The Baptism and Chrismation
by drd. Razvan Bena
I recently read the book "Of Water and of Spirit - a Liturgical study of Baptism", by Father Alexander Schmemann, one of the foremost orthodox theologians who lived in this century. Several ideas from this book have helped me obtain a more orthodox understanding of the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation, and I would like to share them here.
A lot of people understand Baptism as a sacrament by which all sins are washed, and the newly baptized is endowed with some sort of grace which enables him to live as Christian. Chrismation is similarly understood as a sacrament by which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted to the newly baptized person, "for growth and strength in the spiritual life". The point which I would like to make is that while this understanding contains some parts of truth, what the Orthodox Church teaches is far more complex and far-reaching for one’s Christian life.
Orthodoxy understands Baptism as a personal Easter. The immersion in the baptismal water is the death of the old man, and the resurrection to a new life. Thus, Christian life is a radically new way of life. The Christian does not live according to the World, while maybe renouncing a few sins.
His life is rather summarized in Saint Paul’s words: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2.20).
The first part of the Baptism ceremony is the Exorcism, in which the person to be baptized flees from the World and renounces Satan. By this, he renounces a whole vision of life which places man in the center of
everything and is nothing but a subtle form of idol-worshipping in which the place of the physical idols has been taken by the new idols of Pride, Money, Pleasure, Individualism, etc. Renouncing these idols and living our
life in Christ is hard, and some may say impossible, but this is our calling as Christians. In struggling for this, we should never lose hope, remembering that "What is impossible with men is possible with God".
After the renunciation of this world, the priest asks: "Do you unite yourself to Christ ?" to which the person to be baptized answers "I do". This mystical union with Christ takes place by belonging to the Church, which is the Body of Christ. This is more than just believing in Him (after all, the devils also believe and confess Him - Luke 8, 26).
Before the immersion in the water the baptizand is annointed with the Oil of Gladness, on the chest (for the healing of soul), back (healing of body), ears (for the hearing of the Faith), hands (for doing God’s works),
and feet (for walking on the Lord’s path). After this the priest baptizes him "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".
By immersion in the water of baptism, the old man (who has fallen away from God) from us dies, and we are born again to a new life in Christ. This is our personal Easter.
One question which is often asked and which has been a stumbling block for many is: "How can infants be baptized, if they have no personal faith ?"
How are they supposed to know anything about the awesome mysteries taking place ? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until they are mature ?
The orthodox answer is two sided. First, infant baptism has been practiced since apostolic times. Since the Holy Spirit has always been in the Church, doubting infant baptism is the same as doubting the guidance of The Spirit, as well as the wisdom of thousands of God-inspired Fathers, who have always stood by this practice.
Second, neither adults not infants are baptized because of their faith.
Let us face it - if our faith were the condition for baptism, almost nobody would be baptized. Orthodoxy never reduces faith to personal faith.
The Paralytic was healed by Christ because of the faith of his friends, who lowered him through the roof (Luke 5.18). The daughter of the Canaanite woman was healed because of the faith of her mother (Matthew 15.21-28). It is the faith of the parents, of the godparents, and ultimately the faith of the Church which enables us to receive baptism. It is duty of the parents, godparents and the church community to attend to the spiritual growth of the newly baptized child, to the fulfillment of his baptism in his life.
If by baptism the person is restored from the fallen state to the "normal" one, which God intended for us, Chrismation brings even more. By annointing with Holy Chrism we receive something which does not belong to us by nature, we receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Note that we are not receiving some vaguely defined gifts which enable us to live a more virtuous Christian life. We are receiving the Holy Spirit Himself, the third person of the Holy Trinity, as a gift. This is why Chrismation is our personal Pentecost.
I think it is useful to draw a few conclusions from what we explained above. We have seen that by Baptism and Chrismation a fallen human being is brought to God, united back unto Him, and endowed with the Holy Spirit. From this point on it is the responsibility of the parents, godparents and the whole church community to attend to his spiritual growth. How great and awesome is this responsibility !
Parents and godparents - do not forsake the robe of light with which your child is clothed at baptism, do not forsake the gift of the Holy Spirit which your child receives, by not bringing him to church and by neglecting
his spiritual growth. How easy saying a prayer at bedtime and spending a few hours with our children at Church are, and yet how many of us neglect these things. May God enlighten us, preserve the grace of baptism in our
hearts, and take not His Holy Spirit away from us.
NOVATIVE IDEAS FOR NEW PROJECTS:
1. Subscription for the year of 2001. REVISTA “VIAŢA CREŞTINĂ”
3 Months_______ 6 Months ______ 1 Full year_________
2. As a Nonprofit Organization, we intend to develop a fund raising campaign within the Church's aria or the Parishioners living aria for material things (donations) such as food, books, CDs, stationary, etc. Details will follow.
3. To bring more children to Church, particularly teens, we do strongly believe in reactivation of LAROY. The youngsters are free to meet at Church not only for Sunday School but to socialize as well, participating in
social activities such as: * Ping-Pong table * Pool Table
* Chess and/or other social games * Arts and Crafts to make things to be sold when the Church has Holidays boutiques * Dance (again, we are in need of volunteer to teach them how “the dances”) * For the very young, the Church should have a supervised play ground, which will give the parents a couple of hours brake from being in charge with their own children.
If willing to help, volunteering your ideas, talents and time, please talk to Mrs. Nicolina Markou, either at Church, or contact her at the tel. No. (818) 785-1004.
We greatly appreciate your input.