Holy Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments of the Orthodox Church. It is the mystery of starting anew, of dying to an old way of life and being born again into a new way of life in Christ. It is, “for the remission of sins” and for entrance into the Church.
There are many symbolic actions in the Baptismal service, both visible and invisible. The visible part involves the actions taken by the priest. The invisible part involves the sanctifying Grace that comes from the Holy Spirit that fills the body and soul of the person receiving the Sacrament. Baptism begins with the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. The exorcism commences in the narthex (entrance) of the church where the priest calls upon the sponsor (godparent) of a child to renounce, on their behalf, the devil and all his works. This is done facing west where the sun disappears.
The priest then faces east where the sun rises, and asks the godparent to unite himself with Christ who is the Light of the world. The sign of the cross is made on the child’s body as a sign of victory and union to Christ. With the entry into the main part of the church, the godparent is asked to read the Nicene Creed, which is the confession of the true faith that will be passed on to the child. Because the godparent speaks on behalf of the child and cares for his spiritual life he himself must be a member of the Church. At this time the godparent names the child expressing his individuality in the Church, and the child also receives the name “Christian”, bearing the name of Christ.
The priest makes the sign of the cross three times over the water and says, “Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the signing of your most precious Cross.” The infant is baptised in their naked state to signify the putting off of the ‘old man’. Olive oil is blessed by the priest and then applied to the child’s forehead, breast, back, hands, feet, ears, mouth in order to dedicate them to the service of Christ. The godparent then covers the entire body of the child with the prayer that he will be protected from sin and the evil one.
Baptism is then performed by the three-fold immersion in the baptismal font in the name of the Holy Trinity. As the water closes over the head it is like being buried in a grave and entering Christ’s death and entombment. When the newly baptised emerges from the water it is being resurrected into a new life in Christ. The priest then cuts (tonsures) four locks of hair from the child’s head in the form of a cross. This is a first offering to God in gratitude for all the blessings received from Him.
In the Orthodox Church the Sacrament of Chrismation is given immediately following Baptism. We will speak of Chrismation in the next issue. Following this the child is clothed in traditionally new white garments to signify the purity of the soul that has been washed from sin. The priest walks together with the godparent and the child around the font three times chanting, “For as many of you as have been baptised in Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26).
Tradition states that at this moment God assigns the newly illumined child a guardian angel to stay with him till the end of his life. The child has become a full member of the church and as such can now receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In doing so a lighted candle is brought with the newly illumined child, which is symbolic of Christ being the Light of the world.
Source: Lychnos July-August 2019