The most important thing in preparing for the Sacrament of Baptism is the firm and rigorous understanding that Holy Baptism is not some magical rite or even a mere entry into the bosom of the Church, but a true birth into Eternal Life.
An interview with hegumen Peter (Vasilyev) conducted by Mikhail Tyurenkov in 2010.
- Father Peter, lately the topic of the necessity of obligatory catechization before the sacrament of Baptism has been actively discussed in the church community. To what extent is this practice applicable in the Old Believer parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church, and what is your personal attitude to it?
- The fact that this topic has finally begun to be discussed at the church-wide level is an undoubted blessing! Both in the pre-Raskol practice of the Russian Church and in the contemporary practice of Old Believers' parishes, any adult preparing for Baptism has to undergo a special catechetical period called "Cathechumenate".
Many people know that the Sacrament of Baptism itself is always preceded by a special rite, during which the priest reads forbidding prayers against Satan. But many people mistakenly think that this rite is inseparably linked to Baptism and can only be performed together with the latter. In Old Believer practice, this is by no means always the case. Very often, adults who wish to be baptised are first subjected to the rite of oath, after which they may participate in divine services without receiving the Sacraments. In essence, it is at this time that the "catechumens" are catechized. At the end of the catechism, the catechized come to Baptism prepared: at least everyone knows and understands the "Seven bow beginning" (a short prayer rule given before and after the service), the "Lord's Prayer" ("Our Father"), the "Creed" and several other prayers, and all the Twelve Great feasts and the main Gospel themes.
The most important thing, of course, is that when understanding the Creed, one must believe in everything it says. After all, it is unthinkable to baptize a person who believes in, say, everything except the resurrection of the dead!
And, by the way, with us Orthodox Old Believers (Edinoverie), the baptism of those whose way of life is radically contrary to the Christian life is impossible. For example, if a person comes to me who knows the Gospel almost by heart, prays daily, but "works" as, say, a "hit man," then of course I will not baptize him. But, thank God, in the 16 years of my priestly practice there have been no such cases.
- What if catechesis is not possible in the first place? For example, in the case of serious illness or on one's deathbed?
- Here we are dealing with exceptions, which, however, should by no means be an excuse for violating the rules laid down by the Apostles and the holy Fathers of our Church. It is known that "for the fear of death", even the triple baptism form of the Sacrament of Baptism, which remains unchanged for us Old Believers, may be violated (following the examples of the Penitent Thief and many martyrs of the past, who were baptized with the blood of confession). In such cases, therefore, it is of course possible to be baptised without catechism, but in the case of a successful outcome of the illness, it is necessary to give the Christian who has recovered the full cathechumenate of baptism.
- What about infant baptism? Is it necessary to catechise their parents?
- In principle, it is impossible for us Edinoverie Old Believers to baptise an infant who has at least one of the parents as a regular parishioner, a person fully participating in the life of the Church. With few exceptions, it is possible to baptise a child from a non-church family, whose upbringing is fully vouchsafed by the godparent, whose ability to bring up the godchild in the fold of the Church is beyond doubt.
- And yet, what do you think is the most important thing in catechesis? Learning basic dogmatic concepts? Knowledge of prayers? Or perhaps the reading of the Gospel?
- In my opinion, the most important thing in preparing for the Sacrament of Baptism is a firm and rigorous understanding that Holy Baptism is not some magical rite or even a mere entry into the bosom of the Church, but the true birth into Eternal Life. Let me remind you that in many ancient Church texts, beginning with the Epistle of St. Paul to Titus, Baptism is referred to by a remarkable metaphor: "washing of rebirth" (Titus 3:5).
— Spasi Khristos! (Old Believer "Thank you!", literally "May Christ save you!")