The Sacraments of Holy Baptism-Chrismation
The public act of the Church in the Sacrament or "Holy Mystery" of Baptism marks the beginning of the Christian journey. In the great Mystery of Holy Baptism one dies to the old self and is reborn spiritually – born of water and of the Holy Spirit – and becomes a member of Christ's Body, the Church, being united with Christ by participating with Him in His death and Resurrection. Vows are made to renounce evil and to live for God alone. In the Orthodox Church, Baptism is followed immediately by the Sacrament of Chrismation, in which the person is anointed and sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is our personal Theophany, Crucifixion and Resurrection, while Chrismation is our personal Pentecost.
Although there must be one sponsor of the same gender as the person being baptized, for infants there are usually two sponsors/godparents. These sponsors must be faithful and devout Orthodox Christians, who accept responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the godchild, and assist him/her to "put on Christ" and be a faithful member of Christ's holy Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church does not discriminate against children by depriving them of the spiritual nourishment that they need, which is given in Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion. Infants and children receive these three Holy Mysteries on or shortly after the fortieth day after birth, thereby affirming that children are of equal importance as adults, and that precisely because the Holy Mysteries cannot be intellectually comprehended, one does not need to understand them for them to be effective, anymore than one needs to understand the process of digestion for physical food to be effective. To withhold this spiritual nourishment for months or years is a type of child-abuse.
The Exorcisms and Affirmation of Faith
Standing in the vestibule (narthex) and laying his hand on the head of the person to be baptized, the priest receives him/her as a "newly-enlisted warrior of Christ." Four beautiful prayers are said, in which the priest commands the devil to depart from, and to have no influence over the person about to be illumined, because the person now belongs to Christ. The sponsors and the one to be baptized turn away from the altar and face the west, vowing three times to renounce Satan, and then spit on him. (The sponsors vow and affirm on behalf of an infant.) Turning back towards the east and the altar, they affirm three times their desire to be united with Christ, and recite the Symbol of Faith – the Nicene Creed. Because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the east symbolizes divine light and new life, and the west symbolizes the darkness caused by the Evil One – the devil.
The priest leads a procession to the place where the Baptism will occur, and gives a lighted candle to the sponsors. The lighted candle symbolizes Christ as the Light of the World, and expresses the person's desire to accept illumination from Christ, to be united to Him and His Church, and to live a holy Orthodox Christian life.
Blessing the Baptismal Water
Several magnificent long prayers glorify God for all His creation. The priest prays that as the waters of the Jordan River were blessed by the descent of the Holy Spirit when Jesus was Baptized, so now this baptismal water will likewise be sanctified. The blessed water symbolizes all of creation restored to its original condition — filled with God's Presence. The person being Baptized is immersed into and becomes part of this new creation, which is Christ's Body, His Church. Furthermore, by being blessed, ordinary water becomes like the Jordan River, and the person being baptized participates with Christ in His Baptism in the Jordan River, His death and Resurrection, and becomes a "new creation."
Blessing the Baptismal Oil and Anointing
The priest prays that as God sent a dove with an olive branch to those who were in Noah’s ark as a sign of reconciliation and salvation from the flood, so God will now bless the baptismal olive oil — also a sign of salvation and healing — by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as oil or salve is used to heal bodily wounds, so the "oil of gladness and righteousness" is used to heal the sickness of the soul and body. The baptismal oil is used to anoint the forehead, breast and shoulders, hands and feet, thereby healing and consecrating the mind, senses and energies of the "new creation" in Christ.
This is the central act of the whole Baptismal Service. Receiving the baptismal name of an Orthodox saint, a child is immersed upright three times, representing death and resurrection, with the words: “The servant of God, [name] is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” A baptismal cross is then put around the person's neck, to be worn always, throughout life, as a sign of belonging to Christ. Then the newly baptized is dressed in a while baptismal garment, which represents the purity of the new life in Christ, and of “putting on Christ.”
The Anointing With Holy Chrism
Having been reborn by water and the Spirit in Baptism, the person is immediately sealed with the Holy Spirit. This sacrament corresponds to the Apostles laying their hands on the heads of those who were baptized, anointing them with oil, and bestowing on them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, received at Pentecost. Because our bishops, the successors of the Apostles, cannot anoint every person being baptized, during Holy Week they consecrate special Chrism (a mixture of many oils and herbs), which they give to their priests to anoint and seal the newly baptized with the gifts of the Holy Spirit on behalf of the bishop. The sign of the cross is made with the Chrism on the forehead, eyes, nose, lips, ears, breast, hands and feet, which seals all the senses, the mind, heart and actions, so the person may receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to always walk in the Way of the Lord.
The Triple Procession
The priest leads the sponsors and newly baptized-chrismated person in a triple procession around the baptismal font, cross and Gospels, while “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!” is sung three times. This signifies that the new Christian must always journey through life in worship of the Holy Trinity, making Christ the center of his/her life. In the Epistle reading (Romans 6:3-11), St. Paul explains the meaning of Baptism: when we are baptized, we are baptized with Christ into His death, so that we might walk in newness of life and share in His Resurrection. We must die to our old selves, servants of sin, and be raised with Christ to live only for Him and in Him. In the Gospel reading (Matthew 28:16-20), we hear Jesus commanding His Apostles and giving them the authority to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
After washing the places he had anointed with chrism, the Service concludes with the Tonsuring, in which the hair of the newly illumined servant of Christ is cut on the four sides of the head, in the form of a cross. This cutting off and offering a part of oneself symbolizes the offering of one's whole life to God, and the desire to fulfill one's baptismal vow to serve the Lord and walk in His paths all the days of one's life.
Reception of Holy Communion
The new member of the Church receives Holy Communion at the next Divine Liturgy served in the parish, for two main reasons. First, because receiving Holy Communion provides the on-going spiritual nourishment that enables one to maintain the baptismal vows to renounce Satan and to live only for God. And second, because the Divine Liturgy is the central act performed by the Church, with which the newly baptized-chrismated person is now united. It is the extremely important responsibility of the parents and godparents to bring babies and children to Holy Communion every week.
The Churching of the Mother and Child
In the Church’s concern for the well-being of a new mother and infant, they have been urged to stay at home and rest for 40 forty days after childbirth. Then, with thanksgiving for God's gift of new life, and following the example of the Mother of God, the mother presents herself and her baby in church (usually) preceding the Baptism. Beautiful prayers are offered for her and her child, and then, as her child is to be spiritually reborn in Baptism, the mother also shares in that renewal by returning to full participation in the Church's liturgical life. The Churching of the Child follows the Baptism-Chrismation. Patterned on the example of St. Simeon taking Christ into his arms, the priest receives the child from the mother, and presents him/her to the Lord in front of the Holy/Royal Doors, showing that the child is now a full and equal member of Christ's Holy Church.
Prepared for educational and mission use at St. Innocent Orthodox Church, Redford, Michigan
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