When I was seven years old, I “went forward” one Sunday morning in response to a preacher’s invitation. I wasn’t at all certain what was going on, but I mostly thought that I was “choosing sides.” Later that week, the preacher came and visited my home. He met privately with me and plied me with questions. When he was done, he shook his head and said to my mother, “He’s only seven years old, but he’s saved.” And with that, I was scheduled to be Baptized the next Sunday evening.
No one explained anything to me about being Baptized. Indeed, I’m not sure they knew of anything to explain. I was quite short, and had to tread water that Sunday evening – thus I was “bobbed” as much as I was “dunked.”
In Orthodoxy, if someone asked what is going on in Baptism, the best answer would likely be, “Everything.” In the Baptismal Liturgy, the priest prays:
But show this water, O Master of all, to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the Spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. For You have said, O Lord: ‘Wash and be clean; put away evil things from your souls.’ You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the Spirit. Therefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that he (she) who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he (she) may put away from himself (herself) the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he (she) may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed to him (her), he (she) may receive the prize of his (her) high calling, and be numbered with the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
As far as I can tell, that is pretty much everything. For good measure, just after the Chrism is wiped off the newly-illumined, the priest says:
You are justified. You are illumined. You are sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.
I have heard various accounts of Baptism that stress one of the various verbs above, but never (outside of Orthodoxy) all of these operative verbs. A legitimate question would be, “What is it about Baptism that makes it all of these things?”
In short, it is our union with the death and resurrection of Christ.
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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:3-5)
But if all these things are true of our Baptism, what can we say about Jesus’ Baptism?
Christ’s Baptism is an entrance into His Pascha – it is His death and resurrection made manifest in the waters of the Jordan. That, of course, is a strange thing to say (or contemplate) but it is how the Church contemplates it:
The Lord refashions broken Adam in the streams of the Jordan.
And He smashes the heads of dragons lurking there.
The Lord does this, the King of the ages;
for He has been glorified.
The Lord clothed material flesh
with the immaterial fire of divinity.
Now He wraps Himself in the flowing waters of the Jordan.
The Lord does this, the Lord born in the flesh from the Virgin;
for He has been glorified.
From the Matins of Theophany
Everything about Christ’s Baptism echoes Pascha. Its feast is thus called by some, “The Winter Pascha.” When the Christian life is rightly understood, everything has this Paschal shape. It is the image according to which we were created (the Lamb that was slain). It makes it possible for us to say with St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
This life in union with the Crucified and Risen Christ is the very heart of our existence. We are not so much “moral agents” as “cruciformed persons.” We do not merely “try not to sin,” we are “dead to sin.” For this reason, we say that prayer is the “one thing needful.” Prayer is our actively uniting ourselves to Christ, for apart from Him, “we can do nothing.”
The Cross cannot be loved from a distance or theologized at arms-length. It is revealed to us only in union. It is a continual ‘yes’ to Christ and ‘yes’ to neighbor and enemy.
The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were afraid; The depths also trembled.
The clouds poured out water; The skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about.
The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters,
And Your footsteps were not known.
You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.(Ps. 77:16-78:1)
Isn’t it wonderfully elegant how the rule of faith is the rule of prayer? The prayers really do elucidate the feasts for us.
Thank you Father. Now to share this with my friends (non Orthodox) who claim baptism is not required for salvation.
Glory to God!
I am greatly enjoying the services of these weeks. I like that there are many, often back-to-back (days). I always realize how badly I need to be immersed in the life of the Church when this happens, although I am not yet adept at listening and “joining in” (prayerfully) with the choir and the prayers.
I was further reminded of my need last night at Vespers, where I spent the majority of the service badly distracted by my thoughts. It seemed an assault and I very much consider it so. Praying simply but with great focus seemed the only way to cry out to God at that time.
Many thanks, Father, for reminding us of the depth and fullness of Orthodoxy! Glory to God!
Wonderful Father – thank you!
Were you baptised (again?) when you were received into the Orthodox Church?
I was baptised at home (by sprinkling) at the age of 3 months by my uncle who was a Presbyterian minister in Ireland. I was baptised again (by immersion) at the age of 19 in the Baptist Church in Guildford England.
When I was about to be ordained as an Anglican priest I was asked to produce my baptism certificate: I had been baptised twice and had a certificate for neither!
So I asked my uncle to provide me with a certificate.
When I became Orthodox in 2013 I was received by Chrismation.
Last month I was at an International Orthodox Consultation in Bulgaria about work in the military. We discussed the reception of Protestants into the Orthodox Church, and one priest from Greece said that you would not expect a Rolls Royce garage to issue a guarantee on a Fiat …
Beautiful words, Father, in remembrance of this Feast.
I love the picture above, of one holding up The Cross while submerged in the waters. A wonderful depiction of Christ’s Baptism as an entrance into His Pascha.
Reading this post about the Theophany, I am struck with thoughts of the significance of water. It is hard for me to word my thoughts though, but I will try.
In the Baptismal Liturgy it says “You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the Spirit.” It is here where I recall in Genesis The Word with God creating…”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Here God reveals to us the Trinity…God, The Word, and The Spirit…and the waters. In the Feast of the Theophany, the same thing…The Father, The Son, and The Spirit…and the waters.
In Genesis, He proceeded to create…and everything was good…but The Word from the very beginning first speaks of the covering waters. Some time later, man sinned and all earthly matter became corrupt. Death ensued. But our merciful God, in Genesis 3:15, gives us a glimpse of our coming Savior.
In the Theophany we see Christ’s healing of creation, through His Baptism and the healing of the waters (waters=creation)…all a revelation of ultimate healing in His Pascha. His death is our death (submerged in water). His Resurrection, our resurrection (rising from the water).
Thus, our baptism is in no way mere symbolism…it is all tied up from the Beginning, where earth was submerged in the waters…already the sanctification of creation…only to be subject to corruption, our movement away from Life….but nevertheless The Cross, the healing, was there from the Beginning, The Word, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Thus Baptism is our death to sin and the entrance of our life in Christ.
Reducing (believing) such a miraculous event such as this to a mere symbol only serves to eliminate the effectual working of this sacrament, I think.
Father, am I seeing these parallels of Genesis and the Theophany properly? I very much welcome your thoughts.
There is an ongoing discussion in the Church about Baptisms from outside the Orthodox Canonical jurisdictions and how converts are to be received in the Church. In the Russian Church the official answer is simply, if a person was Baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit And not in any of the other inventive ways people have come up with) then the baptism is accepted as valid. There are individuals who argue against this and some of the non canonical groups do not accept this, but it is generally how Orthodoxy looks at Roman Catholic and Protestant Baptisms. A former Mormon, Jehovah Witness and people from some of the independent churches would be Baptized but its always case by case with the Bishop as the final authority.
There is an ongoing discussion in the Church about Baptisms from outside the Orthodox Canonical jurisdictions and how converts are to be received in the Church.
Nicholas, I wonder at the need for the conversation! When I was accepted into the Church, I had been baptized (Baptist) in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But I was happy to make it home; it did not occur to me to question why I would be baptized again. I simply submitted to the requirement my Priest put before me. I don’t see why I should have a say in how I enter heaven.
Thank you, once more
I too was baptized and can only express gratitude. The process from the time of enrollment to baptism (the timeline of my catechumenate) was about a year and a half. For some it is longer and for others shorter. I’m grateful that the Bishops decide this on a case by case basis. Frankly such approach is tedious and difficult I suspect. But attempting to make a more formal and definitive process might complicate things, perhaps. I am grateful that there is discussion about it, though.
Love it! (And also that image of you “bobbing” in the water, Father!)
Byron, a similar attitude as you express (submission to the Church) made me accept being received by Chrismation, having already been sprinkled as an infant in a Methodist Church and later fully immersed as a young adult in a Pentecostal one, both using the Trinitarian formula. I would have preferred the whole Orthodox package, but when I mentioned wishing I could have experienced the whole thing including the rite of excorcism, etc., to the then Rector of my current parish, he exclaimed, “We should spit on the devil every day!” Since then I have been more content to accept that Christ through His Church and in Chrismation “fulfills that which is lacking” in my heterodox baptisms. It is our union with Christ in His Church that matters regardless of how it occurs.
I agree but I suppose some need to challenge authority instead. It hearkens back to what Father Stephen was saying about people being overly legalistic within the Orthodox Faith.
David, et al
Yes, there is an ongoing discussion viz. an agreed, common manner for receiving converts into the Church. For me, I do not think it is correct to speak of sacraments outside of the Orthodox Church. Sacraments cannot be isolated from the life of the Church itself. However, from ancient times, there have been a variety of ways of exercising “economia” (a sort of generosity) regarding those coming from the outside. There simply is not a definitive word in the matter, which is why there is some disagreement.
It is (I think) improper to think in terms of “valid” or “invalid.” The Church is, essentially, saying nothing about a previous Baptism. It is, instead, saying something about how it will receive a person. I would gladly have submitted to anything I was asked. As it was, I was received by Chrismation, as was my family.
No Orthodox jurisdiction would refuse to allow me to concelebrate at an altar on account of how I was received. There have been occasional monasteries who do this – but generally – they have been rebuked. None of them have done such a thing under an obedience to their bishop. I have little regard for any action in disobedience or disregard for the bishop. Indeed, I can’t understand that mindset.
What there is that is debated, is pretty much the wisdom of how we receive others, or how we practice and extend economia. As denominational Christianity gets stranger, and deviates more often from ancient standards and teaching, there is a stronger and growing argument for receiving only by Baptism. Also, in light of false ecumenism, that wants to assert that there are sacraments outside the Church, the economy that is extended runs the risk of being misunderstood. Those points make for good discussion.
But it is a discussion that belongs to Bishops – whose sole prerogative it is to extend economia in such matters. I.e. it’s above my pay grade.
Should we concern ourselves with the sometimes conflict between spiritual elders and bishops? Thinking about how they sometimes took (the startsy) a mediating stance between popular Orthodoxy and the Synod in Russia’s past. I have heard that here in the U.S. monastics and bishops do not always see eye to eye. Even this question is above my pay grade…don’t even know if I stated it correctly. If you’d like, pass over it.
My thoughts, in general, are that “no” we should not concern ourselves too much with it. It is a problem that has been around a very long time (even into antiquity). Some have written about the notion of “charismatic” authority versus “sacramental” authority. When a priest stands at the altar and celebrates the liturgy, the miracle of the sacrament always occurs. That is the nature of sacramental authority. It has a sure and certain aspect to it. When a Bishop ordains, an ordination takes place.
Charismatic authority is far more “iffy.” It might or might not be genuine, or can err from time to time. We tend to make too much or too little of Elders.
Myself – I have a preference for “slow and steady” when it comes to the spiritual life. When in doubt, give stuff to the poor.
Thanks again Father. I cannot but keep saying this to you and quite a few writers on the Pravoslavie site. A bit of my background might be in order.
As an Oriental Orthodox Christian (the Malankara Church [headquartered in Kerala, India]) but without proper grounding in Malayalam (that’s the language of our church), i am always at a disadvantage inside church. I grew up in north India and moved to Kerala only in my late thirties. Which meant that i was a Malayalee only by birth not in practice. (Very much like how many Orthodox Greek/Slavonic persons in America have a language handicap inside the church).
Thanks to increased exposure and familiarity with my mother tongue and a chance meeting with a priest whose holiness and Christ-centred life i continuously marvel, i’ve started to actually ‘participate ‘ in the Liturgy instead of marking my reluctant attendance. My language handicap still exists in a mild form but it is no longer a deterrent. In fact, it’s turned out to be an advantage many a time, because i tend to concentrate more! Your writings, especially pertaining to liturgy/prayers (as this current article), have been a help in enhancing my ‘participation’. Thank you once again.
Our church celebrates the baptism of our Lord tomorrow (January 6).
Father, your blessing.
I had a similar upbringing and from your hometown as well. I “asked Jesus to come into my heart” at the age of 5 and was baptized by single immersion in the SBC. But if I had thought to ask what does this baptism do, the reply would have been “nothing”.
Now, I am converting to Orthodoxy in the same diocese as yourself and under the same Bishop. If His Grace deems it right to have me received by baptism into the Church, I will gladly submit to it. Some Christians look at baptism as a mystery for babies and they would take offense at being baptized “again”. I think they are right about baptism being for little children. We enter the Kingdom as little children. I don’t mind being as low as an infant as long as I am united to Christ.
Catholics hold holy water – the blessed water that is used in the rite of baptism and other rites – in high esteem. We dip our fingers in it and cross ourselves when we enter or leave a church. The priest sprinkles it on the congregation on high holy days. On retreat in a monastery, the abbot sprinkles the retreatants with holy water after compline. Is the Orthodox attitude towards holy water similar?
I do wonder about what changes after something is blessed . (water, bread etc…) Does the blessed item remain exactly the same ? Does it receive some sort of “extra grace” . I really don’t have a clue , I’ve just always accepted it and never thought any further about what is actually happening to something once it goes from before to after a blessing .
Does the blessing ever end or is once blessed always blessed ?
Sorry if these are silly questions.
Aust_orthodox, my understanding is that the change by the Spirit reveals God and the love and communion of God with His creation. The fullness of Grace is revealed in the blessing. It is not a magical “change”, but a revealing of what is and should be. Please forgive and correct me if I am incorrect here.
Similar to what Byron has said, the blessing is a lifting of the ‘worldly’ (secular, American Project, etc) veil that covers our noetic eyes, to establish ourselves in the noetic reality of our life, that is, an eternal reality.
If anything is changed it would be our hearts. I think we could ask ourselves, ‘what is the meaning of blessing ?’ For example what is meant by the words, Bless the Lord, O my soul. We would not be changing God, but lifting up the veil that separates us our hearts and souls from God.
The waters were afraid because the God of creation was/is entering into them. Water is a key ‘element’ in creation.
Hope this doesn’t deviate too far from the original topic…but a question:
In Protestant/Evangelical churches, there has been a change in Baptismal practice in many churches of allowing non-ordained church members to participate in and in many cases perform the Baptism of family members (and in some cases friends) under supervision of ordained clergy. Also, a Southern Baptist summer camp I was formerly a staff member of for seven summers (Camp Ridgecrest for Boys in Black Mountain, NC) has, over the past few years, allowed the practice of baptizing campers (likely by non-ordained camp staff) who either felt they had a “salvation experience” during their camp or had never been baptized and felt that they should be baptized.
What is your opinion about these two situations? Do you think both are symptomatic of “denominational Christianity getting stranger” as you characterized it? As a lifelong Protestant (currently Orthodox inquirer), I take less of an issue with allowing Baptism by family/friends under the supervision of clergy in the context of a local church setting than I do with the Baptism of campers outside that context. I likely would have expressed my objection strenuously had that practice occurred while I was on staff at Camp Ridgecrest.
Thanks in advance for your answer, Father. I’ll hang up and listen.
Well, since Baptists officially don’t think anything happens in Baptism (it’s merely an ordinance and an expression of obedience), it doesn’t really matter what they do (in a certain sense). Or, it doesn’t make sense that they would be particularly fastidious about something that they think so little of – indeed, many Baptists think nothing of repeating Baptism over and over. There are many within Orthodoxy who would argue that all who have been Baptized in a Baptist context should only be received by Holy Baptism because their Church never intended for them to be Baptized. That argument makes some sense.
But the strangeness is particularly found in an increasing looseness in the words of administration (Trinitarian). Many Orthodox also are troubled by the single-immersion practiced in those settings – when ancient practice was always triple immersion. The Churches that practice paedo-Baptism at least pour water on the child 3 times.
But the theology of many Christian groups is becoming increasingly alienated from the tradition. I am sympathetic to those who argue on that basis that the economy that made sense in the past makes less and less sense today.
I think that the best way to think about such questions is to read the prayers that are used. The Church means exactly what it says in such instances. There is an element of “revealing” the water to be something – but the structure of the service and the consecration of the waters mirrors almost exactly that of the consecration of the Bread and Wine. Indeed, there is an “epiclesis” in which there is a calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the water, just as there is a calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the Bread and Wine. This, in fact, is a hallmark of all Orthodox sacraments. BTW, though you don’t usually see the blessing of Holy Water listed as a “sacrament,” it is proper to think of it in that manner. The prayer over the waters is very close to the prayer for the waters at Baptism – almost exactly the same in many places.
The prayers say, among other things:
That these waters may be sanctified by the power, and effectual operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That there may descend upon these waters the cleansing operation of the super-substantial Trinity, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will endue them with the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan, the might, and operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That Satan may speedily be crushed under our feet, and that every evil counsel directed against us may be brought to naught, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will free us from every attack and temptation of the enemy, and make us worthy of the good things which he hath promised, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will illumine us with the light of understanding and of piety, and with the descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will send down the blessing of Jordan, and sanctify these waters, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be unto the bestowing of sanctification; unto the remission of sins; unto the healing of soul and body; and unto every expedient service, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be a fountain welling forth unto life eternal, let us pray to the Lord.
That it may manifest itself effectual unto the averting of every machination of our foes, whether visible or invisible, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who shall draw of it and take of it unto the sanctification of their homes, let us pray to the Lord.
That it may be for the purification of the souls and bodies of all those who, with faith, shall draw and partake of it, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will graciously enable us to perfect sanctification by participation in these waters, through the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
Once something is blessed, it remains blessed. There is no “half-life” of holy.
Thank you Fr Stephen , Dee and Byron for your answers.
If something is blessed and remains blessed why do we go back to bless the waters again each year ? Couldn’t we just reference the blessing in the liturgy each year ? I have much to learn regarding the revelation that occurs during a blessing I will pray that God helps my hardened heart as I head to Theophony this morning .
I was aware of the similarities in the language with the Eucharist, and intended to ask my spiritual father about this meaning, of the blessing. Would you correct me further if I have misspoke?
Please forgive me as I ramble on. But also I notice that Christ refers to himself as living water and that the silver urn that holds the blessed holy water, in our parish, appears to me as the Theotokos. And there is an icon that suggests this to me. I don’t think these associations are coincidental but I hope to receive teaching as needed for my understanding.
Far from adequately answering your question about the waters, I would say the answer would be similar to why we perform the Eucharist every Sunday and in every Divine Liturgy. In every service the bread and wine is changed into His Body and Blood. We do it in remembrance, but not remembrance like “oh I remember”, but knowing that it has been done and is also always being done. In other words, a sacrament is “remembered” as in a present tense….not just as a one time historical event. It is a way of knowing a past event as a present reality. I would say the same for the blessing of the waters…they remain blessed. The Priest performs blessing and we all are partakers of the remembrance of Christ’s blessing of the waters as present reality.
These concepts are not easy to explain. I look to Father Stephen to correct me if I misspoke. And of coarse, he can best explain!
Also, I just want to encourage you that God will indeed reveal to you what you need to know. It takes time. And effort on our part. Attend Liturgy, pray, read, do the best you can with what God has given you. Father never ceases to emphasize to be humble, pray, give alms. Another thing I found helpful, per Father’s advice, was to read about the Feasts in the Festal Menaion. Matter of fact, after I posted my first comment (way above) it wasn’t until after I read the service of Theophany that things became clearer. I should have taken my own advice and read first! But I have a long way to go. We all do. But that’s ok…just as long as you’re “going”!
Fr. Schmemann books were helpful to me in understanding the sacraments, “The Eucharist” and “For the Life of the World”.
Here is an online version of “For the Life of The World”
Blessings to you!
Thank you for that link, Paula!
It’s a puzzle, of course. There’s a blessing of the waters done at the Sea…I’ve often thought that on one level, all the water of the earth is blessed again and again. We cannot make it “more blessed” but neither can we make it “less blessed.” Generally, I think of it as “these waters, at this time and at this place.”
It also reminds me that God doesn’t think like an engineer…
I like your perspective. When we enter into the Eucharist, we are entering into Kairos time, the time of eternity in which it is simply now. Christ’s sacrifice was once for all in Kronos (earthly) time but always in Kairos. The same for Hsis Baptism and the Blessing of the Waters. Once in Kronos, always in Kairos. When he step into the Narthex of the Temple we are in a transitional space between Heaven (Kairos) and Earth (Kronos). When we enter the Nave, we have stepped into Kairos so when we do the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are doing it in Kairos which means that that day on Calvary and today is the same. That is also true for Theophany. It is also true for any other sacramental action.
If this sounds funny, ask yourself after Liturgy tomorrow whether or not you experienced passage of time. I was trained to be a creature of time. My father was a stickler for timeliness (If you are not 15 minutes early you’re late) to my career as an aviator. Time on Target is critical and my whole life has been oriented to the passage of time. I don’t wear a watch anymore and I often feel as if we just got start when I am chanting the closing Litany and I wonder how we got here because we just started. For me, time vanishes and many I talk to feel the same in worship.
I think this timelessness is the key to understanding why we seem to repeat things like the Eucharist and Blessing of the Waters.
Some chronos times seem like they are in kairos. Now I know that marriage is a sacrament (mystery) so it does partake in some sense of timelessness. As I never tire of hearing or repeating the same thing in liturgy, I tire not of telling my wife I love her (52 years!) and of her saying the same to me, nor of walking hand-in-hand with our little 10 year old granddaughter. Grand!
Thank you! I took your lesson about the Greek words Kairos and Kronos as an opportunity to look further as to how we employ their meanings. I like your description about the narthex and the nave, and the “passing of time” while attending the Liturgy. It would be appropriate to experience timelessness since we describe the Church as “heaven on earth”. I do experience, as your said, how swiftly time “passes”, as we come to the end. I don’t want it to end.
Anyway, to further understand those Greek words I found an article by Fr. Patrick Reardon…very good. He says some very interesting things about the reality of Kronos vs Kairos, the first being an icon of death and the second being an icon of life. Here’s the link: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/ReardonChronos.php
I’ve done a little dabbling reading about the concept of time. It is very interesting. I remember reading that the OT Hebrew concept of time and it sounds like it is akin to Kairos. They experienced their feast days as if it were the very day of the event.
Thanks again, Nicholas. Good stuff!
I suspect those moments that you are describing become Kronos because they are communion, which itself is a sacrament.
Thanks for the link. I am grateful that I was taught Greek well. It has been a very important tool for me in shedding my Modern Project views and developing an Orthodox Phronema.
Ft Stephen , Paula, Nicholas, Thank you for you words .
It is indeed a puzzle and there is much to learn (and unlearn ) . The reality of Kronos and kairos is something I have to absorb and the links you posted Paula are much appreciated and you are correct these things take time to learn. What an amazing revelation.
Thank you again .