Decree Corncerning Baptism of Heretics

from Living Orthodoxy magazine #113 (Sept. 1998)

SEPTEMBER 15/28, 1971 


On the question of the baptism of heretics who accept Orthodoxy, the following decree was adopted: 

The Holy church has believed from of old that there can be only one true baptism, namely that which is performed in her bosom: One, Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph. 4:5). In the Symbol of Faith there is also confessed "one baptism," and the 46th Canon of the Holy Apostles directs: "A bishop or a presbyter who has accepted (i.e., acknowledges) the baptism or the sacrifice of heretics, we command to be deposed." 

However, when the zeal of any heretics in their battle against the Church has weakened and when there was a question of a mass conversion of them to Orthodoxy, the Church, to facilitate their union, has received them into her bosom in a different way.... 

St. Basil the Great, and through his words an Ecumenical Council [the Sixth], while establishing the principle that outside the Holy Orthodox Church there is no true baptism, allows, out of pastoral condescension, which is called "economy," the reception of certain heretics and schismatics without a new baptism. And in accordance with such a principle, the Ecumenical Councils permitted the reception of heretics in various ways, in accordance with the degree of the weakening of the heretics' enmity against the Orthodox Church. 

In the Rudder [Book of Canons] the following explanation of Timothy of Alexandria is given. To the question: "Why do we not baptize heretics who convert to the Catholic Church?" he replies: "If we did this, a man would not soon convert from heresy, being ashamed of a second baptism; thus by the laying on of the priests'hands and prayer, the Holy Spirit descends, as the Acts of the Holy Apostles testifies." 

With regard to Roman Catholics and those Protestants who claim to preserve baptism as a sacrament (for example, the Lutherans), in Russia since the time of Peter I the practice was introduced of receiving them without baptism, through a renunciation of heresy and the chrismation of Protestants and unconfirmed Catholics. Before Peter, Catholics were baptized in Russia. In Greece, the practice has also varied, but almost 300 years ago, after a certain interruption the practice of baptizing converts from Catholicism and Protestantism was reintroduced. Those received in any other way have (sometimes) not been recognized in Greece as Orthodox. In many cases such children of our Russian Church were not even admitted to Holy Communion. 

Having in view this circumstance and also the current growth of the ecumenist heresy, which attempts completely to erase the difference between Orthodoxy and any heresy so that the Moscow Patriarchate, notwithstanding the holy canons, has even issued a decree permitting Roman Catholics to receive communion (in certain cases) the Sobor of Bishops acknowledges the necessity of introducing a stricter practice, i.e., to baptize all heretics who come to the Church only in case of necessity and with the permission of the bishop allowing, for reasons of economy or pastoral condescension, any other practice with regard to certain persons i.e., the reception into the Church of Roman Catholics and those Protestants baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, through a repudiation of heresy and chrismation.