My reading has actually indicated that the application of economia does not in fact affirm the validity of non-Orthodox sacraments. (?)
Like I said, you can find plenty of people arguing that this is economia and that the Orthodox Church is somehow filling the empty form of heterodox sacraments with grace. That is the ex post facto rationalization which probably can be traced no earlier than the 20th or 19th century. It's a popular way of thinking with those who want to try to square their rigid triumphalist ecclesiology with the murkiness of history. I used to entertain such ideas but I think it stretches to snapping under the weight of history.
What I was trying to get at was that thinking of the sacraments in terms of validity and invalidity is being presented by some Orthodox writers as an incorrect way of understanding the sacraments.
If it really were "economia" then baptism should be the normal mode of reception. So how come the 1484 Synod of Constantinople, which repudiated the Council of Florence, mandated chrismation for Catholics but not baptism?
A lot of ideas and attitudes pushed as "traditional" in modern Orthodoxy really aren't.
An Orthodox priest from a local Antiochian Orthodox parish suggested I read this new book by Fr. Peter Heers: http://www.amazon.com/Ecclesiological-Renovation-Vatican-Examination-Ecumenical/dp/6188158311/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
The book details the history of the belief in the Catholic Church that not only valid, but efficacious sacraments exist outside the Church. He argues that the ancient, Patristic consensus was that there are no sacraments outside the Church. That is not to say that God is not working throughout creation, just that in terms of the grace conferred by the Church's own sacraments, it cannot be found outside of its own Body. He goes on to say that the idea of a "valid" sacrament devoid of grace was developed by St. Augustine in countering the Donatist controversy.
From pages 52-53:
Blessed Augustine argued that:
Any Baptism that makes use of the proper element of water and the proper word (i.e. the Trinitarian baptismal interrogation) is "valid." Any sacrament results from "the word . . . added to the element" and becomes "itself also a kind of visible word." Any Baptism, or any sacrament, "consecrated by the words of the gospel, is necessarily holy, however polluted and unclean its minister may be," for Christ, not the purity of the minister, makes Baptism effective.
Holding to the "validity" of schismatic or heretical Baptism does not, however therefore mean, according to Blessed Augustine, that a "valid" Baptism is necessarily "fruitful." Augustine himself taught that, although sacraments administered outside the Church were valid, they were wholly devoid of the Holy Spirit. Blessed Augustine made a distinction here between validity and efficacy, or in other words, between the sacrament or sign itself (sacramentum) and its reality, fruitfulness, or usefulness (res sacramenti).
Blessed Augustine treats "the unity of the church as inward, but the sacrament itself as outward." As Philip Cary puts it: "As a mere sign, the sacrament has no power of its own to accomplish what it signifies (as in the semiotics ofOn Christian Doctrine). Hence when it is found outside the Catholic church it is devoid of salvific power but retains its meaning and holiness, which stem not from its external circumstances but from its ultimate origin in the Catholic communion."
The author here cites at least 7 footnotes, but it's just too much to put here. Anyway, it seems like this whole conception of valid sacraments that are vivified by reception into the true Church comes as a newly developed idea through Augustine. He goes on further to trace the idea of grace operating within schismatic and heretical sacraments, particularly Baptism, to come from Thomas Aquinas. So, it is a post-Schism, western development. This, Fr. Peter argues, is the basis upon which the architects of Vatican II based their idea of grace filled Baptism for all who are baptized with water using the Trinitarian formula.
Vatican II transformed ecclesiology so that the Body of Christ is really spread throughout the world in degrees, as it were. Schismatics and heretics, therefore, have degrees of participation in the life of Church, and can truly be said to be a part of the Church by virtue of their Baptism, at least. This also implies that they also can share salvific grace without being completely united with the Church.
The reason I am laying this all out is because, based on what you are saying, you are seeming to suggest the standard practice through Orthodox history was to receive Roman Catholic converts by chrismation, and in doing so, Orthodox are affirming the existence of real sacraments outside of the Orthodox Church. If this were true, then the Body of Christ would be more like the what Vatican II proposed and, honestly, converting to the Orthodox Church would ultimately be pointless. It would be better to stay where we are and trying to meet each other in the middle as we are all "separated brethren".
As far as I know, both as a Catholic and as an inquirer to Orthodoxy, this a recent development in ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Pre-Vatican II popes up the Pius XII were emphatic that, essentially, there cannot be the true life of the Church, that is Her sacraments, outside of her Body. As far as Orthodoxy is concerned, I just haven't come across any material that would suggest a different opinion on this matter. If they exist, I would like to read more.
When you say that a lot of what is put forth as traditional is actually not in Orthodoxy today, that is worrisome for an inquirer. One thing that gives me pause in my journey is that Orthodox can't seem to figure out what anyone thinks about things as fundamental as, who is Baptized and what is the Body of the Church.
If my local priest can't be trusted, how am I ever to know which priests to trust and which not to trust? Certainly the answer can't be to rely on my own judgement. That is what I find myself having to do, and I keep going around and around in circles.
Time and again, I am hearing so many conflicting ideas on these issues which, practically speaking, Orthodox don't seem to have to tools to resolve. This priest confirmed my suspicion that this issue of the reception of converts is a huge issue right now in America. He himself was received by chrismation, though he admitted he believes the standard practice should be for converts to be received by Baptism. In saying this, I asked him if he is effectively living as a priest without ever having been Baptized. How can he then truly be a priest, if in his estimation, the way in which he was received into the Church was wrong? He never directly answered this question, but merely said that he has to follow his Bishop in these matters. Still, that would leave me feeling a bit uneasy.
This is really crazy stuff to think about. In matters of the Faith, I can't really see what is wrong with triumphalism. I mean, we are talking about Truth here. Either something is or it isn't. To suggest otherwise is really to suggest that the parameters of the Church aren't clear and that ultimately we don't have to have unity of faith in order to attain salvation.