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Word Magazine October 1973 Page 22-23
BAPTISM: THE ENTRANCE INTO
Subdeacon BASIL SOLOUNIAS
St. Vladimir’s Seminary
Jesus Christ became man for our sake, to free us from the bondage of sin. Jesus asked his people to understand Him: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Jesus answered the Pharisees, “Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: For I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.” (John 8:12-14.)
Christ is the light to his people and whosoever follows this light will never falter. Whoever wishes to see the light of Christ must be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. By baptism man can be enlightened and becomes capable of understanding God and following his will.
If a man is baptized and then lapses into sin, this does not mean that baptism itself is responsible for his action; on the contrary, the man baptized is personally accountable for his own deeds. The sacrament of baptism is efficient only when a man with full knowledge and consent wills to accept it and all of its consequences in his life. For example, if a man cannot see the sun should he blame the sun for his own darkness? And so we cannot blame the sacrament of baptism if we personally reject its saving influence in our lives. So baptism enlightens the catechumen at the time of his immersion if he is ready to accept the sacrament and its consequences in his personal life.
Some one may ask what about the child? He certainly cannot fully comprehend the nature of this sacrament. The answer is that the Church has a canon saying that before a child is baptized he must have baptismal sponsors who are accountable for that child’s development in the Christian life. Thus the faith of the baptized will grow and mature in Jesus Christ and will be strengthened by the sponsor’s example; the baptized thus becomes a full member of the Holy Church.
The eye is created for light and the ear for sound, the hand for touch, the spirit of man is created and given to man as a breath of divinity. Man knows the Spirit of God and is in communion with God through his Spirit. Man thirsts for God in his spirit. We must keep this spirit untainted by evil in order that the thirst might be slacked. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Give me to drink,” and then He said to her, “Whoever drinketh of this water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-15.)
Actually, the man who drinks from the spring that is Jesus Christ will never thirst. How is this? The answer is very simple: he must walk in the ordinances of the Lord and so he will not thirst forever. His laws, his ways are the commandments of our very life.
The “water” that Christ speaks of is pure and good for every man who wishes to be free from the temporal considerations of this life. “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Father.” For Christians, baptism is a “way of life”, in that baptism we “put Christ on.” We must realize that baptism is a light and we understand this concept from the rite surrounding and in a sense defining baptism: the candles, the hymns, the white garment, all symbolize in a dynamic way that God enlightens man in baptism. Moreover, God grants new life and man assents to a radical change in his own destiny.
The water itself is needed normally for washing the body. The Old Testament recounts many events connected with the ordinary use of water. And in the New Testament we find Jesus Christ himself baptized in order to prove both the power of the Holy Trinity. Actually the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove.
After this, Jesus formally began his public mission. Jesus said on this occasion, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3-4.)
The Holy Spirit appeared many times to the Apostles in the same way. In baptism we obtain the divine joy and are given the grace to have Him in return.
Baptism is a source of strength and courage which dispels the power of fear in men’s lives. During the Persecutions many Christians willingly and fearlessly faced death and ignominious torture, not because of any personal merit, but simply because through baptism they had received the grace to be living witnesses to the Cross.
The martyrs who died for the sake of Christ often smiled because of their intense love for Christ. The love of Jesus Christ dispels fear says Saint John in his first epistle: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect. that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (I John 4: 16—18.)
What is the origin of this love? Knowledge. The Christian who truly knows Jesus Christ will also naturally love Him. Knowledge itself may be either perfect or imperfect; when knowledge is perfect so is love. When knowledge is imperfect so also is love. Saint John says in his epistle (4:7-8) “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love.”
Baptism implies knowledge and the realization and perfection of that knowledge. The person baptized received the knowledge of Christ and also, if he is properly disposed, he has the full possibility to love Christ as the practical consequence of this knowledge.
Baptism is a burial in Christ and also a resurrection in Him. This is made abundantly clear in the rite of the sacrament: the priest takes the catechumen and plunges him into the water and pulls him out again. This is a vivid symbol of Christ’s own burial and resurrection.
To show that what I say is no conjecture, hear Paul saying, “We are buried with Him by baptism into death” and again, “our old man is crucified with Him” and again, “We have been planted together in the likeness of his death.” (Rom. VI: 4, 5, 6.) And not only is baptism called a “cross” but the “cross” is called “baptism.” “With the baptism”, says Christ, “that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized,” Christ states (Mark 10: 39): and, “I have a baptism to be baptized with,” (Luke 12:50) for as we easily dip and lift our heads again so He also easily died and rose again when He willed or rather much more easily though He tarried the three days for the dispensation of a certain mystery.
In baptism we live a new life casting off our ancestral curse and putting on Jesus Christ who alone is the way of salvation.
The sacrament of baptism implies a missionary role for each Christian: we are to teach others that baptism is a necessary pre-requisite for salvation and divine grace.
Actually, every man will die on judgment day all will meet the ‘Pantokrator” who will judge us according to our works. Jesus himself gave many options for entrance into his Kingdom but all presuppose baptism as the rock of faith and good works. “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he can not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In the after life, Christians will be distinguished from other men by this sign. Jesus himself promised that he who is baptized and did what God commands will be saved, he who walks in the ordinances of God will enter the heavenly Kingdom. Jesus Christ opened the gates of paradise for the righteous. Because of this we must accept his Holy Sacraments in order to share in his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Christ himself promised this, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10.)
The man who is not baptized in the name of the Trinity and who does not receive the body and blood of Christ shall never inherit eternal life. John said, “And behold, I come quickly: and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Apoc. 20: 12.)
We must not forget that baptism gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit himself is the spirit of power, the spirit of wisdom and also the spirit of understanding. All these gifts we receive through baptism and the other Holy Sacraments. So we must save our sinful brethren from the passion of sin, because many commit sins after baptism. We must give them encouragement and hope that all is not lost. There are many ways to return to Jesus Christ but one is foremost among these — Penance. The reality and significance of Penance is precisely that it is a renewal of our baptism, another passing from death to life.
After cleansing of sin in baptism or confession then the Eucharist, which is the Divine Body of Christ, and direct contact with Christ. Saint John says in his Epistle: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (John 1:7.)
When we shall be priests we must be responsible before we baptize children: all due care must he exercised regarding the selection of sponsors for this sacrament.
In this way, we shall be able to create a vital membership in Christ’s Church and also to make that membership truly effective as an instrument for transforming this world. So the doors of Paradise will be opened to all who are baptized and believe in Jesus’ name.
John said in his Revelation:
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life, and may enter in through the gates into the City.” (Apoc. 22:14-15.) Baptism is the entrance into the Kingdom of God. It is not magic, but for those who try to do God’s Commandments and confess their sins and are united often to Christ in Holy Communion Baptism is a door, a beginning. Baptism is the initiation into Eternal Life.