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Baptism

The prac­tice of bap­tism as a reli­gious sym­bol did not begin with Jesus. Bap­tism, which means lit­er­al­ly the immer­sion in water, was prac­ticed among the peo­ple of the Old Tes­ta­ment as well as the peo­ple who belonged to pagan reli­gions. The uni­ver­sal mean­ing of bap­tism is that of “start­ing anew,” of dying to an old, way of life and being born again into a new way of life. Thus, bap­tism was always con­nect­ed with repen­tance which means a moral con­ver­sion, a “change of mind,” a change in liv­ing from some­thing old and bad to some­thing new and good.

Thus, in the Gospel we find John the Bap­tist bap­tiz­ing the peo­ple as a sign of repen­tance in prepa­ra­tion for the King­dom of God which was com­ing to men with Christ the Mes­si­ah. Christ him­self was bap­tized by John not because he was sin­ful and need­ed to repent, but because in allow­ing him­self to be bap­tized he showed that indeed he was God’s “Beloved Son,” the Sav­iour and Mes­si­ah, the “Lamb of God who takes upon him­self the sins of the world” (See Mt 3, Mk 1, Lk 3, Jn 1–3).

In the Chris­t­ian Church the prac­tice of bap­tism takes on a new and par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance. It no longer remains mere­ly a sign of moral change and spir­i­tu­al rebirth. It becomes very specif­i­cal­ly the act of a person’s death and res­ur­rec­tion in and with Jesus. Chris­t­ian bap­tism is man’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the event of East­er. It is a “new birth by water and the Holy Spir­it” into the King­dom of God (Jn 3:5).

Bap­tism in the Church begins with the rejec­tion of Satan and the accep­tance of Christ. Before being bap­tized, a person—or his spon­sors or god­par­ents for him—officially pro­claims the sym­bol of Chris­t­ian faith, the Creed. Because the god­par­ent speaks on behalf of the child, spon­sors his entrance into the Church and “receives” the child out of the bap­tismal waters into the Church and cares for his spir­i­tu­al life, the god­par­ent him­self must be a mem­ber of the Church.

After the procla­ma­tion of faith, the bap­tismal water is prayed over and blessed as the sign of the good­ness of God’s cre­ation. The per­son to be bap­tized is also prayed over and blessed with sanc­ti­fied oil as the sign that his cre­ation by God is holy and good. And then, after the solemn procla­ma­tion of “Alleluia” (God be praised), the per­son is immersed three times in the water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spir­it.

Through the act of immer­sion, the bap­tized per­son dies to this world and is born again in the res­ur­rec­tion of Christ into eter­nal life. He is clothed with the “gar­ments of sal­va­tion” sym­bol­ized by the white bap­tismal robe which is the “new human­i­ty” of Jesus him­self who is the new and heav­en­ly Adam (See Jn 3, Rom 5, 1 Cor 15). Thus, the words of the Apos­tle Paul are chant­ed as the new­ly-bap­tized is led in pro­ces­sion around the bap­tismal font three times as the sym­bol of his pro­ces­sion to the King­dom of God and his entrance into eter­nal life: “For as many as have been bap­tized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” (Gal 3:27).

In ancient times this pro­ces­sion was made from the bap­tis­tery to the church where the new­ly-bap­tized received Holy Com­mu­nion at the cel­e­bra­tion of the Divine Litur­gy. Bap­tisms were nor­mal­ly done in con­nec­tion with the East­er Litur­gy; our present pro­ces­sion around the church build­ing on East­er night is noth­ing more than our remem­brance that we are bap­tized, that we have left the life of this world to enter the eter­nal life of the Risen Christ in the King­dom of God. This new life is giv­en to us in the life of the Church, most specif­i­cal­ly in the Divine Litur­gy. Before the bap­tismal pro­ces­sion and the read­ing of the Epis­tle and the Gospel is ful­filled in the recep­tion of Holy Com­mu­nion, how­ev­er, the new­ly-bap­tized is giv­en the gift of the Holy Spir­it in the sacra­ment of Chris­ma­tion.