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The Orthodox Principle of Economy, and Its Exercise

by Canon J. A. Douglas

The Christian East, 1932, 13:3, 4; pp 91-98


THE usage of the term Economy by Orthodox writers is not confined to relaxations of the canons and common laws of the Orthodox Church in its dealings, corporately or individually, with the non-Orthodox.

That usage is only secondary, and when so applied, the term is in no way separable from its primary usage in Orthodox theology.

In the widest sense, mankind is the oikos, the family, of God, of which His Will and Purpose are the nomos, the creative, sustaining, regulative principle.

In general, therefore, the operation of God in relation to mankind is to be termed oikonomia--His dealing with His family according to the law of His Will and Purpose.

In particular, however, the term is applied to God's dealings with men as mediated in and through the Church.

To men those dealings are in apparent antimony.

The Law of God's Justice is absolute and admits of no exception. To contravene His Will is to be cut off from Him. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. But the Law of God's Love has another logic.

Accordingly, while, Christ being the oikonomos, by whom the Law of God's Will is mediated in the oikos of the Christian Church, oikonomia covers every aspect of the Christian dispensation, it always connotes the condescension--sunkatabasis-- towards human infirmity by which divine Love reconciles divine Justice.

By the strictness--akribeia--of God's Justice the universality of sin had made mankind incapable of being His family. But in His tender Love for mankind--philanthropia--God sent His Son into the world to redeem the world.

In the Redemption wrought by Christ, both the Justice and the Love of God are satisfied, and it is described, therefore, by many Orthodox writers kat' exochen, as the Oikonomia, the supreme operation of the Law of God's Will in which that Justice and Love are in perfect unity.


(In reading this and the following sections, it should be remembered that Orthodox theology has not been systematized and formulated as Latin theology has been, and that in this matter Orthodox writers of authority at times diverge from each other in

their premises, their treatment and conclusions. What appears below may be taken, I think, as a sufficiently accurate representation of the matter.)

It is in and through the whole body of the Church individually and collectively that in general Christ, the oikonomos, exercises His oikonomia. But it is through the organs of the Church, the Sacred Ministry, and, above all, the Apostolic Episcopate, that He exercises it in particular.

The Church is, therefore, fully tamiouchos, possessed of stewardship in her own household, and in her exercise of oikonomia philanthropia must relax akribeia for the good of human souls and for her own cause, whenever need demands and the condescension is possible.

For our present purpose, Economy may thus be defined as an exercise of her stewardship by the Church whereby that which by the strict letter of her law is forbidden, is permitted.

Thus Theophylact of Bulgaria (Comment. Epist. Gal. v.) writes: "He who does anything by Economy, does not do it as being good in itself, but as being needful for the occasion."


I venture to be doubtful as to whether the theory of Economy among the Orthodox is in any way comparable to the theory of Dispensation among the Latins.

At any rate, it has nothing juridical about it. Neither can its exercise be codified.

Of the necessity of the case, even if it does not postulate a supersession of law, any and every exercise of Economy transcends law; for the active principle in Economy is not Justice, but Love. Just as Christ's Redemption, the divine philanthropia, transcended the akribeia of divine Justice, and in virtue of His "condescension"-- sunkatabasis--was not inconsistent with it but was complementary to it, so in every case in which special circumstances touching either the mystic life of the Orthodox Church itself or its contacts, individual or collective, with those who do not belong to its Communio in sacris, bring akribeia into seeming conflict with philanthropia, then, so long as it does not negate that which is revealed, the Law of Love is free to govern the decision. But as soon as the particular occasion for any Economy has passed, akribeia re-enters into complete possession.

Every exercise of Economy stands by itself.

Precedents or their absence will have weight in the decision of those who are called on to decide whether or not to exercise it. But no precedents can bind that decision. Indeed, strictly speaking, there can be no real precedents for any Economy. That akribeia has been relaxed in the case of an individual or a group in a particular matter, emboldens philanthropist to relax it in the same matter in another case. But for philanthropia the need for Economy may be decided according to its judgment on the one hand of the need of the individual, and on the other hand of the well-being of the Church.

An Economy exercised in a particular case may thus be refused in another in which the circumstances appear closely analogous. And an Economy, the exercise of which habitually has been authorized for individuals or groups of individuals, may be ceased at any time.

In brief, philanthropia is constrained to exercise any and every Economy which it judges to be for the salvation of an individual soul or for the welfare of the Church and of the Kingdom of Christ.

But it is constrained to refuse any and every Economy which it judges would be injurious to the welfare of the Church.


Of necessity, the Church can only exercise Economy in regard to the laws and customs which, having herself prescribed, she can change. She cannot exercise it in regard to that which Christ Himself has revealed and ordained.

That is to say, no exercise whatever of Economy is possible in the dogmatic sphere.

Accordingly, a paramount requirement for every exercise of Economy is that it shall in no wise compromise or appear to compromise the dogmatic tradition of the Church.


From what has been said above, it will be plain that the immediate decision as to whether a particular Economy is to be exercised in a particular case rests with the person who exercises it.

But if akribeia is to be relaxed by philanthropia, its relaxation must not be the arbitrary action of an individual.

Thus, while in pressing emergency a layman, a priest or a bishop must employ his own discretion, in doing so he must not forget that he acts as the oikonomos of the Church, and he must not exercise Economy in a manner which he has reason to think would not be authorized by those to whom he is subordinate.

Thus, except by the authority of an Oecumenical Council, or at least of the unanimous consent of the Synods of all the autokephalous Churches, Economy cannot rightly be exercised even by a Patriarch in Synod or the Synod of a single Church, in regard to the Canons of the Oecumenical Councils and the traditional common law and customs of the whole Orthodox Church.

Again, no individual bishop, and probably not even a Patriarch, would be right to exercise Economy in a manner which was disapproved by the Synod of his particular Church. Nor would a priest or layman be right to do so in a manner which their bishop would disapprove.

Philanthropia can justify Economy only so long as it does not produce anomia.


By the roth of the so-called Canons of the Apostles, which the 2nd Canon of the Sixth Oecumenical Council invests with Apostolic authority, the members of the Church are forbidden even to pray with anyone who is akoinotos--out of its Communion.

According to akribeia, therefore, no spiritual intimacy is permissible between a member of the Orthodox Church and anyone not of its Communion.

That that Canon is based on disciplinary and not on dogmatic grounds is plain from particular relaxations made by the Oecumenical Councils. And it is taken for granted to-day that, unless prohibited by competent authority, the Orthodox laity no less than the clergy are free at discretion to exercise Economy in the matter.

Thus it is frequent and normal for them to attend the Eucharist of non-Orthodox Churches alike as an act of worship and as a ceremonial act of comity and amity.

It must be noted, however, that when the conditions which justify the exercise of Economy cease, akribeia re-enters.

Accordingly, if the appropriate authority prohibited the relaxation of the Canon in question, that prohibition would restore its stringency.


For the understanding of the Orthodox view of sacraments administered outside the Orthodox Church, which identifies itself exclusively with the one Catholic Apostolic Church, it should be noted that St. Augustine's influence in the East, where in comparison with St. Basil he is a secondary authority, has always been, and remains, small.

Those Orthodox writers who incline to hold that the charisma of Baptism, Confirmation and Orders is indelible cannot maintain that those sacraments must be recognized as valid per se when administered outside the Church.

On the contrary, St. Basil laid it down that "those who are severed from the Church, having become laymen, have no power to baptize or ordain, and cannot confer that Grace of the Holy Spirit from which they have fallen away" (Migne xxxii, 669).

The 46th and 47th of the Apostolic Canons, which order Baptism and Orders when administered outside the Church to be repeated, govern the position, and from the time of St. Cyprian instances of such repetition are abundant.

If, on the other hand, instances such as that provided by the Third Oecumenical Council are equally abundant of the reception during the first eight centuries of heretics and schismatics in their Baptism and Orders, their reception was an exercise of Economy, and the declaration of the Seventh (Ecumenical Council that clergy who renounce their heresy are to be received as clergy is also shown to be such by the qualification "provided there be no other hindrance."

But Economy cannot override dogma. It cannot pronounce that to be a sacrament which dogma denies to be a sacrament nor deny that to be a sacrament which dogma pronounces to be a sacrament.

Accordingly, akribeia does not prescribe the repetition of Baptism, Confirmation and Orders administered outside the Church because they can be pronounced dogmatically to be no sacraments. It prescribes it because, according to the measure of heresy and the guilt of schism, the administration of sacraments outside the Church becomes deficient, and for that reason the Church cannot regard them as valid per se.

Dogmatically, that deficiency is supplied on the reception of individual heretics and schismatics into Communion by the Church in the exercise of her power as tamiouchos. Otherwise, the Third and Seventh Councils could not have relaxed the Canons of the Apostles and the Fathers must have maintained its akribeia.

And it is thus that the Orthodox Church holds itself to be following the tradition of the Fathers in exercising Economy and accepting those who accede to her Communion in their Baptism, Confirmation and Orders, or in requiring them to be baptized, confirmed and ordained at her discretion.

Speaking generally, her decision in the matter is determined (i) by the degree of the heresy and the hostility to herself of the Communion from which they come to her and (2) by the measure in which the canonical requirements of the sacraments have been preserved in that Communion.

Where there is a close affinity to Orthodox dogmatic teaching in regard to the sacrament in question, where the essentials of the external canonical acts are observed, and where there is a will to draw near to the bosom of Orthodoxy, Economy can be safely exercised and therefore is to be exercised.

But since, in the last extreme, deficiency might come near to rendering a sacrament void and valueless, it would be perilous and indefensible to exercise Economy in cases where the dogmatic teaching of the Church in regard to the particular sacrament in question is wholly rejected and where its external and canonical requisites are completely absent, even though heresy and schism would not be reinforced by the sunkatabasis.

In expressing the opinion that as tamiouchos the Church could accept the priesthood and sacraments of heretics and schismatics among whom they are not accomplished canonically or the Apostolic Succession has been broken (Ta Hepta Mysteria, pp. 162-163), Professor Dyovouniotes goes very far, and would appear to advance the opinion that theoretically or dogmatically there is no bar to the acceptance by Economy of the Orders of non-episcopal Churches.

An Oecumenical Council is the only authority that in regard to the sacraments can prescribe a relaxation of akribeia which would be obligatory upon the whole Orthodox Church. But of the nature of the case, the synodical authority of an autokephalous Church is competent to prescribe obligatory regulations in its jurisdiction for the exercise or non-exercise of such Economies in regard to the sacraments as are warranted by established precedents or by the decree of the Seventh Oecumenical Council quoted above.

An exercise of Economy in regard to them which was not so warranted--even by a Patriarch--would be regarded as temerarious and approaching anomia.

In regard to non-Orthodox Baptism, Confirmation and Orders, the history of the exercise of Economy in the Orthodox Church is as follows:

After the Great Schism the general rule was to receive schismatics in their Baptism and Orders by chrismation. The attempted Latinization of the East during the period of the Crusades having led to frequent reassertions of akribeia, the topical Synod of Constantinople in 1261 prescribed that converts should be chrismated and not rebaptized. That prescription, which was repeated by a similar Synod in 1481 and was interpreted as covering Holy Orders, remained uniformly in force throughout the whole Orthodox Church in regard to converts from the Latin, Monophysite and Nestorian Churches until 1629, but was not held to apply to converts from Protestantism.

In 1629, on account of Uniate aggression, the Russian Patriarch . in Synod forbade the exercise of the Economy within his jurisdiction, but in 1669 the same authority ordered it to be exercised again.

in 1718, with the assent of the Oecumenical Patriarch, the Russian Patriarch in Synod ordered all Trinitarian Baptism to be accepted by Economy.

In 1756, however, the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem issued a decree forbidding the continuance of the Economy in regard to all Western converts and ordering their rebaptism.

That decree has not been revoked. So that strictly the position is that, while the acceptance by Economy of all Trinitarian Baptism is prescribed by authority in Russia, such a relaxation of akribeia is forbidden in the four Patriarchates. In fact, however, the four Patriarchs' decree is very generally regarded as lapsed.


In the previous section I have dealt only with the treatment of converts received by Economy in their Baptism, Confirmation and Orders by the Orthodox Church, but have not touched upon what is known as Economic Intercommunion--viz. (i) the resort of members of the Orthodox Church to sacraments administered outside her Communion, and (2) the admission of those not of her Communion to her sacramental administrations.

The treatment of this matter must also be governed (i) by the dogmatic fact that all sacraments outside the Church--sc., the Orthodox Church--are deficient, and are not to be regarded as valid per se, and (2) by the canonical fact that the Apostolic Canons order their reiteration. As tamiouchos, however, the Church is free to reject them or to accept them in the exercise of Economy, and if she accepts them, ipso facto she supplies their deficiency and pronounces them valid per se.

Plainly, the above two classes of Economic Intercommunion must be examined separately and neither must in any way be confused with that of the reception of converts in their Baptism and Orders.

(a) The Resort of the Orthodox to non-Orthodox Sacraments.

The case for Economy in this matter may be set out thus:

Dogmatically, the Orthodox Church must regard all sacraments administered outside herself as deficient, and cannot recognize them as valid per se.

Accordingly, it might be reasoned that Economics could not rightly be exercised whereby (i) Orthodox parents brought their children to receive a Baptism and Confirmation which were deficient and not valid per se, and (2) to say nothing of Marriage Blessing and Unction, the members of the Orthodox Church communicated in the Lord's Body and Blood, and received Absolution, through sacraments which were deficient and not valid per se.

So far as I am aware, the dogmatic permissibility of this Economy has not been investigated by any Orthodox writer, and it would seem probable that theoretically as tamiouchos the Orthodox Church could exercise the Economy authorizing her members to resort to sacramental ministrations, which, being outside her, must be regarded as deficient and not valid per se.

It is at least a sustainable position, however, that--since she is tamiouchos--if she exercised that Economy, ipso facto she would supply the deficiency of the sacramental ministration to which she authorized her members to resort--i.e., not generally, nor for anyone except for her own members, but for them alone and for them only pro hac vice.

In that case, her authorization for their reception would carry with it a pronouncement that the sacraments as received by her members were valid per se. Moreover, in fact, their reception would not constitute a communio in sacris with the Church through whose ministers they were received, but by Economy would be within the communio in sacris of the Orthodox Church itself.

(b) The Admission of the Members of another Church to Orthodox Sacramental Administrations.

This Economy clearly presents far greater difficulty than the former, under which, though the Baptism and the other sacraments ministered to the Orthodox and their children may be deficient, their deficiency either is supplied or can be supplied.

Dogmatically, neither Baptism nor any other sacrament administered by the Orthodox Church can be deficient.

That by Economy the Orthodox Church can act vicariously for another Church and minister a sacrament which is in deficiency and which she does not pronounce valid per se is out of the question.

Accordingly, in ministering Baptism to a child who is not to belong to her communio in sacris, she would be ministering it without deficiency but on the condition that by akribeia she must thereafter regard it as not valid per se. And further, in ministering the Eucharist and other sacraments to those not of her communio in sacris, she would pronounce that dogmatically they are capable of receiving her sacramental ministrations. That is to say, she would admit them to her communio in sacris for, but only for, the particular occasion.

None the less, if, as is at least very widely held nowadays, no dogmatic obstacle forbids, these Economies are theoretically possible, and given the necessary conditions philanthropia would require their exercise.

There is something like a consensus of opinion among the Fathers for the reception of converts in their Baptism and Orders, and instances of the exercise of that Economy are abundant in their practice. Moreover, the Seventh Oecumenical Council expressly relaxed the akribeia of the Apostolic Canon in regard to heretic and schismatic Baptism.

No such tradition exists for Economical Intercommunion.

It is, therefore, held widely among the Orthodox that both because of the principle of Oecumenical unity of action and because the Economies involved relate to the sacraments in general and the Eucharist in particular, practical, if not theoretical, considerations dictate the necessity of an Oecumenical authorization of either form of Economic Intercommunion by the consensus of all the Orthodox autokephalous Churches before it is authorized by a single Church as permissible.

On the other hand, in the Report of the Oecumenical Patriarchate's Commission on Anglican Ordinations drawn up by Professor Komnenos in 1922 (see The Christian East, 1922, pp. 107-121) it is contended that of the nature of the case a particular Orthodox Church has discretion to authorize both forms of Economic Intercommunion.

So far as I am aware historically there are no precedents for the authorization of the Orthodox to resort to alien sacraments or for the Orthodox ministration of Baptism and Confirmation to those not of the Orthodox Communion.

But in regard to Orthodox ministration of the Eucharist to those outside the Orthodox Communion, Professor Komnenos held the widespread disapproval of the holding to akribeia in the case of Latin captives among the Turks, recorded by Demetrios Chomatenos in 1203, to cover that Economy.

Though authorization of Economic Intercommunion would appear, therefore, to be a permissible exercise of its. power as tamiouchos by the Orthodox Church, the conditions for its exercise would appear to require--

(i.) That the Church with which it was authorized approximated very closely in its dogmatic teaching, and particularly in its dogmatic teaching as to the sacraments, to that of the Orthodox Church.

(ii.) That real urgency obtained, such as inability to receive the sacraments ministered under it, or some great profit for individual souls or the common good.

(iii.) That the general relations to the Orthodox Church of the Church with which it was authorized were such that even if it was not approaching union with it, no confusion could be created which would injure Orthodoxy.

I have not been able to verify the statements, but as far back as thirty years ago I was informed by the Oecumenical Patriarch Joachim III. that the admission by the Orthodox of individual Nestorians and of Armenian Monophysites in isolation to Holy Communion had been occasional for centuries and remained occasional.

Since the Great War, with the cognizance or by the direction of their ecclesiastical superiors, the Orthodox authorities in Corcyra, Khartoum and elsewhere have admitted large bodies of Armenian refugees which otherwise would have been in spiritual destitution to Orthodox ministrations, including Holy Communion, and the same Economy has been recently extended to a large colony of Nestorians, 5,000 strong, by the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Before the Great War, in the U.S.A., where the Field Officer for the Foreign Born of the Anglican Episcopal Church states that there are now 1 million Orthodox immigrants, who may be considered as in permanent isolation from Orthodox sacramental ministrations, in Canada, South Africa and other overseas British Dominions, the resort of the Orthodox to the Anglican clergy for the Marriage Blessing, for the Baptism of their children, for Absolution and for Holy Communion, with or without the authorization of the Bishops representing their particular national autokephalous Churches in those lands, had become frequent.

In the period of the Great War, and subsequently, that resort has been greatly increased and authorization of it by the various local Orthodox authorities has frequently been explicit.

That increased authorization has been due in part to the fact that in 1922, after twenty years' investigation, the Oecumenical Patriarchate declared Anglican Orders capable of acceptance by Economy.

Although the Church of Jerusalem and Cyprus at once concurred in that declaration, the other Orthodox autokephalous Churches postponed their decision until the matter could be examined by the corporate action of all the Orthodox autokephalous Churches.

None of them, however, has protested against the declaration of the Oecumenical Patriarchate.

No large dispersions of Anglicans existing in Orthodox countries, need for the resort of Anglicans to Orthodox sacramental ministrations is necessarily rare.

I know of no case in which Anglicans have asked for the Baptism of their children by Orthodox clergy.

On the other hand, during and since the War many Anglicans in isolation and necessity have been admitted to Communion by the instruction of Orthodox diocesan Bishops.

During and since the War there have been cases of Anglicans who were in no necessity being invited to receive the Eucharist by Orthodox Bishops. Thus Canon Garland received Communion in 1920 on the personal invitation of the Patriarch of Antioch and although an Anglican chaplain was due in Belgrade on the succeeding Sunday, though without the consent of his Synod the Serb Patriarch himself administered the Eucharist to six Anglicans on Christmas Day, 1927.

Further, with the consent of his Synod the Patriarch of Roumania periodically administers Holy Communion to Queen Marie of Roumania, although she is an Anglican.

Although theoretically permissible, the admission to Communion of members of another Church, unless they are in real isolation or emergency, is generally viewed with anxiety throughout the Orthodox Church.

At the instance of the Patriarch of Roumania, the Orthodox Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of 1930 formulated the questions which Orthodox writers had indicated as necessary for the final removal of all doubts as to the capability of Anglican Orders and the Anglican Eucharist being accepted by Economy by the Orthodox Church with a view to submitting the answers to the Pro-Synod in which it is expected that representatives of all the Orthodox autokephalous Churches will meet on June 19, 1932.

That Delegation was not plenipotentiary but included synodically appointed representatives of all the Orthodox Churches, and was presided over by the Patriarch of Alexandria.

Having been satisfied with the answers given, the Delegation proceeded to discuss the question of Economic Intercommunion between the two Churches, and as a temporary provision pending a decision by the forthcoming Pro-Synod authorized the resort of those Orthodox who are in lasting isolation to Anglican sacramental ministrations.

It made no pronouncements, however, in regard to the admission of Anglicans to Orthodox sacramental ministrations.


The above sections were written to elucidate the principle of Economy as exercised in the Orthodox Church, in view of the present economical relations between the Orthodox Communion and the Anglican Communion and of the discussions now taking place in regard to the Relations of the Anglican Communion with other Churches.

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