As you spend time around Orthodoxy, you will eventually see adult converts coming into the Church; many times they’re brought in by chrismation, sometimes by baptism. Adults who have been baptized in the name of the Trinity might be brought into the Church by chrismation only (anointing with oil); we say that the chrismation makes their baptism Orthodox. In cases where the adult was not baptized in the name of the Trinity, or has left Christianity (become atheist, Moslem, etc.), he or she might be baptized by triple immersion.

I say might be, because it is up to the bishop to decide how to apply the canons – sometimes for pastoral reasons, the bishop may decide to handle a particular conversion in a different way. And there can be differences in “policy” regarding baptism and chrismation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Sometimes, Roman Catholics may be brought into the Church by confession of faith only.

There is considerable historical precedent for handling conversion cases differently depending on circumstances; certain heretics have sometimes been brought back into the fold by chrismation and confession of faith only. Unfortunately, to be Christian today does not necessarily mean one is a subscriber to the patristic teachings on the Trinity, or accepts the Nicene Creed as definitive. Some Protestant groups use alternative formulations for the Trinity during baptism to be “more inclusive.” The United Church of Christ (UCC) has for years referred to the Trinity in inclusive terms as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. I have heard that in some cases balloons, confetti, or other substances have been used as “substitutes” for water in UCC baptisms. These baptisms would not be regarded as valid by an Orthodox hierarch, and converts to Orthodoxy from these traditions would have to be baptized.

Bottom line is: it’s the bishop’s call. That’s what being Orthodox is about: our bishops are our spiritual fathers, and if we don’t believe they have been granted the grace to make such decisions, what’s the point of our being Orthodox? It’s less a matter of obedience and submission than of trusting the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our bishop’s pastoral decisions as we move with Christ’s Church through history. It’s taking Christ at His word when he told His Church He would always be with us.

When you are chrismated, the priest anoints you with oil three times and says, “The seal of the Holy Spirit,” and the people reply each time: “Seal!” It is a perfect illustration of hierarchy and conciliarity in action in Orthodox Liturgy: both the anointing by the priest (who is the bishop’s representative) and the word of the laity are necessary to complete the chrismation. We are working together – clergy and laity – to call upon the Holy Spirit, and it is a moment of great power in the convert’s life.

The name I took at my baptism and chrismation was Basil, at my priest’s suggestion. It turns out that Basil is basically the same name as William (my legal name) in Greek, so this made a lot of sense. Then, a friend started calling me Vasily, and it stuck. Others began calling me Vasily, and I became Vasily at church. With my family of origin, I remained William or Bill. I changed careers, and in graduate school, I went by Vasily. I also used the name Vasily at work. I have considered changing my name legally, but have retained the name William because it’s part of my personal history. Like the last name Ingogly, which was originally Ingoglia before it was changed on Ellis Island.

In J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord Of The Rings, we learn that the dwarves have a public name and a private name disclosed only to other dwarves. Like most “primitive” cultures, the dwarves understood that names are things of power: they reveal something essential about us to those who know our true names. We take on a new name or give up an old name with great care, after prayer and fasting. And that is why I am mostly Vasily these days but sometimes William.
I’ve struggled with this at times; I don’t want to appear affected in any way, or that I’m trying to be “super Orthodox” by using the name Vasily. And yet, I didn’t choose my new name – it was chosen for me. I’m at an age where I don’t have to worry about family approval, or hurting anyone by my continued use of this name; and at this point (as a friend has pointed out) many people at church, at work, and elsewhere know me simply as “Vasily.”

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