Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Baptism is not Symbolic

Holy Baptism and Chrismation are sacraments that we too often take in a routine manner. But, they are of the greatest significance for all Christians. This is the first step towards our salvation.  In Baptism we are renewed and united with Christ. We become God’s “adopted son”, a child of the light, a child of the Kingdom.  We become His disciple. We become a member of the body of Christ. This is no mere symbolism.
From the moment one emerges from the water in the baptismal font a new life begins.  We are reborn, united in Christ.  We are enlightened.
Baptism in the Orthodox Church is much more than a cleansing of our sins.  It is the beginning of a new life in Christ. We become a part of His Church though the grace of God.
The font is likened to the grave of Christ.  When we are immersed in the water we die of an old self and become renewed. This new life is one where we can now look forward to our resurrection and eternal life in God’s Kingdom as we follow Christ.
Forgiveness of sins is one of the results of baptism but we must remember that we do not have the idea of original sin as has been introduced in the Western Churches.  For Orthodox Christians we receive from Adam and Ever the consequences of their sin, which is death, our mortality. We do not inherit any guilt. Because we have a free will we are only responsible for our own sins. So Baptism is not about overcoming original sins but is a renewal that assures us eternal life.
In the service the water is made    holy with the Holy Spirit. As we are immersed we are cleansed of any personal sinfulness by this holy water and renewed. Following this we receive the Holy Chrism. This is a special Holy Oil which is called the “Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The water of baptism will dry up but the action of the Holy Spirit  seals the action for all time.
When the sacramental rite is completed there is a sedate but joyful dance around the font followed by the reading of Scripture where we hear the words of Jesus Himself.
Crowning this event is the reception of Holy Communion. The new person, with their new Christian Name, is now able to participate in all the sacraments of the Church as one of God’s adopted sons. 
From this moment on we must struggle to maintain our relationship with God striving to act like Him.  This involves a life of continual repentance seeking God’s unlimited mercy for our weaknesses to maintain this union.  Through the sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion we keep our Baptism renewed and gain His grace to  aid us in our efforts to cooperate with Him, to live the life He showed and taught us as is recorded in the Scriptures.

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