The Sacrament of the Holy baptism
Holy Baptism is the first of seven Sacraments in the Orthodox Christian Church. Together with the Sacrament of Holy Chrism it joins the candidate to the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
Jesus was Baptized in the Jordan River by Saint John the Baptist. He instructed His followers to be Baptized, saying: “Who is not baptized by water and Spirit cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Orthodox Church baptizes its faithful as young infants, when they are at least 40 days old. We baptize infants not because they believe but because of God’s great love for us. It shows that God loves us and accepts us before we can ever know and love Him. It shows that we are wanted and loved by God from the very moment of our birth. Nothing shows the nature of God’s grace more than infant baptism.
Knowing this, Baptism requests of the God-parents and parents to help and to instruct the child in acquiring personal responsibility towards God through the Holy Orthodox faith when he or she reaches the age of reason. The child must accept what God has done for him or her through Baptism. Baptism is not a divine pass that will get us into Heaven automatically. It must be followed by a personal awareness or awakening to the many gifts of God’s love bestowed upon us through this great sacrament.
The Institution of the Sacrament of Baptism. It was the Lord Jesus who instituted Baptism. He said: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). “Truly. truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
The Purpose of Holy Baptism:
• To remove the consequences of ‘original sin’.
• To wash away all other sins committed before the time of Baptism if the person is beyond the age of infancy.
• To unite the person to “The Body of Christ” (that is, the Church), and to open the door of salvation and eternal life to him or her.
Explanation of the Ceremony. The many elements involved in the performance of the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church are not mere forms devoid of meaning. Christianity is life. Each action in the Sacrament of Baptism expresses what Christ is actually doing for us through this Sacrament.
As with all of the Sacraments there is a visible part, the actions taken by the Priest; and an invisible part, the sanctifying Grace that comes from the Holy Spirit that fills the body and soul of the person receiving the Sacrament.
The Sponsor or God-parent. The God-parent is an adult Christian who regularly participates in Church Sacramental life and understands Christian Orthodox doctrine, so he or she can assure that the child is raised and educated in the Orthodox Christian faith. For this reason, it is important that God-parents should not be chosen for social reasons, but because they are persons who love God and His Church. Sponsors must be Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church, otherwise they will not be able to bring up the child in a faith that is not theirs.
The Exorcism. The first act of the Baptismal service is exorcism. The Priest calls upon the sponsor to renounce the devil and all his works on behalf of the child, saying: “Do you renounce Satan, and all his angels, and all his works, and all his services. and all his pride?”
The exorcism announces the coming Baptism as an act of victory. The renouncing of Satan is done facing the west because that is where the sun sets, the place of the gates of Hades. Then the Priest faces east, where the light of the sun rises, and asks the God-parent, on behalf of the child, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” and accept “Him who is the Light of the World.”
The renunciation of Satan and the union with Christ express our faith that the newly-baptized child has been transferred from one master to another, from Satan to Christ, from death to life.
The Creed. The God-parent is then asked to confess faith in Christ on behalf of the infant and to read the confession of faith contained in the Nicene Creed. The Creed was a symbol or sign of recognition among the early Christians; it was like a password that distinguished the true members of God’s family. By reading the Creed the God-parent confesses the true faith that will be passed on to the infant in time.
The Naming. From the moment the child is received into the Church, emphasis is placed on his or her individuality, is given a particular name, distinguishable from every other child of God. This new name also expresses the new life in Christ received through Holy Baptism. Each baptized person receives the name “Christian” at Baptism. From that moment on we bear the name of Christ.
The Candles. However dark may be the night that surrounds us, Baptism remains the sacrament of entrance into light. It opens the eyes of the soul to see Christ, “the light of the world” (John 1:19). It makes us children of light (1 Thess. 5:5). In the early Church the baptismal candle was always kept by the one baptized and brought to Church for major events in that person’s life. The candle is a constant reminder for the Christian to live and die by the light of Christ. Thus, the candle becomes a symbol of the perseverance of the baptized soul until Christ’s return.
The Baptismal Font. The baptismal font in the language of the Church Fathers is the Divine Womb, from whence we receive our second birth as children of God. Baptism is truly a birth. “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
When a person is Baptized, he or she is descended into the baptismal font. The water covering the head symbolizes being buried in a grave. When the newly baptized emerges from the water, it is symbolic of rising from the grave. Baptism represents our old, sinful nature dying and then being resurrected by Christ in a new and cleansed form. As St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we, too, might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
The Water. Water is used for cleansing. In Baptism it expresses the fact that through this sacrament Christ cleanses us of all sins. The Priest blesses the Baptismal waters in the font by calling on the Holy Trinity: “Do You Yourself, O loving King, be present now also through the descent of Your Holy Spirit and hallow this water.” Then he makes the sign of the Cross three times over the water, saying, “Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the signing of Your most precious Cross.”
Anointing with Oil. Olive oil is blessed by the Priest and then applied by him to the child’s forehead, breast, back, hands, feet, ears, mouth, in order to dedicate the child to the service of Christ.
Immersion into the Baptismal Font. In obedience to Christ’s words, the Priest Baptizes the child with the words: “The servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father. Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit, Amen”. At each invocation the Priest immerses the child and then raises the infant up again. After the Baptism the Priest places the child in a new linen sheet held by the God-parent.
The Sacrament of Chrismation. In the Orthodox Church the Sacrament of Chrismation (also known as Confirmation) is administered immediately following Baptism, as was done in the early Church. It is considered the fulfillment of Baptism. The Priest anoints the newly baptized infant with the Holy Chrism, saying: “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
The person is now made whole in the temple of God and the whole body is consecrated to the service of God. According to Orthodox belief, every baptized lay person is consecrated by this Sacrament; he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit to become a deputy or an ambassador for Christ in this world.
New Clothes. Following the Sacrament of Chrismation the Priest invests the newly Baptized child in a new white robe or garment, saying: “Clothed is the servant of God (name) with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
The new clothes signify the entirely new life we receive after we are “buried with Jesus in His death” (Romans 6:4). Traditionally, the new white garment expresses the purity of the soul that has been washed from sin. It also recalls the shining robe in which Christ appeared at the Transfiguration. There is now a likeness between the one baptized and the transfigured Lord. St. Paul calls it a “putting on of Christ.” “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Then the Priest, together with the God-parent and the child, circumambulates the Font three times; and for each of the three rounds the chanters sing: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia” (Galatians3:27).
This ritual reflects the belief that at this moment the angels in heaven are expressing their joy that a new soul is registered in the Book of Life. Tradition states that at this moment God assigns a guardian angel to stay with the newly-baptized person until the end of his or her earthly life. Following the reading from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (6:3-11) and the Reading from the Holy Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20), the Priest says to the child, “You are baptized; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh; you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Cutting of Hair (tonsure). The Priest cuts four locks of hair from the child’s head in the form of a Cross. This is an expression of gratitude from the child, who having received an abundance of blessings through the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and having nothing to give to God in return, offers part of his or her hair as a first-offering to God. In the Old Testament, hair is seen as a symbol of strength. The child, therefore, promises to serve God with all his or her strength.
The Holy Eucharist. Immediately following Baptism and Chrismation the neophyte (newly baptized) becomes a full member of the Orthodox Church. As such, the child is now entitled to receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion (or Holy Eucharist). The new life in Christ, given in Baptism, is renewed again and again in the Eucharist. As nature provides milk for the nourishment of the infant after birth, so God provides Holy Communion for the infant immediately following Baptism in order to provide nourishment for the spiritual life the neophyte has received through Baptism.
Summary. Summarizing what God does for us in Baptism we may say that first it tells us who we are. We are God’s children. We are loved by Him from the very moment of birth when He takes us into His arms and bestows upon us the kiss of His love through Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist. He makes us heirs of His riches. Thus, our existence is not like that of worms that exist for a short time until someone steps on them and crushes them into oblivion. We are not “nobodies” for whom no one cares. We are “somebodies” for whom the Supreme King of the universe cares enough to call us His own sons and daughters! And at the end of our brief pilgrimage through this world, He will address each one of us personally, by our Baptismal name, and say, “Come, my son or daughter (name), inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We know this for certain because we have been baptized in His name.