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Questions & Answers: Baptism


Baptism

Why do we get baptised?

We were commanded to be baptised by Jesus himself. He himself, though sinless, was baptized in the Jordan River. After His resurrection he commanded his Apostles saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19)

During Holy Baptism a death and resurrection take place. In the Orthodox Church we totally immerse, because such total immersion symbolizes death. What death? The death of the “old, sinful man”. After Baptism we are freed from the dominion of sin, even though after Baptism we retain an inclination and tendency toward evil. This inclination and tendency remain so that the Christian may struggle to achieve his rebirth. From the Holy Font, and with the triple immersion in the blessed water, those that are baptized emerge reborn into a new life, resurrected into the life in Christ, children of God, citizens and members of God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul said, “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin”. (Romans 6:3-6)

The actual service of Baptism begins with the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. Before being baptized, the person- or his sponsors or godparents for him- officially proclaims the symbol of Christian faith, the Creed. The baptismal water is then prayed over and blessed as the sign of the goodness of God’s creation. The person to be baptised is also prayed over and blessed with sanctified oil as the sign that his creation by God is holy and good. And then, after the solemn proclamation of “Alleluia” (God be praised), the person is immersed three times in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The baptized person is then clothed with the “garments of salvation”, symbolized by the white baptismal robe. The words of the Apostle Paul are then chanted as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia.” (Galatians 3:27)

Baptism is a very joyous occasion, because with Baptism we become members of the Church, a Church that will lead us to our salvation and bring us peace and joy.

Can a child be baptised in more than one denominations?

“Some sacraments of the Church may be received only once, others may be received often; still others are not received by everyone in the Church. Baptism belongs to the first category. Like all the sacraments, baptism is a ‘mystery’ of God’s grace working within the Church and in the life of an individual Christian. The important point when looking at baptism is not ‘Can I be baptised more than once?’, but, ‘is the Baptism I have undergone (or will undergo) a ‘real’ (or ‘valid’) baptism?’ The Orthodox Church holds to the belief that we can be baptised only once. You can only be made a member of the Church once; the Church is one Church there are not many Churches!

The Holy Orthodox Church does not arbitrarily decide on whether a baptism is ‘true’ or not. The form and action of baptism is fundamental to its nature. We seek to be true to the revelation of God and to the Holy Tradition of our Church. It is this that makes us Orthodox!

Three main criteria determine the ‘acceptability’ of a baptism: 1. the use of water; 2. baptism in the name of the Trinity; and 3. a ‘sacramental’ understanding of the nature of baptism. The later one refers to an understanding and a belief that baptism is primarily an act of God’s grace at work in the life of a person. Baptism is not a simple action – a mere ‘symbol’, nor is it only a response of the faith of a believer. Baptism is truly a mystery through which God washes away sin creating a ‘new’ creature in Christ and making the new illumed person a member of Christ’s body, His Church.

An Orthodox Christian cannot be baptised again. He or she is already a member of the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ of God. What then do we with this mystery of Grace after we have received it in baptism, well, that is another question that relates to our journey of faith that is the Christian life”.

If a person gets baptised in a non canonical Church does that person have to get re-baptised again to get married?

This depends on which “Church” the person was “baptised” in. There are some non canonical groups in Australia at the moment in which the “sacraments” performed are not recognised by any canonical Orthodox Church in the world. Consequently, all those “baptised” by them are deemed as never having been baptised and so need to be baptised in a canonical Church before they can get married.

Historically, however, there have been some instances (e.g. during the schism of several Community Churches in Melbourne in 1963 – 1970) where, although baptisms in these Churches during these years may have been non canonical, the Church hierarchy at the time – after resolving and healing the schism and for pastoral reasons – decided to “canonise” these baptisms through the Sacrament of Chrismation.

Are we allowed to change godparents after the sacrament of Baptism?

In Greek, the godparent is called anadochos which describes the action of the godparent receiving the newly illumined Christian out of the baptismal waters and into their arms. There is only one person who takes this role and, from that moment onwards, this godparent becomes accountable before God as to how they fulfil their role as a spiritual parent. It is for this reason that the selection of the godparent must be according to spiritual criteria rather than for just social reasons or convenience.

Although the godparent cannot be changed after Baptism, it is hoped that other people in the life of the child – besides the parents and godparent – will also become good spiritual examples and guides in the faith.

Why does the priest stand with the godparent and the child at the front of the Church during the first part of the Baptismal service?

“The service of Baptism is divided into two main parts. The first, the ‘Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen’ is a preparation service to begin the candidate on the path of ‘enlightenment’ that ultimately leads to baptism and the beginning of a ‘new life in Christ’. A ‘Catechumen’ is someone undergoing ‘instruction’ in the faith. In the ancient Church the ‘Catechumenate’ was divided into a number of levels, each one considered a higher state of enlightenment than the one before it.

The structure of the building of an Orthodox Church is divided into a number of areas beginning at the doors that provide entry from the outside (the ‘world’). Upon entering one turns one’s back to the world and faces the Altar area, which represents the very presence of God and heaven itself. The symbolism here is that as we move closer to the Altar (the symbol of the presence of God), we place ourselves further from the world (the realm of Satan and the darkness of sin).

It is a strong and fitting symbol for the one undergoing entry into the ‘Catechumenate’ to stand just inside the main body of the Church away from the world, but still far from the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

The Catechumen begins a journey of faith that (hopefully) will lead to salvation and living in the presence of God. The journey in and with Christ and aided by the spiritual guidance of the godparent is symbolised by the ‘Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen’ being said near the doors of the Church, beginning the Christian journey that has God as its purpose and focus.”

Can I have two sponsors (godparents) for my child?

The answer is no. Historically in the church there has only ever been one godparent per neophyte (the person being baptised). Baptism is a rite of passage into the Church which is the family of Christ. The sponsor is the person who introduces one to the Church and promises to ensure one’s spiritual upbringing. Many people may help in that upbringing, but he is the one who put himself forward as the one to take full responsibility. Similarly, only one person may sponsor another to migrate to Australia. One person takes responsibility. This does not exclude others from participating in the child’s life, but only one person is the sponsor.

Can I have two names for my child?

Your child may have as many names as you desire, but will only be baptised with one. Your child has only one identity. The child’s name is part of its identity, even if you baptise with two, the child will only ever use one name. The other name will be lost. Baptism is also about receiving one’s identity in the body of the Church, that is, among the people who make up the Church. Two or more names is a false notion and is not permitted in baptism. On the birth certificate you can put as many names as you like, but nothing will be different. The child will still only have one name. So it is best to be truthful to the child and to everyone else who has expectations in relation to the child’s name.

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