On this great feast of Theophany, we celebrate Christ’s baptism, when the voice of the Father identified Him as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. Epiphany reveals that the Savior Who appears from the waters of the Jordan to illumine our world of darkness is the God-Man, a Person of the Holy Trinity. He is baptized to restore us, and the creation itself, to the ancient glory for which we were created.
Tragically, our first parents turned away from their high calling and ushered in the realm of corruption that we know all too well. God gave Adam and Eve garments of skin when they left paradise after disregarding Him. Through their disobedience, they had become aware that they were naked and were cast into the world as we know it. Their nakedness showed that they had repudiated their vocation to become like God in holiness. Having stripped themselves of their original glory, they were reduced to mortal flesh and destined for slavery to their passions and the grave. Because of them, the creation itself was “subjected to futility…” (Rom. 8:20).
When COVID-19 first arrived on the scene as a nuisance, and not a pandemic, the Churches responded by making slight alterations to the rite of receiving communion. Catholic and Protestant Churches instructed people to refrain from partaking of the cup, and the people exchanged the sign of peace without handshakes. Eastern Church leaders instructed people that it was not necessary to kiss the icons, the cup, or the priest’s hand, and the people took the antidoron (unconsecrated bread) themselves, while refraining from drinking the zapivka (post-communion wine) from a common cup.
As COVID-19 evolved from nuisance to perilous threat, the Churches have continued to respond by altering their liturgies. Catholics and Protestants limited the number of people who could attend services before some cancelled them altogether. The Orthodox adopted the skeleton crew approach until more recently, when many bishops directed parishes to suspend services indefinitely.
The Churches have attempted to maintain some semblance of normalcy in their liturgical rhythms. Catholic priests celebrate private Mass on behalf of their people. All of the Churches use technology so that the people can participate online. Several communities livestream their services while smaller groups gather for virtual Liturgy on Zoom.
The impending Great and Holy Council has provoked a number of reactions, from joy to hostility, on many of the topics it has promised to address. Among these has been the relationship of the Orthodox Church to other forms of Christianity, which highlights the long-standing problem of the reception of converts who have already received some form of Trinitarian baptism. One approach has been taken by those who insist on the loss of grace and totally heretical nature of those not belonging to the Orthodox Church, whose incorrect baptismal ritual prevents the application of economia and their reception by any means other than baptism. This view has found its fullest recent expression in the works of George Metallinos. The opposite view, recently articulated by George Demacopoulos in this forum, insists that “no Byzantine canonist or apologist ever thought that Latin theological errors, such as the filioque, were so great that they required rebaptism.” Demacopoulos accuses his opponents of relying “on a highly selective and reductionist appropriation of our rich canonical tradition to justify simplistic ideological conceits.” While the latter statement may have some truth to it, Demacopoulos fails to acknowledge the extent to which the practice of receiving Latin Christians by (re)baptism was discussed and applied in Byzantium from the eleventh century through the end of the Middle Ages. Continue Reading…