Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
“For John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:5 (Epistle read on Feast of Ascension) Saturday after the Ascension
Good morning Prayer Team!
For the next couple of reflections, we are going to be discussing baptism as well as the Holy Spirit, as we move from the Feast of Ascension towards the Feast of Pentecost. One of the temptations in Christianity is to “check the boxes” while not really understanding what it is we are doing. And one of the ways this happens is in the sacrament of Baptism. For many, unfortunately, baptism is just a ritual where we “check a box.” Baptism is the necessary initiation into the Christian faith. But it is not an end point, it is just a beginning. If everyone who was baptized was in a church, our churches would be overflowing. Sadly, many just get the baptism done but never really enter into the life of the church, or more importantly, the life of Christ.
Jesus was not the first person to be baptized. The concept of baptism pre-dated Him. “Baptism”, before the time of Christ, was a ritual washing, similar to what the sacrament of confession is today. A person would go periodically (once a year) to be “baptized”. This is why St. John had the title “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer” because he was one (of presumably a few) person who one could go to in order to receive the periodic ritual baptism with water.
So, when Jesus went to John to be baptized, He was following this custom of ritual washing, even though He had no sin to be washed of. When Jesus was “baptized”, the Holy Trinity was revealed. We read in the Gospels that “when He came out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove; and a voice from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1: 10-11). And thus was inaugurated a “new” baptism. We are baptized not merely as a ritual. But we are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, imitating His example, and obeying the Great Commission imparted to the Disciples that all nations are to be baptized.
And we are baptized not merely with water but with the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? First, at a baptism, the Holy Spirit is called to descend upon the water, and He did at the baptism of Christ and to sanctify the water, to make it holy. We are then immersed in the now holy water. After coming out of the baptismal font, we are immediately anointed with the oil of chrismation, which represents the Holy Spirit. This fulfills what Christ said in John 3: 5 “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” So, we receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Chrismation.
To make a simple analogy, the way we do baptism now is like washing a car—the baptism is the washing away of the dirt. The chrismation, or confirmation, is like waxing the car—it seals in the cleanliness and puts on a layer of protection from dirt and harm. The baptism “with water” that was done by John was like washing a car without waxing it. One had to come again and again to be washed clean. The baptism “with the Holy Spirit” is the added step of not only washing a person of sin, but sealing them with the Holy Spirit, who through the sacrament of Chrismation comes to take permanent residence in someone.
The Old Testament, and the old baptism, was centered on rituals and “checking boxes” so to speak. This was good, in that it provided order and structure. But it did not provide joy and hope, just order and structure. The New Testament and the baptism in the Holy Spirit, maintains order and structure (it is still a ritual initiation that we all have to do) but it provides more than that. The baptism ‘in the Holy Spirit” provides joy and hope and spiritual sustenance for the marathon journey through this life to everlasting life.
The Christian life is not one of checking boxes but on living in a purposeful way. The purpose of our life is to glorify Christ. And in turn, He shows us His glory, in ways large and small, each day. So, our expression of our faith shouldn’t be worship of rituals, but being “alive” in our faith by loving God and loving one another in ways that our joyful and purposeful.
When the well-spring of the grace of the divine Spirit cam down to those upon the earth and into fire-bearing streams parted noetically, it refreshed the Apostles and led them to the light. The fire became for them a dewy cloud and rainy flame illumining them. And we in turn through them received divine grace by means of fire and water. The holy light of the Holy Spirit has appeared and illumined the world. (Kathisma, Orthros of Pentecost, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Don’t just “check boxes” today! Live with joy! And do whatever you do with purpose!
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