APPENDIX III (Re)baptism of Latins on the Ionian Islands in the Nineteenth Century

APPENDIX III

(Re)baptism of Latins on the Ionian Islands in the Nineteenth Century


THE OROS of the Eastern Patriarchs (1755), being the last official document on the problem of Western converts to Orthodoxy, was widely applied in the nineteenth century. The Orthodox bishops – those who were bearers and expounders of the tradition of Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V and the 
Kollyvades Fathers – as a rule applied the Oros, and indeed in areas under foreign occupation, disdaining the consequences. Particularly where the fear was especially sensed that the dogmatic differences would be thought of as relative, due to the constant intercourse between the Orthodox and Latin populations, brave prelates did not hesitate to baptize Latin converts. Nor did they pay any heed to the dangers ensuing from their boldness.

One such area were the Ionian Islands, and particularly Kerkyra (Corfu), where until World War II the Roman Catholic element was always numerous and flourishing, and also politically very powerful. During our recent research at the Historical Archives of Kerkyra, we noted a series of cases, dating from 1824 onwards, of Roman Catholics converting to Orthodoxy through canonical baptism and not just by holy myron (i.e. chrismation). In these instances, this is requested by the Roman Catholic convert, and the Metropolitan (in this particular case, Makarios from Roga, 1824-1827)347 grants the necessary permission.348

The proportions that the issue took appear from the secret correspondence of the English Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, Fred. Adam,349 with his superior, the English Minister of Colonies, Lord Bathurst. We studied these letters at the Public Record Office of London, C(olonial) O(ffice) 136, in the summer of 1982. in one of these documents,350 the English Minister informs Commissioner Adam that he had received complaints from the “Holy See” concerning a series of (re)baptisms of Latins in Kerkyra, and that the privileges given the “Papal Church” by the previous Commissioner John Maitland were thus being infringed upon.351  Hence the Minister remarks to Adam: “Your attention is, therefore, directed to the attempt which it appears has recently been made to infuse into the minds of the people, the unwarrantable belief that baptism by a Roman Catholic Priest is not valid.”352  The Pope, moreover, had charged that the Greek bishops were aspiring “to destroy the Catholic religion,”353 and that the Greek bishop of Kerkyra in particular was proving to be “the most acrimonious enemy” of the Papal Church.354  As a result, the Roman Catholics of Kerkyra were asking themselves if they were “Turks” or “Jews,” since they were being (re)baptized! What is curious is that the Roman Catholics, familiar with the situation of “forced” smoothness of their relations with the Orthodox that prevailed until the end of Venetian rule (1797),355 attributed Makarios’ stance to…his different education (“educated in Turkish Colleges…”).356 The outcome was that Adam stated in his relevant report that he assured the “Holy See” that the (re)baptism of Latins “should be prevented for the future”!357

That the tradition represented by the Kollyvades Fathers and C. Oikonomos constituted the prevalent practice of the Church of Greece is apparent from the following study, published in 1869, when the Western spirit had begun to infiltrate the Orthodox. East more intently and the first rays of a dawning Ecumenism could be discerned. The study is titled: “Epistolary Dissertation on Baptism, or Demonstration that when the Eastern Orthodox Church baptizes converts from other Churches, she is not rebaptizing but baptizing them, being as they are unbaptized,” by D. Marinos, Prof. D. Th. (Hermoupolis, 1869, 70 pages). The island of Syros, and its capital Hermoupolis, was a center of the Protestant mission and also had a strong Catholic community, and the ever-memorable author refutes their claims.

For all that ecumenical relations obviously blunt fidelity to the Fathers, the Church of Greece – in principle at least – did not deviate from her standard practice. In order to facilitate ecumeni(sti)cal politics, however, in 1932 the Church of Greece under Archbishop Chrysostomos I (Papadopoulos)358disregarded the Oros of 1755, and introduced into the Euchologion359 the “Service of Conversion to Orthodoxy from the Latin Church,” thereby reinstating the practice of 1484, i.e. reception of Latins by chrismation and written statement. But even in this case, the Church of Greece – in accordance with her ecclesiology – never considered Western baptism valid “in itself,” inasmuch as sanctifying and saving sacraments do not exist outside the Body of Christ, outside the one, true Church.

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