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Sacraments

I confess one baptism for the remission of sins

The way of entry into the Chris­t­ian Church is by bap­tism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spir­it (Mt 28:19; the Bap­tismal Gospel read­ing in the Ortho­dox Church).

Bap­tism as a word means immer­sion or sub­mer­sion in water. It was prac­ticed in the Old Tes­ta­ment and even in some pagan reli­gions as the sign of death and re-birth. Thus, John the Bap­tist was bap­tiz­ing as the sign of new life and repen­tance which means lit­er­al­ly a change of mind, and so of desires and actions in prepa­ra­tion of the com­ing of the King­dom of God in Christ.

In the Church, the mean­ing of bap­tism is death and rebirth in Christ. It is the per­son­al expe­ri­ence of East­er giv­en to each man, the real pos­si­bil­i­ty to die and to be “born anew” (Jn 3:3).

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; Bap­tismal Epis­tle read­ing in the Ortho­dox Church; See also Col 2:12; 3:1).

The bap­tismal expe­ri­ence is the fun­da­men­tal Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence, the pri­ma­ry con­di­tion for the whole of Chris­t­ian life. Every­thing in the Church has its ori­gin and con­text in bap­tism for every­thing in the Church orig­i­nates and lives by the res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. Thus, fol­low­ing bap­tism comes “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spir­it,” the mys­tery (sacra­ment) of chris­ma­tion which is man’s per­son­al expe­ri­ence of Pen­te­cost. And the com­ple­tion and ful­fill­ment of these fun­da­men­tal Chris­t­ian mys­ter­ies comes in the mys­tery of Holy Com­mu­nion with God in the divine litur­gy of the Church.

Only per­sons who are com­mit­ted to Christ in the Ortho­dox Church through bap­tism and chris­ma­tion may offer and receive the holy eucharist in the Ortho­dox Church. The holy eucharist is Holy Com­mu­nion. As such it is not just a “means of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion” for indi­vid­ual believ­ers, a means through which pri­vate per­sons gain “com­mu­nion” with God accord­ing to their own pri­vate con­sciences, beliefs and prac­tices. It is rather the all-embrac­ing act of Holy Com­mu­nion of many per­sons hav­ing the same faith, the same hope, the same bap­tism. It is the cor­po­rate act of many per­sons hav­ing one mind, one heart, one mouth in the ser­vice of the one God and Lord, in the one Christ and the one Holy Spir­it.

To par­tic­i­pate in Holy Com­mu­nion in the Ortho­dox Church is to iden­ti­fy one­self ful­ly with all of the mem­bers of the Ortho­dox faith, liv­ing and dead; and to iden­ti­fy one­self ful­ly with every aspect of the Ortho­dox Church: its his­to­ry, coun­cils, canons, dog­mas, dis­ci­plines. It is to “take on one­self” the direct and con­crete respon­si­bil­i­ty for every­one and every­thing con­nect­ed in and with the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion and to pro­fess respon­si­bil­i­ty for the every­day life of the Ortho­dox Church. It is to say before God and men that one is will­ing to be judged, in time and eter­ni­ty, for what the Ortho­dox Church is and for what the Ortho­dox Church stands for in the midst of the earth.

Enter­ing into the “Holy Com­mu­nion” of the Ortho­dox Church through bap­tism and chris­ma­tion, one lives accord­ing to the life of the Church in every pos­si­ble way. One is first of all faith­ful to the doc­trine and dis­ci­pline of the Church by faith­ful com­mu­nion with the hier­ar­chy of the Church who are those mem­bers of the Body sacra­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble for the teach­ings and prac­tices of the Church; the sacra­men­tal images of the Church’s iden­ti­ty and con­ti­nu­ity in all places and all times. When one enters into the com­mu­ni­ty of mar­riage, a union of one man and one woman for­ev­er accord­ing to the teach­ing of Jesus Christ, this union is sanc­ti­fied and made eter­nal and divine in the sacra­men­tal mys­tery of mat­ri­mo­ny in the Church. When one is sick and suf­fer­ing, he “calls for the priests of the Church” to “pray over him, anoint­ing him with oil” in the sacra­men­tal mys­tery of holy unc­tion (cf. Jas 5:4). When one sins and falls away from the life of the Church, one returns to the “Holy Com­mu­nion” of the divine com­mu­ni­ty by the sacra­men­tal mys­tery of con­fes­sion and repen­tance. And when one dies, he is returned to his Cre­ator in the midst of the Church, with the prayers and inter­ces­sions of the faith­ful broth­ers and sis­ters in Christ and the Spir­it. Thus the entire life of the per­son is lived in and with the Church as the life of full­ness and new­ness in God Him­self, the Church which is the mys­ti­cal pres­ence of God’s King­dom which is not of this world.

The con­fes­sion of “one bap­tism for the remis­sion of sins,” there­fore, is the con­fes­sion of the total new­ness of life giv­en to men in the Church because Christ is risen.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seat­ed at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glo­ry (Col 3:1–4).

Thus, in the Church, the whole of life is the one which begins in the new birth of bap­tism, the “life hid with Christ in God.” All of the mys­ter­ies of the Chris­t­ian faith are con­tained in this new life. Every­thing in the Church flows out of the waters of bap­tism: the remis­sion of sins and life eter­nal.