Eastern Orthodox Doctrine about the mystery of Baptism

An address given on the day of the baptism of Sven Fulanchek

May 10/23 1999
7th Sunday of Pascha
The Sunday after the Holy Ascension
The Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

Parents: Jason and Pelagia Fulanchek
Sponsors: Reader John and Mary Wilder
Celebrant: Priest Seraphim Holland

This is a day of great joy, not only for Jason and Pelagia, and John and Mary, but also for our entire community. We have in our midst a newly chosen warrior of Christ, the newly illumined child Sven. Sven is a Nordic form of "Stephen", and the lad's patron and protector is St Stephen the Protodeacon and first Martyr. May God grant that he would have the purity, and tenacity and courage of his protector and intercessor before the throne of God.

Baptism is the beginning. Baptism is the beginning of a new life, of an enriched life, of life the way God intended our life to be. It begins sometimes with a little bit of pain, a little bit of tears, a little bit of crying. I have noticed that infants generally cry during the chrismation. They don't have time to cry in the water. They cry a few tears after, but those tears dry, and the water from the baptism dries, and the chrism is absorbed into the skin, but the Holy Spirit remains, and makes His abode in the child. The Holy Spirit will never leave, if we live as God intended us to live.

I admonish both you who are the parents, Jason and Pelagia, and also you who have taken on the weighty task of being the Godparents, John and Mary: you must keep a careful watch over this child now. In so doing, you must first keep a careful watch over yourselves, because it is an immutable spiritual principle that you cannot impart to your child purity and righteousness if you do not experience it yourselves. A child is pure, but can easily learn impurity. We adults know too well about evil in the world, and we would like to save our children
from it as much as we can. We must do this through prayer, and dedication to their welfare and benefit. I tell you, it is absolutely necessary that Sven, and all children, grow up in a spirit of piety. You are the principle people that God has called upon to pray for this spirit of piety to be inculcated in Sven, and to live in this spirit, as an example to him.

Sponsors, you are required by God, and all the angels and Saints and our community have seen you make a commitment, to remember this child, Sven, in your prayers. Of course, Jason and Pelagia must also remember their children before God, and care for them; this is a requirement of them as well. I also tell you, our community, it is a requirement that we pray for one another. You sin if you do not pray for your family in the church.

Sven needs many things to grow. What do children need? They need food, care, supervision, discipline. Sometime they need admonishment and even punishment. They also need the example of their parents. The food is the body of Christ, the Holy Eucharist, and also, all the things that happen in the life in the church, the prayers, the fasting, our God-inspired services and festal days, and everything else. Children have an innate sense of the holy. I have observed this now for about 18 years, and I tell you, children recognize what is holy, and they are
easily attracted to it, but only when they are very young. They do not understand holiness in an intellectual way, but they react to what is holy, and love what is holy. We parents must present them all the time with holiness, and a holy purpose for their lives.

We must expose them to holiness in coming to the services regularly. It is an absolute necessity that they be brought to the church every week, and be taught to commune the Holy Mysteries with joy and reverence. They should also be brought to the church for the evening services and festal days, so they do not develop a false view that "church is on Sundays". They must also constantly and consistently experience prayer in the house. All of this is critically important, and will grow out of the way we think, and the way we live, and what our purpose in life is.

Every parent wants his child to be happy, to be blessed, to have a fulfilled life. Every parent, whether they are Christian or not, wants these things for their children. Our parent, our Father who is in heaven, also wishes what is best for us. He has presented us with all that is needful to obtain the best. We as natural parents, and as Godparents, must give our children also what is needful for them to grow. We must give them piety, love, steadfastness in the faith, purpose. The purpose of our life, and that of our children, is very simple. It is to save our souls, and to know Christ intimately. This is the destiny for all of us, if we choose it.

Now, for Sven, we have made this beginning for him. He is a child, and according to the teaching of the church, children must be exposed to the grace of baptism as soon as possible. Now, it is the responsibility of Jason and Pelagia particularly, and also John and Mary, as the "second tier" as it were, to raise Sven in, as the scriptures say, "the fear and admonition of the Lord." This is a terrible responsibility, but is also a great and wonderful privilege. You have the opportunity to see a child grow up to completion in Christ. This is what every parent should dream of. We should also "dream" this for ourselves.

I tell you, the same things that are necessary for Sven are those things that we need. As you heard some of these prayers in the baptism, you should have thought and reflected on yourown life. You should have asked yourself, "Am I doing the things that these prayers speak of?" The prayers speak of great and mighty things. The priest invokes the name of God in a mighty way. Do we live as children of a great and mighty God, of a King, and we as His servants, or do we live outside of the understanding of Who He is?

We must have the fear of God in our hearts. This is not to be afraid that He is going to send us to Hell. That is not what the fear of God is. The fear of God is the knowledge of Who He is, and because of the knowledge of Who He is, the great and ardent desire to become changed. May it be so that little Sven will become truly changed. He has started in the right way. Now, his life is to be lived, and to glorify God, and to know Him. I rejoice for you, Jason and Pelagia, and John and Mary, for a newly chosen warrior has been born.

Now, I tell you, you have your work cut out for you. Pray for him. Pray for yourselves, and feed yourselves with a pious purpose and way of life, so that you can feed him.

May it be that all of us, gathered together here this morning, will be in the Heavenly Kingdom, in the last day.


Concerning Baptism in the Holy Scriptures

(John 3:5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

(Acts 8:36-38) And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? {37} And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. {38} And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

(Acts 22:16) And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

(Rom 6:3-4) Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? {4} Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

(1 Cor 12:13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

(Gal 3:27) For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

(Eph 4:4-6) There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; {5} One Lord, one faith, one baptism, {6} One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

(Titus 3:4-7) But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, {5} Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; {6} Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; {7} That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Concerning Baptism in the Holy Fathers

Baptism does not take away our free will or freedom of choice, but gives us the freedom no longer to be tyrannized by the devil unless we choose to be. After baptism it is in our power either to persist willingly in the practice of the commandments of Christ, into Whom we were baptized, and to advance in the path of His ordinances, or to deviate from this straight way and to fall again into the hands of our enemy, the devil.

St Symeon the New Theologian

Whoever after baptism deliberately submits to the will of the devil and carries out his wishes, estranges himself - to adapt John's words - from the holy womb of baptism (cf. Ps. 58:3). None of us can be estranged or alienated from the nature with which we are created. We are created good by God - for God creates nothing evil - and we remain unchanging in our nature and essence as created. But we do what we choose and want, whether good or bad, of our own free will. Just as a knife does not change its nature, but remains iron whether used for good or for evil, so we, as has been said, act and do what we want without departing from our own nature.

St Symeon the New Theologian

Are we only dying with the Master and are we only sharing in His sadness? Most of all, let me say that sharing the Master's death is no sadness. Only wait a little and you shall see yourself sharing in His benefits. 'For if we have died with Him,' says St. Paul, `we believe that we shall also live together with Him.' For in baptism there are both burial and resurrection together at the same time. He who is baptized puts off the old man, takes the new and rises up, `just as Christ has arisen through the glory of the Father.' Do you see how, again, St. Paul calls baptism a resurrection?

St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions

The gift which we have received from Jesus Christ in holy baptism is not destroyed, but is only buried as a treasure in the ground. And both common sense and gratitude demand that we should take good care to unearth this treasure and bring it to light. This can be done in two ways. The gift of baptism is revealed first of all by a painstaking fulfillment of the commandments; the more we carry these out, the more clearly the gift shines upon us in its true splendor and brilliance. Secondly, it comes to light and is revealed through the continual invocation of the Lord Jesus, or by unceasing remembrance of God, which is one and the same thing.

St. Gregory of Sinai in The Art of Prayer.

Do not despair of whatever sins you may have committed since baptism and find yourself in true repentance, but await God's mercy. However many and however great and burdensome your sins may be, with God there is greater mercy. Just as His majesty is, so likewise is His mercy. Only guard yourself from sinning henceforth, and walk according to the aforementioned points.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven

Holy Communion causes great progress in the life according to Christ. For what the external accidents of bread and wine effect in the body, the same is effected in the immaterial soul mystically and invisibly by the Body of Christ. And just as bread sustains and nourishes the body, so the Body of Christ sustains and nourishes our soul; and again, just as we are regenerated through Holy Baptism and receive the being of grace, in place of the being of sin which we had, so, as we are nourished by Holy Communion, we grow in the grace of God and make progress.

St. Macarios of Corinth, Modern Orthodox Saints, V. 2

Not only is it wonderful that He forgives us our sins, but also that He neither uncovers them nor does He make them stand forth clearly revealed. Nor does He force us to come forward and publicly proclaim our misdeeds, but He bids us to make our defense to Him alone and to confess our sins to Him. And yet, if any judge of a worldly tribunal were to tell some captured highwayman or grave robber to confess his crime and be excused from paying the penalty, this prisoner would with all alacrity admit the truth and scorn the disgrace in his desire to go free. But this is not the case in baptism. God forgives our sins and does not force us to make a parade of them in the presence of others. He seeks one thing only: that he who benefits by the forgiveness may learn the greatness of the gift.

St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions

In the sacred Mysteries, then, we depict His burial and proclaim His death. By them we are begotten and formed and wondrously united to the Savior, for they are the means by which, as St. Paul says, "in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Baptism confers being and, in short, existence according to Christ. It receives us when we are dead and corrupted and first leads us into life. The anointing with chrism perfects him who has received [new] birth by infusing into him the energy that befits such a life. The Holy Eucharist preserves and continues this life and health, since the Bread of life enables us to preserve that which has been acquired and to continue in life. It is therefore by this Bread that we live and by the chrism that we are moved, once we have received being from the baptismal washing. In this way we live in God.
St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ.

In regard to Baptism—baptize thus: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour three times on the head, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before the Baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days.
(The Didache, The Teaching Of The Twelve Apostles)

Without the power of the Spirit which our Lord gave us in Baptism for the fulfilling of His commandments, the which is confirmed in us each day by the taking of His Body and Blood, we cannot be purified from the passions, and we cannot vanquish demons, and we cannot perform the works of spiritual excellence.
(Paradise of the Fathers)

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