Since the book is getting a lot of attention in Eastern circles, I thought I would make mention of the recently translated neo-Orthodox polemic against the Second Vatican Council, Fr. John Heers’s newly translated The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: An Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church from Uncut Mountain Press. Heers, for those who are unaware, is a vocal opponent of Catholic/Orthodox ecumenism and the intellectual heir of Greek-nationalist theologians such as Fr. John Romanides. To be clear: I have not read the book, though I am not against doing so at some point down the line. In the meantime I decided to check out an earlier paper by Heers, one which appears to summarize the “findings” contained in his book: “The Mystery of Baptism and the Unity of the Church: The Idea of ‘Baptismal Unity’ and its Acceptance by Orthodox Ecumenists.” The title effectively gives away the author’s conclusions. Heers wants the Orthodox Church to “return to strictness” when it comes to “heretical baptisms.” In other words, he wants all converts to be re-baptized and for Orthodoxy to go full Jansenist in declaring there is no grace to be found in non-Orthodox sacraments. Wonderful.
As most know, the push for re-baptism and grace-denial is of relatively recent vintage. In the centuries prior to the rise of Greek nationalism, the Greek Orthodox Church—like its Russian counterpart—accepted non-Orthodox (Catholic and Oriental) baptisms, and if chrismation or confirmation had already been administered, they were sometimes accepted as well. (I will leave to the side the various debates about this.) Further, Catholic priests who converted to Orthodoxy, whether from the Latin or one of the Eastern churches, were traditionally received through vesting, not re-ordination. Once the modern “Greek view” started to become normative, theories were developed about previous practice, with oikonomia being proposed as the “magic answer.” According to this line of thinking, it wasn’t that Orthodoxy accepted the validity of non-Orthodox baptisms; reception into the Orthodox Church retroactively filled the otherwise empty sacraments with grace.
It is ironic that Heers and his fellow travelers are so rabidly against the possibility that Orthodoxy could develop a broader and deeper sacramental theology which contemplates the validity of sacraments conferred by non-Orthodox ministers. None of them seem to have any problem with the development (some might argue degeneration) of Orthodox sacramental theology with respect to marriage, one which now allows for the dissolution of valid marriages and the possibility for an Orthodox layman to marry two additional times. When, I wonder, will the neo-Orthodox now calling for a “return to strictness” regarding baptism do the same regarding marriage? That’ll be the day.