June 2, 2010

Fr. Seraphim Rose on the Reception of Converts

The following is a letter[1] which was written by Fr. Seraphim Rose to Fr. Alexey Young — now Hieromonk Ambrose. It was on the problem of certain people not accepting converts who were received into the Orthodox Church through either Chrismation or Confession, but insisted that all must be Re-baptized.

In this letter Fr. Seraphim emphasizes the fact that converts can be received into the Church through either Confession or Chrismation, and denounces the view that such a reception makes a convert an "irregular" or "incomplete" Orthodox Christian. He further points out that it is a matter which should be left to the priest and bishop to decide how one is to be received, and not the business of anyone else.

This letter especially addresses a common problem within Orthodoxy today that is often found among the more fanatical Orthodox, especially in monastic communities here in America and abroad: the rebaptism of converts who have already been received through Confession or Chrismation. This is a great evil being done in the Church today, often done in secret without the permission of a bishop, and influenced by the baseless presumptions of schismatics who care little for the unity and welfare of the Church.

Jan. 28/Feb.10, 1976

We forgot to ask you how LM is getting along in your community. Is she getting a longing for big-city life? She told me that she and JK are not getting along, and she thinks it must be jealousy. But could it be that J just can’t stand L’s type —outspoken, always right, still reflecting something of the hothouse atmosphere of the “Boston”[2] approach?

I’ve written and talked to L about this hothouse approach to Orthodoxy — filled with gossip, knowing “what’s going on,” having the “right answer” to everything according to what the “experts” say. I begin to think that this is her basic problem, and not Fr. Panteleimon directly.

An example: she is horrified that T was received into the Church [from Roman Catholicism] without baptism or chrismation. “That’s wrong,” she says. But we see nothing particularly wrong with it; that is for the priest and the bishop to decide, and it is not our (or even more, her) business. The rite by which he was received has long been approved by the Church out of economy, and probably in this case it was the best way, because T might have hesitated much more at being baptized. The Church’s condescension here was wise. But L would like someone “to read Vladika Anthony the decree of the Sobor” [on this subject]. My dear, he was there, composing the decree, which explicitly gives the bishop permission to use economy when he wishes! We don’t like this attitude at all, because it introduces totally unnecessary disturbance into the church atmosphere. And if she is going to tell T now that he is not “really” a member of the Orthodox Church, she can do untold harm to a soul.

Another example: L was very pleased that Q was baptized [after having been a member of the Russian Church Abroad already for several years]: Finally he did it “right”! But we are not pleased at all, seeing in this a sign of great spiritual immaturity on his part and a narrow fanaticism on the part of those who approve. Saint Basil the Great refused to baptize a man who doubted the validity of his baptism, precisely because he had already received communion for many years and it was too late to doubt then that he was a member of Christ’s Church! In the case of our converts, it’s obvious that those who insist or are talked into receiving baptism after already being a member of the Church are trying, out of a feeling of insecurity, to receive something which the Sacrament does not give: psychological security, a making up for their past failures while already Orthodox, a belonging to the “club” of those who are “right,” an automatic spiritual “correctness.” But this act casts doubt on the Church and her ministers. If the priest or bishop who receives such people were wrong (and so wrong that the whole act of reception must be done over again!), a sort of Church within the Church is created, a clique which, by contrast to “most bishops and priests,” is always “right.” And of course, that is our big problem today — and even more in the days ahead. It is very difficult to fight this, because they offer “clear and simple” answers to every question, and our insecure converts find this the answer to their needs.

At times we would like to think that the whole “Fr. Panteleimon problem” in our Church is just a matter of differing emphasis which, in the end, will not be so terribly important. But the more we observe, the more we come to think that it is much more serious than that, that in fact that an “orthodox sectarianism” is being formed at that expense of our simple people. Therefore, those who are aware of all this must be “zealots according to knowledge.” The Church has survived worse temptations in the past, but we fear for our converts lest in their simplicity they be led into a sect and out of the Church.

God is with us! We must go forward in faith.


1. This letter is from “Letters from Father Seraphim

2. The references in this letter to "Boston" refer to the schismatic Old Calendar Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA. The references to "Fr. Panteleimon" refer to the same monasteries' founder and spiritual father.