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Baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church

 

Baptism is a covenant, an agreement between God and man. God promises to be our Father and we promise to be His children. Baptizing infants, before they are aware of what will take place, is an expression of God's great love for us. It shows us that God loves us and accepts us before we can even know Him or love Him. It shows us that we are wanted and loved by God from the moment of our birth.

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.

EXORCISM - The first step begins with the entrance to the church. This is to show that the one being received is not yet a member of the Church. The priest calls upon the sponsor to renounce Satan and all his works from the child. The renouncing of Satan is done facing the west, it is where the sun sets, the place where the ancient Greeks believed to be the location of Hades, the gates of Hell. Then the priest faces east, where the sun rises. He asks the godparents to accept for the child "Christ, who is the light of the world". Renouncing Satan and accepting Christ expresses our faith from the master of darkness to the master of light.

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 CREED - The godparents are asked to confess faith in Christ on behalf of the infant. They recite the Nicene Creed. The Creed was the password that distinguished the ancient Christians as members of the Christian faith.

NAMING THE CHILD - Form the moment the child is received into the Church, emphasis is placed on individuality, with his name he is distinguished from every other child. This is an expression of dignity in the eyes of God. It is the Church's expression of acceptance of him as an individual in his own right, a new beginning of life through baptism.

THE BAPTISMAL FONT - The baptismal font is the language of the Church Fathers in the Divine Womb whence we receive the second birth as children of God. "But to all who receive Him, who believe 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 the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12:12)

THE TRIPLE IMMERSION - 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 WATER - The water is used for cleansing. Through this sacrament Christ cleanses us from original and personal sin. Our bodily eyes see the priest cleansing the infant, however our spiritual eyes see the High Priest (Jesus) touching the child baptizing him in the name of God.

THE NAKED INFANT - The child is baptized naked, as it comes from the womb of his mother, so he emerges from the womb of God - the baptismal font. The removal of the child's clothing signifies the old slough of sin 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.

THE ANOINTING WITH OIL - Olive oil is blessed by the priest and applied to the child's hands, feet ears and mouth, in order to dedicate them to the service of Christ. The god parents then anoint the entire body of the child with the oil. 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. In baptism the child anointed with olive oil expresses a prayer that with Christ's help he may be able to elude the grip of sin.

THE NEW CLOTHES - The new clothes signify the entirely new life that we receive after we are "buried with Jesus in His death." In the early church, the newly baptized did not put on the old clothing he had taken off. He put on a new white robe, which was worn during the services of Easter Holy Week. Most baptisms were performed on Holy Saturday. The white robe symbolizes the purity of the sole cleansed from sin, and the robe in which Christ appeared in at the Transfiguration. St. Gregory of Nyssa states that the white robe which one wore after baptism symbolizes the garment of light which was man's before the Fall.

THE CANDLES - In the early church the baptismal candle was always kept by the one that was baptized. The baptismal candle was brought to church on feast days, on the anniversary of one's baptism and at midnight Easter liturgy. If the person was to be wed, they would light the same candle at the wedding ceremony. If one was to be ordained they would light it at the ordination. When the final hour of life approached it was lit yet again as the soul went forth to meet its Judgment. It was a constant reminder for the Christian to live and die by the light of Christ.

THE SACRAMENT OF CHRISMATION or CONFIRMATION - In the Orthodox Church the Sacrament of Confirmation is administered immediately following the baptism. It is considered the fulfillment of baptism. Human nature purified by baptism is made ready to receive the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for Confirmation is "chrisma", which means anointing. Thus by this Sacrament we are made Christians "Chrismation" is the ordination of laity. According to belief, everyone baptized is a lay person ordained by a priest by this sacrament. He receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and becomes an ambassador for Christ in this world.

THE EUCHARIST - Immediately following the baptism the "newly enlightened" receives the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and in the case of an infant, is brought to church regularly to receive the sacrament. The new life in Christ is renewed again and again with the Eucharist As nature provides nourishment of the child after birth so God provides Holy Communion for the child's spiritual life after baptism.

THE CUTTING OF HAIR - After confirming the child, the priest cuts three locks of hair from his head. This is an expression of gratitude for receiving God's blessings in baptism and confirmation. Having nothing to give in return, the gift of his hair )a symbol of strength like Samson) is a promise to serve God with all his strength.

THE RELIGIOUS DANCE - A procession around the baptism font by the priest and godparent holding the child is believed to be a reflection of the celebration of angels dancing and expressing their joy that a new soul has been registered in the Book of Souls.

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)

 


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