At Holy Baptism we experience new birth in God. A mystical transformation takes place. The image of God within us — which has become clouded through Adam’s sin — is polished, and there is now potential to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). According to the Church Fathers Baptism has a divinising effect, which is activated in an invisible and mystical manner by the Holy Spirit. Let’s learn more about baptism in the Orthodox Church.
Baptism is the door through which we become members of the Church. The waters of baptism symbolise cleansing.
Baptism brings freedom from the power of the devil, but the person being baptised is not a passive participant: he/she must strive to put to death the wrong desires within and do battle with them in order to live a life of selfless love. This putting off of the old nature has been described as being like the “discarding of old clothes.”
The Holy Services of the Church transmit the grace (divine energy) of the Holy Spirit.
We pass from corruption to incorruption
Following Baptism and Chrismation we begin our journey called the Christian life, made possible through the Holy Spirit working within us. Our orientation is now towards God and we re-evaluate our way of thinking and our opinions. This conversion Godward is a return to our “natural state,” the passions provoked by the ungodly world around us lead to an “unnatural state.” So the modern trend to make “sin” seem “natural” is actually a deception.
The Baptism of infants
In the Gospel according to Matthew Christ proclaimed, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbit them; for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 19:14). Responding to that command the Orthodox Church Baptises and Chrismates infants, not because they believe, but rather, in order that they might believe. They are baptised because they are human beings, full persons entitled to full recognition and acceptance into the Body of Christ. Like a precious gift Baptism confers upon infants the full extent of God’s love regardless of their physical or intellectual maturity or the ability to reason.
A study of early Church literature makes it clear that the baptism of infants was affirmed from the beginning. St. Irenaeus (130–202) received his faith from St. Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. The following words were written by St. Iranaeus in his work entitled Against Heresies:
For [Christ] came to save all through means of Himself, all, I say, who through Him are born again to God, infants and children, and boys and youths and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them as an example of piety, righteousness, and submission.
Writing just a few years after Iranaeus, Origen (182–251) says:
Could a child who has only just been born commit a sin? And yet he has sin for which it is commanded to offer a sacrifice, as Job 14:4 and Psalm 51:5-7 show. For this reason the Church received from the Apostles the tradition to administer baptism to children also. For the men to whom the secrets of divine mysteries had been entrusted knew that in everyone there were genuine sinful defilements, which had to be washed away with water and the Spirit.
Saint Cyprian (200–258) wrote these words on the subject:
We all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to anyone born of man... no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, Who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to be observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born person, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy.
One True Baptism
Baptism is regarded as a mystical moment that can never be repeated. Anyone already baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not re-baptised upon electing to join the Orthodox Church, in most jurisdictions.
Over the course of history there evolved different Christian denominations with altered rights and ecclesiastical traditions. Most Western confessions have modified the sacraments, such is the case with Baptism and Chrismation. For instance most Western Churches have abandoned the ancient practice of Baptism by immersion in favour of pouring water over the candidates forehead or sprinkling their bodies with Baptismal water.
In the case of Chrismation Western confessions have severed it from its historical foundations postponing the sacrament to age 6, 12 or even later (referred to as Confirmation). Orthodox Christianity holds fast to an interpretation of the essential meaning of each sacrament as defined from the Gospel and according to the Great Fathers of the Church.
As described in the Gospel the Orthodox practice adheres to the original triple immersion in water re-enacting the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. However, provision is made for pouring water over the head as an alternative when circumstances necessitate this. As the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost the newly baptised also receives the sacramental grace and diverse gifts of the seal of the Holy Spirit during Chrismation.