Baptism in the Greek Orthodox
The Lord Jesus instituted Baptism:
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark
"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..." (Matt 28:19).
"Truly. truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and
the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
The great model of our Baptism, then, is the Baptism of
Jesus in the River Jordan.
The Apostle Paul teaches in his
Episle to the Romans (6:1-6) that in baptism we experience
Christ's death and resurrection. In it our sins are truly
forgiven and we are energized by our union with Christ to
live a holy life. The Orthodox Church practices baptism by
full immersion. The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us
into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction
to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol
of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold
immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy
Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a
new life in Christ. Baptism is one's public identification
with Christ Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the
custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism
of infants. Baptizing infants before they know what is going
on is an expression of God's great love for us. It shows
that God loves us and accepts us before we can ever know and
love Him. It shows that we are wanted and loved by God from
the very moment of our birth. He accepts us not for who we
are but as his children, even in the new testament Jesus
said " Bring the children to me". Nothing shows the nature
of God's grace more than infant baptism. The Baptism of
adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in
the name of the Holy Trinity.
The Sacrament of the Greek Orthodox baptism is rich with
symbolism, every step of the process reflects the journey
from evil into the light of love for our Lord and savior
Jesus. As with all of the Sacraments there is a visible
part, the actions taken by the Priest; and an invisible
part, the sanctifying Grace that comes from the Holy Spirit
that fills the body and soul of the person receiving the
Godparent - The use of Godparent in Baptism dates
back to the days when Christians were persecuted by the
Roman Emperor Nero. Parents were often massacred during
these persecutions. Thus Godparent were provided to instruct
the children in the Christian faith in the event the parents
were martyred. The Godparent promises to see to it that the
child is raised and educated in the Orthodox Christian
faith. For this reason, it is important that Godparent be
chosen not for social reasons, but because they are persons
who love God and His Church.
Exorcism - The first act of the Baptismal service
begins in the narthex (entrance) of the church. This is to
show that the one being received is not yet a member of the
Church. The purpose of Baptism is to bring him into the
Church. To enter into the temple of God is to be with
Christ, to become a member of His body. The Priest then
calls upon the Godparent to renounce the devil and all his
works on behalf of the child.
"Do you renounce Satan, and all his angels, and all his
works, and all his services, and all his pride?"
The exorcisms announce the
forthcoming Baptism as an act of victory. The renouncing of
Satan is done facing west because the west is where the sun
disappears, and was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the
place of the gates of Hades. Then the priest faces east
whence the light of the sun rises and asks the godparent to
accept for the child Him who is the Light of the World:
"Do you unite yourself to Christ!"
The renunciation of Satan and the
union with Christ express our faith that the newly-baptized
child has been transferred from one master to another, from
Satan to Christ, from death to life. The priest makes the
sign of the cross over the child, this is repeated often
during the service. The cross is the sign of victory, this
puts the devil into flight. In the ancient times, slaves
were branded to show which master they belonged to. The sign
of the cross brands us as member of Christ's flock.
The Nicene Creed
- The godparent is then asked to confess faith in Christ in
behalf of the infant and reads the confession of faith
contained in the Nicene Creed. The Creed was a symbol or
sign of recognition among the early Christians; it was like
a password that distinguished the true members of God's
family. By reading the Creed the godparent confesses the
true faith that will be passed on to the infant in time.
Naming - From the moment the child is received
into the Church emphasis is placed on his individuality. He
is given his own particular name by which he shall be
distinguished from every other child of God. This new name
expresses also the new life in Christ received through Holy
Baptism. In addition to our own individual name each person
receives the name "Christian" at Baptism. From that moment
on we we bear the name of Christian and are called
Candle - However dark may be the night that
surrounds us, Baptism "Remains the sacrament of entrance
It opens the eyes of the soul to see Christ, the light; of
the world (John 1:19); and It makes us sons of light (1
In the early Church the baptismal candle was always kept by
the one baptized and brought to Church for major events in
the person's life. Even as the final hour of life approached
it was lighted again as the soul went forth to meet its
Judge. It was a constant reminder for the Christian to live
and die by the light of Christ. Thus the candle becomes a
symbol of the perseverance of the baptized soul until
The Baptismal Font
- The baptismal font in the language of the Church Fathers
is the Divine Womb whence we receive the second birth as
children of God. Baptism is truly a birth.
"But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he
gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of
blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,
but of God" (John 1:12-13).
When a person is Baptized, they
descend into the baptismal font. As the water closes over
the head, it is like being buried in a grave. When the newly
baptized emerges from the water, it is like rising from the
grave. Baptism represents our old, sinful nature dying and
then being resurrected again by Christ in a new and cleansed
form. As St Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who
have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his
death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into
death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the
glory of the Father we, too, might walk in newness of life"
Water - Water is used for cleansing. In Baptism
it expresses the fact that through this sacrament Christ
cleanses us of all sins. The Priest blesses the Baptismal
waters in the Font by calling on the Holy Trinity:
"Do You Yourself, O loving King, be present now also through
the descent of Your Holy Spirit and hallow this water".
Then he makes the sign of the Cross
three times over the water saying:
"Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the signing of
Your most precious Cross".
The Naked Infant
- The infant is baptized in its naked state to denote that
just as we came out of our mother's womb naked so we emerge
naked out of the womb of God - the baptismal Font. The
removal of all clothes also signifies the putting off of the
"old man", which will be cast off entirely through Baptism.
Nakedness without shame reflects the original state of man
in Paradise, which God created and had called good.
Anointing with Oil - Olive oil is blessed by the
Priest and then applied by him to the child's forehead,
breast, back, hands, feet, ears, mouth, in order to dedicate
them to the service of Christ. The godparent then covers the
entire body of the infant with olive oil in order to express
our prayer that with Christ's help the infant may be able to
elude the grip of sin and the evil one. This originated with
ancient Greek wrestlers who anointed their body with olive
oil in order to make it difficult for the opponents to
maintain a grip on them.
Immersion into the Baptismal font - In obedience
to Christ's words, the Priest Baptizes the child with the
"The servant of God (name) is Baptised in the Name of the
Father. Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit,
At each invocation the Priest immerses and then raises the
infant up again. After the Baptism the Priest places the
child in a new linen sheet held by the Godparent.
We believe that Christ died for our sins. The full immersion
in water symbolizes death. Through baptism we share
mysteriously in Christ's death. The baptized infant rises
out of the water as a new person, cleansed of every sin and
promising the surrender of his life to Christ, his Savior.
The triple immersion symbolizes the three days our Lord
spent in His tomb as well as the Holy Trinity - "The servant
of God - is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son
and the Holy Spirit."
Sacrament of Chrismation - In the Orthodox Church
the Sacrament of Chrismation (known sometimes as
Confirmation) is administered immediately following Baptism
as in the early Church. It is considered the fulfillment of
Baptism. The Priest anoints the newly baptized infant with
the Holy Chrism saying, "the seal of the gift of the Holy
Clothes - Following the Sacrament of Chrismation
the Priest then invests the newly Baptized child in a new
robe or garment, saying: "Clothed is the servant of God
(name) with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen".
The new clothes signify the entirely
new life that we receive after we are "buried with Jesus in
His death" (Rom 6:4). Traditionally, the new white garment
expresses the purity of the soul that has been washed from
sin. It recalls also the shining robe in which Christ
appeared at the Transfiguration. There is now a likeness
between the one baptized and the transfigured Lord.
A Religious Dance -
Then the Priest makes, together with the Godparent and
the child, a circumambulation around the Font, three times;
and for each of the three rounds the chanters sing:
"As many of you as have been Baptized into Christ, have put
on Christ. Alleluia" (Gal 3:27).
This reflects the belief that at this moment the angels in
heaven are expressing their joy that a new soul is
registered in the Book of Life. Tradition states that at
this moment God assigns a guardian angel to stay with the
newly-baptized person until the end of their earthly life.
Following the reading from St Paul's Epistle to the Romans
(6:3-11) and the Reading from the Holy Gospel (Matt
28:16-20) the Priest says to the child:
"You are Baptized; you are illuminated; you are anointed
with the Holy Myrrh; you are hallowed; you are washed clean,
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
cutting of Hair (tonsure) - The Priest cuts four
locks of hair from the child's head in the form of a Cross.
This is an expression of gratitude from the child, who
having received an abundance of blessings through the
Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and having nothing to
give to God in return, offers part of its hair, as a
first-offering to God. In the Old Testament, hair is seen as
a symbol of strength. The child, therefore, promises to
serve God with all its strength.
The Holy Eucharist
(Communion) - Immediately following Baptism and
Chrismation the neophyte becomes a full member of the
Orthodox Church. As such, the child is now entitled to
receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the
Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The new life in Christ,
given in Baptism, is renewed again and again in the
Eucharist. As nature provides milk for the nourishment of
the infant after birth, so God provides the Holy Eucharist
for the infant immediately following Baptism in order to
provide nourishment for the spiritual life the neophyte has
received through Baptism.
GOSPEL READING - "All authority in heaven and on
earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples
off all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
all that I have commanded You; and lo, I am with you always,
to the close of the ages." (Matthew 28; 16-20)
We are God's children. We are loved by Him from the very
moment of birth when He takes us into His arms and bestows
upon us the kiss of His love through Baptism, Chrismation
and the Eucharist.