Met. Kallistos on ROCOR tradition and on baptizing converts

Eustratios ArgentiThis week the ROCOR Studies website posted an interview with Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), in which he discusses, among other things, his 1964 book Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule.

The interview chiefly discusses the Metropolitan’s long relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia which, he says, has “continued to be faithful to their liturgical and ascetic traditions to an extent which is not found in the same way among other Orthodox. This emphasis is very much needed today.”

The Russian Church, Mount Athos, and a fair number of other Orthodox clergy and canonists consider it normative to receive converts from other Christian traditions by baptism (which is at times mischaracterized as re-baptism.) But this has been a subject of controversy for several centuries. Here is the part of the interview that touches on this matter:

Vladyka, in this same year [1971] a decision was made at the council in Montreal about the reception into Russian Church Abroad by baptism only. I wonder if your book on Eustratios Argenti played any role, because Fr. George Grabbe was very impressed by that book, I understand.

That is interesting. He never himself told me that he was impressed by that book. I suspect that the book might have influenced the course of events, because I did give in that book a very clear account of the controversy at Constantinople in 1755, and also I gave a full summary of the arguments of Eustratios Argenti, who was the theologian who chiefly supported the practice of rebaptism. So, yes, I think that this may have played a part in their decision. I never heard any explicit confirmation of that. But Fr. George Grabbe undoubtedly knew that book. I almost certainly sent him a copy when it was published. That would have provided an argument in support of the very strict position of rebaptism. And I pointed out how figures like St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain in the eighteenth century, the editor of the Philokalia, in his book on the canons, defends the practice of rebaptizing converts. He says, “In the past converts have been accepted by chrismation from the Roman Catholic Church. This has been done by economy. But now the time for economy has past and we should apply strictness — akrivia.” This was his argument, an argument that some canonists, like John Erickson of St. Vladimir’s, do not accept. They say this is a misinterpretation of economy. But certainly the arguments on all of this were set out in my book on Eustratios Argenti. It’s interesting: that book has just been reprinted. So it’s evident that there’s a continuing interest in it. There are some people, certainly, in the Church of Greece, and particularly on the Holy Mountain, who take the view that converts should be received by baptism, who follow the position of strictness.

Vladyka, has your treatment of this issue changed with time? If you were now to write a preface to this book, what would you say?

In my original book, I did not myself clearly adopt the opinion that converts should be baptized. I myself had been received by chrismation as, of course at that time, in the 1950′s, was the practice in the Russian Church Abroad. After all, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr was received by chrismation, and the Empress Alexandra equally. So I did not myself come out in a definite way defending the position of Argenti. But I put all his arguments, and I didn’t say that the arguments were untruthful and unconvincing. I emphasized the point that Orthodox Church practice has varied. The Russians in the early seventeenth century baptized Roman Catholics. In the council of Moscow in 1766-67 they ceased to do this because of pressure from the Greeks who were present, who said that they must be received by Chrismation. Then, when the Russians followed this practice the Greeks themselves changed to baptizing Roman Catholics in 1755.  So I emphasized that, in fact, in the history of the Orthodox Church, both practices have existed. I did not say that only one is acceptable, but I did state the arguments of Argenti quite emphatically.

The Metropolitan’s book Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule has recently been reprinted and is available at Wipf and Stock for $18.00

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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