Syriac Priest, Jacob Kasselia Refuses to Baptize Infant with Assyrian Name

5/19/2010 9:11:00 AM

A family belonging to the Syrian Orthodox Church in Örebro chose the name Marduk for their newborn son. In accordance with the tradition, the family asked their priest Jacob Kasselia to register (rshomo) the child's name before the baptism. But the priest refused to register the boy's name with the plea that the name Marduk is not a Christian name. The family was forced to spontaneously decide upon a different name. It got to be Lucas.

The boy is now registered as Marduk by the authorities, but named Lucas in the church. The event reminds of the conflict-ridden days of the 1980-ies within the Syrian Orthodox Church.

"The priest reacted when he heard the name Marduk, which is not only an Assyrian name, it is a pagan god’s name from the time before Christ, the priest told us. But we have chosen that name and we like it, we found it disturbing that he was interfering, so to save the situation, we chose to name our son Lucas, a name we came up with just then, says Marduk’s mother who wishes to remain anonymous."

In order to clarify the issue whether the Syrian Orthodox Church has a general practice of prohibiting names derived from the time before Christ, I contacted the Patriarchate in Damascus. The secretary of the Patriarch, Bishop Matthias Philexinos Nayis, answered my question:

"The Syrian Orthodox Church has no convention or rule that prohibits the baptism of children with names that originate from the time before Christ."

The highest authority of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Patriarchate, therefore, finds that such a rule or practice does not exist. The priest Jacob Kasselia justifies his decision to override the rules of the Patriarchate and the Church as follows:

"I have not refused to accept the name that the family has chosen for their child. I pointed out that this name is not Christian. Therefore, I urged the family to adhere to Christian names at baptism, says Pastor Jacob Kasselia."

The fact remains that the family more or less was forced to accept a name which they had not intended to choose. This priest Jacob Kasselia used his authority as a man of the church.

According to different sources this is not an isolated case. The priest Jacob Kasselia has on other occasions refused to baptize children who had “wrong” names. So was another family denied to baptize their daughter Ninorta. Also that family was forced to spontaneously replace the actual name of the girl so that she would get baptized. The number of unknown cases where name changes have been forced upon families may be significantly greater.

The names Marduk, Lucas och Ninorta in this article are fictive.