Skip to comments.What would the Orthodox have to do to have unity? (Catholic/Orthodox unity)
Posted on 09/09/2006 3:04:19 PM PDT by Calvin Coollidge
Question: What would the Orthodox have to do to have unity
Father Thomas Hopko, a prominent Orthodox theologian, addresses a controversial topic in a visit here
EDITORS NOTE: Father Thomas Hopko is an Orthodox theologian and the dean emeritus of St. Vladimirs Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. He is a retired professor of dogmatic theology who lives in Ellwood City, Pa. Recently, he spoke to the St. John Chrysostom Society at a meeting held at St. John Orthodox Church in Campbell on the topic of what the Orthodox would have to do, despite our shared common heritage, before there could be unity with Catholicism. The topic seems of such importance to ecumenism that we include here, edited for length, his remarks that evening. The St. John Chrysostom Society works to foster unity and understanding between Roman Catholics and members of eastern-rite churches.
My topic is not what I as Orthodox believe would be required of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church for us to have unity, but rather what do I believe, being an Orthodox, that the Orthodox have to do? What is required of the Orthodox Church, particularly the bishops? What would they have to do in order to have the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church (Latin rite and Eastern churches) be in sacramental communion? Which would simply mean, be one church.
Because, if you re in Eucharistic communion, you are one church. Thats what makes the Church one. Its the unity in the body broken, the blood shed of Jesus before the face of God. Thats where the Church is actualized on earth in the celebration of the mysteries: baptism, chrism, Eucharist. Thats what makes us one. That is where the unity of our doctrine is shown, our unity of worship, our unity of morals, our ethics, the unity of spiritual life.
Now if a Roman Catholic were giving this talk and said, What do we require of the Orthodox? it would be a very different talk. Certainly one thing that is constantly required is that the Orthodox would recognize the bishop of Rome as the first bishop of Rome which, as I said last time [I spoke here], according to us, Peter was not. The first bishop of Rome, according to us, was Linus.
But in any case, the Roman Catholics would make different requirements; they would require certain other things from the Orthodox for there to be unity. The main thing that would be required these days, virtually the only thing would be the acceptance of what is now known as the Vatican Dogma: namely that Peter was the first bishop of Rome; the present bishop of Rome is his successor; he has special rights and privileges juridically over the Church; these include, according even to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, that in certain conditions the bishop of Rome speaks from himself and not from the consensus of the Church, on matters of morals and doctrine, in certain cases infallibly. Everybody would have to agree to it. Also, every bishop on earth gets the legitimacy of his episcopacy in communion with the See of Rome and that the bishops of Rome appoint all the bishops on earth. Well, this would all have to be recognized by the Orthodox for there to be sacramental communion. I believe that would be the Roman Catholic position.
But our topic tonight is What would the Orthodox have to do in order to have communion [unity] with the Roman Catholic Church? What follows is my opinion:
Unity in essentials
The first theological thing, the essential thing that we would have to do, would be to insist that in essence, in what is really substantially belonging to Christianity . that we essentially held the same faith.
So the first thing theologically that the Orthodox would have to do would be to be very clear very clear about what belongs essentially in Christianity and what does not What is secondary? What could be different? What can be local or provincial or something that people like, but doesnt really affect the substantial unity of the faith and the confession of the Orthodox faith in the Catholic Church? Because in early Christian writings, the faith was always called Orthodox and the church was always called Catholic.
In the early Church, they spoke about the Catholic Church which holds the Orthodox faith, according to the Scriptures. So thats the main thing. Thats no easy thing.
But having said that, a million things come up about making that happen. I think very strongly that the first thing the Orthodox have to do especially the clergy, especially the bishops before they even get to that issue of what is essential and what is not essential the only thing that could be allowed to divide Christians is disagreement on essentials. Thats what we are all working on. What is essential? What is not essential?
The desire to be one
However, before we get to that, my opinion is that what is really required of the Orthodox most of all above everything, is a real desire for unity to want to be one, to suffer over the division, to weep over it, to carry it around like a sword in your soul that we who claim Christ and praise God in Christ (especially in this world which is getting less and less Christian as the clock ticks), that Christians would be divided A lot of Christians these days dont even claim that and are not interested in that. But the members of the St. John Chrysostom Society exist because of that. We claim to belong to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ, the church that teaches the gospel truly, fully, that prays properly, that acts and teaches the right way to behave according to Christ, according to God Almighty, according to the Holy Scriptures, the canons, the saints, the fathers, etc.
So the most important thing of all is the desire to be one, and to prove that desire, not only by praying because we pray for unity at every single liturgy but prayer without activity, without work, is just blasphemous. To be praying all these things and not to be working, not be ready to make any possible sacrifice you could make that doesnt violate the essence of the faith. In other words, the Orthodox have to desire unity and be ready to sacrifice everything that they can without violating their convictions about the gospel in order to be one, particularly with Roman Catholics.
We have to be ready to do that. Now I have to say that in my opinion, the Orthodox are not ready to do that at all. They dont even want unity. So I am extremely pessimistic about that point. Why? Because the Orthodox leaders dont even want unity among the Orthodox, let alone with Roman Catholics or Protestants. Its obvious. The record is clear. Im not making this up. This is not my opinion. The Orthodox leadership, and most of the Orthodox people, dont want unity with others, and they are not ready to give up anything even the smallest little thing that is clearly not essential to the faith. I feel very strongly that this is true.
When people ask me, for example, why the Orthodox jurisdictions in America are not united, the answer is very clear: because our leaders dont want it. If they wanted it, we would have had it yesterday. There is nothing stopping them you may have to suffer a lot. You may have to give up some things: power, pre-eminence, prominence, property, possessions, prestige, positions, privilege and pleasure. Were not ready to give up those things because of pride, passion and prejudice. Forget it. Theres not going to be any unity. Thats what divides people generally, and it is certainly what divides churches.
Now here I would allow myself one little not my business remark: I have a hunch those same things are operating in the Eastern Catholic Churches, too
We will never be one unless we desire it with all our hearts, and are ready to put away everything that we can to have it . Everything that doesnt belong to the essence of the faith. Language doesnt belong to the essence of the faith. Calendars dont belong to the essence of the faith. Certain liturgical customs dont belong to the essence of the faith. Even the Byzantine Rite Liturgy for us does not belong to the essence of the faith.
Not motivated for unity
There was a whole thousand years when the Church had multiple rites of praise to God. In fact, the irony is, the time when there were the most multiple rituals for the sacraments and the services was the time there was the greatest unity in doctrine and spiritual life, evangelism, etc. In any case, the ritual is not of the essence of the faith. Language isnt, calendars are not all those things are not part of the essence of the faith. But unless we have the desire for unity, which then would lead us to feel that we have an absolute obligation from God to distinguish between what is really essential and what is not, we are never going to be united.
And here, I would say, on the planet Earth right now, I think in fact, I am sure the Orthodox churches around the world are not motivated for unity. In some of the churches, they even think that ecumenism is a heresy. In some churches, there is a feeling that what we just did upstairs pray together is not Orthodox. These Orthodox feel we should not pray together with Catholics because they are heretics. Some Orthodox believe that
So if there is a desire for unity, that will be proved not only by difficult, painful efforts to distinguish between what is essentially of the faith and what is not, but it will also require believers to do absolutely everything they can with others if only who by themselves are convinced would be contrary to the gospel if they did not in other words and this became a popular teaching of Pope John XXIII who said let us pledge to do together everything that we can, and do separately only the things that are still for us a matter of content and faith. Thats exactly what John Paul II said in [his 1995 apostolic letter] Orientale Lumen He called on Roman Catholics to affirm whatever is good, true, beautiful, holy, of God, wherever it is Its absolute obligation for an Orthodox and more than an obligation, a joy to affirm any agreement anywhere among human beings that we can claim as really true, right and of God. Now, how much more would that be the case if we were talking about the Christian Faith? The gospel? Christ? His divinity? His humanity? If we share all those things in common, then we should affirm them, and stand before the world affirming them in common.
I honestly do not believe most Orthodox leaders are even conscious of that. There is another agenda going on, an agenda that belongs to this world . That is why we Orthodox ourselves are so weak, miserable and divided, even though we claim a unity of faith (which we have) and a unity of worship (which we have), a unity in saints and tradition (which we have). But to actually do activities that would show this, witness to it, bring it to the world I dont think that is there.
There are several other things that the Orthodox would have to do. Besides desiring unity, and working really hard to say where the real disagreements are and why, and not to make issues of what are not essential that would be a huge step forward if we were mobilized and motivated to do that but there are several other things.
Be ready to forgive
Another thing that the Orthodox definitely have to do (the Catholics have to do it, too, but tonight we are talking about the Orthodox) is be totally ready to forgive everything in the past. Not to look back! Not to figure out who was wrong and who was right and who did what but to be ready to admit our own sins. We shouldnt lie. We should be ready to admit when our churches and our church leaders were wrong. I would say, if we were really Christians, that we should be ready to do that, not even saying if they do it, too!
We should say: Whatever they do is their business; were going to look at ourselves. Were going to admit our wrongs, our errors, our weaknesses, our sins. Were going to forgive the sins of the others, whether or not they even admit them. We think they did wrong; were not going to make them admit it. But were going to forgive. I believe that unless we are ready to do that, forget it. Lets have coffee right now.
We cannot be looking back. We cannot be trying to figure things out. We cannot be saying who did what to whom when. Its important to do that but we Orthodox have to admit our own sins and forgive others even when we believe they have done horrible things. Among the Orthodox, probably the most violent against union with Rome would be the Serbs, because they cannot forget the past. You say Roman Catholic among them, you might as well say devil. Unless they can get over that, and admit that they produced a few corpses too it was not just a one-way street. But even if it were, the Orthodox have to forgive. They need to ask, What can we do now? Thats just an essential Christian principle in general, not only about Church unity you know there are some people in their 80s who cant die because they havent forgiven their own parents yet for what they did to them? If Christianity is about anything, its about forgiveness. Forgiveness means acknowledging that someone did wrong to you, but deciding that you are not going to break communion over that. My own feeling it that the best way to heal memories is just not to have them. But the problem is, you cant help having them, especially if they have been pumped into you since you were born. So what do you do?
Well, the Holy Father would say, I believe, that you remember evil sins that you have committed and that others have committed against you. You remember them. But only for three reasons. One is to know how merciful God is, and that He forgives both of you. Secondly is to be motivated never to do it again. Third, because we are not to judge anybody or anything. As St. Paul says, God came to save the sinners, of whom I am the first. So we have to have that consciousness, or otherwise we are not going to get anywhere. So forgiveness is absolutely essential on the part of the Orthodox. And that even means forgiveness of Ukrainians or Russians and Carpathians or whatever. Without it, there is no unity. Forgiveness, by definition, is unity.
Another point for the Orthodox is that we not only have to desire unity, be ready to sacrifice everything essential to have it, to be able to distinguish what is essential from what is not, be able to forgive the past and admit our own sins and concentrate on ourselves, to do practical acts of charity and mercy but also never, ever to say or do anything that would offend another person unnecessarily There are so many ways we can charitably go out of our way to not hurt others our churches speak about unity, and then every day attack each other in missionary work and so on. Even among the Orthodox, one of our jurisdictions starts a mission and three days later, another jurisdiction starts another mission on the same street. Thats just offensive.
You all know the story of the Orthodox man who was shipwrecked on an island. When they came to rescue him, they found two churches there. The rescuer said, Why are there two churches here? Youre all alone. The Orthodox man said, Yeah thats the one I go to and thats the one I dont. Thats a deeply ingrained mentality among eastern Christians because of their history, their culture, their politics. But if that is not purged out somehow by the grace of God, forget about talking unity with Catholics. Orthodox need to first have unity among themselves, even culturally and nationally in regions where they live.
So Orthodox need to be ready to go the extra mile. Jesus said, If they ask for your coat, give them your shirt. If they ask you to go one mile, go two. So our attitude has to be always toward bending over backwards, so to speak, to do the thing that will build up unity rather than give offense or cause hard feelings.
People always point out that they fear greater unity because it will cause greater schisms some of our people wont go along. But we have schisms anyway. Lets have them for the right reason. Suppose we had unity and half the [Orthodox] people didnt come along. I think we should be ready to say goodbye to them if the unity is in God. We have to be people of unity, not because we will have more power in society, or be more popular, or George Bush will invite us to the White House. We have to have unity because God wants it, but it has to be unity in God, not unity in Ukrainianism or whatever If the unity is not in God, in Christ, in the Spirit, who wants it anyway?
But history shows that the people who worked for unity in the Faith were usually persecuted, while the masses just went about their business.
One last thing: I believe also that the Orthodox, if we were serious about unity, would need not only to desire it, sacrifice for it, forgive everything, admit our own sins, distinguish between what is essential and what is not, but also would have to be ready to practice economium on certain issues. This would mean, in my opinion, that we would have to be ready not just to admit that there can be different ways of singing, and different styles of liturgy, and different uses of psalms there are some issues, especially between Orthodox and Catholics, that Orthodox would have to be ready to tolerate for a while (even though they think the issues are bad) for the sake of unity.
What do I have in mind? Things like the filioque clause in the Creed [the clause in the Nicene Creed that says that the Holy Spirit proceeds, not only from the Father, but also, filioque from the Son]... If Rome would say it was not there originally, that the way it was explained was not right, we now can agree on certain aspects I think the Orthodox would have to say, OK, let them keep it rather than insist that every last church in Portugal drop the filioque before we can have unity.
In other words, the Orthodox may have to go along with something for a while, as long as its clear how we understand it.
Other things we disagree on? Unleavened bread Communion in one kind. Communion from reserved Sacrament. Celibacy of the clergy. We dont think thats a good rule I dont. I have 15 grandchildren. Baptism by pouring water we believe baptism involves immersion. Multiple Masses by the same priest. Confirmation as a separate ritual. Holy Communion for children. Issues about divorce and remarriage. There are plenty of issues that dont fall into the category of absolutely essential or absolutely non-essential.
Might be an plasphemy, but Serbia is only part in ex-Yugoslavia, Vojvodina, especialy, where was no war between Christians. last on we hade was in 1941-1945, and Last war between local Serbs and Hungarians was Hungarian revolution in 1848. So I can agree (I alkready stated that Im not religious expert) about double-baptisment to be plasphemy, yet, for over 150 years we hade no war and churches live in peace, so... I would leave it alone...
And that's a good thing, and I've no desire to stir up trouble ...
Here's a link to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Donatists", which addresses the problem of "rebabtism" in its original historical circumstances ... the year is 311 ... long before the "Great Schism".
For the present, if we can, let us limit our discussion to the Petrine primacy. If, for the sake of argument, we were to stipulate that the theological differences were minor and of non-essential matter, could the Orthodox come into union with Rome while she reiterated the claims made by Leo and other early pope?
As regards papal jurisdictional authority outined in he quote of +Leo the Great, please note that the quote says there arose also a distinction among bishops. Clearly +Leo Great here concedes that the greater authority arose among bishops, leading to different levels of authority, which clearly shows that it was not something given, but evaluational in nature.
I think that you are misrepresenting Leo's position. The distinction that arose among the bishops was "also" among those other than the pope. For he also states:
Even among the most blessed Apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain distinction of power. All were equal in being chosen, but it was given to one to be preeminent over the others.In his letter to the bishops of the province of Vienne in the year 445 he writes:
But the Lord desired that the sacrament of this gift should pertain to all the Apostles in such a way that it might be found principally in the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the Apostles. And He wanted His gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he himself was no longer a sharer in the divine mystery.We can see a simular teaching from Pope Gelasius I writing in 495:
Although the universal Catholic Church spread throughout the world has the one marriage of Christ, nevertheless the holy Roman Church has not been preferred to the other churches by reason of synodical decrees, but she has held the primacy by the evangelical voice of the Lord and Savior saying; Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed in heaven.We can even see this expressed by the Council of Ephesus in 431:
On one doubts, but rather it has been known to all generations, that the holy and most blessed Peter, chief and head of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith, the foundation stone of the Catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that the power of binding and loosing sins was given to him, who up to this moment and always lives in his successors, and judges.
"For the present, if we can, let us limit our discussion to the Petrine primacy. If, for the sake of argument, we were to stipulate that the theological differences were minor and of non-essential matter, could the Orthodox come into union with Rome while she reiterated the claims made by Leo and other early pope?"
In haste as I am at the office; this is precisely what the Orthodox/Roman dialog recently resumed is discussing. The sentiment seems to be that if a working definition of papal primacy can be arrived at which is acceptable all around, the other issues will fall into place. Personally, I think the writings of the Fathers and the Popes from the early years of The Church as well as an in depth study of how whatever primacy The Church actually recognized in the popes worked out "on the ground, then", as opposed to the post hoc, propter hoc reasoning which seems to infest so much of this discussion from both sides, will be vital to any final resolution of this fundamental question. Even that will be difficult because it is not only possible, but likely, that each "side" thought the other understood what it was saying even then, when in fact neither side understood the other after say, the late 500s or early 600s.
Indeed. Prayer (and miracles) don't change God (such an absurdity!); rather: through our prayer God changes us. For the better.
Who appointed the bishop in the photo?
The "bishop" in the photo is actually Roger Cardinal Mahony, appointed by Archbishop Jadot - Still Proud Of Bishops He Gave U.S.
The archbishop just turned 96. He entertained the dream of one day seeing Vatican Council III convened, and moving the Catholic Church in a totally modern direction. To do that would entail moving his players up the ranks and into the College of Cardinals. He failed to factor in the Holy Spirit. His plan backfired. In the meantime, we are stuck with "his" bishops, until they retire.
We can, with the understanding that no union is possible until it is based on theological unity and not on any agreement on jurisdictional authority of any bishop.
Could the Orthodox come into union with Rome while she reiterated the claims made by Leo and other early pope?
Inasmuch as it is understood that we are dealing with papal opinions and not orders, yes. For +Leo I says "From this formality there arose also a distinction among bishops, and by a great arrangement it was provided that no one should arrogate everything to himself, but in individual provinces there should be individual bishops whose opinion among their brothers should be first"
Even among the most blessed Apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain distinction of power [+Leo I]
I am not sure what he means by "power." If he means ability to do things, I would say, yes because he was given the keys, and only he had possession of them. If it is to mean as being supreme over other bishops, I would say no. Distinction is not supremacy. As the oldest Apostle he received the keys, not because he was better or somehow more faithful than others.
Again, there is no evidence anywhere in the NT that he was given authority to "lord"over other Apostles, not is he ever referred to as the "prince" of the Apostles.
But the Lord desired that the sacrament of this gift should pertain to all the Apostles in such a way that it might be found principally in the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the Apostles [+Leo I].
This is clearly +Leo's personal opinion, not a statement of fact.
"...and that the power of binding and loosing sins was given to [+Peter], who up to this moment and always lives in his successors, and judges..." [Council of Ephesus, 431]
That is rather misleading (if taken out of context), because the power of loosen and bind was given to all the Apostles, not through Peter, but directly by the Lord, although not at the same time, but it was unconditional and independent of +Peter, and that all their successors through them.
That Peter's "supremacy" was not as clear to the Apostles as it is clear to the 21st century Roman Catholic Church is evidenced in the very fact that the Apostles argued who was first among them.
One thing is clear: the office and the power of papal supremacy evolved as is not something the Church taught everywhere and always.
As long as the West maintains that "first" means "superior" we will not even be able to come to an agreement to convene an Ecumenical Council, let alone hash out theological differences.
"...I didn't mean to imply that you were "double baptized."
Just as a side note. The Serbians routinely baptize all converts to Orthodoxy including Roman Catholics.
When the names of all the Apostles are listed, Peter is always first. Judas Iscariot, the Lords traitor, is always listed last (cf. Matt. 10:2-5; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-17; and Acts 1:13). Sometimes Scripture speaks simply of Simon Peter and the rest of the Apostles or Peter and his companions (cf. Luke 9:32; Mark 16:7; Acts 2:37), showing that he had a special role that represented the entire apostolic college. Often, Scripture shows Simon Peter as spokesman for the entire apostolic college, as if he were the voice of the Church (cf. Mat. 18:21; Mark 8:29; Luke 8:45; Luke 12:41; John 6:68-69).
No church can run "on consensus".
" No church can run "on consensus"."
That's pretty much, in a counciliar/synodal way, what Orthodoxy has been doing for the past 2000 years, NYer.
It appears that wrong people were appointed all the way up the line!
Pope appoints cardinals who then appoints bishops...you would think that some reflections and care would be taken before these nasty things occurred.
It goes something like:
If you have not already been Baptised, then I Baptise you ...
In Orthodoxy this is something of an issue we are still working out. There are a number of ways which converts can be received, all of which are considered valid when done properly. However, unlike in the RCC where the sacraments have been separated from the church, which is to say that you believe non-Catholics can in certain situations perform "valid" sacraments we don't generally hold to that view. In Orthodox theology (and this is the solid teaching of the fathers both east and west) the grace of the Holy Spirit in the Mysteries flows through the Church. All of the Holy Mysteries (sacraments) are performed in cooperation with the entire Church which is the mystical body of Christ. Thus it is the firm teaching of the Orthodox Church that there are no Mysteries outside off the Church. This is one one of the reasons we don't worry too much about the weird schismatic groups that pop up now and then in both the east and the west. Those who have gravely and obviously separated themselves from the Church can not perform Mysteries since they lack the grace that flows only through the Mystical Body of Christ. The Mysteries to us are not magic. So we are not concerned if someone has the correct matter form and intent, and if at some point 200 years ago they were blessed with what one Roman Catholic theologian referred to as the "Dutch Touch." conferring "valid" apostolic orders.
Now this position has created all kinds of questions specific to the situation in the modern world, some of which we have not thus far worked out with unanimity. Fr. George Florovsky wrote an interesting essay on "The Limits of the Church" in which he noted (IMO correctly) that while we can know with certainty where the Church is (canonical Orthodoxy) and sometimes with a reasonable degree of certainty where it is not (most if not all of the so called Protestant sects) there are gray areas where we just don't know for sure where the exact line is on the other side of which the grace of God necessary for the Mysteries has ceased to flow. Several examples would be the Roman Catholic Church, the non-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches and some of the schismatic Orthodox sects (radical Old Calendarists and the like).
Some jurisdictions have adopted a very narrow interpretation of the rule that the Mysteries do not exist outside the Church and firmly reject any grace in Roman Catholic and all other heterodox sacraments. They typically baptize all converts to Orthodoxy. Others (this is the more moderate position and also by far the more common one in Orthodoxy) are more discerning and will receive converts from other Christian confessions which have performed some form of baptismal ceremony using water, the Trinitarian Formula and whose understanding of baptism is the same as or very close to Orthodoxy's by confession, profession of faith and Holy Chrismation. In the Orthodox Church receiving converts by the Mystery of Chrismation is seen as an act of Oikonomia (a dispensation from a normal discipline for pastoral reasons). It is also accepted that Chrismation can fill with grace that which was empty of it and make whole otherwise defective Mysteries. Thus in the Russian tradition RC priests who convert are not normally re-ordained but are simply vested after Chrismation since the RCC has maintained the outward form of apostolic succession and an Orthodox understanding (generally) of the Holy Mysteries. Even very strict jurisdictions (such as the Russian Church Abroad as opposed to the Moscow Patriarchate) will sometimes receive converts in this manner for unusual reasons. In the Russian Orthodox Church (and here in the OCA) the custom is that Catholics, Oriental Orthodox, and a few of the confessional Trinitarian Protestants (such as Anglicans) are received as converts by Chrismation and are not normally baptized. Non confessional Protestants (so called Evangelicals and the like) are almost always baptized since their baptisms do not even claim to do that which we do. They deny the sacramental nature of baptism. We also baptize when there is any doubt.
Finally it should be noted that we are not quite so legalistic in our approach to double baptism. We also have a conditional formula for baptism but in my experience it is rarely used. (Usually only in cases where an emergency baptism was performed by an Orthodox layman.) Since Mysteries performed outside the canonical boundaries of the Church are presumed to be void and empty of grace, baptism is an acceptable method for receiving all converts. My OCA bishop noted that the custom of receiving converts by Chrismation is an act of Oikonomia and it is never wrong to receive by baptism. Regarding the danger of a double baptism (we also confess "one baptism" in the creed), the Church sees God as rather bigger than the legalistic one that many westerners seem to have embraced. God knows if someone was "validly" (that term is not Orthodox but I will use it for now) baptized before. And they know when we baptize converts we do so out of an abundance of caution. No Orthodox priest is attempting to perform a Mystery that can only be performed once a second time. God understands this and thus no sacrilege is performed.. I have suggested to my priest in the past that we could adopt the use of the conditional formula for some baptisms. He basically asked me "Why? Do you think God doesn't know if someone was already baptized or that we are not attempting to repeat baptism?"
So, cutting to the chase, you avoid "double baptism" either by claiming that nobody can baptise except the Orthodox, or by not baptising converts from the Catholic Church or from Protestant denominations that you recognise as having an (O|o)rthodox view of baptism. The latter is essentially the Catholic approach. The Catholic "conditional baptism" is used with converts from Protestant ecclesial communities with dubious recordkeeping or dubious theology.
He basically asked me "Why? Do you think God doesn't know if someone was already baptized or that we are not attempting to repeat baptism?"
lex orandi, lex credendi ... OF COURSE God knows what's going on. He's God. The point is to make sure WE know what we're doing, and to make explicit what we're doing and what we're not doing. We believe that "double baptism" is a heresy/blasphemy ... so we make sure not to even look like we're doing one. See again the Donatist heresy for historical background.
"God knows if someone was "validly" (that term is not Orthodox but I will use it for now) baptized before. And they know when we baptize converts we do so out of an abundance of caution. No Orthodox priest is attempting to perform a Mystery that can only be performed once a second time. God understands this and thus no sacrilege is performed."
Our parish has had an amazing influx of converts over the past five years and our practice has been as you have outlined. In one instance we baptized someone who most likely had been baptized a Roman Catholic at birth. This was in the case of a young Filipina who had been adoted by some fundamentalist "free church" type Protestants when she was 4 years old. She of course had no baptism records but we did have a paper saying that her birth mother was a Roman Catholic. I communicated with some Jesuits on the island she came from, but they couldn't find any records. Our Metropolitan decided that lacking any concrete evidence that she had been baptized, we needed to baptize her and if we were wrong, he was quite sure God "will understand".
As for marriages, I think we only recognize Roman Catholic marriages as being fully sacramental and require all other converts to "have their marriage blessed" by The Church. I am also aware of several instances where Eastern Rite Catholic priests have converted and their orders are fully recognized (I don;t know about Latin Rite priests though I expect it is the same. We do not accept Anglican ordinations). There is no re-ordination, merely a vesting. I also understand that that caused a problem for at least one such priest while on Mount Athos.
Understood. But the Orthodox Church cannot evolve without one leader to sanction change. This is evidenced by the absence of one stance with regard to birth control. In his book, The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos Ware states:
The use of contraceptives and other devices for birth control is on the whole strongly discouraged in the Orthodox Church. Some bishops and theologians altogether condemn the employment of such methods. Others, however, have recently begun to adopt a less strict position, and urge that the question is best left to the discretion of each individual couple, in consultation with the spiritual father.
This is precisely where 'consensus' leads - nowhere. What is the Orthodox Church positon on IVF or the use of fetal stem cells? What about cloning?