September 13, 2023

An 18th Century Critique of an Athonite Practice of Re-Baptizing Converts

By Metropolitan Job of Pisidia

Narratives of pilgrims’ journeys have always been precious witnesses to our knowledge of the history of the development of worship... The Wanderings (Мандри) of Vasil Grigorovich Barsky, [which are] the notes of his long pilgrimage to the Christian West and East – the journey of almost his entire life – took place between 1723 and 1747, when he died, a month later having returned to Kiev. They introduce us, in particular, to the peculiarities of worship in the Greek-speaking world under the Ottoman empire, and describe in sufficient detail the Athonite liturgical practice still in use to this day.

Born in 1701 near Kiev, Vasil (Basil) Barsky was an exceptional pilgrim, quite different from the others. As a young twenty-year-old student of the Kiev Theological Academy, he left his homeland, interested in discovering foreign lands. He left with his knowledge of Latin and Slavic languages, which he acquired at the academy, and with theological and liturgical education, which gave him the opportunity, unlike many other pilgrims, to describe and evaluate in detail the divine services he attended in various places of the Christian world, both in the West (Pest, Vienna, Bari, Rome, Venice) and in the East (Corfu, Mount Athos, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus, Patmos, Constantinople, Athens and Crete)....

A Critique of Anabaptism (Re-baptism)

The last interesting point in Barsky’s story in connection with liturgical practice is his testimony regarding the re-baptism (anabaptism) of Latins, Uniates and even Orthodox, who were not baptized by full immersion. In his description of the Zograf Monastery, he strictly criticizes such a practice, calling it “lawlessness” (беззаконня).

It is worth mentioning that the first Ecumenical Council (325) emphasized that membership in the Church is linked to the confession of the Orthodox faith in the Holy Trinity, as specified in the Nicene Creed. Therefore, belonging to the Church is revealed through one baptism in the name of the three hypostases of the Holy Trinity: “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, as it was commanded by Christ (Mt. 28:19). Bearing this in mind, it becomes clear why, on the one hand, canon 19 of the first Ecumenical Council prescribed the rebaptism of the disciples of Paul of Samosata, who did not acknowledge the Holy Trinity, and on the other hand, why canon 8 of the same council did not require the rebaptism of the cathari (novationists), a Christian sect who did profess the faith in the Holy Trinity, and therefore, ordered to accepted them through a written confession of faith, in their respective rank. Later, canon 7 of the second Ecumenical Council (381) and canon 95 of the Quinisext Council (692) clearly defined which heretics and schismatics ought to be received through a written confession of faith (libellus), which one ought to be received through chrismation, and which one ought to be received through baptism. Heretics who correctly professed the faith in the Holy Trinity were not rebaptized, but were simply required to renounce to their heresy in writing and, in some cases, were also chrismated.

This is what the monk Vasil means when he writes: “First of all, I tried to prevent them from baptizing people again; they referred to the Pedalion. In the same Pedalion, I showed them the explanation of Saint Basil the Great, from which it becomes clear which heretics ought to be baptized, and which ought only to be chrismated; but they did not listen.” Here Barsky refers to the canons 1, 5 and 47 of St. Basil the Great. Well educated by prominent hierarchs of the Christian East, Vasil Grigorovich Barsky adhered to the generally accepted position of the Church Fathers and to the genuine canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, and was scandalized by the practice of anabaptism, which, unfortunately, continues to be performed even today by some Athonites over Roman Catholics and Uniates who decide to join the Orthodox Church, and even on some Orthodox who were not baptized by full immersion.

Source: Excerpts from "The Wanderings of the Kiev Pilgrim Vasil Grigorovich Barsky as a Liturgical Witness" in Orthodoxia (January-March 2023).

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