Father Seraphim (Rose) on the hothouse approach to Orthodoxy and correcting the “incomplete baptism”.
Letter from Jan. 28/Feb. 10, 1976.
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 really 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 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 could 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 her 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 alter already being members 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 received 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 needs1.
At times we would like to think that the whole “Fr, Panteleimon problem” in our Church is just a matter of differing emphases 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 an “orthodox sectarianism” is being formed at the expense of
Letter from father Seraphim. The twelve-year correspondence between Hieromonk Seraphim Rose and Father Alexey Young, N.Y : Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, 2001, pp. 153-154.
1 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. – Editor.