There is not universal agreement about the manner in which converts are received into the Orthodox Church. In some Orthodox jurisdictions, all converts are received via baptism and chrismation, regardless of whether they were previously baptized in a heterodox tradition. Others receive these types of converts via chrismation only, provided that their heterodox baptism was in the name of the Holy Trinity and (depending on the jurisdiction) if it was done in a sort of semi-recognized heterodox group (but “recognized” isn’t quite the right word…). Some converts — usually from the ancient “Non-Chalcedonian” churches — are received by “confession” only, without even chrismation. There’s no uniformity, at the moment.
Wherever one stands on the question of how baptized heterodox converts should be received, there’s another disagreement — this one, not between Orthodox jurisdictions, but among some individual commentators. For most, regardless of whether a convert was baptized in the Orthodox Church or received via chrismation only, their status following reception is the same, and the one received via chrismation only is not lacking anything that the one received via baptism has. A minority opinion, however, holds that, not only is an Orthodox baptism necessary for everyone, but a person received only via chrismation should (or at least, should consider) being baptized even after the person has been chrismated and communing in the Orthodox Church, sometimes for years on end. This concept is commonly known as “corrective baptism.” It is not officially practiced by any Orthodox Church in the world, although its advocates will point to the use of this practice in some places, including in some monasteries on Mount Athos. Its advocates (as I understand them — I realize I am trying to summarize the position of others) are concerned that, if the convert does not correct his initial lack of an Orthodox baptism, this could have dire spiritual consequences, in this life and in the age to come.
The famed translator, writer, and ascetic Fr Seraphim Rose is, perhaps, the most significant convert in American Orthodox history. His untimely death in 1982, at the age of just 48, did nothing to diminish the breadth of his influence, which has only grown in the past four decades. Fr Seraphim was born Eugene Rose, and, after a dissipate life as a young man, became an Orthodox Christian in San Francisco in 1962, in the cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. In this era, ROCOR had not yet adopted its current practice of receiving all converts via baptism. When Eugene Rose was in the eighth grade, he was baptized in a Methodist church, and, following ROCOR’s then-standard procedure, he was received into Orthodoxy via chrismation. In his voluminous biography of Fr Seraphim (Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, page 200), Hieromonk Damascene writes:
When at the end of the Liturgy Eugene received the Eucharist for the first time, the grace of God was miraculously made evident to him. He was in a state of utter peace and happiness, and felt an indescribable, heavenly taste in his mouth which lasted over a week. Years after this, when he became a priest and baptized people, he gently asked if others experienced something similar on becoming Orthodox, and found that as a rule they did not. He concluded that this must have been a special case of grace. During the decade following Eugene’s entrance into the Church, a controversy arose in which ‘improper’ receptions into Orthodoxy were said to be invalid and without grace. Although Eugene was not baptized by an Orthodox priest after his Protestant baptism as an adolescent. but rather canonically received into the Church through chrismation, he remained at peace in the midst of controversy. His experience of grace upon entering the Church was too undeniably real to allow for any uncertainty.
Fr Damascene refers to a controversy in ROCOR over receptions via chrismation. This is a story unto itself, but the basic background is that, in the mid-1960s, Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston was received into ROCOR. The monastery — which, in time, left ROCOR and all of canonical Orthodoxy to create a schismatic Greek Old Calendarist sect — became a center of “traditionalist” rhetoric and ideas. It’s from this circle that the idea of corrective baptism, at least in American Orthodoxy, seems to have originated. (I’m not an expert on any of this, so if anyone has corrections or clarifications, I’m all ears.) By this point, St John Maximovich was gone (having died in 1966), and Eugene Rose had become a hieromonk (Fr Seraphim), with his California-based St Herman’s Monastery becoming its own center of influence in ROCOR and beyond. Fr Seraphim was a critic of Holy Transfiguration and its abbot, Fr Panteleimon.
In a 1976 letter to his spiritual child Fr Alexey Young, Fr Seraphim addresses the topic of corrective baptism, taking a decidedly negative view of the practice. Surprisingly, he also has no objection to the reception of a convert from Roman Catholicism via, apparently, confession only, with no baptism or chrismation. No one in their right mind would accuse Fr Seraphim of being an ecumenist compromiser of Orthodoxy — that’s what makes his position so unexpected. (It somewhat reminds me of St John of Kronstadt’s surprising respect for Anglicanism (albeit of the 19th century variety), which I wrote about in a previous article.)
Fr Alexey Young later published this letter, along with a bunch of others from Fr Seraphim, in a book, Letters from Father Seraphim. In the published version, Young adds a footnote with his own editorial comment: “It should be noted that in the twenty-three years since Fr. Seraphim wrote this, the situation of the heterodox Churches and the modernist Orthodox jurisdictions has deteriorated to a degree that Fr. Seraphim could not have predicted and which would have horrified him. In general, the Russian Church Abroad now finds it necessary as well as appropriate to insist on the use of less ‘economy’ and more pastoral strictness in order to avoid unfortunate cases of scruples later on.”
You can read the full text of Fr Seraphim’s letter below. The letter is dated January 28/February 10, 1976, and was later published in Letters from Father Seraphim, pages 152-155. Everything below is Fr Seraphim:
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” 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 the 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.
(A bit of a disclaimer: I’ve been planning to publish this for months, and as I’m about to do so, I’m told that this topic happens to be a matter of somewhat vigorous discussion in certain parts of “Internet Orthodoxy.” Despite the timing, please know that it is not my intention to participate in any online debates over this matter. Also, my thanks to Gregory for his assistance with this article.)
13 Replies to “Fr Seraphim Rose and “Corrective Baptism””
Thank you, Matthew. Here is some additional, valuable context on Fr. Seraphim Rose’s stance on baptism/rebaptism/corrective baptism. Of course, it’s very important to define these terms accurately. This requires knowing the context which informs the meaning of these terms as used:
In his April 18/May 1, 1976 letter he writes, “We have heard of a few mistaken “re-baptisms” in America and have asked several of our bishops about them. In every case, as it turns out, the diocesan bishop was not informed of the circumstances of the case. Recently some wished to see such a “rebaptism” performed in our Western American diocese, but our Archbishop Anthony wisely refused to allow it, in which we gave him our full support—for indeed, it would have been tantamount to an open declaration of the absence of Grace in the Greek Archdiocese.” Fr. Seraphim is not talking about a “rebaptism” of someone first entering the Orthodox Church or a “corrective baptism” of someone in the Church but never given an Orthodox baptism, rather he is talking about someone being baptized upon switching from one Orthodox jurisdiction to another.
This is more clear in the May 22/June 4, 1976 letter to Andrew Bond where he speaks of the “Guildford baptisms” in England in the context of receiving people by baptism from other jurisdictions and Fr. Panteleimon’s (HTM in Boston) effort to promote a Matthewite view that there is no grace in the other Orthodox jurisdictions, a position not shared by the ROCOR Synod. Fr. Seraphim also concedes that such baptisms may meet certain criteria to be allowed and at least tacitly blessed. He writes, “If there are those so uncertain about their status in Orthodoxy that they just have to be baptized, whether when coming to us from another jurisdiction or even after being in our Church for some time—well, let them do it if the bishop permits, as long as this is not seen to be the rule or standard for all, not a model of Pharisaic “correctness” but rather a concession to weak consciences. If the issue is thus localized, there can still be peace in the Church, and neither side need pride itself that it is “correct” and the other “incorrect” or somehow inferior.”
In his June 2/15, 1976 letter, Fr. Seraphim reiterates much of the same stance: “We have written a letter to Andrew expressing approval of his anti-fanaticism and trying to console him for the “Boston encyclical” he received; but one would like to be friendly with the “zealots” also, hoping that they will not fall into a “party line.” We are not fanatically against the “rebaptism” of those who insist on it, in cases where the bishop approves—but this should not be allowed to set a fanatical “tone” to our Orthodoxy, which is what shocked Andrew.” It seems that here he is still referring to the “Guildford baptisms” which he had discussed with Andrew, the reception of Orthodox Christians from other Orthodox jurisdictions by baptism.
In his June 24/July 7, 1976 letter, he refers again to what he calls the “Guildford rebaptisms” and says “this troubles us—not for the sake of the baptisms themselves (for our Church has been quite broad in its acceptance of different degrees of economy and strictness) as because of the tone of over-zealous ‘correctness’ with which some people, at least, have greeted them.”
Therefore, it is false to say that Fr. Seraphim is strictly against an Orthodox Christian receiving a baptism after his reception in the Orthodox Church by chrismation or some other means. His primary concern in these matters is the “fanatical tone,” “over-zealous ‘correctness’,” and “party line” approach some have taken. Once again, we see more harmony than disharmony among the saints.
Thanks for the additional info. However, I don’t see how Fr Seraphim’s opposition to this other type of “rebaptism” means that his Apr 18/May 1, 1976 letter is not referring to “corrective baptism.” It seems, in fact, to be doing this. I would add that his surprising comments on the reception of a Roman Catholic convert without baptism or chrismation provide additional context, and within the same letter.
I was in HOCNA for many years and lived neat HTM. They did not rebaptize people coming from GOARCH. I know this for a fact since my parents were in the GOA before joining HTM.
While I’m not 100% certain, a few contextual clues lead me to my conclusion. 1) his mention of not wanting such “rebaptisms’ in the Western American Diocese as they would be essentially declaring the GOA without grace. 2) He is writing his Apr 18/May 1 letter to Andrew Bond. In his May 22/June 4 letter to the same Andrew Bond he states “If I am not mistaken, what most upset you about the Guildford baptisms was the “fanatical” tone it introduced into Orthodoxy in England: if this manner of reception from other jurisdictions is to become the norm then our Church is in danger of falling into a Mathewite sectarianism.”
If you have further context or a different understanding, please share. I want to be as clear as possibly in understanding Fr. Seraphim’s position on these matters.
When I was received in a ROCOR parish by Chrismation only 9 years ago, I never expected that within two years I would begin to watch literally dozens of adult baptisms required of people who came from similar backgrounds. I was taught as a Lutheran never to doubt my baptism, and it was incredibly disturbing to be the last protestant in my parish received by Chrismation only. If I was required to be baptized I probably would have walked. There was enough of my former Christian life that ended up being lies without dumping that on the stack.
I certainly never expected to be one of the few people to see ROCOR take a de facto position in favor of encouraging corrective baptism last year.
But this letter speaking of concessions disturbs me more than all of that. If this is done as a concession to weak consciences, one might ask why those weak consciences exist at all? Who is teaching those consciences to be weak on this topic? How can it possibly be that someone can come from *another Orthodox jurisdiction* and get the idea that his baptism there was insufficient? This is mind-bogglingly worse than I had thought! How is it not an entirely self-defeating prospect to concede to an Orthodox Christian that his Orthodox baptism was not Orthodox and still baptize that person holding that belief into Orthodoxy?
For good or for ill, I haven’t let go of this facet of my upbringing, and my conscience is not weak on this topic. I spent four decades saying I believe in one baptism before I was Chrismated, and I meant it. So when I hear, had I taken seriously the teaching of people I can point to and who I know are known teachers of corrective baptism, and had I personally whined about it sufficiently and requested corrective baptism, then a bishop would have conceded my entrance to Orthodoxy had been screwed up, therefore my conscience is further strengthened, but in resolve not to have anything to do with ROCOR.
Interesting seeing that ROCOR didn’t always hold the “baptize everyone” view. I guess there was a point in time when those people actually believed that Grace existed outside their jurisdiction.
Matthew, I am less surprised than you about Fr. Seraphim’s comments re: reception of a Roman Catholic without baptism or chrismation. The pre-Revolutionary Russian Church utilized the three-tiered system for the reception of converts that was promulgated by St. Peter Mohyla in his Trebnyk:
*Non-Chalcedonians and Catholics (both Roman and Eastern) were received by renunciation of errors and profession of the Orthodox faith.
*Protestants who received Trinitarian baptism were received by renunciation of errors, profession of the Orthodox faith, and chrismation.
*Protestants who did not receive Trinitarian baptism were baptized and chrismated after renouncing their errors.
ROCOR initially continued the pre-1918 Russian traditions, and Fr. Seraphim is reflecting that continuity with established Russian Orthodox norms. It is interesting that the Moscow Patriarchate has maintained these tiers of receiving converts to the present day (I think). On the other hand, ROCOR–which usually adheres to pre-Revolutionary practices–has adjusted their position. One wonders what Fr. Seraphim would think about the somewhat recent case of a man who was baptized as a child in the Armenian church being rebaptized at Jordanville!
My mother and I aged 3 were received into the Orthodox Church in 1976 via Chrismation. The ROCOR bishop of NY at the time accepted our Roman Catholic baptism and granted us economia. Almost 40 years later, my Roman Catholic father who had attended Orthodox Liturgies with us my whole life was also brought into the Orthodox Church, but this time ROCOR required him to be re-baptized. I also remember during ROCOR’s reunification with the MP, many of our parishes were split on reunification. My family visited an old calendar Greek parish who told us if we wanted to receive sacraments in their church we would have to be rebaptized by them. This didn’t sit well with me and I started second guessing my reception via Chrismation into the Orthodox Church. I have been told by many priests since then that all my years of receiving the sacraments does not require rebaptism and that the Bishop that made the decision to accept my mother and I with economia is answerable to God. I am relieved to read that Fr. Seraphim Rose took the position he did.
Much depends on the decision of the bishop. Archbishop Averky of Jordanville did sometimes bless converts to be received through baptism, even if they had already been chrismated into the church. But that was by no means every ROCOR bishop’s policy.
Dear Mr Namee,
If I may ask, do you have any resources / PDFs on how patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch & Jerusalem reacted to 1054 Schism & how they broke communion with Rome (which happened hundred years later after Constantinople I believe)?
Thanks in advance!
It is important to note that Fr. Seraphim never actually wrote at length on the topic of reception of converts and “corrective baptism” with respect to the relevant patristic texts, canons, and Ecumenical Councils. Having not studied the matter, he seemed to err on the side of going along with whatever the ROCOR bishops decided over following the “Boston” approach which he criticized. However, the “Boston” approach was not simply the Athonite and Kollyvades practice of requiring all converts to be baptized in the Orthodox Church by three full immersions (which was also the Russian practice prior to 1666), but HTM in Boston was committed to a Matthewite Greek Old Calendarist ecclesiology and viewed even other Orthodox jurisdictions as deprived of sacramental grace. It is a bit odd how Fr. Seraphim has often been used as an opponent of the practice of receiving all converts by baptism (or baptizing those received into the Church without baptism) when he never really examined the topic at any length and his main focus in his personal letters dealing with the topic was to oppose the sectarian Matthewite views of the Boston monastery. Interestingly, the women’s monasteries connected historically to Fr. Seraphim and Platina (St. Paisius Monastery in AZ and St. Nilus Skete in Alaska) have placed themselves under the guidance of spiritual fathers who are disciples of Geronda Ephraim of Arizona who was very clear that all Orthodox Christians need to be baptized in the Orthodox Church with three full immersions.
Does the Moscow Patriarchate, today, now require all converts to the Russian Orthodox Church to be baptized by three immersions?
No, it doesn’t.
ROCOR, which is a self-governing church under the Moscow Patriarchate, does require this.