recent suggestions/issues of the Agreed Statement of the American Orthodox-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation will be finally determined by the Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church which is επί θύρας. Better still, one may hope to find the answers to these problems by an ecclesial rapprochement of Orthodox and Roman Catholics (and indeed of all other Christians) on the basis of the venerable Holy Tradition which was once delivered to the Saints from the Apostles and the Fathers in the course of the new millennium which lies ahead of us.
* This paper was prepared for and read at the Orthodox/Roman Catholic Dialogue (USA) in 1998.
62. See the web sites of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (goarch) and of the Orthodox Church in America (οca).
63. Prof. John Erickson of St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, a member of the North-American Orthodox Rοman Catholic Theological Commission, has propounded this view. See his essay "Οn the Cusp of Modernity: The canonical hermeneutic of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (1748- 1809), St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 42: 1(1998) 45-66 which was presented to the Dialogue. Dr.Erickson finds St. Nikodemos a sort of 'modernist innovator,' at least as far as his edition of the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church (the Pedalion or Rudder) goes. His 'innovation' is the distinction between akribeia and oikonomia which, in Erickson's view, is not warranted in the patristic tradition of Orthodoxy. Indeed for Erickson this modern and false distinction, which has been mistakenly employed by Greek canonists, is unknown to the Russians who follow the tradition of the Fathers. For us the implications of Erickson's view are far reaching, if one considers that both St. Nikodemos and his Pedalion have been sanctioned by the Ηοly and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For a completely different assessment of St. Nikodemos' legacy, especially in relation to his Pedalion, see the essay of the Greek Canonist Professor Vlassios Phidas of Athens University, "Πηδάλιον και εκκλησιαστική σννείδηση," Ορθόδοξη Μαρτυρία, 45 (1995) 78-84.