The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

 TALK ON THE SACRAMENT

OF HOLY BAPTISM

9th October 2008

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Today as promised, we will look at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Most of what you will hear is already on the website, but some of you haven’t got internet and most people, myself included, hate reading from the screen. Baptism is the first Sacrament of the Church and it is the Sacrament by which someone is initiated and becomes a member of the Church. As with all Sacraments, it is divinely instituted, in other words, it was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself and He instituted it by word and deed. By word when after His Resurrection He said to His disciples: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matth. 28: 19-20). And again when He said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). And He instituted it 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. And according to our Lord’s words, one must be baptized in order to be saved.
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.
In recent years the Orthodox Church has seen a flow of requests from adults wishing to join her flock from other Christian denominations and non-Christians. There are various reasons why people wish to join the Orthodox Church, for some it is to marry their partner in Church, others are offspring of mixed marriages where it was decided to let the children grow up and decide for themselves which religion or which church they would prefer to join. Others again are descendants of an Orthodox nation where the Church was persecuted by a communist state like the communist government of Bolshevik Russia after they seized power in 1917. And others who become Orthodox by conviction, in other words, they have, through enlightenment, come to the belief that the Orthodox Church is the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.
In Cyprus, the Church embraces all applicants for Baptism, but requires that all adult Baptisms must be preceded by pre-baptismal instructions (catechism), whereby the candidate is made fully aware that he freely accepts, understands and embraces the teachings of the One True, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and renounces all other faiths. Baptismal instructions are not something new to the present day Church. In the early Church, when adult Baptism was still the normal custom, it was not unusual for the entire time of preparation to last two or three years. Preparation was usually in two parts. The first involved those making a remote preparation and were obliged to attend the sermons and the catechism classes. Having been through this preparation, they were then admitted as direct candidates for baptism with a more intense period of training in Christian morals and the Mysteries. For St. John Chrysostom, a great teacher and father of the fourth century, this second period was a total of thirty days. In his discourses on Baptism, St John Chrysostom says the following concerning the thirty days period: “Yet thirty days and the King of heaven will restore you to your true country above, to the free Jerusalem, to the City in Heaven”. Again to stress the importance of this period of instructions he says: “So also for you, these thirty days are like the practice and bodily exercises in some wrestling school. Let us learn during these days how we may gain the advantage over that wicked demon. After Baptism we are going to strip for combat against him; he will be our opponent in the boxing bout and the fight. Let us learn, during this time of training, the grips he uses, the source of his wickedness, and how he can easily hurt us. Then, when the contest comes, we will not be caught unaware nor be frightened, because we have practiced among ourselves and have learned all his artifices, we will confidently join grips with him in the combat”.
How then is baptism administered? 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 to cast out any demons that might have attached themselves to the candidate. In our day and age this sounds rather inconceivable and far fetched, but theoretically, someone who is not yet a Baptized Christian is not a spiritual child of the Church, but rather a child of the devil. Thus the exorcism is needed to cast out any demons that might be hiding in the person’s heart. Having done this the Priest will turn the candidate to face the west and ask him if he renounces Satan. The candidate replies with “I have renounced him” the Priest then turns him to face the east and asks him if he joins Christ. The candidate answers with “I have joined Him” and then recites the Symbol of Faith. 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.
As already mentioned, 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.
But I can hear you asking questions like - why naked and why do we anoint the body with exorcised oil? Rather than me telling you why, it would be better to hear what two great fathers of the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom, have to say on these matters.
St. Cyril says:As soon, therefore, as you entered in, you put off your garment; and this was an image of putting off the old man with his deeds (Col. 3: 9). Having stripped yourselves, you 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, you 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! You were naked in the sight of all, and were not ashamed; for truly you bore the likeness of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden, and was not ashamed. Then, when you were stripped, you 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 you 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, you 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 you 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, you saw nothing as in the night, but in ascending again, you were as in the day. And at the self-same moment, you died and were born; and the Water of salvation was at the same time 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 says the following:
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. 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 establishes us with 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.
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 and I also recently had a large portable font made for adult baptism). 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 tunic [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 tunic sticks closely to the body. A more modest and practical way is for the man to wear loose swimming shorts. That way the Priest [or the sponsor] can anoint most of the body. A woman can also wear swimming shorts over a decent swimming costume and also a vest on top. Most of her body will still be covered, but that is all that modesty permits us.
Before explaining more of the service I’d like to do a quick summary of the actual baptism service. 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 or rather he/she will change into the garments they will wear for the baptism. The Priest then 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] or not at all. 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. 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”.
What takes place next is symbolic of what should take place on the eighth day after Baptism which I will explain shortly, 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 I will explain in a moment]. The Priest then reads the two prayers of the Tonsure [the cutting of hair] and cuts hair from the baptizan’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 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. The Priest then 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 earlier. 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. I 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 is poured somewhere where people do not tread. 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.
From the order of Baptism just mentioned, you will notice that immediately after being baptized, the Priest anoints the newly baptized with Holy Chrism. Chrismation is a separate Sacrament from Baptism, but is performed immediately after. It is the sacrament whereby the newly baptized is bestowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and like Baptism, is God-instituted. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says the following on the Sacrament of Holy Chrism:
Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, you have been made conformable to the Son of God; for God having predestinated us to the adoption of sons, made us share the fashion of Christ’s glorious body. Being therefore made partakers of Christ, you are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs, or anointed. Now you were made Christs, by receiving the emblem of the Holy Ghost; and all things of Christ. He also bathed Himself in the river Jordan, and having imparted of the fragrance of His Godhead to the waters, He came up from them; and the Holy Ghost in substance lighted on Him, like resting upon like. In the same manner to you also, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, was given the Chrism, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost; of whom also the blessed Isaiah, in his prophecy respecting Him, says in the person of the Lord, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach glad tidings to the poor (Is. 61: 1).
For Christ was not anointed by men with oil or material ointment, but the Father having appointed Him to be the Saviour of the whole world, anointed Him with the Holy Ghost, as Peter says, Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost. And as Christ was in truth crucified, and buried, and raised, and you in likeness are in Baptism accounted worthy of being crucified, buried, and raised together with Him, so is it with the Chrism also. As He was anointed with the spiritual oil of gladness, the Holy Ghost, who is so called, because He is the author of spiritual gladness, so you were anointed with ointment, having been made partakers and fellows of Christ.
It is symbolically applied to your forehead and your other senses; and while your body is anointed with the visible ointment, your soul is sanctified by the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.”
Chrism is also symbolic of the tongues of fire that descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and were thus filled with the Holy Spirit. The Apostles in turn, passed on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to others by the laying on of their hands upon the heads of the faithful: “Then laid they their hands on them, [those who were baptized] and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8: 17). “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them” (Acts 19: 6).
The Apostles also ordained bishops who were also empowered with the laying on of their hands to give the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Church grew, it was impossible for the bishops to be present at all the Baptisms and so the Church introduced the use of the Holy Myron which through prayers by the bishop was sanctified and then given to the priests to anoint the newly baptized. In this way it was not necessary for the bishop to be present. Whether the recipient received the gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the bishop’s hand or through the Chrism, the Sacrament was truly administered, for both these are the sensible and visible elements of the Sacrament. The invisible and supernatural element is always Divine Grace.
The Orthodox Church performs the Sacrament of Chrismation [or Confirmation as it is better known in the west] immediately after Baptism because as we heard from St Cyril, we imitate Christ in all things. When Jesus was baptised he was immediately anointed with the Holy Spirit when it descended upon him in the form of a dove so we also are anointed with the Holy Spirit immediately after our baptism. This is how the Church received it from the Apostles and has safeguarded this practice up to the present day. The Protestants reject this Sacrament altogether, while the Roman Catholic Church, since the Council of Trent [1545-1563] postpones the holy chrism and bestows it after many years have passed because, according to her rationalistic spirit, she believes that the child must be at an “age of reason” in order to receive the holy chrism or confirmation. I would think that with the same argument they should also leave the baptism to be administered when the child is at the “age of reason”. The Anglican Church follows the practice of the laying on of hands by the bishop again when the child comes to an age of discretion.
But on the day of your baptism, the Orthodox Church doesn’t stop with only the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation. Before you depart from the Church, she invites you to partake of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Nicholas Cabasilas, writing in the 14th century says: “After the Chrismation we go to the table. This is the perfection of the life in Christ; for those who attain it there is nothing lacking for the blessedness which they seek. It is no longer death and the tomb and a participation in the better life which we receive, but the risen One Himself. Nor do we receive such gifts of the Spirit as we may, but the very Benefactor Himself, the very Temple whereon is founded the whole compass of graces”.
Having then received within us the Lord of Glory, we have become one with Christ. It follows then that our souls and our bodies are sanctified; the entire man is sanctified and thus becomes the abode of the Holy Spirit. We communicate our God and we ourselves become gods, partakers of divine life and heirs of God’s kingdom.
Another benefit is the union of all those Christians who communicate Christ in the one body, the one spiritual family, the one divine communion of sanctified and loving men. St. Paul says, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10: 17). The Eucharist, by uniting the members of the Church to Christ, at the same time unites them to one another. The Eucharist creates the unity of the Church. It is the Sacrament of the Church’s ascension to the kingdom, the Sacrament of the world to come. Amen.

 

THE SPONSOR [GODPARENT]

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.”