January 6, 2012

The Baptism of Christ and the Baptism of Christians

By Bishop Theophilos of Campania


The Month of January is marked by the Great Despotic Feast of Theophany (or Epiphany), which commemorates the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This provides us with the occasion to consider both the Baptism of our Lord and also our own Baptism. The text published here is from Bishop Theophilos of Campania. Bishop Theophilos of Campania (1749-1795) was one of the brightest figures of the Church in the 18th century; distinguished for his theological and canonical expertise. He was born in Ioannina and became a Bishop in Campania, the area to the west of Thessaloniki and opposite Chalkidiki. He was probably a student of the famous teacher Eugenios Voulgaris and is particularly known for his book Tameion Orthodoxias, which ran through eight editions from 1780 to 1939. It is from this work that the text provided here is taken.

Ι. The Baptism of Christ

Christ was perfect God and as such he had the Holy Spirit within him. He was also perfect man united with God and as such he had a humanity that was totally deified. He was most pure and had no need of purification. He was also sinless, free from original sin and any other sin. But then, why was he baptized? Christ was baptized in order to reveal the truth to John the Baptist; to show the way that human beings have to follow in their life; and to sanctify the waters; “not to begin with receiving sanctification, but granting participation in sanctification,” as Gregory of Neocaesarea the Thaumatourgos says.

Christ submitted to Baptism in order to teach us how we should behave in order to attract the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is why he became an example, in all things, that he might reveal the Holy Trinity; the Father witnessing from above, the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and Christ himself bearing witness that he is the Son of God.

Like the dove which warned Noah that the deluge had passed, so the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended and gave the message that the hour had come for the deluge of idolatry to cease and for God to be reconciled with human beings, and to present Christ who was not known to the majority of people by his divine birth from the Virgin. This is why John the Evangelist says: “he stood up in the midst of the people” (John 1:26); in other words, he suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Paul says that, “John baptized the people with a Baptism of repentance asking the people to believe in him who was to come after him, namely Jesus” (Acts 19:4).

So we see that Christ was baptized in order that the multitude of people who were there might know him and believe in him; but also in order that “all righteousness might be fulfilled” (Matth. 3:15), which meant that since not all were persuaded by the prophesy of John, he himself was persuaded on behalf of all. Indeed this is why he accepted the Circumcision, and kept the Sabbaths and the Feasts, and fulfilled as lawgiver all that the Law specified, so that he might not appear to be an opponent of the Law and the Types.

The appearance of the Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Christ took place so that we human beings might be persuaded that when we are baptized the Holy Spirit comes to glorify our baptism.

The Baptism of Christ taught human beings about their regeneration. Also the fact that, immediately following his Baptism, Christ went to the desert and fasted and was tempted by the Devil and conquered him as man, took place in order to teach us that it is impossible to us to undergo bravely the temptations of the Devil and conquer him unless we are based on the grace of the Holy Spirit which we receive at our Baptism.

Christ was submerged into the waters and reemerged again just once. This submersion specifies his descent into Hades and his emersion, his resurrection from the grave. Also the opening of the heavens, which is mentioned in the Gospel, –“for when Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up from the water and behold the heavens were opened to him” (Matth. 3:16) – took place for us, in order to indicate that every time a human person is baptized the heavens are opened and that the way to heaven is now open, if we keep our Baptism undefiled.

ΙΙ. The Baptism of the Christians

1) Christ himself ordered this Sacrament of Baptism to his disciples. He told them “to go everywhere and to teach all nations, and to baptize those who believe in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all his commandments” (Matth. 28:19); in other words, he told them first to persuade people to reject the deception of idolatry (the worship of creation and the creatures of it, including themselves, instead of the Creator) and then to baptize them. Just as a good farmer first removes the useless and harmful roots and then sows the seed.

Holy Baptism creates equality among human beings, because it is equally necessary for all, the king and his subjects, the rich man and the poor, men and women; and also because the grace it grants is the same and no one gets more or less from it in comparison to the others.

2. The element that is necessary for Baptism is water, because it says: “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit as we have” (Acts 10:47)? We see here that although these early Christians had already received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they still had to be baptized in water. Water hides a specific sacrament. There are many divine symbols that are fulfilled by the use of water: Christ’s tomb, death, Resurrection, life, all of which take place together. In the water we bury the old man and when we emerge from it there is a new, pure man that comes up.

The submersion into water and the emersion from it at Baptism takes place three times, because it is the power of the Holy Trinity, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that fulfills all things. Canon 49 of the Holy Apostles says: “If a Bishop or presbyter does not baptize in the manner of a triple submersion, but of one submersion only, which is connected with the death of the Lord, he should be defrocked; and this is the case because the Lord did not say baptize into my death, but, 'Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.'” The Great St. Basil also stresses the same in his Letter to Amphilochios of Iconium, in which he emphasizes the need to observe a triple submersion and emersion at Holy Baptism. And so do many other deified Fathers.

3. The triple submersion into the water at Holy Baptism reveals that as Christ remained for three days and nights at his tomb, likewise whoever is baptized becomes homeopathic by assimilation, because he is buried in the water; Christ is buried in the earth and we, in the water. It is necessary then that priests should do all baptisms, of children and of adults, by triple submersion, because this is demanded by the mystery that Holy Baptism enshrines. In other words, all precautions should be taken so that there is plenty of water and baptism is correctly done.

4. The priest pronounces the words and the power and the grace of the Holy Trinity reshapes the person who is baptized. Without being baptized no one can enter into the kingdom of heaven. One has to put off the old man with his sins and put on the new man, whose youth is rejuvenated like an eagle’s; for, as the specialists say, when an eagle gets old, it becomes blinded and his wings become heavy. When, however, he is exposed to the warmth of the sun, he goes down into a source of water and, submersing its wings in it, is rejuvenated. It is in exactly the same manner that he too that is baptized is rejuvenated pronouncing the Amen.

The Red Sea saved the Hebrews and drowned the Egyptians. Something similar takes place at Holy Baptism. It saved those who believe and are baptized, but condemns those who remain unbelievers. This is why we are obliged to cultivate the faith and never defy our Baptism lest we be condemned.

5. Various pre-figurations of Holy Baptism are found in the Old Testament: Moses’ “trench” and “washbasins” (III Kings 18:32ff and Ex. 30:18). Elisha sent Neeman the leper to be baptized in the river Jordan and be healed (II Kings 5:14). In the Gospel we read about the Pool of Siloam where sick people were healed; and also about the Baptism of the Forerunner in the River Jordan, which was done only for repentance. There are these and many other OT pre-figurations of the Holy Baptism, which takes place for the elimination of original sin and any other sin and also for the spiritual regeneration of man, as Micah predicted it: “He will submerge our iniquities and they will be thrown away into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).

6. Faith and Baptism are the two ways of our salvation and remain indissolubly joined together. Faith is perfected through Baptism, so that whoever believes and is baptized is saved. Since our faith is in the Holy Trinity, we are also baptized in the Holy Trinity and thus become pure, because we actually put on Christ. This is indeed the Baptism which Isaiah prophesized about: “Wash yourselves, be clean” (Isaiah 1:16).

7. Baptism in cases of emergency: The 13th canon of the 7th Ecumenical Synod says that, “if there is an emergency a monk or a deacon can do the Baptism.” The 16th canon says that, “if there is an emergency, then a father may baptize his own child, or someone else, any simple person, because this is no sin. All this, of course, presupposes that he who baptizes is a Christian. This is the case because even a priest baptizes his children and does not depart from his wife. Canon 84 of the Synod of Trullo and Canon 7 of Carthage say that, “whenever we are not sure whether a child has been baptized or not, then we should proceed to baptize it”. Indeed, Patriarch Nicephoros says, that “in an emergency even a simple Christian can do a baptism;” and the Commentary adds “that if in a case of emergency one does a baptism of a babe in the Name of the Holy Trinity, there will be no need afterwards to read the prayers and the exorcisms, but to have the priest do the Chrismation with the Holy Myrrh and the prayers related to it.” Also, if there is no pure running water, then the water of the sea can also be used for a Baptism, because seawater is basically water.

If a babe is born in a condition that makes it unclear whether it is dead or alive, then it is baptized supposedly, and he who baptizes it says, “the servant of God, supposedly alive is baptized in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” In all these cases of emergency there is no need of a sponsor, who is needed in normal cases. Thus, midwives and doctors who help in deliveries should be prepared to baptize the newly born in cases of emergency.

8. Baptism takes place only once in one’s life, because it is a type of Christ who was buried and rose again only once. As the Apostle Paul says, “we were baptized into his death” (Rom. 6:3); and elsewhere, “it is impossible to be reborn again with baptism if we fall into sin” (cf. Heb. 6:4). This is why the Sacrament of Repentance (or Confession) was instituted so that when a Christian sins he may repent and be cleansed from his sins.

9. Baptism is a great Sacrament: it cleanses the entire human being with an ineffable grace which is greater than any other, even that of prophesy. This is why the Forerunner said, “I am in need to be baptized by You” (Matth. 14:16); he knew that the Holy Baptism not only cleanses man from sin, whether the origin or any other, but also grant him sonship by adoption, making him a relative of God, and so many more goods. Christ not only freed us from the hands of the Devil, but also raised us to a higher position. For this reason we die; not because we are so obliged by original sin, but in order that the father of sin, the Devil, is condemned and we are transposed from the earthly and vain condition to that which is heavenly and immortal, reigning with Christ for ever.

Thus Canon 111 of the Synod of Carthage says that, “whoever thinks that baptism is only for the forgiveness of sins and not for granting the future blessings, is anathematized.” Clement the Alexandrian says, “that those who are baptized are illumined; and those who are illumined are adopted as sons; and those who are adopted as sons become perfect; and those who become perfected become immortal; because, as Scriptures says, ‘I said, you are gods and sons of God, all of you. ”

There is a multitude of miracles that have been granted with Holy Baptism to the unbelievers. From all these we may recall one that occurred during the early Christian times. It is connected with a Greek pagan person, called Porphyrios, who used to ridicule and deride the Christians and, therefore, decided to mock in his theater the Holy Baptism. He constructed a font and baptized himself in it by submersing himself three times and saying, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But lo and behold, as his audience was laughing at this act, he was suddenly wounded by the love of Christ, and openly confessed him as true God. This caused him many tortures in the hands of the pagans, but he refused to deny Christ. On the contrary, he shed his blood and ended his earthly life becoming a martyr of Christ.

Source: Translated and annotated from the original Greek By GEORGE DION. DRAGAS, PhD DD, Protopresbyter