Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, has some sensible things to say about relations with the non-Orthodox in a recent interview: “Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk: ‘It is impossible to speak of “the recognition of the sacraments” administered by schismatics.’” Concerning sacraments outside the Church, Metropolitan Hilarion states:
The Church does not recognize and cannot recognize as grace-giving and salvific any ‘sacraments’ including Baptism administered in a schism. This is a common point of view confirmed by many testimonies of the church Tradition. ‘Recognition of schismatics’ sacraments’ is an altogether improper expression which can be only misleading. The point here is not a diplomatic manifestation of politeness but attempts to impose on the Orthodox the recognition of a real presence of saving grace outside the Church. For the Church, the authenticity of Sacraments is a matter of salvation. It is impossible and senseless to speak of ‘recognition of sacraments’ administered by schismatics who stay outside the Church and have no communion with her.
However, as His Beatitude Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, has stressed, ‘the schismatics’ return to the saving fold of the Church can put life into their graceless actions’. When schismatics come back to the Church, it is a normal practice to embrace holy Baptism. But if the Church deems it necessary and if it is helpful for healing a schism, she can in some cases provide a different procedure, as was the case on repeated occasions in history.
The Church will never recognize schismatics’ ordinations, and all the clergy who come back from a schism should be ordained, though it is not at all necessary to make it in public. As far as the Sacrament of Baptism is concerned, it is impossible to administer it to all the laity coming back from a schism. Indeed, some of them do not even remember in which church they were baptized, canonical or schismatic.
Besides, there are situation where, for instance, a schismatic priest comes back to the Church together with his parishioners. The subsequent ‘re-baptism’ of the parishioners he had baptized earlier cannot be stipulated for his return, just as a ‘re-marriage’ of those whom he had married earlier or ‘re-funeral’ of all the dead over whom the burial service had been said before. It is impossible to force a priest who was now ordained in a canonical Church to return to their parishioners and say to them: ‘Everything I have done here for ten (or twenty) years was a deception, and only now I will begin doing everything in the real way’. People will not understand it and will not believe him. For all I know, they can think he decided to get the money for the second time for the sacraments he had already administered.
It is about such situations that it is stated that the Church can breathe a grace-giving power into the graceless actions of the schismatics and to inform with grace what had been only an empty and graceless form. In other words, the question of recognizing schistatics’ sacraments is not posed at all out of context of their return from the schism. But the question of a procedure of acceptance form a schism can and must be posed. And here, depending on the situation, various approaches can be applied.
Thus, the Church handles delicate situations pastorally, with a prudent use of economy. I wish that the more Westernized American clerics of the Orthodox Church in America, such as a former dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York City, understood that pastoral allowances do not mean that the Church shares the Augustinian system of validity. Metropolitan Hilarion also provides some frank reminders to the critics of Orthodox relations with Western Christians:
The Supreme Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly explained what is understood as inter-Christian cooperation, what aims this cooperation pursues, what results it has brought and can bring to our Church in the future. I believe there is no sense in repeating all that has been said about it, for instance, in the Russian Orthodox Basic Principles of Attitude to Non-Orthodoxy, an official document of the 2000 Bishops’ Council.
I would like to mention a different thing. Today, millions of the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church including Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Moldovans, have gone to live outside their historical Motherland. It is a sad development in many ways as it involves assimilation, brain drain, etc. But it is a reality existing regardless of its emotional assessment. One can grieve over it as much as one wants but the Church is obliged to help her children to remain Orthodox in an alien milieu.
I wonder whether anyone of the ‘zealots’ has ever been concerned for the problems of pastoral care of the Russia diaspora? Do the critics of our cooperation with the Catholic Church know who actually provides our compatriots abroad with facilities necessary for services, Sunday schools and for creating an Orthodox environment for fellowship? Many newly-established Orthodox communities abroad use church buildings which have been provided by the non-Orthodox, in the first place, Catholics. When Catholics give the Orthodox an opportunity to pray in the churches which belong to them and do it often gratis, what does it show?
And how many of former Catholics and Protestants have become Orthodox Christians and members of our communities abroad, among other things, as a result of mixed marriages? Do the authors who claim to be the voice of ‘conservative church public’ know how difficult it is in Western Europe, for instance, to obtain permission for building a church and to negotiate its design with local authorities? And what assistance do Catholic parishes and sometimes even Protestant communities give to our new parishes? And how many of our compatriots who have found themselves in the West in a situation of illegal migrants have managed to obtain the necessary papers and jobs with the help of Catholic and Protestant charities on the request of Russian Orthodox parishes?
Like his predecessor, now Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Hilarion appears to be diplomatic, shrewd, and sensible toward ecumenism. It is a demanding post—perhaps the most challenging job that one can imagine for a hierarch. To do the job well, one must remain faithful toward the Church while also being open toward and engaging with the heterodox and non-Christians. While that does not seem such a challenge, the history of twentieth century ecumenism is replete with cringe inducing moments and statements by ecumenically minded hierarchs who have confused personal friendship with ecclesiological matters. Metropolitan Maximos (Aghiorgoussis) of Pittsburgh and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia come to mind as examples of good men whose extensive activity in the ecumenical movement has compromised their ability to witness the Orthodox faith clearly with the heterodox. Of course, one could also argue that it is by such outreach that great hosts of people have converted to the Orthodox faith. I owe no small part of my own travels to now Metropolitan Kallistos. The Lord employs many workers in his fields.