Absolute Invalidity: Why Heretic “Baptism” is Ineligible for Orthodox Economia
By Subdeacon Nektarios, M.A.
The topic of the reception of converts into the Orthodox Church has been a subject raging on the North American continent largely due to the diversity of religious backgrounds of the many converts into Holy Orthodoxy. This situation has been influenced by a number of factors. One of the major factors that must be mentioned is the 20th century heresy of ecumenism which is infecting a majority of the Orthodox Churches in the United States and is being promulgated at the highest ranks of the Orthodox clergy who are now disseminating these false teachings down into the ranks of the laity as a truth of the faith. These adherents of the ecumenist heresy are spoken of in the first Epistle of Saint Timothy which states “that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” . However, the heresy of ecumenism is not the only driving factor for this improper understanding of the reception of the heretics into the Church. Although not exhaustive, some of these other factors include the misunderstandings of the writings of Saint Mark of Ephesus concerning the reception of the Latins into the Orthodox Church, the misunderstanding of the canons that were adopted by the Holy Ecumenical Councils and their proper interpretation and application, the influence of Latin Scholastic teaching in Russia which led to the false Council of Moscow in 1666-1667, and the misunderstanding of the 15th Decree of Jerusalem in 1672.
"Baptism" by Affusion
This controversy is largely argued on social media platforms through the use of meme level theology, history, and selective quotations from one Saint or Church Father, without the actual historical context or research that this subject requires. However, this controversy has been raging in many other places such as Russia, Serbia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe where the heretical teachings of Thomas Aquinas have sadly influenced the Orthodox Churches for many generations. We have to ask ourselves, is this low-level approach to history concerning the reception of converts sufficient to understand the issue within its proper historical context? Within the academic discipline of history one of the first core disciplines that must be developed is a working knowledge of Historical Research Methods which requires a person to analyze and evaluate different types of historical evidence, to consider how valid research questions are formulated and applied, and to refine critical thinking of research that is fundamental to valid historical scholarship. This level of research is key to understanding the subject of the reception of converts in its proper historical context.
However, the research methods are not the only thing that must be considered when trying to understand this complex subject. A sincere search for the truth, a commitment to patristic teaching and interest in reading the fathers is going to be the primary factors for diving deeper into this complex history. This brings us to the subject of the so-called baptism of Papist, Reformed, and Magisterial Protestants and why those who come from these heretical confessions are absolutely ineligible for being received into the Eastern Orthodox Church via economia . First, it should be stated that the Church does not recognize that any heretical confession has grace-filled mysteries. When the Church receives someone either by baptism or chrismation both methods are stating that there is a lack of grace in the heretical “sacrament” from which they came. That being said, according to the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (375-380AD), one of the earliest texts on heretical mysteries states:
Be ye likewise contented with one baptism alone, that which is into the death of the Lord; not that which is conferred by wicked heretics, but that which is conferred by unblameable priests, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” and let not that which comes from the ungodly be received by you, nor let that which is done by the godly be disannulled by a second. For as there is one God, one Christ, and one Comforter, and one death of the Lord in the body, so let that baptism which is unto Him be but one. But those that receive polluted baptism from the ungodly [heretics] will become partners in their opinions. For they are not priests. For God says to them: “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee from the office of a priest to me.”
Nor indeed are those that are baptized by them initiated, but are polluted, not receiving the remission of sins, but the bond of impiety. And, besides, they that attempt to baptize those already initiated crucify the Lord afresh, slay Him a second time, laugh at divine and ridicule holy things, affront the Spirit, dishonour the sacred blood of Christ as common blood, are impious against Him that sent, Him that suffered, and Him that witnessed. Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says: “Except a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And again: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” But he that says, When I am dying I will be baptized, lest I should sin and defile my baptism, is ignorant of God, and forgetful of his own nature. For “do not thou delay to turn unto the Lord, for thou knowest not what the next day will bring forth.” Do you also baptize your infants, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For says He: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not" .
The various synodal decisions of the Church and the Church Fathers clearly established principals and presuppositions that need to be met in order for those coming from a heretical confession to be received into the Orthodox Church by economy. The first presupposition is that there has to be a genuine need which necessitates an economy. The use of economy cannot be based on the desire of the priest or bishop to do what is easiest or to not offend the heretics but must be met with certain criteria. Letter 188 of Saint Basil the Great allows for economy “for the sake of management of the majority” . During that historical period there were overwhelming numbers of people coming back into the Orthodox Church from the various heresies that had arisen. This, however, is obviously not the case today in 21st century North America, where even the largest parishes in the country, such as Father Josiah Trenham’s parish for example, has around ninety catechumens last we spoke.
The second presupposition that is required by the Church Fathers is to question the practice of the heretical confession itself. Did the heretical confession keep the apostolic form of baptism which is thrice immersion and emersion? If the apostolic form of baptism has not been maintained there is no room for economy to be given. The various groups that were granted economy by the Holy Councils and Church Fathers all maintained the apostolic form of baptism and primarily remained Orthodox in their external rites. However, certain forms of heretical baptism were rejected outright and called for these heretics to be received by the one true baptism of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
For example, the 7th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council states:
Eunomeans, who are baptized with only one immersion, […] when they desire to turn to Orthodoxy, we receive as heathen [Pagans]. On the first day we make them Christians; on the second, catechumens; on the third, we exorcise them by breathing thrice in their face and ears; and thus we instruct them and oblige them to spend some time in the Church, and to hear the Scriptures; and then we baptize them .
Likewise, the 95th Canon of the Fifth-Sixth Council (Trullo) states:
Those who from the heretics come over to Orthodoxy, and to the number of those who should be saved, we receive according to the following order and custom. […] The Eunomeans also, who baptize with one immersion; […] all of their number who are desirous of coming to the Orthodox faith, we receive as Gentiles [Pagans]. And on the first day we make them Christians, on the second Catechumens, then on the third day we exorcise them, at the same time also breathing thrice upon their faces and ears; and thus we initiate them, and we make them spend time in church and hear the Scriptures; and then we baptize them .
As we can clearly see from the canons of the Church the heretical practice of single immersion can never be given economy. That brings us to the question of affusion and aspersion (pouring and sprinkling). Within the texts of the Orthodox Church we have two primary examples where this is permitted with presuppositions, not carte blanche permission to practice this as normative. The Didache, a first century document on Church practices, states:
Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then “baptize” in running water, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” .
A careful reading of this gives affusion as an option of last resort, not a de facto permission to perform baptism by affusion or aspersion as normative as many who are ignorant or indifferent would have us believe. The next patristic text that we have concerning baptism by pouring is in the letters of the Great 3rd Century Church Father, Saint Cyprian of Carthage. In Letter LXXV, “To Magnus, on Baptizing the Novatians, and Those Who Obtain Grace on a Sick-Bed” Saint Cyprian states:
“But, moreover, in respect of some calling those who have obtained the peace of Christ by the saving water and by legitimate faith, not Christians, but Clinics, I do not find whence they take up this name, unless perhaps, having read more, and of a more recondite kind, they have taken these Clinics from Hippocrates or Soranus. For I, who know of a Clinic in the Gospel, know that to that paralytic and infirm man, who lay on his bed during the long course of his life, his infirmity presented no obstacle to his attainment in the fullest degree of heavenly strength. Nor was he only raised from his bed by the divine indulgence, but he also took up his bed itself with his restored and increased strength. And therefore, as far as it is allowed me by faith to conceive and to think, this is my opinion, that anyone should be esteemed a legitimate Christian, who by the law and right of faith shall have obtained the grace of God in the Church. Or if anyone think that those have gained nothing by having only been sprinkled with the saving water, but that they are still empty and void, let them not be deceived, so as if they escape the evil of their sickness, and get well, they should seek to be baptized. But if they cannot be baptized who have already been sanctified by ecclesiastical baptism, why are they offended in respect of their faith and the mercy of the Lord? Or have they obtained indeed the divine favour, but in a shorter and more limited measure of the divine gift and of the Holy Spirit, so as indeed to be esteemed Christians, but yet not to be counted equal with others?” .
Another careful reading of the words of Saint Cyprian of Carthage states that those who are received by affusion in a clinical setting are in fact baptized if they repose. However, if they become well and escape their sickness they should seek baptism by the full rite of immersion and emersion. This acceptance of baptism by affusion as we can see has only been accepted in exigent circumstances by the Fathers of the Church and has never been seen as the standard nor the apostolic tradition handed down to us by the Holy Apostles.
Female Anglican Priestess "Baptizing" by Aspersion
However, it should be made clear that this exception to the exactitude of the Orthodox tradition only applies within the Orthodox Christian context. As was stated previously the primary presupposition of receiving someone by economy is that their former heretical confession maintained the apostolic form of thrice immersion and emersion. During the time of the false Council of Florence when all the Orthodox bishops, except for Saint Mark of Ephesus, capitulated to the heretical teachings of the Papist confession, Saint Mark made a clear distinction between the variations of practices of baptism among the Latins. “Metropolitan Mark of Ephesus informed the Orthodox that the Latins have two types of Baptism, one with triple immersion and another with affusion […] [and] those who have had apostolic Baptism (triple immersion) were chrismated, while those who had been baptized by affusion were” baptized into the Holy Orthodox Church because those who had received affusion by the papists were not recognized since they did not maintain the fundamental aspect for economy which is the apostolic form .
Baptism by affusion and aspersion crept into the Orthodox Church not out of Orthodox tradition but because of a Latinized importation of the 13th century theology of the heretical papist Thomas Aquinas and his writing of the Summa Theologica where he objects to immersion and trine immersion as being a necessity for baptism despite its apostolic origins . In Archbishop Nikephoros’ 1754 Epistle Against Pouring, the Latinization of the Orthodox form of baptism is explained as he gives us a brief history of how this importation occurred:
There is basis to the assumption that the practice of baptizing through pouring on of water began in Kiev, and then spread throughout Little Russia. Such departure came from the time when the Uniates gained power over the Kievan metropolia. In the Roman Church, up to the 12th century, or better said, to the end of the 13th century, baptism through immersion was practiced. But then they began to baptize not only by pouring, but also by sprinkling. As a result, the Little Russians are the only Orthodox people who set aside immersion in favor of pouring. This has given schismatics reason to accuse us of neglecting apostolic tradition, which is preserved without change in the whole of the Orthodox Church. They accuse us of following the example of the papists who, along with various incorrect deletions, had the audacity to change Holy Baptism as well. The divine apostle Paul praised the Corinthians highly for their preservation of tradition with the following words: “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the Ordinances, as I delivered them to you” (I Cor. 11:2). He entreats the Thessalonians to hold fast to traditions: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15) .
By now you may be wondering, how does all this historical context of baptism by affusion and aspersion relate to the absolute invalidity of the heretical pseudo-sacraments? The answer is that, as a historically Protestant majority country, the Orthodox Church receives the majority of its converts from confessions that practice affusion, aspersion, or a single immersion, which the Church Fathers found to be illegitimate for the purposes of reception into the Orthodox Church by economy.
In an article written by Thomas S. Rainer for the Christian Post in 2013, Rainer collects data from the “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” and establishes a list of the fifteen largest Protestant denominations in the United States to which I have included a sixteenth . Rainer lists these original fifteen in his article; however, I have added Non-Denominationalism to the original list due to their extremely large size within the United States. These sixteen largest denominations include:
Conducting an informal research study of exactly how each of these heretical Protestant confessions perform their rite of baptism, I found that of these sixteen largest Protestant denominations not a single one conducts their baptisms by a thrice immersion and emersion. The majority of these Protestants do pronounce the baptism to be “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” during the rite, with the exception of most Pentecostals who baptize with a single immersion and “in the name of Jesus Christ,” along with other aberrations that are inconsistent with the canonical presuppositions which must exist for receiving a Protestant and Papist into the Orthodox Church by economy. It must be noted that adherents of Catholicism were not included in this study as they have practically abandoned the baptismal immersion altogether .
Of those denominations that do practice immersion, it is solely a single immersion, which is exactly what was condemned at the Second Ecumenical Council and at the Fifth-Sixth Council (Trullo). The denominations that do not practice immersion, primarily the Magisterial Protestants, perform their rite by either affusion or aspersion. However, during my research into these various Protestant denominations and their baptismal rites, I also found, in true Protestant fashion, various innovative forms that would not fall into the category of either the traditional immersion, affusion, or aspersion. Some of the newer and innovative forms I have discovered include: single pouring, single wiping of the forehead, a single dabbing of the forehead with a wet cloth, and in one case a double wiping of the forehead.
Orthodox Ecumenists, violating the canons, and joining in prayer with heretics
This list of these sixteen different denominations in total roughly equates to 76.5 million people just within the United States alone who belong to one of these confessions having received a Protestant baptismal rite that is completely absent of the apostolic form of thrice immersion and emersion which is an absolute prerequisite for any convert to be considered remotely eligible for reception by a means other than baptism. The majority of Protestant theology rejects the mystery of the Holy Priesthood in which all other mysteries rest. They reject Christ in the Eucharist, as well as the Holy Theotokos, the Orthodox Canon of Scripture, the liturgical and divine services of the Church, the Church Fathers, councils, canons, saints, and the apostolic form of baptism, and some have rejected our Christology, while all have rejected our Ecclesiology and Eschatology. But yet there are Orthodox jurisdictions who maintain that Protestants can be received by Chrismation even after their denial of the Orthodox faith in its entirety and dare to call them Christians who are “brothers and sisters in Christ!”
These Latin Papist and Protestant denominations have fallen so far into heresy and have abandoned all trace of Orthodoxy in both their external rites and theology that without the canonical presuppositions required by the Holy Ecumenical Councils the only way any contemporary Orthodox Bishop or Priest could remotely consider receiving a Protestant into the Church by Chrismation, after such a great departure into a heretical abyss, is if they themselves were to abandon the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church entirely.
. 1st Epistle to Timothy 4:1, NKJV.
. Economia: Being granted an exception to a normal practice in the Church (in this case the normal reception by baptism) due to patristic presuppositions being met and there being great need to grant the exception.
. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, “That We Ought not to Rebaptize, Nor to Receive that Baptish which is Given by the Ungodly, Which is Not Baptism, but a Pollution,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 456-457.
. Saint Basil the Great, “Letter CLXXXVIII: To Amphilochius, Concerning the Canons,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol 8, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publications, 1999), 224.
. The Second Ecumenical Council — The First Council of Constantinople, A.D. 38, “Canons of the One Hundred and Fifty Fathers who Assembled at Constantinople During the Consulate of those Illustrious Men, Flavius Eucherius and Flavius Evagrius on the VII of the Ides of July, Canon VII,” in Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 14, ed. Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (Peabody: Hendrickson Publications, 1999), 185.
. Council of Trullo, “The Canons of the Council in Trull: Canon XCV,” in Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 14, ed. Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (Peabody: Hendrickson Publications, 1999), 405.
. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache), “Chapter VII: Concerning Baptism” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 379.
. Saint Cyprian of Carthage, “Letter LXXV to Magnus,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (Peabody: Hendrickson Publications, 1999), 397-402.
. Father 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),” in Greek Orthodox Theological Review (Boston: Holy Cross Press), 237.
. Archbishop Nikiphor of Slovenia & Kherson, “Against Baptism by Pouring,” Orthodox Life, 40, no. 1 (January-February 1990): 16-19.
. “The 15 Largest Protestant Denominations in the United States,” The Christian Post, accessed, January 17th, 2023, https://www.christianpost.com/news/the-15-largest-protestant-denominations-in-the-united-states.html
. The Episcopal confession and other mainline denominations may be increasingly adopting the “inclusive” language “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier”. It is interesting that even the Vatican says that such formulas are invalid and that people baptized with such a formula must be baptized with the correct formula by the Latins. But, while the Latins make the formula absolute they obviously do not make the form (three immersions) absolute.