Baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church

 

The Lord Jesus instituted Baptism:
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16).
"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 Sacrament.

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.

The 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.

The 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 "Christians".

The Candle - However dark may be the night that surrounds us, Baptism "Remains the sacrament of entrance into light;
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 Thess 5:5).
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 Christ's return.

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" (Rom 6:3-4).

The 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 words:

"The servant of God (name) is Baptised in the Name of the Father. Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit, Amen".
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."

The 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 Spirit. Amen".

New 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 Spirit. Amen".

The 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.

THE 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.

 
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