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WHAT IS BAPTISM?
Baptism is the first Sacrament. It is divinely instituted, as are all the Sacraments, i.e. it was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself and He instituted it by word and deed. By word as we have already mentioned above, and by deed when He Himself, though sinless, was baptized in the Jordan, thereby crushing the heads of the dragons, i.e. the demons, who dwelt in the water and sanctifying the water. He thus showed us the form and the need for us sinners to be baptized. The Sacrament of Baptism is thus God-instituted. Our Lord established it, the Apostles enforced and transmitted it to the Church, and the Church sustained and sustains it as she received it.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the Mystery through which man becomes a living member of the Body of Christ. Man is transformed and divinized by the grace of the Holy Trinity, which brings light into the darkness of his soul. Man’s regeneration and rebirth lie within God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. Though Baptism, Jesus Christ himself reshapes and makes man partaker of divine nature. The baptized person is spiritually initiated in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, integrating himself as a living member of the body of Christ – the Church. Baptism is a procession towards eternity and a spiritual power towards resurrection. It signifies the beginning of a potentially dynamic process in one’s path towards the Kingdom of God. The Sacrament of Baptism becomes the “vehicle to Heaven” and the baptized person regains the “archetypal beauty” the original beauty that was lost with the fall. This is the very essence of Baptism which is the regeneration of man, through his initiation in death and resurrection, “so as to be able to walk towards a liberated new life.” Baptism introduces people to the place of their salvation – the Church – and grants them the right to participate in the other Sacraments.
In our days baptism is usually performed on infants, which is the natural procedure for someone born into the Orthodox faith, in other words, for someone who becomes Orthodox by descent because his parents were Orthodox. We often hear the argument, from western churches that practice adult baptism, that we should not baptise children when they are babies since they don’t understand what is being done to them, thus they are not entering baptism with a free will, but rather that we should let them grow up and become adults and then they can decide for themselves if they wish to be Christians or not. According to their argument we should not worry about our children’s spiritual needs but then, why should we worry about their bodily needs either. We do not wait until they are adults to give them vaccinations which protect them from various illnesses that might otherwise kill them. In everything that our children need or don’t need, we the parents decide what is best for them. We decide whether they have breast milk of bottled and what foods will best nourish their bodies. We decide what clothes they will wear according to the weather to protect them from the wind and the rain and the scorching sun? In everything we as parents decide what is best for our children, what school they will go to, what friends they can have, what TV they can watch and in general everything they need is our responsibility. In the same way we look after our children’s bodily needs we also look to give them their spiritual needs. Man is both body and soul and we do not take care only of the body and neglect the soul. But also as Christian parents we must listen to want Christ said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (Mark 10:14)”
Many assume that with the early Church there were only adult baptisms, but this is easily disputed. In the Acts of the Apostles we read how the apostles baptized certain people, but it also says that they baptised their whole household. This means that everyone in the house was baptized from the oldest to the youngest and also the house servants. Thus infant baptism was practised from the very beginning. Baptism of whole households continued up to the eight century and then infant baptism prevailed. Why? Simply because there were no more adults. As the Christian faith spread throughout the Roman Empire there came a time when everyone had been baptized and only the new born remained, thus it was natural that infant baptism prevailed and became the normal procedure up to our present day.
The majority of Orthodox Churches in the Diaspora accept converts from the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and other churches that confess the Holy Trinity only through the anointing of Holy Chrism. In reality, what this actually means is that they accept the Baptism of these churches as “True” and consider that by receiving someone through Baptism as equal to a rebaptism which is totally forbidden; for as the creed clearly states: “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.”
Something then should be said as to why in Limassol we insist (as also does the community of Mount Athos) that all candidates must be received through baptism and not simply by the application of Chrism (Myron).
What is the correct procedure to receive converts? Are the majority of the Orthodox Churches correct in not Baptizing or are we who insist on Baptism? If they are correct then are we in Limassol totally disregarding the canons of the Church by re-baptizing? If so, then according to the Holy Canons we should be deposed from our duties. There are many Canons dealing with how we should accept people from other churches and the Church has at times found it necessary to use what in Greek we call “Economia”. This is an idiom of the Greek Church and there is no equivalent translation in English. What it means is that the Church economises on the strictness of the Canons, a dispensation, a concession or special consideration used for the good of someone’s salvation. In our times “Economia” is used freely especially during confession where we rarely apply the penances mentioned in the Canons. But can we use “Economia” when it comes to the first sacrament that initiates someone into the Church? Let’s take the Canons in order and see where they lead us.
The Apostolic canons, being the first in order do not allow for any “Economia” and in fact call for “κατ’ ακρίβεια” translated as rigorism, strictness or accuracy to the letter with no accommodation for any deviation from the law. There are three Apostolic canons dealing with baptism of converts: Canons 46 and 47 and also canon 68 which for the moment we won’t consider because it mainly deals with the baptism and ordination of heretic priests.
Canon 46 states:
“We order any Bishop, or Presbyter, that has accepted any heretics’ Baptism, or sacrifice, to be deposed; for “what concord has Christ with Beliar? or what part has the believer with an infidel?”
The present Canon prescribes if any Bishop or Presbyter shall accept a heretics’ Baptism as correct and true, or any sacrifice offered by them, it is ordered that he be deposed from his office.
Canon 47 states:
“If a Bishop or Presbyter baptize anew anyone that has had a true baptism, of fail to baptize anyone that has been polluted by the impious, let him be deposed, on the ground that he is mocking the Cross and death of the Lord and not making a distinction between the true priests and the false priests.”
This canon deposes any Bishop or Priest who baptises a second time someone who has received a “True” baptism. The important word here is “True” which means in the very same manner, as Orthodox Christians are baptized by an Orthodox Priest. Thus if a Bishop or Priest re-baptizes someone who has already been baptized by the Orthodox Church as though he were utterly unbaptized then he is to be deposed because only one Baptism has been handed down to us Orthodox Christians (Eph. 4:4) by our Lord as well as by the divine Apostles and the holy Fathers, because the Cross and the death of the Lord, in the type, or similitude, of which baptism is celebrated, were but one and with a second baptism the Priest would be re-crucifying and publicly ridiculing the Son of God with a second death.
This same canon also deposes any Bishop or Presbyter who refuses to baptize with the regular baptism of the Orthodox Church someone who has been polluted, by which is meant a person who has been baptized by the impious, or, in plainer language, heretics, because he wrongly and mistakenly thinks that the polluted baptism of heretics is a type, or similitude, of the cross and death of the Lord, which, however, it is not, and for this reason he accepts it and holds it to be equal to the baptism of the Orthodox Christians. And in addition because he fails to distinguish the true priest of the Orthodox from the false priests of the heretics, but, instead, accepts them both as equally true.
In short the canon does not recognise the baptism of heretics because it doesn’t recognize their priesthood and according to another canon only a priest can perform the sacrament of Baptism. As to whether the Roman Catholic Church or any other church has the power of the Priesthood, St. Basil in his 1st Canon mentions concerning all heretics and schismatics that: they have no longer the grace and communication of the Holy Spirit because they have broken off the succession. For although the ones who were the first to depart had been ordained by the Fathers and with the imposition of their hands they had obtained the gracious gift of the Spirit, yet after breaking away they became laymen, and had no authority either to baptize or to ordain anyone, nor could they impart the grace of the Spirit to others, after they themselves had forfeited it. Wherefore they bade that those baptized by them should be regarded as baptized by laymen, and that when they come to join the Church they should have to be re-purified by the true baptism as prescribed by the Church.
Another local Council of Carthage headed by St. Cyprian also decreed that all schismatics and heretics must be baptized. Although only a local council, it was accepted and sanctioned by the 2nd and 6th Ecumenical councils so it has universal authority. The council stated that: baptism administered by heretics and schismatics is unacceptable, and they ought to be baptized when they return to the Orthodoxy of the Catholic Church and it gives many reasons to support its decision:
1) Because there is but one baptism, and because this is to be found only in the Orthodox Church. Heretics and schismatics, on the other hand, being outside of the Orthodox Church, have, in consequence, not even the one baptism.
2) The water used in baptism must first be purified and be sanctified by means of prayers of the priests, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit; afterwards it can purify and sanctify the person being baptized therein. But heretics and schismatics are neither priests, being in fact rather sacrilegists; neither clean and pure, being in fact impure and unclean; neither holy, as not having any Holy Spirit. So neither have they any baptism.
3) Through baptism in the Orthodox Church there is given a remission of sins. But through the baptism administered by heretics and schismatics, inasmuch as it is outside of the Church, how can any remission of sins be given?
4) The person being baptized must, after he is baptized, be anointed with the myron prepared from olive oil and various spices, which has been sanctified by the visitation of the Holy Spirit. But how can a heretic sanctify any such myron when as a matter of fact he has no Holy Spirit because he has been separated from it on account of heresy and schism?
5) The priest must pray to God for the salvation of the one being baptized. But how can a heretic or a schismatic be listened to by God when, as we have said, he is a sacrilegist and a sinner (not so much on account of his works. but rather on account of the heresy or schism, these being the greatest sin of all sins), at a time when the Bible says that God does not listen to sinners.
6) Because the baptism administered by heretics and schismaties cannot be acceptable to God as baptism, since they are enemies and foes with God and are called antichrists by John.
Thus for all these reasons and others the Council of Carthage, with an eye to accuracy and strictness, insisted that all heretics and schismatics be baptized, adding also the remark that any baptism administered by heretics or schismatics is unacceptable. And they proved this with many Scriptural quotes and especially by St. Paul the Apostle who said, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). For, if the Orthodox Church is one and the true Baptism is one, then how can the baptism of heretics and schismatics be a true Baptism at a time when they are not included in the Orthodox Church, but have been cut oft from it as a result of heresy? But if the baptism of heretics and schismatics is a true Baptism, and that of the Orthodox Church is also a true Baptism, then there is not one Baptism, as St. Paul says, but two, which is quite absurd. They also added, that this idea of not accepting a baptism of heretics was not a new or recent one of their own, but on the contrary, an old one and one which has been approved by their predecessors. But for those who would say that the Canon of the Carthage Synod was only a canon of a local church we remind them that it was confirmed and ratified by the holy Sixth Ecumenical Council (Canon II), and so from being merely a Canon of a local and partial Synod it has now become a Canon of an Ecumenical Council by reason of its having been confirmed and ratified by the latter.
But the Church in general did not treat all heretics and schismatics in the same way. The 1st Ecumenical council showed a great “Economia” to some and allowed them to be received only by the laying of hands and by a written libel document whereby they renounced and anathematized their heresy and every other heresy that was opposed to the teachings of the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Second and the Six Ecumenical Councils also showed leniency to many heretics and accepted them back into the fold with three different ways 1) by the laying of hands and by a written libel document 2) by Chrismation and 3) through Baptism.
St. Basil divided the different Schismatics and heretics into three groups – The Parasynagonists, the Schismatics and the Heretics. What do these three catogories mean?
The Parasynagonists were those insubordinate presbyters and bishops who because of their having fallen into mistakes were deposed canonically from the holy orders, but who refused to abide by the Canons and to accept them as authoritative but tried their own cases and declared themselves innocent of any wrong doing and proceeded to perform the rites of the episcopacy and of holy orders in general on their own authority, in other words by themselves; and others went along with them. renegading from the Orthodox Church.
Schismatics were those who were at variance with the Orthodox Church, not on the subject of dogmas of the faith, but on account of certain ecclesiastical differences which with a little understanding and willingness on both sides could easily be resolved.
Heretics, on the other hand, were those whose difference or quarrel was directly and immediately one concerning the faith in God, or, more explicitly speaking, those who had separated and had become utterly removed from the Orthodox Christians with respect to faith and dogmas.
The Parasynagonists could be united again with the Church with the sole condition of considerable repentance and conversion; and priests and clerics returning from their number might be allowed to retain the same order and degree and rank that they possessed formerly.
Heretics, on the other hand, who returned to Orthodoxy, had to be baptized as though they were unbaptized heathen, since the Fathers of old judged that the only true and acceptable baptism is the baptism which does not depart at all from the faith, whereas the baptism performed by heretics they judged to be absolutely inadmissible, on the ground that it is contrary to the principles of the right belief and consequently is to be utterly rejected.
But as for schismatics there were two opinions that became acceptable and put into practice. The first as we have already seen was the opinions of St. Basil and the Council of Carthage which dictated a rigorism, a strictness and insisted that in general all schismatics. upon joining the Orthodox Church, have to be baptized, since once they split away from the Church they lost the gracious gift of the priesthood through which could be performed ordinations and baptisms and so could no longer baptize others or ordain anyone, and in general are unable to impart the grace of which they were deprived as a result of their schism.
The other opinion was the use of “Economia” which allowed them to be accepted back into the Church only through Chrism as long as the baptism in their schismatic church was performed in the name of the Holy Trinity and that it was by three immersions into the water as observed by the Orthodox Church. In fact not only schismatics but also heretics like Arians and Macedonians were accepted in this way because in the beginning they baptised in exactly the same way as the Orthodox. On the other hand, the other heretics and schismatics whose baptism the Church had refused to recognize, had changed the ceremony of baptism and had corrupted the rite and was no longer in the form and style prescribed by the Orthodox Church. There were so many heresies and schisms and each adapted baptism according to their own heresy: some would only baptise with one immersion, others two, some would baptise in the name of the Holy Trinity while others would baptise only in the name of the Father or in the Father and Son or some other unorthodox formula.
Now why when the Apostolic Canons strictly forbade the recognition of a baptism by a heretic or schismatic did the later councils accept some of them? The only reason was for the sake of “Economia” because they certainly would not have frowned in the face of the Apostolic Canons which command the complete opposite. But what was this “Economia”? Why did the Fathers allow something they all knew was wrong and contrary to the faith. The “Economia” here was the survival of the church. They employed “Economia” and accepted the baptism of Arians and of Macedonians who were clearly heretics with the aim and hope of their returning to the faith and receiving full understanding of it, and in order to prevent them from turning their fury against the Church, because they were great in numbers and a strong force with powerful positions and close to the kings. The Orthodox Church had to be diplomatic in her dealings with these enemies of the Church and, as a matter of fact, they accomplished this purpose and realized this hope. For, thanks to this “Economia” the attitude of those men became gentler towards the Orthodox Christians and within the space of a few years they either disappeared completely or very few of them remained.
But these were heresies of the early centuries; what about the Roman Catholic Church, how did the Church regard them, and how did the Orthodox Church regard their baptism? In the early years after the Great Schism the Roman Catholic Church was considered a schismatic church and their baptism was accepted because up to the 12th and 13th century they still baptized the same way as the Orthodox with three immersions. In time they added dogmas contrary to the beliefs of the Orthodox and so now with different beliefs they were no longer a schismatic church but a heretical church and as such the “Economia” allowed to certain schismatics according to all the canons of the Church was no longer valid. Their baptism was no longer recognized because according to the canons no heretical baptism is considered as a true baptism because they no longer have the grace of the priesthood. They have become laymen as a result of their having been cut off from the Orthodox Church, and no longer have with them the grace of the Holy Spirit with which Orthodox priests perform the mysteries. But this is applying the strict rule of rigorism, can there be room for “Economia”? Again according to the canons the answer is clearly no.
The Latins, in other words the Roman Catholic Church, are considered as unbaptized because they changed the form of their baptism and no longer observe the three immersions which have to be administered to the one being baptized, as the Orthodox Church has received instructions from the Holy Apostles from the beginning. They introduced the idea of affusion, which means the process of pouring a little water on the head of the child, or aspersion by which they sprinkle a few drops of water three times on the infant’s forehead. So the Latins are unbaptized because they do not perform the three immersions and emersions, in accordance with the Apostolic tradition. With the rigorism of the Apostolic canons the Roman Catholic baptism is invalid because they are heretics and with the “Economia” of the later Synods their baptism is again invalid because their baptism differs from ours, so why do the majority of the Orthodox churches accept their baptism as true and receive converts with chrism only?
Can it be that the Orthodox and Apostolic Church has deliberately disregarded the Apostolic and Synodical Canons? This is best left unanswered but this was not always the case because there is evidence from the Roman Catholics themselves as attested by the local synod in the Lateran of Rome held in the year 1211 that the Orthodox had been baptizing the returning Westerners. For it says in its fourth Canon that the Easterners, meaning the Orthodox, would not hold services wherever Westerners had been holding services unless they first purified the place by the ceremony of sanctification. And afterwards it says that the Easterners themselves rebaptized those joining the Orthodox Church on the ground that they had not had a holy Apostolical baptism.
But some time later the Church again employed “Economia” and accepted the baptism of the Latins. The “Economia” was again diplomatic and employed for the salvation of the church because Papism, or Popery, was then in its prime and had all the forces and powers of the kings of Europe in its hands, while, on the other hand, our own kingdom was breathing its last breaths. If that “Economia” had not been employed, it would have been the same as saying to the Latins that they were not Christian but heathen which would have forced the Pope to rouse the Latin races against the Easterners, take them prisoners, kill them, and inflict countless other barbarous acts upon them. But that was all in the past and today we have nothing to fear from the Pope’s power: he can no longer inflict upon us any harm so what need is there any longer of “Economia”?
In the past, the Church allowed a great “Economia” by accepting the Latin converts with Chrism only and this was simply because our race could not afford, in the plight in which it then was in, to excite any further the mania of the Pope. The Orthodox churches should keep in mind that “Economia” is used as a temporary measure, there is a limit to “Economia” and it is not something indefinite or permanent. That is why Theophylactus of Bulgaria says: “He who does anything as a matter of “Economia”, does it, not as simply something good, but as something needed for the time being (commentary on Gal. 5:11). Today the need of “Economia” has passed away, but whereas in the past the church feared for her survival, today, many in the church fear that any change would harm Ecumenical efforts for a reunion. In attempts to be on friendly terms with the World Council of churches many of our bishops have been wrongly influenced in renewing the “Economia” of the past. It is time for the Orthodox Church to stop fearing what others might say or think of her. Orthodoxy means right worship and we must learn to once again live up to what we proudly proclaim: Rigorism and the Apostolical Canons must once again have their place.
The problem of following the “Economia” rule or the “κατ’ ακρίβεια” will never be finalized until we have an Ecumenical Council that will examine the issue and decree one way or the other which practice all churches must follow. Constantinople has in the past issued decrees on the matter but these were not followed universally because, while respecting the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the other Patriarchates and every Autocephalous Church are subject only to the rulings of the Ecumenical Councils.
From the 17th century some Orthodox Churches insisted on
re-baptism while others used the “Economia” and received Latins through
Chrism. The Russian Church was mainly in favour of “Chrism” while the
Greek Church insisted on baptism. In 1756 the council of Constantinople
decided that the “κατ’ ακρίβεια” was to be used. The following is the
decree from that council:
The decree was not universally put into practice and many
Churches continued to use the kat' “Economia” and received converts only
with the anointing of Holy Chrism.
There are many converts from the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches who have been received only through the application of Myron. To them I would not dare say that we do not accept them as Orthodox. In truth they have been accepted as members of the Orthodox faith and receive Holy Communion, but according to the Holy Canons they are still unbaptized. It is a matter of faith and salvation. Our Lord himself said that “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the kingdom of God.” And again “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16) Thus to be saved one must be baptized. Can one afford to leave it to chance that when he or she passes over to eternity that Christ will accept their heretic baptism as valid? I personally wouldn’t take that chance and would insist on receiving baptism.
To those who are now contemplating on joining the Church, I would advice them to not accept Chrismation only but argue and insist that they must be received into the Orthodox Church through Baptism and if the local Church authorities deny their right to baptism then they should search for an Orthodox Church that is not afraid of offending the World Council of churches and practices the Orthodoxy handed down to us by the Apostles. The holy mountain Athos has always stood firm to this belief and we also in Limassol have adopted this fearless faith. It remains for the other Orthodox Churches to realize the error of Chrism only and follow suit.
But this will not be something easy to do and will open up more problems, especially in the Diaspora, because as soon as the acceptance of heretic baptisms is officially not recognized then those of the Anglican and Roman Catholic church who wish to marry an Orthodox in the Orthodox Church will not be able to unless they are first baptized into the Orthodox faith, because their own baptism would no longer be valid and they would in fact be recognized as unbaptized. The fact that these marriages are accepted today is because of the baptism “Economia” that still exists. To be fair, we also in Limassol still allow the baptism “Economia”, because although we insist that all converts must be baptized, when it comes to mixed marriages, we turn a blind eye and accept Anglican and Roman Catholic baptisms as valid.
After the candidate for Baptism has been instructed in the faith, he is ready to be accepted as a member of the Church. On the day of his Baptism, but before he is baptized, he will stand together with the Priest by the western doors of the Church. The Priest will then breathe on him three times and sign him with the sign of the Cross three times on his forehead and breast. The Priest will then read some exorcism prayers and having done this will turn the candidate to face westward and ask him if he renounces Satan. When the candidate replies with “I have renounced him” the Priest then turns him to face eastward and asks him if he joins Christ. The candidate answers with “I have joined Him” and then recites the Symbol of Faith.
THE SYMBOL OF FAITH [THE CREED]
I Believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all worlds; Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten not made, Being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried, And the third day He rose again according to the scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.
And in one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.
The candidate then enters the main part of the Church, kisses the Icons of Christ and the Mother of God and then stands by the baptismal font. The Baptism service is now ready to commence.
Here we should explain how people were baptized in the early Church and how they are baptized today because the service books we now have, have been adapted for infant Baptisms and our Churches are not equipped with the proper Baptisteries which can cater for the proper administration of adult Baptisms.
From the beginning and up to the eighth century Baptism was administered mainly to adults in groups or households where the whole family was baptized at the same time. Isolated Baptisms were rare and only performed for reasons of necessity, neither were they performed on a day requested by the candidate, but on the Great Feasts, especially Easter and Theophany. The baptismal service was joined to the Divine Liturgy, thus all the congregation was present and received Holy Communion together with the new members. The actual Baptism though, was not seen by all the congregation. Churches had special baptisteries equipped with pools for adults. The baptisteries were curtained off to form dressing rooms where the candidates could get undressed and prepared for Holy Baptism. All candidates were stripped naked and the Priest would then anoint the forehead with exorcised oil. If the candidate was a woman, her body would still be covered at this stage [for at no time during the service would the Priest look upon her naked body] and when the Priest had turned away, a deaconess [women appointed to help at Baptisms] would anoint the whole body with the oil before leading the candidate into the water to be baptized. The same woman would also help with dressing the newly baptized with her bright baptismal garments. The same was done with the male candidates, only the candidate; the Deacon [possibly also the sponsor] and the Priest were present at the actual baptism.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom, two great fathers of the fourth century have the following to say about Baptism.
ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM
As soon, therefore, as ye entered in, ye put off your garment; and this was an image of putting off the old man with his deeds (Col. 3: 9). Having stripped yourselves, ye were naked, in this also imitating Christ, who hung naked on the Cross, and by His nakedness spoiled principalities and powers, and openly triumphed over them on the tree (Col. 2:15). For since the powers of the enemy made their lair in your members, ye may no longer wear that old vestment; I do not at all mean this visible one, but that old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (Eph. 4:22). May no soul which has once put him off, again put him on, but say with the Spouse of Christ in the Song of Songs, I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? (Cant. 5:3). O wondrous thing! Ye were naked in the sight of all, and were not ashamed; for truly ye bore the likeness of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden, and was not ashamed.
Then, when ye were stripped, ye were anointed with exorcized oil, from the very hairs of your head, to your feet, and were made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ. For ye were cut off from the wild olive-tree, and grafted into the good one, and were made to share the fatness of the true olive-tree. The exorcized oil therefore was a symbol of the participation of the fatness of Christ, the charm to drive away every trace of hostile influence. For as the breathing of the saints, and the invocation of the Name of God, like fiercest flame, scorch and drive out evil spirits, so also this exorcized oil receives such virtue by the invocation of God and by prayer, as not only to burn and cleanse away the traces of sins, but also to chase away all the invisible powers of the evil one.
After these things, ye were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre, which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and ye made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also covertly pointing by a figure at the three-days burial of Christ. For as our Saviour passed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so you also in your first ascent out of the water, represented the first day of Christ in the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is in the night, sees no more, but he who is in the day, remains in the light, so in descending, ye saw nothing as in the night, but in ascending again, ye were as in the day. And at the self-same moment, ye died and were born; and the Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother. And what Solomon spoke of others will suit you also; for he said, “There is a time to bear and a time to die” (Eccles. 3:2); but to you, on the contrary, the time to die is also the time to be born, and one and the same season brings about both of these, and your birth went hand in hand with your death.
O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again, but our imitation was but a figure, while our salvation is in reality. Christ was actually crucified and actually buried, and truly rose again; and all these things have been vouchsafed to us, that we, by imitation communicating in His suffering, might gain salvation in reality. O surpassing loving-kindness! Christ received the nails in His undefiled hands and feet, and endured anguish; while to me without suffering or toil, by the fellowship of His pain He vouchsafes salvation.
ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
After the renunciation of the devil and the covenant with Christ, inasmuch as you have henceforth become His very own and have nothing in common with that evil one, He straightway bids you to be marked and places on your forehead the sign of the Cross. That savage beast is shameless and, when he hears those words, he grows more wild [as we might expect] and desires to assault you on sight. Hence, God anoints your countenance and stamps thereon the sign of the Cross. In this way does God hold in check all the frenzy of the Evil One; for the devil will not dare to look upon such a sight. Just as if he had beheld the rays of the sun and had leaped away, so will his eyes be blinded by the sight of your face and he will depart; for through the chrism the Cross is stamped upon you. The chrism is a mixture of olive oil and unguent; the unguent is for the bride, the oil is for the athlete. And that you may again know that it is not a man but God Himself who anoints you by the hand of the Priest, listen to St. Paul when he says: “It is God who is warrant for us and for you in Christ, who has anointed us” (2 Cor. 1:21). After He anoints all your limbs with this ointment, you will be secure and able to hold the serpent in check; you will suffer no harm.
After the anointing, then, it remains to go into the bath of sacred waters. After stripping you of your robe, the Priest himself leads you down into the flowing waters. But why naked? He reminds you of your former nakedness, when you were in Paradise and you were not ashamed. For Holy writ says: Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed, until they took up the garment of sin, a garment heavy with abundant shame.
Do not, then, feel shame here, for the bath is much better than the garden of Paradise. There can be no serpent here, but Christ is here initiating you into the regeneration that comes from the water and the Spirit. You cannot see here beautiful trees and fruits, but you can see spiritual favours. You cannot find here the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nor the law and commandments, but you can find grace and gifts. For sin shall not have dominion over you, since you are not under the Law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14).
Being stripped naked therefore had many symbolisms. It symbolized the putting off of the old man and all his sins, the old Adam who had fallen from grace. It symbolized Christ who was crucified naked upon the Cross. It was to remember mans former nakedness in Paradise where, because of his childlike innocence, he was not ashamed, until he sinned and fell from grace. And Baptism is the cleansing of that original sin, but also bestows on man something far better than his former glory, for he emerges from the water dead to sin, reborn unto a new life, resurrected into a life in Christ; a child of God; a faithful Christian; a citizen, heir and member of God’s heavenly kingdom. And as he was born into this world naked so also he is reborn into this spiritual rebirth naked.
After all the candidates had been baptized and dressed, they were led by the Priest into the main part of the Church where the whole congregation waited to receive them and celebrate with them the event of their salvation and to receive together with them Holy communion in the service of the Divine Liturgy.
With the establishment of the Imperial Church in the fourth century, it was inevitable that Christianity would spread and be accepted throughout the Roman Empire. By the eighth century all adult citizens of the empire were Christians and infant baptism prevailed. Instruction in the faith ceased and responsibility of confessing the faith at Baptism fell upon the sponsor [Godparent] who was also responsible and obligated, together with the child’s parents, to educate and rear the child in a Christian manner. The pools for adult Baptisms also became obsolete together with the baptisteries and Baptisms were administered there on in the Church proper in an infant font.
Today, with many adults wishing to join the Orthodox Church, the Church has been caught unprepared insofar as she has not the proper facilities to administer Baptism to adults by immersion in pools (some Churches have now been furnished with pools). The service itself has been isolated from the Divine Liturgy and individual Baptisms are performed. The service is performed in the main part of the Church so without the proper baptisteries where the candidate can strip naked, it would be inconceivable for us to expect the candidate to stand naked in front of all his invited guests. Modesty must prevail, but at the same time, we must find a solution where the Baptism of old, with all its theological meanings and symbolisms is not lost altogether.
Some Priests insist that the candidate wears a white chiton [a garment that is worn like a dress], but this causes problems. It is anti-theological and non-traditional. The exorcized oil cannot be anointed on all the body and instead of hiding the body it reveals it, for when the person is baptized; the chiton sticks closely to the body. A more modest and practical way is for the man to wear loose swimming shorts. That way the Priest can anoint most of the body. A woman can also wear swimming shorts and a decent swimming bra and vest and in the same way her body can be anointed. In this way we fulfil tradition as best as modesty permits. Another modern problem is where the newly baptized is dried and dressed. Most large city churches have adjoining rooms of offices that can double as dressing rooms, but many small Churches consist only of the main Church and Sanctuary. In such cases, the Priest should make available a mobile screen or screen off a corner of the Church with a sheet. Having said this, it remains for us to describe to you a summary of the service as it would be expected to be performed today, keeping in mind that the order of the service might vary according to the custom of each local Church.
The Priest begins with the introductory prayers and then the prayers for the sanctification of the waters. He then takes up a vessel with olive oil and having said the prayer for the sanctification of the oil, pours some of the oil crosswise onto the waters of the font. At this point the candidate’s clothes are removed and the Priest takes the oil and anoints the candidate on his forehead, breast, shoulders, ears, feet and hands. The rest of the body is anointed by the sponsor or the Priest. After the anointing the candidate is then led into the waters to be baptized, i.e. thrice immersed in the sanctified water of the baptismal font. Where the Church is not equipped with a baptismal font for adults, a suitable vessel should be used that will allow the person to be completely immersed into the baptismal waters. Once out of the water, the Priest reads the prayer of Chrismation [Confirmation] and anoints the newly baptized with the Holy Chrism, making the sign of the Cross on the forehead, the eyes, the nostrils, the mouth, the ears, the breast, the hands and the feet, saying each time “The Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. The Priest then takes up the new white garments of the baptized and invests him saying: “The servant of God is clothed with the garment of righteousness…” The newly baptized is then dried and dressed, either by himself or with the help of his sponsor. Once dressed the Priest takes the baptismal Cross and secures it round the baptizan’s neck saying Christ’s commandment: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”.
After this the Priest takes up the censer and together with the newly baptized, holding a candle, encircle the font three times singing: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia”. This is done symbolically of the old order of Baptism when the newly baptised were led by the Priest from the baptistery into the main Church. Next follows the readings from the New Testament known as the Apostle and the Gospel. What takes place next is symbolic of what should take place on the eighth day after Baptism which we will explain below, but for now it suffices to say that it is done in anticipation. The Priest having read the three prayers of ablution [the washing], takes up a linen cloth and soaking the end in clean water sprinkles the newly baptized saying: “Thou art justified, thou art enlightened”. Then with the cloth or a sponge [or cotton wool] he wipes the baptizan’s face saying: “Thou art baptized, thou art enlightened, thou art Chrismated, thou art sanctified, thou art washed clean, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. [Before leaving the Church, the newly baptized should wash his hands and face with soap and water, which again we will explain below]. The Priest then reads the two prayers of the Tonsure [the cutting of hair] and cuts hair from the baptizand’s head in the form of a cross. Why is this done? Having been baptized, you are now a new man reborn by water and the Spirit. God has granted you salvation and not only this; He has sealed you with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is only right that we offer something back to God for His loving-kindness; therefore the hair that is cut is a symbolic offering similar to the firstfruits one would offer God as a thanksgiving for the good harvest. But here the hair represents not fruit, but an offering of ourselves, the beginning of a new start and a sacrifice of our whole life to Christ our God. After the tonsure, the Priest says the closing prayers and invites the newly baptized to partake of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
An explanation is needed for the sprinkling and washing of the face mentioned above. In the early Church the newly baptized did not wash, but on the eighth day returned to the Church [probably the baptistery] and was bathed there. The Priest then read the prayers of ablution and continued with the prayers of the tonsuring and the tonsure. This was done so that man could differentiate between the things that had been sanctified and the things that had not. The oils, the water and the Holy Chrism used for his baptism had been sanctified through the grace of the Holy Spirit; they were used for his sanctification and salvation and therefore should be treated with the reverence due to them. It would be an impious act to bathe in a common place and the waters of the bath to flow into the common sewage. Today we still keep this devout tradition, but instead of on the eight day, it is now executed on the third day. We will explain the procedure according to infants, which can easily be adapted for adults.
On the third day the Godparent comes to the child’s home for the washing, as it is considered his responsibility to wash the child. A baby bath is set up and the child is washed and dressed. Then all the clothes the child wore for those three days and his bed sheets are washed in the same water and the water is then poured into a container. The clothes are then rinsed in clean water which again is poured into the container. The water is then carried to the Church and poured into the Church’s drainage or can be poured somewhere remote where people do not tread. Many pour the water onto walls. In this way the devout tradition and teaching is kept intact. The only thing that differs from the old way is that the child is not brought back to the Church for the prayers of ablution. The prayers were said on the day of Baptism in anticipation and the Priest symbolically washed the child’s face.
An adult can wash in a similar way by placing a baby bath in the normal bath and carefully washing with the minimum of water. With adults it would also be desirable and a move in the right direction, to return to the old order of things. They can, by asking the Priest beforehand not to read the prayers of ablution at the Baptism, return to the Church on the third day, at a time convenient to both, and have the prayers read then.
With infant Baptisms the sponsor [or the Godfather as he is more commonly called] has an important role to play, not only during the ritual service, but also for the rest of the child’s life. By tradition he is obliged to buy for the child his baptismal Cross and the baptismal garments, and because in Orthodoxy everything is done in threes [symbolic of the Trinitarian God] he also buys other garments for the child in threes e.g. 3 pairs of socks, 3 vests etc. He is also obliged to bring to the Church everything that will be needed for the service. During the service he is the child’s representative and confesses the faith on behalf of the child, and it is he that is responsible for bathing the child on the third day. But his responsibilities do not stop here for as the child grows he is responsible and obliged, together with the child’s parents, to educate and rear the child in a Christian manner. The Church recognizing the sponsor as the child’s spiritual father enters his name on the Baptism certificate and in the Church’s register. As the child grows, he develops a special relationship with his Godparent. Of course this is mainly due to the fact that he receives presents from his Godparent on his birthday and other important dates, but when the child reaches an age of understanding, he respects him for what he is; a second father.
In theory adults do not need a sponsor for they can speak for themselves and so confess the faith by themselves. In practice though adults also have sponsors so what is their role in Baptism? The Greek word for sponsor is ‘Ανάδοχος’ and means someone who receives. The word also designates someone who takes upon himself a burden, sureties or guarantor. With this meaning in mind, St John Chrysostom has the following to say about sponsors:
Do you wish me to address a word to those who are sponsoring you that they may know what recompense they deserve if they have shown great care for you, and what condemnation follows if they are careless? Consider, beloved, how those who go surety for someone in a matter of money set up for themselves a greater risk that the one who borrows the money and is liable for it. If the borrower be well disposed, he lightens the burden for his surety; if the dispositions of his soul be ill, he makes the risk a steeper one. Wherefore, the wise man counsels us saying: If thou be surety, think as if thou wert to pay it. If, then, those who go surety for others in a matter of money make themselves liable for the whole sum, those who go surety for others in matters of the spirit and on an account which involves virtue should be much more alert. They ought to show their paternal love by encouraging, counselling, and correcting those for whom they go surety.
Let them not think that what takes place is a trifling thing, but let them see clearly that they share in the credit if by their admonition they lead those entrusted to them to the path of virtue. Again, if those they sponsor become careless, the sponsors themselves will suffer great punishment. That is why it is customary to call the sponsors “spiritual fathers,” that they may learn by this very action how great an affection they must show to those they sponsor in the matter of spiritual instruction. If it is a noble thing to lead to a zeal for virtue those who are in no way related to us, much more should we fulfil this precept in the case of the one whom we receive as a spiritual son. You, the sponsors, have learned that no slight danger hangs over your heads if you are remiss.