The incident has spurred people online to start a petition for a change in baptism practices. It is a move that is opposed by hardline factions of the church.
Trigger Warning: The story has details of child death that readers will find disturbing
The tragic death of a 6-week old baby in Romania during a baptism ceremony has caused a furor in the country, with many demanding a change in the age-old practice. Among them is the heartbroken father, who has now questioned the manner in which the priest handled his son during the ritual of the Orthodox Church in Suceava, a city in the country’s northeast. The priest’s handling of the baby has come under further scrutiny since the child was born prematurely and was not the healthiest baby out there. The baby was rushed to a hospital but died a few hours later. An autopsy report found water in the child’s lungs. According to sources , the father, who was not named, told a local media outlet that as much as 110 milliliters of liquid had entered his son’s lungs. “The boy was crying, but the priest immersed him three times in water and he inhaled water,” he said.
He added, “The baby had blood on his nose. I put him face down to get the water out. He didn’t recover.” The Independent quoted the same local source and highlighted the father tried to save the situation once he saw the child was in distress. “(I) removed him, wiped him, from the doctors I found out he inhaled 110ml of water,” he said while adding, “If you see a child with a gaping mouth and crying, you wouldn’t immerse him completely in water, would you?” The Archdiocese of Suceava said in a statement about the death: “There is no word or deed to wipe away the tears and now soothe the broken heart of parents and relatives, but we are with them at this particularly difficult time.” Condolences were also offered by the public at large.
Many among them additionally demanded changes in the age old practice. An online petition started in this regard was signed by nearly 60,000 people. “The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy. This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph,” stated the petition. According to a report in BBC, the petition was started by a man named Vladimir Dumitru, who stated that the ritual had to be regulated and made more moderate to prevent risking such tragic deaths. But even among the clergy of the Orthodox Church, opinions are divided about the need for changes. Foremost among the voices who support changes is that of Eminence Calinic, the Archbishop of Arges, one of the church’s most senior members. He told a local media outlet that the practice needed review.
He said, “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.” According to him, rather than completely immersing babies, it was okay to just sprinkle holy water on their heads and just dip their feet. But for adults, immersion in holy water was appropriate. Vasile Banescu, a church spokesperson, was another senior clergy member who was in favor of changes. He was of the opinion that sprinkling with water on the baby’s forehead instead of full immersion could be a baptism option for babies. But many of the more hardline factions of the church adopted a combative approach. They were not in favor of any changes.
Among them was Archbishop of Tomis, who said, “We will never change the ritual. The canons of this religion have been in place for over 1,000 years. That is why we won’t change. We are not intimidated.” Manslaughter investigations are being opened against the priest who performed the baptism.
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