Baptism and Conversion

Baptism of Rus 988-p1

Coming into the Orthodox Church can be as exciting as it is bewildering for an adult convert. At times, inquirers find it difficult to get straight answer on what reception into the Orthodox Church is like. Put simply, one is received into the Orthodox Church by:

  • Confession of the Orthodox Faith
  • Baptism
  • Chrismation (the sealing of the Holy Spirit by anointing with oil)

All must confess the Orthodox Faith. Some will also need to baptized and/or chrismated. Sometimes a baptism, or a baptism and chrismation, are “grandfathered” in. This latter practice is sometimes done, for example, with the non-Chalcedonian “Oriental Orthodox” Christians, such as the Copts and Armenians.

The exact practice depends on the jurisdiction, bishop, or parish priest. But the Church does not simply leave a minister to his own devices. There are canonical and historical considerations, personal considerations, local considerations, and considerations of the bishop’s judgment that all factor into the manner of a person’s ultimate reception into the Orthodox Church. It is important to understand the way these several streams come together in the Church today.

There are several canons that govern reception of converts. Most famously, the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical council states clergy should chrismate certain professing Christians who hold non-Orthodox beliefs, such as Arians and “Macedonians” (among others), but only after they have renounced any false beliefs they once held. Whereas, Montanists, Sabellians, and Eunomians were to be received by confession, baptism, and chrismation after a period as a catechumen. There are similar canons in other councils, and once we factor in more controversial historical discussions from Orthodox luminaries such as St. Cyprian of Carthage and Blessed St. Augustine of Hippo, we have a rich tapestry of reception for the bishops to draw from.

The trouble is, there is no canon that says, “Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants who call themselves Lutheran or Reformed or Methodist, do this; but with Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, and the so-called Churches of Christ, do that.” Complicating matters further, there is a good bit of difference between a Lutheran and a Presbyterian, often even chasms of difference between Lutherans and other Lutherans, or Anglicans and other Anglicans. The Canons are a matter of wisdom and exegesis—an exegesis and wisdom that belongs almost entirely to the bishops as successors of the Apostles.

When people from the particular groups in question described in the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical Council were in view, it is safe to say they were received with a fairly strict application of the canon. Several hundred years later, at the Quinisext Council, the same basic canonical rules were repeated with minor expansion, and the canons of the Quinisext Council later enjoyed ecumenical standing.

Beyond that time, application of the Holy Canons varied. Many of the heretics listed in the Canons died out, and relations with the Western Church grew complicated due to linguistic, theological, and liturgical differences, and eventually the unprecedented Protestant Reformation arose in Western Europe.

By the time the Orthodox faith reached America in the late 18th century, the Slavic tradition almost universally received converts from other Christian confessions by chrismation. We know of saints in the last century who were received without rebaptism, such as St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (formerly a German Lutheran) and St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre (formerly a Byzantine-rite Roman Catholic). More recently, certain local churches have strengthened canonical applications as it relates to reception of converts (perhaps in part responding to what is perceived to be excesses of the ecumenical movement).

It is not surprising that in this modern era there is diversity of practice. Since the current cadre of converts to the Orthodox Church is not the same as it was 1600 years ago, the application of 1600-year-old canons will necessarily vary. It is the prerogative of the bishop to determine the best application of a canon, and by proxy, his priests are often left with discretion in such matters.

Despite minor variation from one bishop to another, the Orthodox Church has been quite consistent in its insistence on determining decisions based squarely on the Holy Canons.

[Editor’s note: The author of this Field Guide is not taking a position on the matter of baptizing converts, but simply trying to be faithful to the facts of historical and current practice.]

Advertisements

Holy Water

Holy Water-p1

The Orthodox Church teaches that God created all things good, and that sin has invaded this good world with sickness and death. And part of the mission of the Church is to restore all things by the grace of God.

This is why we have “holy water.” It is a setting apart of water as a kind of act of restoration. It’s mystically transforming water not into something magical, but it is restoring it to its Edenic dignity, and with this honor, it becomes another touch point of deeper communion with the Divine.

We use it to bless ourselves, our homes, our cars, our pets, our food—virtually anything! Some people will take a sip of holy water first thing in the morning, others will put a small amount in their food when they cook. Others may take a small bottle while traveling to discretely sprinkle around while praying for the area and the people. It may be used generously.

It is customary for clergy to set apart a sizable amount of water at Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany) in January, and the faithful will bring special containers to fill after the services. Many clergy will also bless a lake, river, or the ocean, and throw a cross in the water for the faithful (often children) to scramble after and retrieve. Some priests are very generous with the distribution of holy water and will use a large brush to fling droplets all over the faithful!

Should you need to dispose of holy water, it should be used to bless things, you should drink it, or you may pour it into the ground.

Fun fact: We do not need to set apart water from the Jordan River. By virtue of God being baptized in that water, we believe that is holy water forever. Many pilgrims will bring home holy water from the Jordan when they visit.

What about you? Tell us about how you’ve seen holy water used by the Orthodox clergy and faithful, and if you think we’ve left something important out!

The Divine Liturgy: An Overview

Last Supper-p1

The most central aspect of the life of the Orthodox Church is seen in her weekly service of Eucharist. Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, is what the Christian life is all about, so it is natural that the center of the Church’s existence subsists in the celebration of thanksgiving. The Eucharist service in the Orthodox Church is called The Divine Liturgy, and its primary form is that liturgy that finds its origins in the adaptations made by St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century.

Let’s take a walk through The Divine Liturgy. We’ll start with a basic outline. Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis outlines the Liturgy like this:

Preparation
Prayers for the Faithful, Cherubic Hymn, Processions
Spiritual Litany, Fervent Supplication, and Kiss of Peace
The Symbol of Faith (Creed)

Holy Anaphora
Apostolic Blessing, Dialogue, & Great Anaphora
Triumphal Hymn, Anamnesis & Institutional Words
Epiclesis and Commemorations

Holy Communion
Litany, Lord’s Prayer, and Invitation
Holy Communion
Dismissal

For this post, we will more fully explore the Liturgy this way:

1. The Bringing of the Gifts (Prothesis/Proskomedia)
Preparation of the offerings of bread and wine to be used in the Eucharistic celebration.

2. The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Great Ektania, a long prayer that sets the tone for the whole service. This litany consists of a dialogue between the deacon or priest and laity, concluding with a Trinitarian doxology.
Psalm 103/104
The Little Ektania
Psalm 145/146
The Troparion
The Beatitudes
The Little Entrance/Gospel Entrance
“Come Let Us Worship”
The Trisagion (i.e., Thrice-Holy) Hymn
Epistle
Gospel
Common Prayers for the Members of the Church (Diaconal Litany)
Catechumen Prayers and Departure

3. The Liturgy of the Faithful

Prayer of the Faithful
Cherubic Hymn, Offertory Prayer, Great Entrance

Petition for Mercy/Litany of Oblation
Deacon’s exhortation: “Let us love one another….”
The Kiss of Peace
Profession of Faith: Nicene Creed

The Great Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer
Also called the Eucharistic Canon, or Anaphora

Sursum Corda/Hymn: “It is meet and right…”
The Sanctus
Commemoration of the Last Supper (also known as the Mystical Supper)

The Consecration of the Gifts
– Words of Institution
– Offering of the Body and Blood/Hymn: “We glorify thee”
– The Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis)

The Great Prayer for the Church
Comemmorating the living and the dead
Megalynarion of the Theotokos
Litany of Fervent Supplication
Secret Prayers of the Priest
Lord’s Prayer

Elevation and Breaking of the Lamb
Blessing of the Faithful
Sancta Sanctis: “Holy Things for the Holy”
Breaking of the Lamb and Commemoration
Preparatory Prayer
Communion of the Clergy
Elevation of the Chalice
Pre-Communion Prayer
Communion of the Faithful

Post-Communion Prayers and Dismissal
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Transfer of the Holy Body and Blood to the prosthesis table
Prayer before the Ambo
Dismissal of the Faithful
Distribution of the Antidoron

Select Sources Used for the Post
Paul Evdokimov. Orthodoxy: The Cosmos Transfigured, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (Witchita: Eight Day Press, 2012), 276-277.

Archpriest D. Sokolof, A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2001), 62-84

Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy, (Columbia: Orthodox Witness, 2008).