The Orthodox Pages
Dear Father Christopher,
We know even from the ancient document found at Saint
Catherine’s in the late 1800's, bound at the end of a Bible in Greek,
Διδαχή των Αποστόλων - the "Didache" that baptism was to be performed in
“LIVING WATER”, which naturally includes a river or stream, but also a
lake such as the “Sea of Galilee”. A layman from Russia has objected to
baptism in the Mediterranean “because it contains salt” [his words].
Please let me know if in Cyprus there have been instances of baptism in
the sea. If not, do you know of any “Canon” which bans baptizing in the
sea since the seas are all “salt water bodies”, unlike a lake.
Answer to Question 19
Your Eminence Bishop Jacob,
I have not come across any such canon, but neither have I heard of anyone performing a Baptism in the sea. This doesn’t mean that it is wrong or non-traditional. Just because we do not do this today doesn’t mean that it is not part of the Church’s tradition.
The late Blessed Ioannis Fountoulis, a Professor of the Theological faculty at Thessalonica University published 5 books containing 600 questions from priests on liturgical matters. Question 364 is on whether a baptism can be performed in the sea. Far from me to give you my poor views on the matter I thought it would be appropriate to hear what Fountoulis has to say as he is considered by many as the ultimate authority on such matters. His answer translated is this:
“During the apostolic and post-apostolic period, baptism was performed “in living water” (The Didache of the Twelve Apostles) or with discretion “where there is water” (Justin, Apology A 61). It is without any doubt that in places by the sea, baptism was also performed in the sea. In the Pseudo-Clement apocryphal work of the 4th century, the Apostle Peter is presented baptizing a woman by the shore…between some rocks in a place “peaceful and clean” (Homily 14, 1, Epitome 110). In Patmos they show up to the present day the “Baptistery”, a place by the sea where according to tradition John the Theologian baptized the inhabitants of Patmos who believed in Christ. The canons of Hippolytus make mention of baptism which is performed in “moving water, sea water, clean” and Tertullian again includes the sea in the places where holy baptism is performed (On baptism 4)
With the growth of the Christian worship, special baptisteries were built near the Christian Basilicas where the Catechumen were baptized. The descendants of these baptisteries are today’s permanent of portable fonts of our Church, which have prevailed for infant baptisms. But with exception baptism was also performed in the sea, as we can deduce from the testimony of Didymus the Blind which says “with discretion, baptism is performed in every water and also in the sea according to the necessity” (Concerning the holy Trinity 14)
And of course today, the baptism of infants is usually performed in the temple and in the special fonts. But adult baptisms should also be performed in the temple and in a baptistery which would secure the complete triple immersion and rising of the one being baptized. If there is no suitable baptistery, it is preferable for the baptism to be performed in a river, a pool or in the sea. Some years ago I was given the opportunity to watch the baptism of an adult by the port of a Monastery on Mount Athos. The Baptism was performed in the sea. From the base of the port the Priest read the prayers of the blessing of the water, poured into it the exorcized oil and the Catechumen was immersed into it thrice. The Divine Liturgy followed in the port’s chapel. The Holy Mountain (Mount Athos) is the acropolis of Orthodoxy and liturgical accuracy. This example can be followed by all similar occasions and in all the seaside places, which glory to God, are plenteous in our country, instead of performing the baptisms of adults in barrels and unsuitable vessels. The Tradition of the first church which continues to this day is very clear. The question of whether baptism in the sea is valid is inconceivable to even be mentioned.”
So having heard Ioannis Fountoulis we can be certain that baptism in the sea is indeed within the tradition of the Church, nowhere is there mentioned that the sea is unsuitable because of the salt. But baptism in the sea can make for other difficulties. The Priest needs to find a place suitable for the baptism that will have him above the water. It would not be practical or appropriate for him to roll up his trousers and epitrakhelion to enter the water so as to immerse the candidate into the water. If your Russian layman objects to the salt then maybe you should consider his request for sweet water but as he feels that the sea is not in the tradition of the Church and because he demands for tradition, then maybe you should suggest that he gets baptized completely naked as that is the only proper way of being baptized according to tradition.
Kissing thy right hand