It was a normal Greek summer day in July 2022, before an Orthodox baptism provoked a fervent debate, or another episode in the “culture wars,” regarding the requirements (are there any?) of a child being baptized in the Church. Although Greeks are accustomed to reading about Church activities in newspapers and on social media, for instance on ecclesiastical property or the interference of the Church in political issues, this was something different in nature. It brought to the fore a series of crucial questions related to Christian identity in a secular age. Are there any specific theological, or other, preconditions that permit or prevent a person’s baptism? Does the Church accept same-sex marriage?
On July 9, 2022, Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, visited Athens to baptize the children of celebrity fashion designer Peter Dundas and Evangelos Bousis in a parish outside of Athens (Viouliagmeni). This parish belongs to the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Glyfada, one of eighty dioceses that constitute the synodal system of the Church of Greece. Soon this seemingly ordinary baptism became a battlefield for the local bishop and other traditionalists who reacted against it for various reasons: on the surface, for jurisdiction, but essentially for homosexuality, since it involved children of a same-sex couple.
On July 9, 2022, Archbishop Elpidophoros, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, baptized the children of celebrity fashion designer Peter Dundas and Evangelo Bousis in a church near Athens. Reactions to the news of the baptism of children of a same-sex couple were predictable. The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece is reportedly preparing a letter of protest to Archbishop Elpidophoros and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, as the Church of Greece does not recognize same-sex unions.
The baptism of these children raises questions for Orthodox Christians. Does the baptism of children of a same-sex couple imply Orthodox Christian approval or tolerance of same-sex unions? What requirements must parents meet before requesting the baptism of a child? Must one be completely free of sin before committing to the Christian life that Baptism inaugurates? One must refer to the meaning of Baptism itself to answer these challenging questions.
On this great feast of Theophany, we celebrate Christ’s baptism, when the voice of the Father identified Him as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. Epiphany reveals that the Savior Who appears from the waters of the Jordan to illumine our world of darkness is the God-Man, a Person of the Holy Trinity. He is baptized to restore us, and the creation itself, to the ancient glory for which we were created.
Tragically, our first parents turned away from their high calling and ushered in the realm of corruption that we know all too well. God gave Adam and Eve garments of skin when they left paradise after disregarding Him. Through their disobedience, they had become aware that they were naked and were cast into the world as we know it. Their nakedness showed that they had repudiated their vocation to become like God in holiness. Having stripped themselves of their original glory, they were reduced to mortal flesh and destined for slavery to their passions and the grave. Because of them, the creation itself was “subjected to futility…” (Rom. 8:20).
When COVID-19 first arrived on the scene as a nuisance, and not a pandemic, the Churches responded by making slight alterations to the rite of receiving communion. Catholic and Protestant Churches instructed people to refrain from partaking of the cup, and the people exchanged the sign of peace without handshakes. Eastern Church leaders instructed people that it was not necessary to kiss the icons, the cup, or the priest’s hand, and the people took the antidoron (unconsecrated bread) themselves, while refraining from drinking the zapivka (post-communion wine) from a common cup.
As COVID-19 evolved from nuisance to perilous threat, the Churches have continued to respond by altering their liturgies. Catholics and Protestants limited the number of people who could attend services before some cancelled them altogether. The Orthodox adopted the skeleton crew approach until more recently, when many bishops directed parishes to suspend services indefinitely.
The Churches have attempted to maintain some semblance of normalcy in their liturgical rhythms. Catholic priests celebrate private Mass on behalf of their people. All of the Churches use technology so that the people can participate online. Several communities livestream their services while smaller groups gather for virtual Liturgy on Zoom.