Baptism and Chrismation
There is a simplistic social definition of a Christian as somebody who believes in Jesus Christ. While it is true that Christians do believe in Jesus Christ, this alone is not what makes a Christian.
To be a Christian is to be "in Christ", to be united to the that divine-human Person who makes it possible for human beings to enter into the life of God. This union begins with the sacrament of baptism.
In the waters of baptism, we drown - we die to our old self. With faith and prayer of the Christian community, the priest immerses us three times in the sanctified water "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", and we rise from the water renewed, regenerated as a new creation: we are in Christ. This is what we mean when we speak about being "born again".
Jesus answered and said to [Nicodemus], 'Truly, truly I tell you, unless a person is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God'. Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can someone be born when he is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly I tell you, unless anyone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God'.
- John 3: 3-5
Baptism is the means whereby we become part of Christ's Body, the Church, and is the point at which we truly become Christians. We are Christened (literally Christ-ened). We share in the death of Christ and we rise with Him in his Resurrection. Our baptism is, in this sense, our own little Pascha/Easter.
Through this action we begin the life in Christ, sharing in his priesthood, as priests of creation offering ourselves and all of creation to God, for it to be sanctified by Him and given to us as a blessing for the benefit of our salvation.
Yet this is only the start of the journey, and immediately after our baptism, we are given grace to continue to grow in the life in Christ, finding our gifts and abilities for the building of the Kingdom through the receiving of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Chrismation.
The priest anoints us with the the Holy Chrism, the oil of gladness, the oil that is infused with the grace of God and by which we receive the indwelling within ourselves of the Holy Spirit, as if at our own little Pentecost. St Basil the Great writes that the Holy Spirit fills and energises us and that, at Chrismation, the Spirit activates within each of us the unique gifts that we are to bring to the service of God and his people in his Church.
We then commence the life-long journey of our theosis - our ever-deepening growth and transformation into the life of God - on which we are fed and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
'Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.
'In the unity of faith and baptism, therefore, our community is undivided. There is a common dignity, as the apostle Peter says in these words: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart."
'For all, regenerated in Christ, are made kings by the sign of the cross; they are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special service of our ministry as priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are a royal race and are sharers in the office of the priesthood.'
- Pope St Leo the Great
If you are considering baptism for your child, please contact us. If you are an adult and considering baptism for yourself, you may find these pages to be helpful.
Some points to bear in mind:
- Baptism in the Orthodox Church follows the apostolic tradition of triple immersion - that is, the complete lowering, three times, of the person to be baptised beneath the surface of the water. This is the ancient and continuous practice of the Church and is the literal meaning of the Greek word baptizein (to immerse). The practice of pouring a little water on the head is only acceptable in cases of emergency, or where there is a practical or pastoral necessity. The practicalities of baptism will be discussed as part of the preparation.
- It is traditional for babies to be baptised as near as possible to forty days of age. Not only is this in keeping with the Presentation of the Saviour in the Temple on his fortieth day (which we celebrate on the 2nd of February, 40 days after Christmas Day), but it also has certain practical benefits in terms of minimal distress to the baby by comparison to older babies and toddlers.
- The gender or marital status of the parents does not form a barrier to the baptism of a child into the Church of Christ.
- It is usual to have a trusted person who will become a godparent at the baptism, taking on the responsibility of ensuring that the child will be raised and formed in the Orthodox Christian faith. The natural choice for this is a practising Orthodox Christian. However, it is understandable that family or social obligations may mean that parents might want to ask others to be godparents. Other Christians who have received trinitarian baptism may be permitted to be additional godparents provided at least one is an Orthodox Christian in good standing.