Many topics and dilemmas that once were far beyond our sight are catching up and coming down on us with their currency. Older pastoral generations, in their time, could save themselves, in their contacts with their parishioners, from at least one question that nowadays we cannot avoid in any way. In the old days, whoever came to the priest for any attainable Holy Sacrament, he would come rightly, at least for one and primary reason: he was baptized. We had to, even when we were younger, by practice and necessity, while performing the Holy Sacrament of marriage or even when choosing a godfather, ask whether the person was baptized or not. Now, the bitter fruit of our impiety and negligence ripens, so when someone comes to us to ask for a burial we have to ask whether the deceased was baptized or not. First sprouts of the postwar atheism have sprouted now to grandfathers and grandmothers; not to mention their sons and daughters.
When it happens so, by the universal human inevitability, that one must die, something that was the last of all concerns becomes a priority. When someone who never gave anything, not even a broken filler, and never even cared for the faith and church of his ancestors, someone who remained unbaptized, dies everyone comes to the priest and is angry with him because- as they say- “ he won’t bury the man”.
As much as the priest sympathizes with all of the mourners so much that he would himself weep and cry, he cannot, in fact, must not perform the burial for an unbaptized person. Simply put: He, who is not baptized, is not the member of the church and does not have any rights in it. The church does not set any special conditions for admission under its wing. The only inevitable one condition is: belief in God and acceptance of the Christian life. Therefore, someone who spent all of his life outside the church and its beneficial gifts had done it because he did not believe in God.
In our life we, willingly and unwillingly, accept many limitations. If you are not a member of a club, you have no access to it or to the benefits that its membership offers. If you are not a member of a party, you cannot elect or be elected. If you do not have a driver’s licence you cannot drive. We accept all of these countless limitations as normal. It seems that the only thing we cannot accept is that if you are not a member of the church you cannot have any rights in it.
While thinking about this problem – because of one sad, particular event- I searched for the answer in the book by our Patriarch: “To clarify certain questions of our faith”. Patriarch gave answers to hundreds of questions that current pastoral practice imposes. He did not write about the burial of adult unbaptized individuals. Dear old Patriarch could not imagine that someone would spend all their lives unbaptized and outside the church, and then when he dies, it is asked of church to give him all the rights as if he were its member all along. As if the church were some kind of a funeral establishment, an entrance hall of the local funeral homes. In Patriarch’s book we find answers to the questions about burial of a deceased child that remained unbaptized because of the parents’ negligence or because of who knows what other reason. Even in this case the Patriarch excludes the possibility of performing the burial. Patriarch did not even mention the burial of the unbaptized adults. In his notes, the Patriarch says that the church “forms the mystical body of Christ, of which He is the head” (Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:18, 2:19) and that the saving powers that take effect in church come from Him. All of the faithful receive these life-giving forces just like grapes on the vine or like a wild olive branch grafted into domesticated trunk. (John 15:5, Romans 11:17)
However, the door through which we enter the church, the way we grow to the vine and we receive its grace-filled means of sanctification and salvation is the Holy Sacrament of Baptism, as the Lord said: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). Those who did not enter the church of God, but are outside of it, are not able to use its grace-filled means, just like the wild olive branch grafted into domestic one cannot have a share in its oily roots.”
Even if the priest assented, and performed this restricted act, that would not have any benefit for the soul of the one for whom the pastoral act was performed. No pastoral act works unconditionally, just because it was performed. The effects of church are not magician’s spells that are supposed to magically submit the force of God to the performed act. Holy Sacraments have two parts: one that is visible which is performed by priest, and the other that is invisible which is performed by the Holy Spirit, God. They are both necessary, but the effect of God’s grace is incomparably greater than the human effect.
The priest, as well as the bishop, at the ordination, pledges to believe in all the doctrines professed by the Holy church, and to keep all of its regulations prescribed by the synods. Therefore, there is no place for addressing the bishop to ask for a permission of a burial of unbaptized person, because if he allowed it, he would break the oath the same as the priest that performed the burial.
And for transgression of the oath, perjury, 25th Apostolic Canon stipulates the strip of rank. Therefore, with his misdemeanour, he would not benefit the soul of the deceased, and he would damage his own soul infinitely, our Patriarch teaches us.
Knowing this, there is nothing else left but to get serious, and whoever is unbaptized to put an effort in getting baptized; and whoever has someone in their surroundings that is unbaptized to put an effort in getting them baptized; while there is still time and it is not too late.