The Response Letter of Father Matei Vulcanescu to the Letter of Metropolitan Silouan Oner to Clergy

By pr. Matei Vulcănescu -
6 months ago

ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH OF SAINT EDWARD THE MARTYR
AND SAINT PARASKEVI OF ROME
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland

His Eminence Metropolitan Silouan
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
of the British Isles and Ireland

17 December 2023

Your Eminence,

With all humility and obedience, I would like to write in response to the letter of Your Eminence to the clergy of our Archdiocese, dated 16 December 2023, to bring to Your attention that all that we have written regarding the baptism of every heretic coming into the Orthodox Church, in our open letter to His Beatitude Patriarch John X and the Holy Synod[1], was done in accordance and obedience to Canon 8 of the synodal decision of the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch in July 1933, which states that “every heterodox who embraces Orthodoxy should be baptised”.[2] This synodal canon adopted the last official Inter-Orthodox statement on the reception of heretics, the 1755 Synod of the Eastern Patriarchs held in Constantinople, which requires that all heretics be baptised.[3]

As far as I am aware, the 1933 synodal decision is the last official decision and there are no other later official synodal decisions of the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch on the reception of heretics. Your Eminence, if there are any other later synodal decisions, I would like to humbly ask to be made aware of them.

With regards to clergy and faithful of our Archdiocese who have been received by Chrismation only in the past, under the omophorion of Your predecessor, my humbleness is not in the position to judge. With all my love in Christ and pain of heart, I only bring this last synodal decision of the Church of Antioch regarding the reception of heretics, to the attention of Your Eminence, for the sake of the salvation of many souls, so that none of the faithful are deprived of the grace of Holy Baptism.

Your Eminence,

Everyone who calls himself a Christian considers the Holy Scriptures to be God-inspired and to contain information about God and about the way people should communicate with Him. There are some communities, however, who adopt beliefs which contradict the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs are called heresies by the Church of the Holy Apostles (that is, the Orthodox Church).

The term heresy means choice or option, and denotes the individual choices of some persons or communities, who distort the Truth (the Truth that is accepted by the whole congregation of the Orthodox Church). Namely, the supporters of such pseudo-faiths are called heretics. There is a wrong widespread impression though, that these terms are contemptuous or that they label someone; however, they obviously do nothing more but describe a state of being, and by no means are they contemptuous nor do they label someone.

According to the Holy Scriptures, the Sacrament that paves the way for salvation is Baptism, as testified in the Gospel of Mark: “He said to them: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’”[4]

It is remarkable that according to the very words of the Savior Himself, the genuine, redeeming baptism is indissolubly related to the True Faith, namely the Faith that is in accordance with the Gospel which the Apostles preached and that has been kept by the Orthodox Church ever since.
The above-mentioned reference from the Gospel of Mark is in accordance with the Gospel of Matthew: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying: All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[5], which emphasises the connection between Baptism and true Faith.

In this context, could we actually talk about a redeeming baptism in the case of people who are not Orthodox? It is said that since certain heretics are baptised in the name of the “Holy Trinity” their baptism must be valid. But the question is, which “Holy Trinity” do they believe in?

The Roman Catholics (Papists), for example, believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father but from the Son as well, whereas the Orthodox believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father as Jesus Christ Himself teaches, as witnessed in the Gospel of John.[6]

The Papists (as well as the Protestants) do not believe in God working in the world through His uncreated energies, which consequently means that they do not believe that the Holy Spirit works through Baptism. It is obvious that both the Papists and the Protestants are heretics due to the fact that what they preach contradicts what the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition preach about God and His relationship with mankind. As a result, the separation of those communities from the Orthodox Church is self-evident, since they do not share the original teaching of the Gospel and all the Saints.

The Orthodox Church has always considered them heretics since they contradict the Gospel and the Saints in numerous ways. This means that they do not share the Faith that the Apostles preached i.e. the Faith of the Church of Christ; therefore, their sacraments cannot be the work of the Holy Spirit, and neither can their baptism be valid. The baptism of heretics is invalid and false as is their entire faith, which unfortunately discredits the Holy Trinity by stating numerous untruths about God and His relationship with His Creation.
According to the Holy Canons (starting with the Apostolic Canons), heretics should be baptised since they do not have the true Baptism. Also, any clergyman who considers the baptism or any other ‘sacrament’ of the heretics as valid should be defrocked. [7] Taking into account these specific canons, which are part of the foundations of our Faith and which can be easily presented, taught and understood – any heretic who wants to become a member of the Orthodox Church should and must be baptised.

However, some local Churches “receive heretics into Church” by Chrismation only. Also, some local Churches baptise heretics while other local Churches only chrismate them. Consequently, some claim that because of this variety, it is not really clear who should be baptised and who should only be chrismated. And it has been stated that the present state of affairs should not be changed – that it is considered legitimate for heretics to be either baptised or chrismated only.

However, this claim is totally inadequate and unacceptable for the Church of Christ. The Holy Canons state that if it is not clear whether someone has been baptised, then the person should be baptised, so that they would not be deprived of the armour of salvation. This is the reasonable thing to do, following the principle of caution, and even if the Holy Canons would not have clearly prescribed this, we should still have been led towards such conclusions and practice, out of care for the salvation of our neighbour.

Only the Orthodox who denied Orthodox teaching by joining the heretics and returning to Orthodoxy are chrismated, after confessing and abandoning their heretical doctrines. The Sacrament of Chrismation restores the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they received at their first Chrismation (after Baptism), which left them when they cut off their relationship with God by accepting heretical doctrines. Straight after Chrismation, they receive Holy Communion, approaching Jesus Christ again after being separated from Him due to heresy.

On the contrary, in the case of a heretic who was never part of the Orthodox Church, it is obvious that Chrismation has no meaning since they have never been members of the Orthodox Church. As members of another “church” (in fact of a heretical “denomination”) whose sacraments are void, neither their baptism, nor their Chrismation are valid.

Therefore, in their case, Chrismation cannot “somehow” replace Baptism and anyone who claims such a thing ignores the role the Sacraments play in a person’s life and the life of the Church. The Sacrament of Chrismation offers to the baptised (with the true Apostolic Baptism into the Orthodox Church), the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the person and the community. It neither restores human nature, nor replaces Baptism. One cannot replace Holy Communion and the Holy Liturgy with Chrismation. The Holy Sacraments are not interchangeable. Not even Holy Communion, the highest form of union with Christ, can replace the other Sacraments, since every Sacrament has its own unique place, time, meaning, and purpose in the Church, as taught by the Holy Spirit.

In support of Chrismation of heretics instead of baptising them, some invoke the 47th Apostolic Canon forbidding the repetition of Baptism, but without taking into account the fact that the same canon decrees that the priest who does not baptise those who received their “baptism” from heretics should be defrocked. In other words, as also shown in the commentaries to this Canon, it forbids repetition of the authentic, valid (Orthodox) Baptism in the Faith (in the Holy Trinity as stated in the Creed) and form (triple immersion)!

It is also said that since Chrismation of unbaptized heretics has become a widespread practice, it should start to be considered acceptable. But this argument is certainly not right in the sense that if we accept this, then we should also accept that just because at certain times in history, heresies became widespread, therefore, heresies should have replaced the Orthodox Faith. However, what really happened in those days was that God strengthened certain people to fight against heresies and overcome them. The Holy Spirit Himself worked through those people and strengthened them while the majority wandered away from the Truth.

Besides, the argument that if something is performed by the majority of people is the right thing to do, this may lead us to think that perhaps we should become pagans since the majority of people are pagans.

Another argument of those who claim that Chrismation of heretics is equated to Baptism is that Chrismation is the result of oikonomia (economy) as opposed to akribeia (exactitude), that heretical “baptism” is accepted by the Church by means of oikonomia. But what exactly do we mean when we refer to oikonomia and akribeia in the Church? Akribeia means using the formally valid canons. Oikonomia means tolerance regarding the temporary, exceptional adaptation of the Tradition for the spiritual benefit of persons who find themselves in exceptional situations. One can define oikonomia as the expression of the Church akribeia in specific pastoral and missionary situations.

In other words, akribeia is the rule whereas oikonomia is the exception. Oikonomia is applied only in special occasions for a good purpose in unfavourable circumstances. True oikonomia involves a soteriological (salvation) purpose and leads to true Faith despite any obstacles. On the other hand, a false understanding of oikonomia does not lead to true Faith, because by making an unwise adjustment to the Holy Tradition, and thus not following their inherent order, one ultimately defies them and actually leads one far away from the Orthodox Faith.

For instance, from the perspective of oikonomia, the Holy Canons allow the accommodation of animals inside a church building if, for example, they carry heavy loads and people might be in danger or when the animals might be injured or killed by a storm or by wild animals. However, apart from these specific circumstances, it is considered a desecration for animals to enter a church building.

Another example is the administration of Orthodox baptism by pouring sanctified water on the entire body of a person lying in bed where triple immersion is not possible because of his or her illness. Here we have an adjustment of Baptism, which is completely necessary in this specific circumstance, so that if the person dies, he or she would not go to hell. On the contrary, the case of not baptising a heterodox, who is not ill or who has nothing to prevent him or her from being baptised in the rightful order of the Church and the Canons, is not considered oikonomia but disorder. Turning this disorder into rule leads to schism and heresy.

Regardless of the times in which we live, as Orthodox Christians, we should respect the Holy Tradition and we should always listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as expressed through the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition.

The Holy Trinity does not contradict Himself and He provides us with every means of salvation, so that everyone has the same opportunity for salvation in whichever era they live in. Salvation depends on the Holy Sacraments, and the teaching of the Church about the Sacraments is quite clear and cannot be revised or adjusted. Trying to ‘revise’ or ‘adjust’ them is only an indication of either ignorance or unbelief of the people who do so.

The 47th Apostolic Canon states: “Let a bishop or presbyter who shall baptise again one who has rightly received baptism, or who shall not baptise one who has been polluted by the ungodly, be deposed, as despising the Cross and death of the Lord, and not making a distinction between the true priests and the false.”[8]

According to the provisions of the Fathers, we can also decide when children have no trustworthy witnesses who can undoubtedly testify about their baptism – since children themselves cannot answer whether they were given the Holy Sacrament of Baptism or not, due to their immaturity – that these children should be baptised, so that there will be no doubt about their baptism and consequently they would not be deprived of holiness.[9]

Therefore, if there were synods that stated that heretics (except heresy against Holy Trinity) may be received by Chrismation only, three things should be made clear, according to the point of view of some theologians:

  1. Such canons seem to have been applied to some who were already baptised but fell into heresy and then returned through the confession of faith and the sacrament of Holy Chrismation.
  1. If it were not so, Saint Basil the Great pointed out that this is not the exactitude (akribeia) of the Church; no Ecumenical Synod can impose a canon that is contrary to the Apostolic Canons, which state that every heretic should be baptised. Τhe Ecumenical Canons, in order to claim their ecumenicity, must not be contrary to the Apostolic Canons.
  1. A Canon, in order to be called ecumenical, has to express the Dogma of the Church. The Synod of the Eastern Patriarchs, held in Constantinople in 1755 under the chairmanship of the Kollyvades Patriarch Cyril V of Constantinople and the spiritual guidance of Saint Auxentios the New Wonderworker (who had divine vision on this matter), decided to receive all the heterodox by Holy Baptism. [10]

Economy (oikonomia) is temporary. Its role is to lead to exactitude (akribeia). The 7th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Synod is by economy (oikonomia). The Church cannot refuse Baptism to those who want it, whichever confession they may come from. Dogmatic minimalism (explicitly fought against by Saint Maximus the Confessor) of which the relativist “baptismal theory” is a part of, affirms that if someone that takes part in heresy is baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity, that person’s baptism is valid (thus the person is a member of the Church), is against patristic thinking. One cannot be inside and outside the Church at the same time. Baptism is not an act of magic with magical effects, so the Baptismal ritual itself is not grace-filled if it is not performed by a priest of the Orthodox Church, with the confession of the Orthodox Faith and the renunciation of heresy (if applicable). For example, when referring to Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Synod, Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite explains that oikonomia was used to receive those heretics by Holy Chrismation because of political issues, in order to save an entire people.[11] At that time, the reception of those heretics was valid, but now those reasons no longer exist. Most of the contemporary heretics being received by Chrismation believe that their heretical ‘baptism’ was valid and have a syncretic ecumenist thinking, thus failing to understand Orthodoxy.

The 1st Canon of Saint Basil the Great and the position of Saint Cyprian of Carthage as expressed in the local Synod of Carthage (258), prescribe the baptism of all heretics coming into the Church; this has been adopted at an ecumenical level through the 2nd Canon of the Trullan (Quinisext) Synod, which means that it is applicable for the entire Church. [12]

Saint Cyprian of Carthage also wrote that: “… when we had met together, bishops as well, of the province of Africa as of Numidia, to the number of seventy-one, we established this same matter once more by our judgement, deciding that there is one baptism which is appointed in the Catholic Church; and that by this those are not re-baptized, but baptised by us, who at any time come from the adulterous and unhallowed water to be washed and sanctified by the truth of the saving water.

We are also eagerly awaiting the response of Your Eminence to the other issues raised in our open letter dated 12 December 2023.

With all my love in Christ,

Protopresbyter Matthew (Ion-Valentin) Vulcanescu

Parish of Saint Edward the Martyr and Saint Paraskevi of Rome

Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland

Enclosure: Letter to the Clergy of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland, 16 December 2023

The Response Letter of Father Matthew Vulcanescu to Metropolitan Silouan Oner’s Letter to Clergy December 2023 – Reception by Chrismation

The Response Letter of Father Matei Vulcanescu to Metropolitan Silouan Oner’s Letter to Clergy

Metropolitan Silouan Oner’s Letter to Clergy December 2023 – Reception by Chrismation

The letter of Metropolitan Silouan Oner to Clergy as an answer to the letters of Fr. Matei Vulcanescu and Fr. John Patrick Ramsey

Metropolitan Silouan Oner’s Letter to Clergy December 2023 – Reception by Chrismation

Endnotes

[1] Vulcanescu, Open Letter to Patriarch John X and the Holy Synod. [2] Lacombe, Échos d'Orient, vol. 33, no. 173, (Paris, 1934), p. 99. (in French); Orthodox Ethos, On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church, p. 299.
[3] Orthodox Ethos, On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church, p. 301, op. cit.; Metallinos I Confess One Baptism…, p. 34.
[4] Mark 16:15-16
[5] Matthew 28:18-20
[6] John 15:26
[7] Refer to: 46th, 47th and 68th Apostolic Canons, Canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod, Canon 84 and 95 of the 6th Ecumenical Synod, 1st Canon of the 3rd Carthage Synod, 1st, 2nd, 20th, and 47th Canons of Saint Basil, and 15th Canon of the 6th Synod of Carthage.
[8] Refer to: Canon 47 of the Apostolic Canons: Schaff, NPNF Vol. 14, p. 1093. See also: 46th and 68th Apostolic Canons, Canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod, Canon 84, and 95 of the 6th Ecumenical Synod, 1st Canon of the 3rd Carthage Synod.
[9] Canon 72 of the Synod in Carthage (419): NPNF Vol. 14, p. 894.
[10] Orthodox Ethos, On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church, p. 301, op. cit.; Metallinos I Confess One Baptism…, p. 34 op. cit.
[11] Interpretation of the Canon of the Council of Carthage under St. Cyprian: Agapios and Nicodemus, The Rudder, op. Cit.; Orthodox Ethos, On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church, pp. 98-99, op. cit.
[12] Ramsey, The Church: Deifying Relations, footnote 295, p. 73.
[13] Letter 72 of Saint Cyprian of Carthage: ANF Vol. 5, p. 902.

Bibliography

  1. Agapios, Hieromonk & Nicodemus, Monk. The Rudder (Pedalion) of the Metaphorical Ship of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 2005.
  2. Lacombe, J. Échos d'Orient, vol. 33, no. 173. (in French) Paris, 1934.
  3. Metallinos, George D., Protopresbyter. I Confess One Baptism… St. Paul’s Monastery, 1994. accessed 27 Oct 2023. <https://www.oodegr.com/english/biblia/baptisma1/perieh.htm>.
  4. Orthodox Ethos Publication. On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church: The Patristic Consensus and Criteria. Uncut Mountain Press, 2023.
  5. Ramsey, John Patrick, Hieromonk. The Church: Deifying Relations. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2018.
  6. Schaff, Philip. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900. (ANF Vol. 5)
  7. Schaff, Philip. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 14 The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900. (NPNF Vol. 14)
  8. Vulcanescu, Matthew, Protopresbyter. Open Letter to Patriarch John X and the Holy Synod. 16 Dec. 2023, accessed 17 Dec. 2023. <https://ortodoxiacatholica.com/blog/2023/12/16/open-letter-to-patriarch-john-x-and-the-holy-synod/?lang=en>.
Show Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Biserica Ortodoxă este universală - Blog personal al Părintelui Matei Vulcanescu