Word Magazine April/May 1966 Page 6-8

The Sacrament of Baptism

By Fr. Theodore Ziton, Wichita, Kansas


The Sacraments, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, of which there are seven, are the source of Her life and essence. The Church is not a society to which one can apply to, but rather entrance into this Body of Believers is achieved sacramentally. The first two sacraments that a child or individual partake of in becoming a member of the Church are Baptism and Holy Chrismation, for the child or individual is baptized a Christian, not born one, and then Chrismated with Holy Chrism, receiving the seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to become specifically an Orthodox Christian. These are the Sacraments of initiation or the Sacraments of our introduction into the Church, that is to say, our source of birth into the Church by action of the Holy Spirit.

Quoting St. John of Damascus (Book IV, Chap. IX, Pg. 77-78) in his exposition of the Orthodox Faith concerning faith and baptism, “We confess one baptism for the remission of sins and for life eternal. (A credal phrase.) For baptism declares the Lord’s death. We are indeed buried with the Lord through baptism (Col. II-12). So then, as our Lord died once for all, we also must be baptized once for all, (not twice), and baptized according to the word of the Lord, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt. XXVIII-19). Christ caused the fountain of remission (of sins) to well forth for us out of His Holy and immaculate side, water for our regeneration, (rebirth), and the washing away of sin and corruption; and blood to drink as the hostage, (pledge), of life eternal.”

The word Baptism comes from the Greek. It is a creation of the Judo-Christian speaking people and was never used before Christianity. It literally means immersion. It is a condemnation of the idea of sprinkling. We believe in immersion, too, from the biblical phrase, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He (Christ) came up out of the water, immediately he (John) saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him (Christ) like a dove.” (Mark 1: 9-10). Christ is the Institutor of Baptism when He told his disciples to go forth and baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God . . . that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” (John III: 5-6). True, John the Baptist preached and taught Baptism, but his baptism was a symbol; Christ’s was a mystery. John’s Baptism was not to expiate sins, but to purify the body; it was more than the Old Testament ritual washings yet it was less than Christian Baptism. John says: “I baptize you with water, but He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8).

Here we see the reason for water; a cleansing effect; a power of purification. Water means cleanliness. Water is the element of judging as in the Old Testament, i.e., in the time of Noah, God washed away the sin of the world by water. (Gen. 6:17).

We must come to understand the ideal of Godparents next. They are promises for us to God that we will grow in the faith. They are responsible for the body and must continually seek its cleanliness in the faith by what the Church teaches about the body of the believer that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit and must not be put to ill use. They must be in good ecclesiastical standing and must prepare themselves to be Godparents by partaking of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion prior to the point of standing up for the child at Holy Baptism. A priest should counsel the Godparents on their duties lest they come into condemnation one day for promising that that child would grow in the faith and then have it convert to another religious belief. The Godparents must be of the Church for how can one promise to God that which he does not have or is not a part of? They must care for the religious education of the child. The Church must be the first and final check as to the acceptance of the Godparents.

The rule is that Baptism must be administered in the Church; but in case of necessity it may be administered in a private house. In cases of extreme necessity a layman with the use of reason can administer the Sacrament of Baptism. Since Baptism is the birthday into the Body of Christ which is the Church, and from that point on the child becomes a member of that Body able of the Sacraments of that Faith, the child’s baptism would most logically belong to the Church. (In the case of a boy being baptized not yet forty days old, the mother may not be present for she shall be as an unclean person for those forty days: and in the case of a girl for sixty days. During the forty or sixty day period, she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the Church until the days of her purifying are completed. This is the law of the Church for her who bears a child. (Leviticus 12: 1-7)


The first part of baptism is divided into eight parts: 1) Breath of Life: 2) Imposition of the mind: 3) Prayers of exorcism: 4) The Thrice exorcism: 5) Renunciation of Satan: 6) Acknowledgement of Christ: 7) The Creed: and 8) Final Prayer of the first part.

Their individual meanings are these:

1) The first action that the priest does is to breathe thrice into the face of the child being baptized. The priest’s breath recalls the breath of life which the Creator breathed into the nostrils of the first created man, and betokens the breath of new life which comes to fill the child imparted through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The priest also blesses the child by this breathing for it is done crosswise, meaning a separation from the community of the unbelieving to the Church whose belief is in Christ through the Holy Spirit to God the Father.

2). The imposition of the hand upon the child’s head shows that the child will now come under the shelter of the Church and God’s care. The priest also prays that this child now be inscribed in the Book of Life and be received into His Holy Flock.

3) In the prayers of Exorcism the priest, in the name of the Almighty, commands the Devil to depart from the person who has been sealed with the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and prays that God may expel the impure spirits from the Catechumen and make him a member of His Holy Church. These prayers are the dialogue with the Devil. The fundamental dogma of Christianity is that the Devil exists, and the Christian struggle in and for life is presented and set forth here by the priest. The Christian life is one of struggle and a tragedy which results in paradise or hell. The priest first sees the devil and his operations and pulls the child from him. It is very important to know that our life begins in the hands of the devil; in the ways of the “prince of the world” before baptism so that the priest now prays that the Lord rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them from the child.

4) The Priest then comes to breathe thrice upon the mouth, brow, and breast of the child expelling the devil and all his unpure ways from the child’s soul. The devil is not of physical nature; we cannot beat him physically, but these words are unbearable to him. There is no other way to beat the devil but to confess God and His purity through Christ.

5) The Catechumen, the Godparents, and the priest turn and face the west, which symbolizes darkness and evil, and thrice renounce Satan and all his works, and all his angels, and all service, and all his pride. They also symbolically spit upon him. These words and action, too, do harm Satan and are unbearable to him.

6) Having renounced the Devil, the group now turns again toward the East signifying the union and acknowledgement of Christ as the Son of God; the Messiah; the Redeemer; the Uplifter of Mankind; the Victor over the Devil and death.

7) The Creed is recited by the Godparent of the sex of the child promising that this Creed of Faith will be that for the child and that this is the truth about God itself.

8) Thusly all this done, the devil rebuked, the acknowledgement of Christ as King and God, the priest now prays the prayer of acknowledgement, thanksgiving and praise to God for the Grace of Baptism. The first part of Baptism is now ended.


The second part of Holy Baptism is both solemn and joyful. Candles are lit around the edge of the font, the censer is swung, and the sponsors are given candles to hold. The lighted candles symbolize the spiritual illumination which is imparted through the Sacrament of Baptism, while the incense indicates the grace of the Holy Spirit whose operation the child’s regeneration takes place in this Sacrament. It is divided into six parts, i.e., 1) Blessing of the water: 2) Anointment of water with oil; 3) Anointment of Catechumen with oil; 4) Baptism; 5) Psalm 31; 6) White garment.

An essential part of this portion of Holy Baptism is the blessing of the water. In creation from the beginning, “the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1: 2), showing that God blessed the world first and then blessed man and put him into the world. Such be this act here, the blessing and preparation of the water prior to its receiving the child. The Great Ektenia, or the prayers of peace at this point of the blessing of the water, reiterates further “that the water may be sanctified by the Holy Spirit . . . that the Lord may send down into it the grace of redemption, so that the child may become a child of the light and an heir of eternal good things. . grow in Christ.. . become a partaker of His death and resurrection that God’s blessings and grace be always upon the baptized . . .” The glory of God is here expressed. The water is prepared to become the Body of the Holy Spirit. On one hand this water is that which God created and blessed first in creation, and on the other a holy dwelling place unto the remission of sins. The priest then offers a prayer, “That the Lord may be present through the descent of the Holy Spirit to sanctify this water.” At the words of the prayer, “Let all hostile powers be crushed beneath the sign of the image of the Cross,” the priest blesses the water thrice and breathes upon it. By this act he expresses his belief that the devil is expelled by the name of Jesus Christ.

2) The water being consecrated, the priest proceeds to consecrate the oil by prayer, in token of reconciliation, and while “alleluia” is being solemnly sung, the priest makes with the oil the sign of the cross on the water. Before this ritual the priest admonishes those present by the words, “Let us attend!” This is said to draw to the attention of those present that this action conveys a mystical meaning. As water, which once upon a time submerged the entire human race, symbolizes purification, and oil gathered from the olive tree, a branch of which was brought to Noah in the ark by the dove, in token of reconciliation, symbolizes mercy, so the combination of both these symbols signifies that the purification of man by the waters of baptism takes place through the mercy of God.

3) Having thusly prepared the water for this Sacrament, the priest now prepares or blesses the person about to enter it. He anoints the brow, ears, breast, hands, and feet with the consecrated oil, in token that, through baptism, man, like unto a branch of the wild olive tree is grafted into the good olive tree, which is Christ. As man dies in Baptism to his former life and comes forth a new man to battle with evil, oil serves as the shield of preparation for that person to do battle with and against iniquity.

4) The act of Baptism itself is performed by immersing the child into the sanctified water thrice in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. While baptizing by immersion, he who is baptized is turned to the East. Symbolically the child is entombed with Christ for the three day period and rises “out of the water” (Mark 1:10) to the resurrection of Christ. At this moment the Grace of the Holy Spirit descends upon the baptized giving him a new Life, washing away all sins from his soul.

5) The blessings which man receives in the Sacrament of Baptism are expressed in the words of Psalm 31 sung immediately after the immersion: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered . . . Many are the pangs of the wicked; but steadfast love surrounds him who trusts in the Lord.”

6) The white garment is placed upon the newly spiritually born child as a symbol of the future incorrupted life. This garment is the robe of righteousness and holiness. During the robing, a Troparion is sung, indicating the meaning of the white garment: “Vouchsafe unto me a robe of light, O thou who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment, O most merciful Christ, our God.”

Thus ends the service of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. What now follows is the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation or Confirmation which is in reality the sealing in of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.


As soon as a child is born in an Orthodox family and before it is christened, the Church takes it under her care. Usually on the eighth day a priest comes to the home to bless and pray for the mother and the new-born baby, and to give it a name. He makes the sign of the Cross over the infant and prays:

“May the light of Thy countenance be upon this Thy servant (he means the baby), and he (or she) be signed with the Cross of Thine only-begotten Son in his (or her) heart.” Then the priest holds up the baby before the ikon of our Lady, makes the sign of the Cross, and says, “Hail, Birthgiver of God, for out of Thee Christ, our God, the Sun of Righteousness, hath shone, enlightening them that are in darkness.”

The child must be named after a Christian saint as a sign that he (or she) now has joined the communion of saints and must try and follow his (or her) example. The saint also becomes the child’s special patron. That is why among the Orthodox a “name day” (saint’s day) means much more than a birthday. In the old days the child used to be brought to the church door on the eighth day to be named, in memory of the ancient Jewish law. Now this is usually done at the home of the parents.