Chapter 14 - Man's
incorporation in the Church
1. The birth from above
In His conversation
with Nicodemus, Christ said that for one to become a partaker of God's
Kingdom, he must be "born above" (John 3:3).
Nicodemus was not
able to understand Christ's words, so he asked Him: "How
can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his
mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus then replied:
"Most assuredly, I
say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the
kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is
born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be
cmp. also John 1:12-13).
The birth "above"
that Christ spoke of is the
regeneration and renewing" (Titus 3:5) - that is, Holy Baptism in
the name of the Holy Trinity.
when they heard this, they
were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren,
what shall we do?'"
to which He replied:
"Then Peter said to them,
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ
for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"
therefore, of the Holy Spirit renders man "born again". This presence is
secured within the Church, with the Sacrament of Baptism and the other
Sacraments. These holy Sacraments are visible acts, which are performed by
the Church and are witnessed objectively, with external criteria and not
with subjective - supposedly spiritual - criteria as some heretics maintain.
Baptism was not an
arbitrary act by the Apostles. They had received a special instruction by
Christ (Matth.28:19), Who had reassured them that those who would believe
and be baptized would be saved, whereas, on the contrary, those who would
not believe would be condemned (Mark 16:16).
With Baptism, man is
assumed into the body of Christ; he is incorporated in the resurrected Body
of the Lord. Thus, when he is submerged three times into the water of the
baptismal font, he is participating in the Lord's 3-day sojourn in Hades.
And when he emerges from the water, the old nature of Adam has been
mortified inside him and he has embosomed the new nature: Christ's
resurrected nature (Romans 6:3-9). He is no longer a citizen of earth,
destined to die. He is thereafter naturalized in heaven, and his name has
been added among those of the living (Hebr.12:23). Because of this
(and provided we could see that person
with a clear,
as he emerges from
the sacred Font ), we would be able to perceive the change and the
metamorphosis he has undergone with that Sacred Sacrament. We would discern
that he has shed the "old person" with his Baptism and has put on the
of Christ and has been reborn - spiritually, that is. (John
The Apostle Paul
describes this fact, as follows: "Or
do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were
baptized into His death? Therefore
we were buried with Him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk
in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His
death, certainly we also shall be in
the likeness of His
this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that
the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves
of sin. For
he who has died has been freed from sin. Now
if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him..." (Rom. 6:3-8).
2. The prerequisites for Baptism
Christ's words, salvation belongs to the one who will believe and be
baptized (Mark 16:16). The prerequisite therefore, for baptism, is to
believe in the Person of Christ.
When we say that one must
believe, we do not mean any abstract belief in Him - that is, a faith that
does not cost us anything, in the precise manner that some claim: "I
believe there is a higher power"!
This is about the
faith, for whose sake man must be prepared to offer everything - even his
very life, if asked of him. That is what the martyrs of our Church did, and
that is what we are called upon to do: to regard our faith as the most
precious thing in our life, which we do not give up, either in
exchange for money or for human friendships - not even for our very life (cmp.
Matth.16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, John12:25)
This faith mainly
includes three points:
Satan. Distancing oneself from every satanic belief, thought and
act (James 4:7).
This of course
cannot be successfully achieved by man on his own, because he is under
the dominion of Satan (1 John 5:19, John 12:31 and 14:13). For this reason,
exorcises the evil spirit prior to the sacrament of holy Baptism in the name
of Christ, so that it exit and distance itself from the "newly-conscripted
soldier of Christ our Lord" who is sealed with the sign of the Precious
Cross, never to return to him, ever again.
With the seal of the
Precious Cross, Satan is also exorcised to depart from the water of the holy
Baptism, so that it may prove to be "water of redemption, water of
sanctification, the cleansing of flesh and spirit, the bath of regeneration,
the renovation of the spirit, the gift of adoption, the garment of
incorruptibility, the fount of life", and so that the one being baptized be
reborn in it, after having shed the old person of corruptibility and donned
the new one - the one being "renovated, according to the image of the One
Who created him", so that he become "congenital" with the death and the
resurrection of Christ.
b) Siding with
Christ. That is, the about-face of one's thoughts, actions, love - one's
entire life - towards Christ; one's complete subordination to Him. (James
c) Venerating and
3. Infant Baptism
In the ancient
Church, when people became Christians individually, they were baptized at an
adult age, after being catechized previously and having believed in Christ.
Towards this end,
the Church had formed a special order: the Order of Catechumens. We can
still discern this order in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy today. Its first
section, which includes the "pacific" prayers, the antiphons and the
readings and ends with the blessings for the catechumens, is called the
"Liturgy of the Catechumens".
The above of course
do not signify that in the ancient Church, young children or even infants
were excluded from holy Baptism. That would have signified their exclusion
from salvation (John 3:5). Christ Himself had called out to the
children, laid His hands upon them, blessed them, imparted the grace of the
Holy Spirit, and in fact proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to
them (Matth.19:14-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17).
When entire families
came to the faith, the Apostles baptized all the members of those families,
without exception (Acts 16:15, 1 Cor.1:15).
We could also
characteristically mention that in the Holy Bible, circumcision is presented
as a form of Baptism (Col. 2:11-12).
Furthermore, it is a known fact that circumcision took place on the eighth
day after the birth of the child. (Gen.17:12, Lev.12:3). This is why it
appears that infant baptism was the customary practice in the ancient
Church, whereas the postponement of baptism is a later practice.
Irenaeus (150 A.D.) witnessed this practice of the Church, while Saint
Cyprian (250 A.D.) notes: "If adults - who, prior to their Baptism had
fallen into serious crimes - are made worthy of the grace of Baptism, then
how much more should children be made worthy of the grace of Baptism, when
they voluntarily did not sin, but only partake of the original sin which was
foreign to their will?"
Saint Gregory the
Theologian also adds that children should be baptized when they are still
infants, so that "they be sanctified and dedicated from their infancy".
4. The importance of personally participating during Holy
Of course one may
well ask: Can a child understand the holy Sacrament?
On this question, we need to
point out that understanding the sacrament is not dependent on the
intellectual capacity of a person, but on God's love.
"We did not seek
Him; He sought us" says Nicholas Kavasilas
(*), and adds that the sheep did not
seek out the shepherd, but rather, the shepherd sought out the sheep. Nor
did the coin look for the master of the house; the master of the house went
looking for the coin. Everything originates from God. Man is merely
the recipient of the energies of God's grace, without any conscious reaction
of his own.
This however applies
to a young child also, and in fact, in a much better way, because the child
is not in a position to extend any conscious reaction to God's grace.
Naturally a child's conscious participation and perceptive ability is
lesser, but this is not significant, because even in an adult, the
perceptive ability is by far not analogous, with regard to the
incomprehensible and ineffable result of the holy sacrament.
These are the
reasons the Orthodox Church baptizes infants and believes that it is the
correct praxis and is the will of Christ (Matth.19:14-15).
5. The huge responsibility of the parents and the
It is obvious that
in the case of infant baptism, the responsibility for the catechizing and
the incrementing of the faith in a new member of the Church is borne by the
Christian parents and the godparent.
What does that responsibility
consist of? What does the godparent or the catechumen promise, in the
event that Baptism takes place at an advanced age, as is the case in
Missionary lands? The answer to this question is provided by the
sacred service for the Catechumen, which takes places prior to Holy Baptism.
The priest turns the catechumen to face the West and asks him/her if he/she
renounces Satan; if he/she renounces everything that has to do with Satan,
with his works and his worship.
publicly certifies three times that he/she renounces Satan. In this way,
he/she enters a sacred contract with God and the Church, that he/she has
renounced everything related to Satan and his works.
«I have renounced!» he/she repeats three more times.
The priest then
prompts the catechumen or the godparent to an act replete with symbolism:
«And blow and spit
The catechumen then puffs and
spits three times towards the West. In this way, he/she proclaims that not
only has he/she renounced everything to do with Satan's evil works, but also
feels disgust and abhorrence for everything that has to do with Satan - in
fact, to such a degree that he/she spits him in the face!
The priest then
turns the catechumen towards the East and again asks him/her three times:
«Do you stand with Christ?», - are you on Christ's side?
The catechumen then
gives his/her official assurance three times that he/she is willing to be
enumerated among the members of Christ's Body - the Church:
«I do stand by!»
"Have you stood by Christ?"
the priest again asks him/her three times. And he/she again gives the
same assurance three times: "I have stood by!"
And this beautiful
and moving dialogue between the priest and catechumen or the godparent
continues. Now the Priest must ascertain whether the catechumen has
become rooted in the Orthodox Faith. So he asks:
«And do you believe
Then the catechumen
declares: «I believe in Him as King and God». I believe Him to be my king
and my God! (cmp.John 20:28).
However, details are
required of the catechumen on the matter of faith. He/she must provide more
guarantees that his/her faith is specific, and that it includes all the
dogmas of the Orthodox Church, as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils.
For this reason, he/she must then recite the Symbol of Faith (the Creed) and
in fact, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire congregation in
the Church, with whom he/she is "signing" that holy contract. In this
way he/she proves in the presence of God's people that his/her faith is the
faith of the Orthodox Church; in other words, the faith in the one, Triune
God and in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which includes the
confession of "one baptism, for the absolution of sins", the anticipation of
the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.
So, one renounces
Satan, then confesses to stand by Christ and confesses the Orthodox faith.
Afterwards follows the worship of the Triune God, the complete submission to
His will, and the full dependence on His mercy:
«Then submit to Him!».
«I submit to Father,
Son and Holy Spirit - the Trinity - of one and inseparable essence!!» (cmp.
All of the above are
proof of the immense responsibility of the parents and the godparents, when
they entrust their children to the Church and receive them from the Sacred
Baptismal Font. As mentioned, they sign a sacred contract and they
promise that they will catechize their children in the Orthodox faith and
will gradually introduce them into the full life of the Church. How
immense indeed is this responsibility!
After having signed this
contract with the Church, and prior to proceeding to the performance of the
holy Sacrament of Baptism, the priest glorifies the name of God for this
«Blessed is God, Who desires everyone to be saved and to be acquainted with
the Truth, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages!».
The service closes
with the beautiful blessing by the priest, in which he beseeches God to
invite the catechumen "towards holy illumination" and make him worthy of the
great gift of the Holy Spirit:
«Remove from him the
oldness and make him new in the eternal life, filling him with the strength
of Your Holy Spirit that he may be joined to Your Christ, so that he will no
longer be a child of sin but a child of Your Kingdom».
6. The support of the Church
However, the parents
and the godparents are not left alone in their upholding of their sacred
promise. To their aid comes the Orthodox parish in which they belong, with
its liturgical life and its catechistic and other opportunities that it
provides for its new members. Then there is the Orthodox school, which
provides the children with a systematic catechesis. Finally, we have
the Orthodox children's book and the Orthodox magazine, both of which are
valuable assistants in the opus of catechesis and the introduction of
youngsters into the life of the Church.
All of these, and
especially the support of the Church, do not constitute
an interference in the duties of the parents; on the contrary, parents who
guide their children to baptism are declaring with this act of theirs that
they desire to introduce their children into the life of the Church, which
is the life of the in-Christ community and not a piety that is private to
each person separately. For this reason, if they should keep them away
from the liturgical and catechistic life of the Church, they will be
transgressing the Sacred promise that they gave God and the Church, when
they led their children to Holy Baptism.
Parents and godparents have
thus become - as we have seen - guarantors, so that an infant will be
embraced by the Church with its baptism. Consequently, they are obliged to
make sure in every possible way to introduce the new member of the Church into
the whole life of the Church. If they do not prompt it to participate
in the catechist activity of the parish, or lead it themselves to the
Church, they perjure themselves before God and before the Church. This
is the conclusion that the beautiful and touching Service of the Catechumen
7. The armor of the Holy Spirit
With Holy Baptism,
man enters into the body of Christ - that is, into the Church - and he
becomes a participant in the new creation. But, as Christ mentioned to
Nicodemus, man must be born "of water and Spirit" (John 3:5). Elsewhere, he
said that "On
the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out,
saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in
Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living
water.'” Then the
Evangelist added: "But
this He spoke concerning the Spirit, Whom those believing in Him would
receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet
glorified." (John 7:37-39;
We know that this was fulfilled, on the Day of the Pentecost, during which
the Apostles "were all
filled with the Holy Spirit" (Act 2:4).
However the Spirit
comes separately to each person, through the sacred mystery of Chrismation
and animates him.
The Holy Bible
testifies that baptism is not enough for a person to be "filled" with the
Holy Spirit. For example, we see the Apostles Peter and John going to
Samaria in order to place their hands upon the heads of the Christians to
impart the Holy Spirit to them (Acts
The same is done by the Apostle Paul with the Christians of Ephesus (Acts
19:5-7). "In Him you
also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your
salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy
Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance..."
cmp 1 John 2:20).
therefore, man is joined to Christ; he participates in the death of Christ
and in the resurrection of Christ. But the sacred chrismation - the
seal of the Holy Spirit as the Apostle says - is what constitutes the
"promise" (Eph.1:14, 2 Cor.1:22) and the beginning of the Kingdom of God.
This participation of man in the divine way of life is complete, with the
The Orthodox Church
always regards these three sacred Mysteries as an inner unity, which is why
She doesn't deprive anyone, not even infants, of them.
«You, Who now also
has deigned to regenerate Your neophyte servant with water and with spirit,
and Who has granted him forgiveness of the sins he has committed,
voluntarily or involuntarily», mentions the blessing of holy chrismation, «You,
therefore, o Lord and merciful King of all, grant to this one the seal of
the gift of the Holy and omnipotent and venerated Spirit as well as the
communion of the Holy Body and the precious Blood of Your Christ. Preserve
him within Your sanctification, secure him within the Orthodox faith. Redeem
him from the wily one and all his tricks; preserve his soul in purity and
righteousness through his salvific fear of You, so that he may please You
with his every word and work, and become a son and an inheritor of Your
«Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit» therefore creates the prerequisites of
the faithful's struggle against the powers of the evil one. Man needs
to feel that "salvific fear" of God and preserve himself within "purity and
righteousness" in order to please God "with his every work and word" and
thus be rendered a "son and inheritor of the heavenly Kingdom". This
is why we said that holy chrismation is a "betrothal" to this Kingdom.
For man to succeed
in overcoming Satan - who comes and assaults him after his baptism - it is
imperative that he makes all his strengths available (physical and
spiritual) for that struggle. The whole person needs to be sanctified and be
sealed, as property hereafter of God, and as a domicile, a Temple, of the Holy
Spirit (1 Cor.3:16-17, 6:19, Ezek.32:26-27).
This is the reason
that the Orthodox Church seals all the members of our body by anointing them
with Holy Myrrh: so that it imparts to the whole person the gifts of the
Holy Spirit and render him fully a "charismatic being", ready for his new
life "in Christ". It is the holy armor with which the Church enrobes
Her every new member (cmp.Ephes.6:10-18).
8. The assaults of the enemy after Baptism
therefore, man is reborn completely and - as the blessings of the holy
mystery say - Christ takes shape inside him. The person is "edified"
and is "grafted" into the Church, and is clothed with the "garment of
incorruptibility" and a "radiant cloak".
But the question is
posed: If Satan has departed from the heart of a man, never to return
to him again - given that the person has been reborn and Christ Himself
dwells in side him - then how is it possible for him to sin after his
The Fathers of the
Church say that the devil departs from a person during Baptism, but
continues to assault him externally, through his senses which give birth to
That is why the
Church prays during the sacred Mystery of Baptism that the Lord will
reassure the neophyte in the Orthodox faith, protect him from the evil one
and from all the tricks of the devil, and to render him an "invincible
warrior" in the face of the powers of evil.
These assaults of
Satan testify that after Baptism, the person enters a spiritual arena and is
called upon for the rest of his life to fight against the powers of
darkness, which use man's senses in order to give birth to various passions
inside him and in that way, find their way back into that person's heart and
murder him spiritually.
my brethren" says the
"be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor
of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we
do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against
powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against
spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the
whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and
having done all, to stand." (Ephes.6:10-13).
"Child, if you come to be
subject to the Lord, prepare your soul for testing" says the Holy
Bible (Wisdom of Sirach 2:1).
Salvation is, of
course, a "gift of God" (Ephes.2:8,
1 Cor.3:7), and is dependent on God's mercy (Rom.9:16); however, man must "open
the door" (Rev.3:20), we must become God's collaborators (cmp. 1 Cor.3:8)
and toil for our salvation "with
fear and trembling" (Philip.2:12).
That which man is
therefore called upon to offer is his volition, his sweat and his labour, as
well as his fear and trembling. "For without the presence of
one's volition, not even God will do anything", Saint Macarius the
Egyptian had characteristically said. And Abba Isaiah added that
although God may grant vvirtues, man is nevertheless called upon to offer on
his part the sweat of his every virtue. "Woe to timid hearts and
to slack hands... woe to you, who have lost endurance" says
the wise Sirach (Wisdom of Sirach 2:12 and14). "For also, without pains the
soul cannot attain praxis and theory", says a hymn of the Great Canon
therefore of a person who yearns for his salvation must be translated as a
spiritual struggle for vanquishing his passions and his personal volition,
for the purpose of subjugating himself completely to God's will and opening
wide the portal of his soul so that the Saviour Christ might enter it.
This is the reason
the Orthodox Church underlines the immense importance that ascesis has in
the life of every person. "Be
sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a
roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist
says the Apostle Peter (1 Pet.5:8-9; cmp. Ephes.6:10-13).
exists, even after holy Baptism, and every Christian is called upon to prove
himself an "invincible warrior" opposite the offenses and the machinations
of the adversary and always keep in mind the words of the Lord: "When
an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking
rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I
came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then
he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and
they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the
We must therefore take care, in
case this happens to all of us.