Word Magazine April 2000 Page 21-22
By Very Rev. Jason DelVitto
“FOR AS MANY OF YOU AS HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE PUT ON CHRIST” (Gal. 3:27). In preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the members of the adult education group of our parish engaged in a study of the Mystery or Sacrament of Baptism. One of our tasks was to read and discuss the text written by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, entitled Of Water and the Spirit, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995 (third printing). I have read the book a number of times over the years and, along with numerous students of theology, was blessed to have Fr. Alexander as a professor and dean. As with many other textbooks graced with so much wisdom, depth and insight, each time such a work as Of Water and the Spirit is read, it can speak to us in ever new and profound ways. It is especially appropriate for us during this Paschal Season to see and experience the Paschal joy of baptism! Fr. Alexander covers this topic well in his text.
One challenge, among many, that Fr. Alexander presents is the vital need for us Orthodox Christians to rediscover the deep significance of the Sacrament of Baptism (indeed, the entire sacramental life) in our lives. A primary concern expressed in the text is that there exists, on our part, a certain sense of neglect with regard to our understanding and experience of what actually takes place within our lives on that unique day when we were baptized into Christ. By reading Fr. Alexander’s text on baptism, one can discover whole new worlds of knowledge regarding the theological and liturgical developments of this sacrament through which we are “born again or anew,” celebrating our initiation into the Body and life of Christ. One thing is for sure, that upon reading the text and reflecting upon it with a sincere desire to understand what it truly means
to be baptized into Christ, our daily lives lived in faith can take on a new vitality and meaning.
The purpose of my calling your attention to this text is actually an invitation to families, parents, baptismal sponsors, grandparents, etc., to make a sincere and concerted effort to rediscover the wonderful and joyous life that God has given to us through the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism. This sacrament, which our Lord Himself commanded His disciples to celebrate — “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) — and which the Church throughout all the ages continues to celebrate, has reconciled countless individuals with God. Those of us who have presented a child or adult for baptism know and understand the joyous atmosphere that permeates the Church when a new member is re-claimed by God and brought into the flock of Christ. The joy and excitement that radiates within the community of faith is a sign of God’s loving salvation and the commitment of the entire Church community to nourish the newly baptized within the family of faith. Yet the meaning of this sacrament, which constitutes the very beginning of our salvation, has a tendency to be forgotten in our daily lives. The renunciation of Satan, our statement of allegiance with Christ, the saying of the Creed, the anointing with the oil of gladness, the immersion in the baptismal waters, the new white robe of righteousness, the Chrismation, receiving Holy Communion on that day, all of these rites which celebrate a profound mystery, become somehow quaint memories of a distant, past event. As Fr. Alexander points out in his text, herein lies the tragedy. As long as we see our baptism as an isolated event relegated to a distant past which is forever gone, then the deeper meanings of that saving act of God can become quite superficial if not totally meaningless in our lives.
To rediscover what has taken place in baptism, not only to each of us personally but to the entire Church and the world, is a worthy task. How can we rediscover the meaning of baptism in our lives? There are many ways. A first step can be the realization that, through baptism, we are set on a new course of life, one rooted in the very life of Christ Himself. True life, life as God intends it to be, is the gift that we receive through our baptism. This life, lived out daily in each one of us, can become fully and decisively a life oriented toward God. For example, the praying of the Creed which we, or our sponsor, prayed on the day of our baptism, is prescribed in the daily rule of prayer within our Orthodox tradition. When we pray the Creed daily, is this not the very same statement of faith which was made ours on our day of Baptism? The Creed is not just a summary of information regarding what we or the Church believes, but it truly is a statement of faith, a living and abiding faith, which forms the very foundation of our relationship with God and each other within the life of the Church. Another way is simply to read a book like Fr. Alexander’s or obtain a copy of the Baptismal Service and revisit the text. Re-read the prayers and listen to what they are saying with regard to the life of salvation as we live out the baptismal mystery daily in our lives. For parents and sponsors, this is a perfect opportunity to revisit the baptismal text with your children, teaching them what a great gift God has given us in the sacramental life of the Church. I’m certain that families can find a variety of meaningful ways in which the sacrament of Baptism can be rediscovered and revisited. The challenging invitation is before us to see the dynamic and loving action of God for us and His creation as celebrated in baptism. Revisit and rediscover!