The current UK lockdown intended to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic is now entering into its eighth week and alongside the tragedy of not having the opportunity to meet often with one’s close relatives, friends and neighbours, there is the requirement that churches also should be closed for public services; that mourners at funerals should be severely restricted and also that baptisms must be postponed in line with the clear requirement from the government that places of worship remain closed.
Sadly, we have recently read reports of the spread of the virus following the fact that many Orthodox churches abroad have resisted such rules, especially during the traditional Paschal celebration which recently took place. We learn that several monks and theological students of the Russian Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra have been infected with the virus, whilst at the celebrated Diveyevo Convent near the city of Nizhny-Novgorod two of the nuns have now died from the virus, whilst 76 have been tested positive.
Prior to the lockdown in the UK, the British Orthodox Church introduced a number of measures intended to limit the possibility of the spread of contagion, although these were swiftly followed by a total lockdown for all public services.
However, the pastoral responsibility of our clergy means that not only are the needs of our society at this time, as well as those suffering from the virus, strongly sustained in prayer, but that the Divine Liturgy as the prototype of intercession is still regularly celebrated, although just for the present in private rather than in public. Although to date none of our British Orthodox faithful have succumbed to the virus, their physical, mental and general well-being continues to be upheld in prayer. We also continue to commemorate the faithful departed on their regular anniversaries as well as those who have recently died.
Among many requests being received are those for the baptism of infants, some of which were scheduled before the outbreak of the pandemic. In the light of our Lord’s words to Nicodemus that “Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John III:3) we are clearly reluctant to delay these baptisms longer than necessary. In the case of young children suffering from serious illness, churches have always accepted the need for emergency baptisms to be performed. Although traditionally the ministers of baptism have always been in holy orders, it is recognised that someone who is a properly baptised person – although not themselves in holy orders – possesses the right to confer the sacrament as the “laver of regeneration” during times of crisis, so that those baptised are joined to Christ thereby acquiring the status of adopted children of God. Those performing the baptism must either pour on or immerse the child in water and use the correct Trinitarian formula, “I baptise thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen”. Also among the prayers recommended to be used at such a ceremony should be the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Nicene Creed. Unless they are following the strictest social distancing, either the child’s father or mother, should be the officiant.
As soon as the UK lockdown terminates and the churches resume public services, the parents should then bring the child whom they have baptised themselves, to the church in order to receive conditional re-baptism at the hands of a priest or bishop, who will then also administer the holy chrismation whereby our spirit is renewed through receiving the Holy Spirit, which is always done at an Orthodox baptism.