THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
The Sacrament of Baptism was instituted by Christ Himself who, after His Resurrection, as a farewell commandment and admonition, just before his Ascension to Heaven, directed these words to His Apostles: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all things I have commanded you..” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Baptism is the gateway into the Christian Church. It is the saving action of God who, through water and the Spirit, recreates His creation.
It is the initial Sacrament through which he who is immersed in water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is cleansed from all sin and is regenerated spiritually. As our Lord Himself stated: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).
The Baptismal Service today contains several components. This guide might help you follow the proceedings and pray for the person being baptized.
The Renunciation and the Acceptance
The person being baptized will be with the Godparent (Nouno or Nouna in Greek) as he/she stands in the Narthex of the church (or in certain circumstances at the Soleas) facing east (towards the altar). ‘East’ signifies the abode of God – the true Light.
The Priest, standing in front of them, blows three times onto the person’s, to be baptized, head in the form of the Cross to drive away any evil spirits and adverse powers, blessing it each time saying “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.
He then places his hands on the person’s, to be baptized, head, which symbolizes the taking of possession of the candidate in the name of the Holy Trinity and recites a prayer addressed to God: “In your name, O God of Truth… I lay my hand on your servant who has been found worthy to seek salvation in your Holy Name and protection under the shelter of your wings. Banish from him the error of old, fill him with faith and hope in you… so that he might know that you are the only true God… Grant him the ability to live in accordance with your commandments”.
The prayer is followed by three Exorcisms and yet another prayer, the prayer of acceptance, at the end of which the Priest, in summary of all that was said before, asks God to drive out and banish from the person to be baptized, any and every evil and impure spirit which may be hiding and lurking in his/her heart and make him/her a reason-endowed sheep in the holy flock of Christ, an honorable member of the Church, a child and heir of the kingdom.
The Godparent, will then be asked to face west and renounce Satan and all his works, and all his worship and all his angels, and all his pride in a question and answer form (three times). He/She will then be asked to blow down on Satan. ‘West’ signifies a place of natural darkness, where the Devil, who is darkness himself, makes his abode.
The Confession of Faith
Then the Godparent, will face east again and affirmatively answer the Priest who will ask him/her (three times) if he/she has pledged his allegiance to Christ.
After doing so, the Godparent will recite the Creed, the Symbol of Faith (‘To Pistevo’ in Greek) which is a summary of the Orthodox Teachings, formulated by several Ecumenical Councils of the Christian Church during the first millennium A.D. when there was unity of Faith throughout Christendom (with very few exceptions).
The Blessing of the Water
Then they will enter the Main Church and the Priest will ask the Holy Spirit to come down and bless and consecrate the water in the Font and make it an instrument of salvation, saying “Wherefore, O merciful God, be present also and sanctify this water”.
The Blessing of the Oil and Anointing
Once the blessing of the water is complete, the Godparent will offer a small bottle of olive oil over which a prayer for the banishment of evil is read to make it “an anointing of incorruption, a weapon of justice, a renewal of soul and body, a defense against every influence of the Devil and a release from evil to all those who are anointed with it, or partake of it.”
Some of this oil is then poured crosswise three times on the water in the Font in order to render the consecration of the water complete.
The person to be baptized (now undressed) will be anointed with the blessed oil on the forehead, nose, ears, mouth, chest, legs, feet, hands and back. The Godparent will then anoint the person to be baptized, to prepare him/her, just as an athlete prepares, to battle the demon who he has just renounced and to slip away from the grip of sin.
Now the neophyte will be immersed three times in the Font which represents the ‘Tomb of Jesus’, symbolically being ‘buried’ with Christ, then ‘raised’ with Christ as the neophyte is removed from the Font and placed in the arms of the Godparent who is waiting for him/her with a white sheet. The truth of baptism lies in this profound action and is reflected in many of the prayers during the rite. The truth is that the candidate for baptism has chosen to die and be reborn for Christ. This act of faith by an individual is fulfilled by Christ as He pours on his grace, his gifts to the neophyte. The newly baptized is now a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven through his own choice and faith. Christ’s love can do nothing other than accept this faith and offer the full inheritance. Baptism is resurrection! It is salvation!
THE SACRAMENT OF CHRISMATION Confirmation
Now newly baptised, the child will be Chrismated by the sign of the Cross with Holy Myrrh on the same parts of the body where he was earlier anointed with oil.
Holy Chrismation is the seal of the gift of the Holy Sprit which identifies all baptized people with a seal that sets them apart as inalienable possessions of Christ. That is, the Holy Spirit embraces them and envelopes them like a shield and an armor of faith to enable them to live the faith into which they have just been baptized. This is why Chrismation is also known as the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit.
Following the Baptism and Chrism, the Priest will tonsure the newly baptized by cutting some of his/her hair crosswise to signify: that Christ will be the head of the newly baptized from now on, that he/she will reject other allegiances. Hair is the only thing belonging exclusively to the newly baptized with which it may offer thanks to God for its entry into the Church.
The Vesting and Procession
The Priest now blesses the newly baptized and places a “garment of righteousness” on him/her. The newly baptized will leave to be dressed in fresh, clean or new garments and the Priest will read additional prayers at this time.
The newly baptized will return fully dressed and is prayed over with a symbolic washing away of the Myrrh, receiving the blessing of Christ. The Priest then places a cross around the newly baptized neck as a sign of protection.
The Godparent, with the newly baptized person, and followed by a child holding the baptismal candle, will then be led three times around the baptismal Font. This is an act of rejoicing with the angles in heaven and with the other Christians present at the addition of one more member to the flock of Christ.
The Procession, conducted in the form of the Cross around the Font, is like a joyful dance as the Priest and Chanter sing “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia”.
The Bible Readings follow, from the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans (6: 3-11) where Paul makes the comparison between the immersion and emersion with the Burial and Resurrection of Christ, and from the Gospel according to St. Matthew (28: 16-20) where the Divine Institution of Baptism was established by our Lord. The Priest then reads the Conclusion prayers.
If the newly baptized person is a child, the mother of the child will then be called by the Priest to make the sign of the Cross and venerate the Icon of Christ thanking Him for the great blessing of rendering her child a Member of His Church. She will then be asked to kiss the hand of the Godparent as a sign of respect and gratitude for having assumed the high responsibility of assisting in the spiritual development of the child throughout its life as a member of the Church.
Bathing the Child
Even though the child and its clothing have come into contact with Holy Water and Holy Chrism, the child may be bathed on the same evening. However, the water from its bathing must not be poured down the drain but rather emptied into a place where it will not be desecrated (such as a corner of the garden or in the ocean). The Church does not stipulate a three-day period before the child’s bathing.
For at least the next three Sundays after the Baptism, the Godparent will take the child to Church to receive Holy Communion, its first taste of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Just as a mother physically nourishes the newborn infant with milk, so too the Grace of God offers as spiritual food, Holy Communion to its newest member, just born through baptism.
Holy Baptism is one of the four compulsory sacraments of the Orthodox Church which sanctifies and gives strength to the faithful. When one enters the baptismal font they are not only cleansed from sin, but also reborn through God’s Grace. This death and resurrection is real, as they literally die to the old person and are reborn in Christ. The water used in Baptism is salvific water. Once blessed by the Holy Spirit it becomes, as emphasised in the service of Baptism, a fountain of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a remover of sins and a protection against infirmities.
Christ Himself establishes the sacrament of Baptism in the New Testament. He instructs the Apostles to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). This is a definite and clear command from our Lord to firstly make disciples, which involves catechising those who wish to enter the Christian faith, and secondly to baptise them in the name of the Holy Trinity. Here we have Christ giving us the essence of the sacrament. However, the Church over time, which is guided be the Holy Spirit, has decided on how the sacrament is to be conducted and celebrated.
For the sacrament of Baptism to be complete and valid the following needs to occur:
1) The epiclisis (calling upon) of the Holy Trinity – the Baptism must take place in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for it to be canonical.
2) Three immersions in water, which symbolises Christ’s three-day burial and resurrection. Through ecclesiastical economy the Church allows for a person to be sprinkled (or even baptised in the air) if they are in danger of dying and are unable to be immersed in water. However, sprinkling water is performed in extremely rare situations and the Church has never made this a general rule as practiced in the Western Church.
3) A canonical bishop/priest performs the Baptism and must not be forced or pressured to conduct the sacrament. In the case of an emergency a deacon can baptise as seen occurring in the New Testament where Philip baptises the eunuch (Acts 8:38). In the instance where there is no priest and the life of a person is in danger, then even a layperson is able to baptise. These types of Baptisms are still recognised by the church as valid and canonical. However, if the person baptised by a layperson recovers and is taken to church, then everything in the sacrament is conducted as normal, except the three immersions.
4) Preparation is required prior to Baptism. In the early Church all who wished to be baptised were catechised first for a number of years. However prior to this, in order to see if they had serious intentions in being baptised, the candidates were first brought to the bishop and asked to answer certain questions regarding their conversion to the Christian faith. Once this was complete, the candidates were considered catechumens and underwent catechism. Infants were excused from this and could still be baptised without having to prepare themselves. Today in the Orthodox Church the catechisms are conducted mainly at the door of the church looking towards the West, symbolising how we are still in the dark and yet to be enlightened. Here the priest asks the candidate (or the godparent if an infant baptism is being conducted) to renounce Satan three times. Then the candidate looks towards the East and is asked three times if they pledge allegiance to Christ. Following this they are asked to confess their faith in the Trinitarian God by reciting the Creed. Once all this is completed then, and only then, does the priest proceed with the sacrament of Baptism.
Finally, we also have the Baptism of martyrdom. In the early church many became martyrs without yet being baptised. These people were still recognised as saints and members of the church since they were considered as being baptised in their own blood. For example, Herod murdered 14 000 infants that were not baptised; however, we still commemorate them as saints seeing as they died martyrs.
The mystery of chrismation (Gr. ‘unction’) is the second of the three sacraments of initiation, representing a necessary step in the process of catechumens’ integration in the Church. Chrismation is performed by either the bishop or the priest, who, after calling the power of the Holy Spirit upon the newly illumined, or baptised, anoints them with the holy and great myrrh, saying: the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the life of the newly illumined, chrismation corresponds to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ at the river Jordan (cf. Luke 3:21-22). Also, it corresponds to the very nature of the Church, or the people of God, journeying in history under the Pentecostal dew of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:1-4). As such, the newly baptised become pneumatophores, bearers of the Holy Spirit, experiencing in grace the existential conformity with both Christ and his Church.
Through chrismation the newly baptised receive the energies (cf. St Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ 3:4), gifts or charismata of the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 11:2), being confirmed as members of the priestly people of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). The two aspects, the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit and the ecclesial dimension, appear as a common denominator of the two main ways of administrating chrismation – the laying on of hands (the initial fashion, as performed by the apostles) and the unction. Both ways, the visible sign (the laying of hands and the unction) indicates the ecclesial aspect while the charismata indicate the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the two aspects concur to the realisation of a complete theandric, or divine-human, life (cf. The Life in Christ 3:2) of the newly illumined, within the people of God. By taking further and consciously the spiritual path, of the virtuous life, the horizon of divine participation – in the Holy Spirit, through Christ, to the Father – is open to those receiving chrismation (cf. The Life in Christ 3:5-6).
As already stated, chrismation was performed originally by the apostles through the laying of hands (cf. Acts 8:14-17). Very soon, however, the practice of unction became largely used (as suggested in 1 John 2:20), either because the apostles were unable to attend all those baptised or in order to distinguish chrismation from the sacrament of ordination. St Nicholas Cabasilas considers both ways as efficient: ‘Scripture says that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid hands upon those who had been initiated. Now too the Paraclete comes upon those who are being chrismated’ (The Life in Christ 3:1).
The Orthodox Church administrates the three sacraments of initiation – baptism, chrismation and communion – within the same service (for infants and adults alike), given their existential value, of fully regenerating the inner being of the human persons and their integration in the Church. In turn, the Roman Church separates them for catechetical reasons. Thus, in the Roman rite, confirmation, the equivalent of chrismation, is administrated at the end of the catechetical instruction (when children are about 12 years of age). In line with the Roman practice, some Protestant Churches perform the ceremony of confirmation only for adults and teenagers, but do not consider it a sacrament.
Baptism is the sacrament through which one is received into the Church. Through Baptism we receive the full forgiveness of sins, we “put on Christ”, becoming members of His Body, the Church. To remind them of their Baptism, Orthodox Christians usually wear throughout life a small Cross, hung round the neck on a chain during their Baptismal Service. Immediately after Baptism, the Orthodox Christian is “Chrismated” (confirmed) with the Chrism (in Greek “myron”) by the Priest. The Sponsor (or Godparent) of the baptised person must be an Orthodox Christian over the age of 12.
Non-Orthodox Christians wishing to enter the Orthodox Church are received by the Sacrament of Holy Chrism if they have previously been baptised in the Name of the Holy Trinity.
The Parish Priest will issue a Baptism Certificate, which will be presented after the Service.
In the case when the Baptism Certificate is lost, a copy can be obtained subsequently only from the same Parish where the Baptism Service took place