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(Re)baptism of Latins on the Ionian Islands in the Nineteenth Century

            THE OROS of the Eastern Patriarchs (1755), being the last official document on the problem of Western converts to Orthodoxy, was widely applied in the nineteenth century. The Orthodox bishops – those who were bearers and expounders of the tradition of Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V and the Kollyvades Fathers – as a rule applied the Oros, and indeed in areas under foreign occupation, disdaining the consequences. Particularly where the fear was especially sensed that the dogmatic differences would be thought of as relative, due to the constant intercourse between the Orthodox and Latin populations, brave prelates did not hesitate to baptize Latin converts. Nor did they pay any heed to the dangers ensuing from their boldness.

            One such area were the Ionian Islands, and particularly Kerkyra (Corfu), where until World War II the Roman Catholic element was always numerous and flourishing, and also politically very powerful. During our recent research at the Historical Archives of Kerkyra, we noted a series of cases, dating from 1824 onwards, of Roman Catholics converting to Orthodoxy through canonical baptism and not just by holy myron (i.e. chrismation). In these instances, this is requested by the Roman Catholic convert, and the Metropolitan (in this particular case, Makarios from Roga, 1824-1827)[345] grants the necessary permission.[346]

            The proportions that the issue took appear from the secret correspondence of the English Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, Fred. Adam,[347] with his superior, the English Minister of Colonies, Lord Bathurst. We studied these letters at the Public Record Office of London, C(olonial) O(ffice) 136, in the summer of 1982. in one of these documents,[348] the English Minister informs Commissioner Adam that he had received complaints from the ‘’Holy See’’ concerning a series of (re)baptisms of Latins in Kerkyra, and that the privileges given the ‘’Papal Church’’ by the previous Commissioner John Maitland were thus being infringed upon.[349] Hence the Minister remarks to Adam: ‘’Your attention is, therefore, directed to the attempt which it appears has recently been made to infuse into the minds of the people, the unwarrantable belief that baptism by a Roman Catholic Priest is not valid.’’[350] The Pope, moreover, had charged that the Greek bishops were aspiring ‘’to destroy the Catholic religion,’’[351] and that the Greek bishop of Kerkyra in particular was proving to be ‘’the most acrimonious enemy’’ of the Papal Church.[352] As a result, the Roman Catholics of Kerkyra were asking themselves if they were ‘’Turks’’ or ‘’Jews,’’ since they were being (re)baptized! What is curious is that the Roman Catholics, familiar with the situation of ‘’forced’’ smoothness of their relations with the Orthodox that prevailed until the end of Venetian rule (1797),[353] attributed Makarios’ stance to…his different education (‘’educated in Turkish Colleges…’’).[354] The outcome was that Adam stated in his relevant report that he assured the ‘’Holy See’’ that the (re)baptism of Latins ‘’should be prevented for the future’’![355]

            That the tradition represented by the Kollyvades Fathers and C. Oikonomos constituted the prevalent practice of the Church of Greece is apparent from the following study, published in 1869, when the Western spirit had begun to infiltrate the Orthodox. East more intently and the first rays of a dawning Ecumenism could be discerned. The study is titled: ‘’Epistolary Dissertation on Baptism, or Demonstration that when the Eastern Orthodox Church baptizes converts from other Churches, she is not rebaptizing but baptizing them, being as they are unbaptized,’’ by D. Marinos, Prof. D. Th. (Hermoupolis, 1869, 70 pages). The island of Syros, and its capital Hermoupolis, was a center of the Protestant mission and also had a strong Catholic community, and the ever-memorable author refutes their claims.

            For all that ecumenical relations obviously blunt fidelity to the Fathers, the Church of Greece – in principle at least – did not deviate from her standard practice. In order to facilitate ecumeni(sti)cal politics, however, in 1932 the Church of Greece under Archbishop Chrysostomos I (Papadopoulos)[356] disregarded the Oros of 1755, and introduced into the Euchologion[357] the ‘’Service of Conversion to Orthodoxy from the Latin Church,’’ thereby reinstating the practice of 1484, i.e. reception of Latins by chrismation and written statement. But even in this case, the Church of Greece – in accordance with her ecclesiology – never considered Western baptism valid ‘’in itself,’’ inasmuch as sanctifying and saving sacraments do not exist outside the Body of Christ, outside the one, true Church.


[345] S. C. Papageorgiou, Ιστορία της Εκκλησίας της Κερκύρας (History of the Church of Kerkyra) (Kerkyra, 1920), pp. 131-137.

[346] Historical Archives of Kerkyra, Metropolitan’s File no. 57, fol. 6-7-.

[347] On him, see Elias Tsitselis, Κεφαλληνιακά Σύμμικτα (Cephalonian Miscellany), vol. II (Athens, 1960), pp. 570-573.

[348] P.R.O., C.O. 136/313. fol. 29-39, no. 104. Bathurst’s document to F. Adam dated 14 Oct. 1826 (cf C.O. 136/188, fol. 296-304).

[349] The English ‘’Patronage’’ took upon itself to guarantee the vested interests of the Churches and religious minorities.

[350] C.O. 136/313, fol. 36b. Bathurst’s following comment is indicative of the prevailing climate: ‘’As I observe, however, that it is at the same time admitted, that this second baptism is not performed publicly, but with the doors of the church closed, it is to be hoped that this has not by any means become a general practice, and that you will, therefore, have the less difficulty in suppressing it!’’ (fol. 36b-37a). It is true indeed tat, under Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) occupation, baptisms of Western converts demanded great heroism; hence they were rare, or they were performed in secret and therefore remained unknown. A typical example is the case of the English Lord Frederick North-Guilford (1766-1827). In Jan. 1791, the English noble, the son of a Prime Minister, became Orthodox, by canonical baptism, according to his own demand. For, as he states in his own handwritten ‘’Confession,’’ he had not received this as an Anglican, and he believed Orthodoxy to be the ‘’One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,’’ outside of which there are no sacraments. He took the name Demetrios. On this, see the study by Kallistos Ware (Bishop of Diokleia), ‘’The Fifth Earl of Guilford (1766-1827) and his Secret Conversion to the Orthodox Church,’’ The Orthodox Churches and the West, ed. D. Baker (Studies in Church History, vol. 13) (Oxford, 1976), pp. 247-256. Guilford is the most significant proof that baptisms of Western converts occurred even during the Venetia rule of the Ionian Islands, but they were kept secret for obvious reasons. And for years, Guilford, too, maintained absolute secrecy on this matter. See G. D. Metallinos, ‘’Οι Τρεις ΙεράρχαιΠροστάταιτης Ιονίου Ακαδημίας’’ (‘’The Three Hierarch ‘Patrons’ of the Ionian Academy’’), Αντίδωρον Πνευματικόν (volume in honor of G. I. Konidaris) (Athens, 1981), pp. 287-288; same author ‘’ Η Ιόνιος ΑκαδημίαΚριτική παρουσίαση του ομώνυμου βιβλίου το E. P. Henderson’’ (‘’The Ionian Academy – A critical presentation of E. P. Henderson’s book by the same title’’), Παρνασσός ΚΓ’ (1981), p. 332ff.

[351] Fol. 44f.

[352] As stated in a Report by Roman Catholics of Kerkyra sent to the Vatican and communicated to London: ‘’That schismatic bishop impudently boasts that 136 Catholics have gone over to the Greek religion since he held his high office’’ (1824), fol. 63b-64a.

[353] See P. Grigoriou, (Catholic-Orthodox Relations) (Athens, 1958). From the Orthodox side, see Papageorgiou, p. 45ff, and particularly the special study by A. Ch. Tsitsas, Η Εκκλησία της Κερκύρας κατά την Λατινοκρατίαν 1267-1795 (The Church of Kerkyra during the Latin Rule 1267-1795) (Kerkyra, 1969). The prevailing conditions on the Ionian Islands and in the other areas under Latin rule are presupposed and depicted in the study by J. Kotsonis (ex-Archbishop of Athens),  Η από κανονικής απόψεως αξία της μυστηριακής επικοινωνίας Ανατολικών και Δυτικών επί Φραγκοκρατίας και Ενετοκρατίας (The Merit of Sacramental Intercourse of Easterns and Westerns during the Frankish and Venetian Rules from a Canonical Point of View) (Thessaloniki, 1957).

[354] Fol. 66a. The criteria under which the Roman Catholics viewed the issue of the (re)baptisms are exhibited in the following questions which they submitted to the Vatican: ‘’Is not this an affront to the Catholic and Roman Church? And what an insult to the Catholics residing in Corfu? Ibid. The spiritual, traditional and theological criteria were, already by that time, completely inert!

[355] P.R.O., C.O. 136/38, fol. 13. Report by F. Adam to Bathurst from Kerkyra, 16 Jan. 1827.

[356] Karmiris, The Dogmatic and Symbolic Monuments…, vol. II, p. 991ff.

[357] Μικρόν Ευχολόγιον ή Αγιασματάριον, 11th ed. (Athens: Apostolike Diakonia of the Church of Greece, 1992), pp. 110-113.


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Article published in English on: 14-9-2007.

Last Update: 15-9-2007.