The Sacrament of Baptism


As Orthodox Christians, the Sacrament of Baptism is our entry into the Church as members of the Body of Christ.

It is the “new birth” by which we die to the world, and are raised with Christ to eternal life. It is through Baptism, that we are mystically born into spiritual life.

The Holy Sacrament of Baptism is our entrance into the Kingdom of Grace, and grants access to participation in the other Sacraments of the Church.

Jewish Connection – Ceremonial Washings

In Exodus we read that before the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, God commanded the people to wash their clothing as a symbolic act of purification (Ex 19:10)

In Leviticus, God commanded Aaron to wash himself before and after he ministered in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. (Lev 16:4)

Numbers 19 gives explicit instructions for purification after defilement by a dead body. After bathing and washing his clothes, the “unclean” person had to be sprinkled with fresh water. The Israelites also used this “water of cleansing” to purify themselves.
All these water rituals formed the basis for the Jewish Mikveh laws. While the Hebrew word mikveh means literally “a collection or gathering together,” in this context it refers to a gathering or pool of water for the purpose of ritual cleansing.

The Sacrament of Baptism – New Testament

The Gospels record Christ’s own words regarding baptism in his conversation with Nicodemus:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

When Nicodemus expressed his perplexity, “How can a man be born when he is old?” Christ replied that this new birth is accomplished by water and the Spirit:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is truly born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3. 3-5)

Gospel reading at Baptism

The Great Commission – Part 1

After His Resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples and commanded them to;

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
  (Matthew 28.19)

This is our call from our Savior for the institution of the sacrament of Baptism….however there is a part 2 to Christ’s command:

Gospel reading at Baptism

The Great Commission – Part 2

The second part of the Great Commission is found in the next verse,
“…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20)

By stating that He is with us always, Jesus means that His Resurrection is not just the past, nor the future. It is always present in our lives through the Holy Spirit. We know Him directly, here and now, in the present, as our Savior and our Lord. ‘To the end of the age’ does not imply that we are to be separated from Him at some point in time, but rather that He will be with us forever.

This second command reflects the great and awesome responsibility that the God-parent has with respect to his/her Godchild.

St Paul’s Instructions on Baptism

In St. Paul’s letter to Titus (3:5) he teaches that baptism depicts the washing away of sin and uncleanness by Christ’s sacrifice, and the giving of new life by God’s Holy Spirit to those who are cleansed in this way.
In Romans (6:3-4) he further describes baptism as a picture of death and resurrection. That is, by his baptism the believer publicly announces that through faith in Christ, he has died to his old sinful ways and has been made alive to God.

St Paul teaches the Colossians (2:9-12) that those who believe in Christ are buried with Him into His atoning death, so that God might raise them to a new life, even as the Messiah himself rose from the dead.

“…having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead

Baptism has Certain Prerequisites

True baptism requires FAITH

In the Book of Acts (8:35-38) notice the eunuch’s question, and Apostle Philip’s response:

  Eunuch: “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

  Philip “If you believe with all your heart, you may.“

True baptism also requires REPENTANCE (Acts 2:38)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism as recorded in The Didache: Teachings of the 12 Apostles

In Chapter 3 we read of the earliest form of Instruction on Baptism in the Didache which was in use by the Early Christians of the 1st century:

  Now about baptism, baptize this way:

  after first uttering all of these things, baptize “into the name of the   Father and of the son and of the holy Spirit” in running water.

  But if you do not have running water, baptize in other water. Now if you   are not able to do so in cold water, do it in warm water.

  Now if you don’t have either, pour water three times on the head, “into   the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the holy Spirit.”

  Now before the ritual cleansing, the baptizer and the one being   baptized should fast, and any others who are able.

Icon of Baptism – Theophany or Epiphany Event

First you see John the Baptist baptizing Christ. In some icons, John is shown with his face turned toward heaven and beholding the miracle of the Theophany.

Next you see the Holy Trinity.  Since, in Orthodox theology, individual Persons of the Holy Trinity are always shown together, Communion. Thus you see Christ being Baptized, the Holy Spirit above Him in the form of a dove, and the Father above the dove.

Near to John is a tree with an axe laid at the root, recalling John’s own preaching to those who came to him:“And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt 3:10). 

The angels to the right of Christ wait reverently on the opposite bank to receive the newly baptized Christ and clothe Him. 

At the base of the icon is the flowing waters of the Jordan. The figure in the water represents the river Jordan. 

Rather than the waters of Jordan cleansing Christ, it is Christ Who cleans the waters.

Notice also the fish or other small sea creatures fleeing from the feet of Christ.

This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist regarding the Messiah (Christ): “the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back” (Psalm 114:3).

Orthodox and Catholic Baptism

In an Orthodox Baptism we are witnessing 3 sacraments in one service:

1.Baptism       – into the Christian faith

2.Chrismation        – into the Orthodox Faith

3.Holy Communion – as a new member of the Body of Christ

In the Catholic Church these sacraments are performed at separate times.

  Baptism occurs as an infant.

  Chrismation is administered to children before they receive their   first  Communion, generally at about the age of twelve.

  Holy Communion is received at the age of reason