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QUESTION: A copy of your magazine made it into our church. I was dismayed to see that you had baptised someone who was not Orthodox when he decided to convert. Scripture and the Creed tell us that there is only ONE baptism. That means that you do not follow Scripture or the Creed of the church. You are not traditionalists but people who have moved away from Orthodoxy and its teachings.
ANSWER: The issue of the reception of converts into the Orthodox Church is a very complex one. There are different schools of thought about this matter, and the historical record certainly demonstrates that in different circumstances the Church has received the heterodox by “economy” (through confession of faith and Chrismation) and by canonical exactness (through three-fold immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity). In an age of religious relativism and the erosion of a clear understanding of the primacy of the Orthodox Church by the ecumenical movement, it is our argument that canonical exactitude is, except in rare cases, the preferable method for receiving converts. In making this statement, neither do we reject the correct and sober application of “economy” by right-believing Bishops, nor do we mean to suggest that the canonical exactitude of Baptism is anything but an unequivocal admission that the Church recognizes no Baptism or Mystery outside of Her boundaries, even in the exercise of “economy,” as we shall subsequently argue.
Your notion that Scriptural and credal references to a single Baptism somehow impugn our Orthodoxy is based on a misunderstanding of the Scriptural witness (e.g., Ephesians 4:5) and the Nicene-Constantinopnlitan Symbol of the Faith and on an obvious lack of familiarity with Patristic and canonical commentaries on this subject. The one baptism cited in Scripture and the Symbol of the Faith relets to baptism within the Orthodox Church; just as the Orthodox (hutch constitutes the one Church mentioned in the Symbol of Faith, and not many Churches, so the single Baptism to which we Orthodox refer is that of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church alone, not baptismal rites performed outside Orthodoxy. Baptism is singular not because it entails a single event (thus supposedly rendering heterodox baptisms equal to Baptism in the Orthodox Church), but because it is singular (or authentic) by nature. Thus, if someone has been baptized any number of times outside the Orthodox Church, this does not constitute the one Baptism in which our Church believes. Nor, obviously, is the Baptism of a convert to Orthodoxy somehow a violation of our Church’s recognition that She administers but one, single, authentic Baptism.
Now, in this age of ecumenism, it has become popular to imagine that the reception of converts into Orthodoxy by “economy” is somehow a recognition of the validity of baptism outside the Church. Indeed, with some pseudo-academic sleight of hand, a few Orthodox writers have of late tried to suggest that the traditional understanding of “economy”—as a means by which the Church creates Grace where it did not before exist (that is, in the empty sacraments of the heterodox)—is not only faulty, but theologically untenable—as though the Church were incapable of such a thing. Theological legerdemain aside, “economy” does just what it has been traditionally understood to do: it brings forth in emptiness the fullness of Grace. Thus, the operative Grace of the one Baptism of the Orthodox Church applies, as we said above, even to the case of “economy,” where the singularity of the Baptismal experience rests on the uniqueness and primacy of the Orthodox Church, the single source of the Mysteries which we confess in the Symbol of the Faith and which we equate with those set forth in Scripture and Holy Tradition.
Once more, modernist innovations in theological thinking notwithstanding, the Patristic witness of the Orthodox Church clearly confirms what we have written about Baptism and specifically equates the one baptism of Christian confession with Baptism administered by the Orthodox Church, whether through the exactness of three-fold immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity or by the condescension of “economy”—that is, the bestowal of Baptismal Grace by a confession of faith or by Chrismation. Furthermore, “economy” applies only in rare and unusual circumstances dictated by legitimate pastoral concerns or by historical factors (such as the unclear status of some Western Christians immediately after the Great Schism or the return to Orthodoxy of believers converted by force to Uniatism), and not by a desire to appease the religious relativism of political ecumenism, which rejects and disdains the primacy and uniqueness of the Orthodox Faith as the criterion of Christianity.
—Orthodox Insights — Archbishop Chrysostomos, Bishop Avxentios, and Archimandrite Akakios