ORTHODOX CATECHISM TOPICS
By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
Holy Baptism, with three immersions in water, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the Mystery with which the Church acquires its new members (Gal. 3, 26-29) and in this way the entire body grows through the "birth" ("rebirth") of new members (Jn 3,5-7, Tit. 3,5). The incorporation into the body of Christ of a new member is not simply a great event in his personal life or in the life of his family, but also a celebration of the entire Church, which receives him into her bosom.
When he who is baptized is immersed three times in water, he participates in Christ's three-day sojourn in Hades. And when he rises from the water the old nature of Adam has died within him, and he has made the new and resurrected nature of Christ his own. This new reality in Christ, who destroyed death and rose unto life eternal and incorruptible, is granted to every believer through Baptism. Thus his name is enrolled in the catalogue of the citizens of heaven, and he is numbered among the living (Rom. 6,3-9; Heb. 12, 23). Baptism then is not a simple symbol or a "confession" but spiritual rebirth, salvation (Cf also Mark 16,16; Acts 2, 37-38).
Baptism cannot be administered to individuals who are conscientiously unbelievers, for where it to be administered, it would violate their personal volition; they must believe in order to be baptized (Mark 16,16). This faith, however, is not something abstract, or an emotional state, but something essential. It must include the individual's free will for complete change of life. For this reason, in the Orthodox Church Baptism is preceded by the renunciation of Satan, i.e., man's distancing from every satanical throught and deed, the joining of one's self unto Christ, the confession of the Orthodox faith, and the worship and adoration of Christ, that is to say, the complete and unreserved recognition of Christ as the unique Lord of our life.
The Orthodox Church, through Holy Baptism, incorporates even babies into the body of Christ. She does not hinder the children to come unto Christ; she does not shut the door of salvation unto them. In this she follows the command of Christ (Matth. 19, 14-15; Mark 10, 13-16; Lk. 18 15-17). Indeed, Christ underlines that adults must imitate children in their sanctity, and not children imitate the adults. Thus, the Orthodox Church in no way hinders the baptism of children. Moreover, Baptism was prefigured in the Old Testament through circumcision which was performed during the infant age (Gen. 17,12; Lev. 12,3; Col. 2, 11-12). The child accepts the Grace of God without putting forth any conscious resistance. When however he becomes an adult, he must conscientiously accept his new situation and grow in faith and in his new life. He may, however, freely choose to reject God's Grace. Baptism does not signify the suspension of man's freedom. The child must gradually be introduced to the "atmosphere" of spiritual life, so that with the Grace of God, he can be assisted in his spiritual growth and accept it conscientiously upon reaching the proper age.
Moreover, in order for a man to conscientiously decide his induction into the Body of Christ, his will must have been enlightened by God's Grace. This Grace is offered by the Church through child-baptism.
In this is also focused the parents' great responsibility and that of the God parent who receives the child from the font. This means that they must care with love and affection for the instruction and Christian upbringing of the child so that the Grace which he received may be preserved and bring forth abundant spiritual fruit.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH Its Faith, Worship and Life
Rev. Antonios Alevisopoulos, Th.D., Ph.D
Translated by Rev. Stephen Avramides