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12 Aug, 2019 09:28

‘Abuse & madness’: Russian priest suspended after disturbing child baptism VIDEO provokes outcry

‘Abuse & madness’: Russian priest suspended after disturbing child baptism VIDEO provokes outcry

A Russian Orthodox priest sparked outrage on social media after a mother claimed he bruised and nearly drowned her toddler during an intense 'exorcism-like' baptism ceremony.

Priest Vasily Necheporenko, known by his church name Photios, was suspended for a year following the disturbing infant baptism ceremony, which ended with the child's family filing a police report.

The incident took place over the weekend at a small church in the city of Gatchina, around 40km from St. Petersburg. A video of the ceremony shows the priest taking the one-year-old baby and carrying it to the small baptismal font. According to the Russian Orthodox tradition, a child has to be dipped three times in holy water in order to be baptized.

The child is seen crying loudly and appears to be resisting. The priest tries to submerge the baby several times, forcefully pushing it inside the font, and then clumsily lifting it up.

The child's distraught mother then runs up to the priest, attempting to take the baby away. The priest does not allow her to do so, and shoulders the woman aside, continuing with the ritual while yanking the baby in the air. The video prompted outrage on social media.

Some shocked viewers said the ceremony resembled an exorcism rather than a normal baptism. "The priest was possessed by the devil," one person wrote, while other commenters called the priest "insane" and described his actions as "abuse."

The toddler's mother, Anastasia Alekseyeva, told Russian media that the atmosphere was tense right from the start. The priest began by berating her and the child's godparent for not knowing the prayers, she said.

"After the first immersion, I understood that the baby was drowning. I began pulling it [from the priest's arms]," the woman explained, adding that the toddler was bruised during the ceremony.

The child has scratch marks on the neck and shoulder. It now suffers from panic attacks, it's hysterical.

The child's mother said church officials later called her to apologize for the priest's behavior. She had filed a police report right after the ceremony. Senior hierarchs condemned the priest as well. Priestmonk Gennadius, who leads the parish work department at the Moscow Patriarchy's office, called his actions "madness" and said that such "inadequate" service during ceremonies hurts the church's mission. 

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Priest Photios, however, denied any wrongdoing. He said that "nothing extraordinary has happened," and blamed the mother for "interfering" with the ritual and inflaming the situation.

I guess, the mother just felt bored, having a lot of free time on her hands and nothing to do. So she became hysterical, although nothing scary happened.

He said the woman was "overemotional" and "came unprepared" for baptism.

The priest also denied that the baby was injured.

"The baby wasn't drowning and didn't hit its head against the font's walls. I have 26 years of church service, and always try to perform the baptism that way."

The church administration in Gatchina meanwhile said that the parishioners have "unofficially" complained in the past about Photios being "rough" when handling children. However, no official complaints were filed until recently, they noted.

In recent years, several viral baptism videos have circulated online from predominately Orthodox Christian countries like Georgia and Cyprus, where priests were filmed dunking children into water in a seemingly violent fashion.

Last year, a priest in Russia's southern Stavropol Region was punished with a six-month suspension after he had submerged a child "rather roughly and possibly applied an excessive amount of force."

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