Romanian Orthodox Church's full-immersion baptism ritual under fire after infant dies

Baptism | Unsplash/@horizonstudios

The death of an infant during a christening ceremony in Romania has prompted tens of thousands of Christians to call on the country’s Orthodox Church to end the ancient practice of full-immersion baptism of babies.

“We do not demand the [end] of the practice of baptism but its modification so [babies] are prevented from unnecessary and even absurd risks!” reads an online petition that had gathered over 64,000 names as of Sunday

The petition was launched by teacher Vladimir Dumitru, who argues that the tradition involves brutality and should be abolished.

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On Feb. 1, a baby died after suffering cardiac arrest while being baptized in a church in the northern town of Suceava.

The priest fully immersed the six-week baby in the water three times in the baptismal font, DW reports

The child first cried, then became still, then the infant’s lips turned blue. The baby was taken to a hospital, where he died a few hours later.

“Especially when the children are newborn, a minor amount of water can provoke a cardiorespiratory arrest and, if there is not a rapid intervention, even the death of the baby,” Maria Stamatin, a doctor from the intensive care unit at the maternity hospital in the town of Iasi, in north-eastern Romania, told The Telegraph.

A spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Vasile Banescu, suggested the churches could sprinkle holy water over babies instead of immersing them.

“It is, without a doubt, a tragic case, a case that will have to be investigated. Let's not imagine that a child can be put in water without covering his nose, mouth and ears," Banescu told Antena 3. "There is a technique that an experienced priest always uses. This is how a baptism is celebrated with the utmost care.”

Teodosie Petrescu, the archbishop of Tomis in the country’s southeast, rejected calls for babies to be sprinkled with water instead of immersed in water. He was quoted as saying that the tradition of immersing a child three times during baptism has carried on for two millennia and will continue.

“There’s no way for the ritual to change. These canons of faith will be available for another 1,000 years. That is why we will not change. We’re not intimidated,” Petrescu said.

The archbishop added that babies should be immersed in cold water, which not only “sharpens” their spirituality, but is also suitable for their health.

But Eminence Calinic, the archbishop of Arges, is open to change. 

“In other icons, Jesus stands in the water up to his neck, and with his head bowed he receives baptism by pouring water over the top of his head,” BBC quoted him as saying.

Over 80% of Romanians are Orthodox Christians.

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