Orthodox America


The Mystery of Baptism  


by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

The Establishment of the Mystery of Baptism
The Meaning of the Mystery

The Means of the Performance of the Mystery

The Indispensability of Baptism

Baptism: the Door to the Reception of Other Grace-giving Gifts


The Establishment of the Mystery of Baptism

      In the first place in the series of Mysteries of the Holy Church stands the Mystery of Baptism. It serves as the door leading into the Kingdom of grace, or the Church, and it grants access to participation in the other Mysteries. Even before the establishment of the Mystery of Baptism, the Lord Jesus Christ in His conversation with Nicodemos indicated the absolute necessity of it for salvation: Veriy, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven. When Nicodemos expressed his perplexity, How can a man be born when he is old, the Saviour replied that the new birth would be accomplished by water and the Spirit:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit(John 3:3-6)

      The establishment of this grace giving Mystery occurred after the Resurrection of Christ. Having appeared to His disciples, the Lord said to them that He had received from His Father all authority in Heaven and on earth, and He continued:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe alt things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the World. (Matt 28:19-20)

And to this He added: He that believeth and is baptizd shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:t6). On the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, when after the speech of the Apostle Peter his listeners asked what they should do, the Apostle Peter said to them:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the same book of the Acts are recorded several instances of Baptism performed by the Apostles. Thus, the Apostle Peter baptized Cornelius (ch. 10), the Apostle Paul baptized Lydia and those of her household (ch. 16), as well as the guard of the prison with his whole household.

The Meaning of the Mystery

     The mystical grace-given aspect of Baptism is indicated in the above-cited passages of Sacred Scripture; Baptism is a "new birth," and it is performed for the salvation of men (Mark 16: 16). Moreover, setting forth the grace-given significance of Baptism, the Apostles in their Epistles indicate that in it we are "sanctified," "cleansed," "justified"; that in Baptism we "die to sin" so as to walk in renewed life; we are "buried with Christ," and we arise with Him. Christ loved, the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (that is, Baptism with the utterance of the words instituted to accompany it: Eph. 5:25-26). Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (I Cor. 6:11). We are buried with Him by Baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Baptism is called the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). As for the subjective side--the state of soul of the person being baptized--it is indicated by the Apostle Peter, who calls Baptism the promise of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Through Baptism at the same time one is joined to the Church.

 

The Means of the Performance of the Mystery

    The comparison of' Baptism with a washing by water, with the grave, and other such things indicates that this Mystery is to be performed through immersion. The Greek word baptizo itself signifies "to immerse." Concerning the Baptism of the eunuch by Philip we read in the book of Acts: They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip (Acts 8:38). As an exception, the Church acknowledges the Christian martyrdom of the unbaptized as a "Baptism of blood." Baptism by sprinkling the Church acknowledges but does not approve, as being not canonical.

    The immersion in water is done three times with the pronunciation of the words: "The servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," in accordance with the commandment given by Christ Himself (Matt. 28:19). Thus was it performed in the ancient Church. The Epistle of the Apostle Barnabas already mentions this, and Tertullian directly indicates that "the manner of baptism is prescribed," indicating the words of the Saviour concerning baptism; Tertullian also testifies to the triple immersion and likewise indicates one particularity: that the one being baptized is asked to renounce satan and his angels, and then to confess the Faith.

      In certain passages of Sacred Scripture there is mentioned a baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48). According to the interpretation of the ancient Fathers, the expression "in the Name of the Lord Jesus" means "according to the command and tradition of Christ," or as a testimony of one's faith in Christ. By this expression there is not denied the fact of baptism "in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ," as it has seemed to certain historians of Christianity who are of the rationalistic school. It is entirely natural that the writer of the book of Acts, The Apostle Luke, and the Apostle Paul also (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; 1st Cor. 1:13), when speaking of baptism, "in Christ" have in mind to distinguish this baptism from the baptism of John or anything similar to it, as the Baptism into Christianity. Thus even now there is sung at Baptism, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

 

The Indispensability of Baptism

             Since in Baptism a man receives, in place of the old existence he had, a new existence and life, and becomes a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ or the Church, an inheritor of eternal life, it is therefore evident that Baptism is indispensable for all, including infants, so that growing in body and spirit they might grow in Christ. In the Apostolic Scriptures many times there is mention of the Baptism of whole families (the house of Lydia, the house of the prison guard, the house of Stephan as--I Cor. l:16), and nowhere is it mentioned that infants were excluded from this. The Fathers of the Church in their instructions to the faithful insist upon the Baptism of children. St. Gregory the Theologian, addressing Christian mothers, says, "Do you have an infant? Do not give time for harm to increase. Let him be sanctified in infancy, and from youth dedicated to the Spirit, Doyou fear the seal because of the weakness of nature, as someone fainthearted and small in faith? But Anna even before giving birth promised Samuel to God, and after his birth she quickly dedicated him and raised him for the sacred garment, without fearing human weakness, but believing in God."

    However, it is indispensable in this matter that the persons who offer the infant for Baptism should recognize all their responsibility for the raising up of the baptized infant in Christian faith and virtue. We read an instruction concerning this, for example, in the work On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, known under the name of St. Dionysius the Areopagite, which has always been highly respected by the Church: "It was pleasing to our divine instructors to allow infants also to be baptized, under the sacred condition that the natural parents of the child should entrust him to someone among the faithful who would instruct him well in divine subjects and then take care for the child as a father, given from above, and as a guard of his eternal salvation. This man, when he gives the promise to guide the child in pious life, is compelled by the bishop to utter the renunciations and the sacred confession."

     How important for us is this instruction which comes from the ancient Christian Church! From it we see what responsibility the sponsor or godfather of the baptized person takes upon himself. How careful the parents of the child must be in choosing a sponsor! Of course, in a normal Christian family the parents themselves usually teach their children the truths of faith and their moral duty. But the contemporary breakup of the foundations of social life compel one to be on guard so that the child will not remain without Christian guidance. And even under favorable conditions a sponsor should keep close spiritual contact with his godchild and be ready at any needful moment to come to him with heartfelt Christian help.

    The tenth paragraph of the Symbol of Faith reads: "I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins." This signifies that Baptism in the Orthodox Church, as a spiritual birth, if it has been performed as a sacred rite correctly through triple immersion in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, cannot be repeated.

 

Baptism: the Door to the Reception of Other Grace-giving Gifts

    As we see from the above-cited statements of the holy Apostles, and likewise from the whole teaching of the Church, Baptism is not only a symbol of cleansing and washing away the defilement of the soul, but in itself is the beginning and source of the Divine gifts which cleanse and annihilate all the sinful defilements and communicate a new way of life. All sins are forgiven, both original sin and personal sins; the way is opened for a new life; opened is the possibility to receive the gifts of God. Further spiritual growth depends upon the free will of man. But since temptation is capable of finding sympathy in the nature of man who from the day of his first fall into sin has had an inclination to sin, therefore moral perfection cannot be accomplished without battle. A man finds help for this inward battle in the whole grace-given life of the Church...

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky 

(Excerpt from the English translation by Fr. Seraphim Rose of Fr. Michael Pomazansky's book Dogmatic Theology; Soon to be published by St. Herman of Alaska Press.)

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