The Sacrament of Baptism Explained in Two Verses

The Sacrament of Baptism Explained in Two Verses

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Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us;  He has put His seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. For I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.  II Corinthians 1: 21-24; 2: 1-4 (Epistle on the Fourteenth Sunday of Matthew)

Good morning Prayer Team!

One of the most misunderstood Traditions in the Orthodox Church is the Sacrament of Baptism.  First of all, the vast majority of people who are baptized are infants.  They have no say in the matter and no memory of the service.  Secondly, baptism is viewed as an event. It happens and then it is over.  However, baptism is the initiation into an event that will last a lifetime, so it is not an end unto itself but rather it is a beginning.  Most people think of baptism in the past tense, i.e. I was baptized, or I had my child baptized, as opposed to something that is present.  To say “I was baptized” denotes an event that happened once and is now over.  For those of us who are married, we don’t say “I was married on (whatever date you got married)”, as if to say that the marriage ceremony was an ending.  We say “I am married,” because the date we were married brought us into a state of being which continues to the present, with both joys and obligations.  The day we are baptized, we might say, is the day that we married Christ.  But throughout our Christian life, we remain “married” to Him, with the joys and challenges that come along with it.

Saint Paul summarizes the baptism services, when he writes in II Corinthians 1: 21-22, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; He has put His seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  In these two verses, he summarizes what would become, and still is, the sacrament of baptism in the Orthodox Church.  When a baptism is celebrated in the Orthodox Church, the one being baptized experiences three sacraments—Baptism (He has put His seal upon us), Chrismation (Given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee) and Holy Communion (God who establishes us with you in Christ).

In baptism, we are initiated, which means God puts His mark on us.  In the Old Testament, the mark of being one of God’s children was a physical mark of circumcision.  In the New Testament, the mark of God on us is indelible.  It is made with water.  But a mark is made on us nonetheless.   In Chrismation, we are confirmed (or probably better made firm) in faith by having the Spirit placed into our hearts.  To make an analogy, when we wash a car, we first wash and clean the dirt.  Then we wax the car to protect it from getting dirty.  Baptism and Chrismation work in almost the same way.  Baptism washes us.  Chrismation seals us.  Finally, in Communion, God continually establishes Himself in us, and we in Him through Christ, Who comes into us in a physical and tangible way each time we receive Him.

There is one more aspect of baptism that we tend to forget.  And that is that Christ “has commissioned us.”  (1:21)  A commission in the military is an order to perform a specific task.  One officer might be commissioned to lead a group of soldiers, another might be commissioned to oversee a ship and another might be commissioned to monitor security and intelligence.  All military personnel are commissioned to do one thing—defend our country—but to do it in a different way.  In the same way, all Christians are commissioned to do one thing—spread the Gospel—but we are commissioned to do it in a different way.  Some will spread the Gospel as priests, some as Sunday school teachers, some as parents, some as encouragers, some as quiet witnesses.  But all of us who have been baptized have received the same commission, the Great Commission, to “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  This is why this Gospel passage is read at every baptism, because everyone who has been baptized becomes a disciple and receives the same charge that the first disciples received after the Resurrection of Christ.

A commission in the military lasts for a certain amount of time.  Every few years, the serviceman is given the opportunity to re-enlist or to retire.  If he retires, his commission ends.  If he re-enlists, his commission remains.

A commission to be a disciple lasts for a lifetime.  There will be many opportunities to leave the “army of Christ.”  We have that opportunity daily through sin and temptation.  However, we also have the opportunity daily to re-enlist in the army through prayer and repentance.  We re-enlist in a more formal way through the sacramental life of the church, specifically through frequent receiving of Holy Communion and through the Sacrament of Confession.

We need to think of our participation in the Christian life not merely in terms of membership—that we belong—but in terms of commission—we are expected to do something and that something is to spread the Gospel.  Of course, before we spread the Gospel, we must learn it for ourselves.  So, we must be good learners, faithful followers, and also spreaders of the Gospel—this is the commission that we are all called to do, each of us in a unique way.  Daily prayer affirms our commission.  Weekly worship provides us a corporate affirmation, it’s where the whole local army (church community) gathers to affirm our commissions.  Receiving Holy Communion strengthens our commissions because it gives us a personal encounter with our commander, our Savior, and allows us to carry Him in us as we go back out into battle.

Baptism is what initiates us into the faith.  Chrismation brings the Holy Spirit and His grace into us.  Holy Communion sustains us.  And living out Christ’s commission is what should give us focus, purpose and direction.

Whereas You, O Lord, were labeled dead, yet in fact You put death to death.  And You, the very emptier of graves, were Yourself interred.  Soldiers overhead were guarding the sepulcher, even as You below resurrected the dead of all ages.  Lord almighty and incomprehensible, glory to You. (2nd Kathisma of the first set, Plagal First Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Live out your commission today, in whatever unique way God has called you.

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”