Baptism “of” the Dead in Eastern Christianity
I have a certain affinity or appreciation for Eastern Orthodox Christianity, having visited Ukraine two years ago where I had the opportunity to visit many of the beautiful cathedrals all across the country. I found many of the practices, architecture, and artifacts of the faith to be intriguing from an LDS standpoint, showing parallels to our own traditions and beliefs. From the structure of the cathedrals, to the mosaics and frescoes, to the belief system, many things stood out to me. Could it be that the apostasy has had less of an affect upon the Eastern tradition than other sects of Christiandom?
This morning an article by Marvin R. VanDam on Meridian Magazine was brought to my attention. VanDam most recently was the director for temporal affairs of the Eastern European and Central Asian Area of the Church. In his article VanDam explores the studies of a well-known Russian religious scholar, Sergey Antonenko, who finds many striking parallels between Eastern Orthodoxy and the LDS Church. Antonenko finds that, like the Latter-day Saints, Eastern Christianity has a tradition of “taking care [concerned] about the deceased, instead of forsaking [them].” Such a concern, he says, can be traced back to early Christianity.
Most particularly, VanDam informs us that Antonenko finds that the practice of baptism for the dead has its roots in ancient Christianity, citing Paul in Corinthians as evidence:
Those who are advanced in the religious studies may conclude that vicarious baptism existed in the history of the Christian Church. . . . Direct [literal] meaning of the verse implies that “baptism for the dead” for the ancient Christians was confirmation of their confession [faith] – of their belief in resurrection.
VanDam then cites striking examples that Antonenko gives of the practice of baptism for the dead in Kiev, medieval Russia, an area which is now part of Ukraine. In contrast to the Latter-day Saint practice of vicarious baptism “for” the dead, these baptisms were very literally baptisms “of” the dead, where the bones of deceased relatives were exhumed, baptized, and reburied, such was the overarching concern of these people for the salvation of their dead, but citing precedence and reason for doing so from the early Christians.
Read the entire article at Meridian Magazine.