To the Very Reverend and Reverend Pastors of the Diocese of the South
All of us who have responded to our Lord Jesus Christ’s call to share in His holy priesthood know that we have been given God’s greatest gift to man, a gift which is at once a most awesome privilege and most fearful responsibility. This awareness, which we must always keep before us, brings about a sense of brotherhood that is incomparable in human society. Consequently, there is no greater joy for us than that which we experience when we are able to come together, to see one another, and to celebrate in unity the holy mystery of the Eucharist.
It is, therefore, a sad occasion indeed when a brother priest chooses to leave this glorious company for any reason. This is especially true when he leaves us in an uncanonical fashion, that is, without release, and joins himself to another jurisdiction. The severity of such an act is aggravated when that jurisdiction is an uncanonical one, at odds with the Orthodox Churches and, at the same time, making extravagant claims for itself, that is, that it is the only “church” which is faithful to the Tradition.
Motivations for such actions vary a great deal; some leave for personal reasons, some for sentimental reasons, but there are those who part company with us because they have come to the conclusion that we are no longer “fully Orthodox.” The possibility for committing this unwarranted act will exist as long as there are robber bishops, who are eager to extend their jurisdictions and enjoy the sense of conquest. They are truly those who climb up over the walls to steal sheep and do not enter by the door.
Two of our fellow priests with whom we have worked and shared so much for so many years have left us, having been overcome, it seems, by the relentless barrage of negative propaganda and condemnation that emanates from the “true,” “genuine,” and “traditionalist” Orthodox groups. So that you may know what has happened and not speculate nor give heed to the various versions of the sad story, which have already begun to circulate, these lines are addressed to you.
Two priests had been suspended by me, one for having been re- baptized, after having been received into the Orthodox Church by chrismation, after having been ordained to the holy priesthood, and after exercising his priestly ministry for some twenty years, and the other, also having been received into the Orthodox Church by chrismation, and after having served faithfully for about the same number of years, baptized his wife, who had also been received by chrismation and had been a communicant in the Orthodox Church for nearly thirty years. Both of these priests, rather than accept the opportunity given to them to renounce their improper acts and repent of them, chose to leave the Orthodox Church in America and enter into the church that is known as “the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.”
Recent “internet” commentators on the action taken by these priests have expressed themselves generally on a completely different issue: whether to receive a convert from a heretical church by baptism or by chrismation. Our Church does baptize those who come to it from denominations that baptize “in the name of Jesus, ” or “in the name of the Lord,” etc. New formulas, such as “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier,” and other “sexually inclusive” names, even in the so-called main-line Protestant Churches, have given rise to more receptions by baptism. But only one of these computer messages that we have seen attempts to address what is at issue here: re-baptism after having been a communicant for a number of years. He says, “The Holy Mountain merely corrected the form of their reception into Orthodoxy.” But he goes on to say, “The Canons allow for a wide palette of discretion to the bishop and the priest for receiving converts from heterodox. Some choose chrismation, some choose to baptize. The OCA, it may be simplistically construed, has dogmatized economia as the standard and only way to receive converts, and has warned priests that they will be suspended if they baptize, and bishops will remove from communion, for at least 2 years, those who submit themselves to baptism.” The information alleged in the last sentence is patently untrue.
In their letters to me, explaining their leaving our Church, the priests brought forth several reasons: involvement in ecumenism, remaining in communion with a Church, in which a woman was tonsured as a reader, advocacy of the Western Paschalia, etc. While they never made it a secret that they objected to these things, their leaving our Church was obviously provoked by their suspension. In order that you many understand why their acts were not acceptable and why it was necessary to suspend them, we quote below portions of our explanatory letter to them:
“I am writing to you so that you may understand my attitude towards your re-baptism and why I concluded that it was necessary to suspend you. When I first learned from you what you had done, I was perplexed, surprised, and shocked. Yet, because you accepted this baptism at one of the monasteries of Mount Athos, the spiritual center of Orthodoxy, and not from some cleric or monastery of one of the super Orthodox fringe cults, I held back my reaction. But, I immediately began to try to find out why this is being done. I asked His Beatitude to make inquiries; I made many myself, and I studied, praying and asking the Lord’s guidance in determining what course of action I was to take. This letter was begun months ago, as my investigation progressed, but now I hasten to complete it, having had the opportunity to discuss the whole matter with the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America.
My first reaction was that it smacked of Pharisaism, in its apparent preoccupation with form and with every detail, leaving nothing to the working of the Holy Spirit, even of “quenching the Holy Spirit.” After all, when you were ordained to the holy priesthood, the formula that was recited by the ordaining hierarch was: “The grace divine which always healeth that which is infirm and completeth that which is wanting, elevateth through the laying on of hands, N., the most devour deacon, to be a priest. Wherefore, let us pray for him, that the grace of the all-Holy Spirit may come upon him.”
Can this be understood to mean that there are certain “wants” or “lacks” that are beyond the Holy Spirit’s power to complete? If we conclude that such an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s power is wrong and sinful, is it not then a sin to undergo an act, the application of which implies that the Holy Spirit’s power did not extend to cover and validate your first baptism? If you sinned against the Holy Spirit in this act, it would seem that rather than benefit your pursuit of salvation it could only end up by endangering it. Then we must also mention that at your chrismation you were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
These considerations bring us to the question as to whether you were or were not baptized already when you were baptized on Mt. Athos. If you were, then you submitted to a second baptism or repeated your baptism. If you were not, how are we to consider your chrismation, communions, ordination and subsequent celebrations of the holy mysteries? Can an unbaptized man be validly or properly ordained? It was the same Church that by its rightful exercise of economia decided that you could be received by chrismation and then ordained you and gave you license to celebrate the holy mysteries and placed you as a superior in a monastery.
Your second baptism puts into question your whole ministry and priesthood prior to it. Does one consider the second baptism as the true one which validates all your prior ordinations and ministrations? Was your priesthood during the whole time prior to your second baptism simply potential? What then of the many people who have received the holy mysteries at your hands? Are the ministrations of a priest whose priesthood is still lacking or incomplete also lacking and incomplete? Did they finally become real only when you were baptized? What happens to those whom you received by chrismation, according to the practice of our Church, and of its Mother Church, the Russian Church?
Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-5 (“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame.”)—St. John Chrysostom has the following to say about a second baptism: “He then that baptizeth a second time, crucifies Him again. But what is “crucifying afresh”? It is crucifying over again. For as Christ died on the cross, so do we in baptism, not as to the flesh, but as to sin. Behold, two deaths. He died as to the flesh; in our case the old man was buried, and the new man arose, made conformable to the likeness of His death. If therefore it is necessary to be baptized again, it is necessary that this same Christ should die again. For baptism is nothing else than the putting to death of the baptized, and his rising again” (Homily IX on Hebrews).
Finally, according to one of the sections of the Oath of Ordination, which you signed, you promised not to do anything without the knowledge of your bishop. Anything as radical and extraordinary as seeking or submitting to a second baptism years after ordination would obviously be the type of action referred to in this promise. I was informed by you only after your action.
Father, all of the foregoing is offered to you in love, for your prayerful consideration and in the hope that you may be moved to seek the means for reconciliation and the restoration of your priestly faculties, so that you may continue your good work and glorify your Father in heaven. Without any doubt the Orthodox church, your Church, has the sacramental remedy whereby this may be accomplished.
My spiritual son, I call you to repentance and renunciation of your errors for the salvation of your soul.”
We do not send you this information so that you may despise these priests. On the contrary, we urge you to pray for them that the Lord’s will may be clear to them. We also would like you to know that our Church, because of its love and compassion, does not act or react hastily and without prayer and serious consideration, but that it does act when it is faced with actions that are without theological, biblical and traditional foundation. Our Church sincerely desires that no priest or cleric commit some act, the results of which will be damaging to the flock committed to them and irrevocable insofar as their own standing is concerned.
May the Holy Spirit continue to illumine you and give you the conviction and the courage to dedicate yourselves, in these troubled times especially, to the care of the flock committed to your care, for your own and for their salvation.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Dallas and the South