What Can an Unbaptized Person Do in the Church?

An unbaptized person is outside of the Church. Why isn’t he allowed in? Does he lack anything? Is he spiritually crippled or just doesn’t want to come to church, to understand and make sense of the Christian faith? The situation is even more complicated if an unbaptized relative dies. May we have a church funeral for an unbaptized person? May we light a candle on his behalf? How may we pray for him? Most importantly, if the Church is meant to love everybody, why is She so merciless toward the unbaptized? Here are answers to some of these questions provided by priests from various parts of Russia.

May I light a candle on behalf of an unbaptized person?
The Rev. Philip Ilyashenko, provost of Saint Tikhon Humanities University, Moscow

To be able to answer your question, we have to define what we mean by ‘lighting a candle on someone’s behalf’ first, because I suspect that the underlying idea is somewhat incorrect.

A candle literally means our gift to God. That’s clear because candles cost a dime a dozen to make. When we purchase them for a dollar or more each, it is literally our donation. That’s why I believe it is incorrect to speak of ‘a candle on someone’s behalf’. You can make a donation on someone’s behalf, that’s for sure. Holy Fathers recommend making donations or giving alms to help an unbaptized person you care about.

The Church isn’t like a Buddhist temple where there are spinning wheels with texts of prayers on them. They spin a wheel and think that it counts as prayer. We have a different take on it: we have to recite the prayer, say it out loud if we can, and understand it. The same is true for the candle: we can’t light it up without prayer. A candle isn’t a spinning wheel. It doesn’t mean anything by itself.

May an unbaptized person make the sign of the cross?
The Rev. Alexander Savin, Holy Right-Believing Prince Demetrius Church, Moscow

Yes, an unbaptized person may make the sign of the cross. It isn’t forbidden. If one crosses herself with faith and awe, I think it’s fine.

It is especially true if that person believes in God and wants to be baptized. She can cross herself because she already believes in Jesus and wants to be with him. There are catechumens in the Church: they are people who are getting ready for baptism. This preparation takes little time nowadays but it used to last for several years in the ancient times.

I’d like to warn those who have decided to get ready for baptism: you should be committed and purposeful and not postpone the intended baptism. In fact, evil forces don’t want to let you go. You may face hindrances and obstacles, which we call ‘temptations’. People who don’t go to church may consider those obstacles to be signs from above and attribute exaggerated importance to them. You shouldn’t do so. Just be determined on your road to Jesus.

May an unbaptized person go to church?
The Very Rev. Demetrius Struev, Seeker of the Lost Church, Lipetsk

Yes, she may and she should. She should leave the church as soon as the deacon or the priest exclaims, Catechumens, depart! though. Catechumens are those who prepare for baptism. Other than that, she can attend all services, pray, and make the sign of the cross. I don’t think it would be a sin if the unbaptized person lights up a candle. I have to emphasize that going to church and learning to pray must not be separated from that person’s preparation for baptism, so that she wouldn’t think that she has everything covered. “I just go to church and pray, and I feel great. What else do you want from me?” It would be great if she got used to worship and figured out its meaning prior to her baptism so as to be ready for the participation in church worship as soon as she gets baptized.

May an unbaptized person wear a cross?
The Very Rev. Sergius Vasin, The Nativity of Theotokos Church, v. Bobyakovo, Voronezh Oblast

Yes, she may but why would she? If she wears a cross as a fashion statement, then it has no meaning other than an invitation to blasphemy. A cross isn’t a fashion statement: it is a faith statement, which means that we are Christians and follow the crucified Christ.

The Creator endowed man with free will. If one wants something, there’s no one who can prevent her from doing it. One may do whatever one pleases, including wearing a cross, but why, what for?

If one isn’t baptized yet but plans to get baptized, that is, goes through catechisation, of course that person is allowed to wear a cross. That period could take a year or more in the early Church but nowadays, it’s considerably shorter. More often than not, a person gets baptized first and then starts going to church. Anyway, while she is not baptized, she may do a lot of things, e.g., attending church, praying, anointing herself with holy oil. The only things an unbaptized person may not participate in are the Sacraments. If the person is a catechumen, the whole Church prays for her: there is a dedicated prayer for the catechumens.

May we pray for the unbaptized who are alive?
The Rev. John Zakharov, Holy Protection Church, Moscow

Yes, we may. But first we have to find out what that person thinks about the Church, whether she is unprejudiced or vice versa. We pray for catechumens at every Liturgy. Catechumens are those people who have already heard God’s Word and are getting ready for baptism. We pray for those people together every day. If an individual doesn’t want you to pray for him or her, it’d be strange if you still prayed for them. With that said, there are various situations in life. Sometimes, good Christian parents have ill-behaved kids. Are we forbidden to pray for them?

If the person in question wants you to pray for him or her, you can do it.

May we pray for a deceased unbaptized person?
The Rev. Fyodor Lukyanov, All-Saints Church, Moscow

Of course, you may and you should pray for a person who died unbaptized because we all are God’s children. If we want to alleviate that person’s fate, we can pray to our Father. He loves all of us: even those who didn’t accept him while alive.

You can either pray at home or individually in church.

However, we do not pray for the unbaptized during the Liturgy because they weren’t members of the Church of Christ, the Body of Christ. Therefore, you may not pass prayer requests for an unbaptized person to be prayed for by the Church during the Divine Liturgy.

Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds

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The Editor of the Catalog of Good Deeds.

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