Baptism & Chrismation

In this section: An OverviewThe TheologyA Practical Guide

1. An Overview of Baptism & Chrismation

First, we offer our sincere gratitude to God on the birth of your child.  We would be honored and delighted to celebrate the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation for you.  Bear in mind, however, that these mysteries are given to us as an initiation into the life of Christ’s Body, the Church.  For that reason, what they mean and do is to unite the newly baptized and chrismated child to this Body, and this presupposes a commitment to this Body.  These sacraments do not stand alone, by themselves, just as none of us stand alone when we gather to constitute this Holy Body.

As an infant, the child is first and foremost the member of a family.  The child will depend on his or her family to provide a loving context for all his or her early experiences, including those in Church.  The commitment of the family, then, is of paramount importance in helping the child gradually discover his or her role in Church life.

Our membership in the Church results from our sharing in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper.  This is truly a “Holy” Communion, because it unites us to God and by so doing our sins are forgiven.  The Church then, consists of those persons who form the members of this body, with Christ at its head.  Baptism and Chrismation are sacraments of entrance in that they lead to our entrance into the Body of Christ.  For that reason, each Christian partakes of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, at the time of his or her Baptism and Chrismation.  Being and remaining in this communion is what defines our lives as Christians, a calling that we struggle to be faithful to.

As a parent, you will be responsible for teaching your child about many things during the course of his or her life.  This responsibility extends as well to these most important and awesome things, the sacraments of the Kingdom of God.  Centuries ago, the Church decided that it was better for Christians to become members of the Body as infants, rather than making them wait to adulthood.  None of us will ever possess a complete and exhaustive knowledge of God.  However, the Christian life consists  in sharing an experience of God in the context of the Church.  Here we learn to interpret this experience in accordance with Holy Tradition and the witness of the Saints.  Helping your child to do so is one of the greatest joys and responsibilities of being a parent.  Bringing a child up in the Church is what Baptism and Chrismation are all about.

From time to time we have inquirers who wish to share this life, who are already adults.  Before doing so, they are asked to enter upon a period of preparation that is referred to as the catechumenate.  A catechumen is a person undergoing a period of searching and preparation prior to their entrance into the Church.  This period naturally includes some guided reading, prayerful reflection, and time spent in discussion with the pastor.  All of this is done so that upon receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist, the catechumen will have a basic appreciation of the significance of these things.

For obvious reasons, an infant cannot be enrolled as a catechumen.  Instead, the Church expects that the same instruction and preparation will be provided to the infant during the course of his or her childhood.  Parents, Church School Teachers, Godparents and members of the clergy will all have a role to play in this education.  Interestingly, these two different ways of preparation, one beforehand (the adult catechumenate) and other during the course of one’s life (infant baptism) reveal the flexibility of the Church.  Thus, she tries to find the most suitable means appropriate for each situation.

2.Theology of Baptism and Chrismation.

The two most obvious images associated with Baptism are washing and drowning.  Washing is understood because in Baptism our sins are washed, we are cleansed.  The baptismal font itself bears close resemblance to a bath.  However, the Greek word “baptizo” (βαπτίζω) literally means  “to immerse.” Its significance as a ritual drowning is derived from Christ’s death and three day burial in the tomb, and is signified by the triple immersion in the font.  We enter the baptismal font as the old man, clothed with garments of sin, and we emerge as the new man, having shared in the death and Resurrection of the Lord.  We are clothed with garments of light and life.

The Greek fathers celebrated a theology of participation.  This means that we all have a share in God’s glory because we were made in His image and likeness.  In spite of the Fall of Adam and Eve, the consequences of which affected not only mankind but all of Creation, Christ’s incarnation has great import for us.  His birth in the flesh reminds us of the great and noble destiny that God had invested man with, to be communicants of His divine grace.  His death and Resurrection reoriented our humanity by overcoming the most demeaning consequence of the Fall: our mortality.  The life of Paradise, carelessly relinquished by our ancestors, is again a possibility for us by our participation in these truly saving moments of Our Lord’s life.  Baptism is the means by which we do so.

Chrismation extends this new life and in the manner of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.  Enlightened and emboldened, they no longer remained fearfully hidden in the upper room.  Instead, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they went forth manifesting the many charisms they had been blessed to receive.  According to the ancient and universal tradition of the Church, Chrismation is the second of the mysteries that lead directly to our sharing in the Eucharist, the meal of immortality that defines our identity as Christians.  If Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Church, our Chrismation causes us to receive the full manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Together, Baptism and Chrismation focus our attention on this “Pentecostal” quality of the Church, wherein everything is done  under the inspiration of the Spirit.

Originally these two sacraments were personally administered by the Bishop, at the time that the Church consisted mostly of urban churches, one per city, each headed and pastored by the (local)Bishop.  With the dramatic expansion of the Church in the third century, the responsibility to administer Baptism and Chrismation was delegated to the presbyters (priests), who formerly had functioned in each church as a council of elders.  The presbyters became the pastors of the many new parishes that sprung up beyond the cities, in the countryside.  The exception to this pattern was the Western Church, where Chrismation was not delegated to the priest, but retained as the duty of the Bishop.  For this and other reasons, its administration was delayed, causing a different interpretation and name (“Confirmation”) to be associated with it.

3.A Practical Guide to the Baptism:

In preparing for the celebration of Baptism and Chrismation, the following customs are observed:

In general, both godparents should be practicing members of the Orthodox Church.  However, at a minimum, at least one of the godparents must be a practicing Orthodox Christian, and the other godparent must be of Christian faith.  The godparents may not serve by proxy, that is, they must be physically present at the service.  Traditionally there are two godparents, a godmother and a godfather, but actually only one sponsor is needed for the sacrament.

The godparent holds the child during the service and receives the child when he or she comes up out of the font.  This is an ancient responsibility, but few roles in the Church are the subject of so much misunderstanding.  The godparent has no legal right or responsibility to raise the child upon the untimely death of the parent.  The godparent has a spiritual role, primarily one of providing a good example to the godchild, by leading a pious and devout Christian life.  The godparent should pray for the welfare of his or her godchild, and try to develop a positive relationship with this child.  In this regard, simple things like spending time together and taking an interest in the child’s life, will go a long way.

During the service each of the godparents holds a lit candle.  These can be larger candles decorated with an image of the Cross, or they can be the ordinary candles that are offered for sale in the Narthex.  If you wish to obtain a decorated candle, some are available at the Kiosk in the Community Room, or you can purchase them elsewhere.

The baptismal cross is placed on the child or adult candidate by the priest, during the course of the service.  It should be made of gold and have a chain so that it can be worn around the neck.  You should give the Cross to the priest before the beginning of the Baptism.  It is usually hung on the font by its chain, so that it hangs into the baptismal water.  Once it has been placed on the newly-baptized Christian, it should be worn for the rest of his or her life.  Traditionally, the Cross is provided by the godparents, as a gift.  You can see a selection of suitable crosses at Gallery Byzantium.

Baptismal Garment.
This garment should be made of white cloth.  It would be nice if the garment had a cross (white) embroidered or sewn onto its back, between the shoulders.  Regardless of the gender of the person being baptized, it should closely resemble the stikharion of the priest or deacon in style (similar to the robe worn by the Altar Server).  In general, simpler is better.  It should not be in the form of a belted-suit or wedding gown.  Matching hats, bonnets or veils are not needed although they may be worn afterwards.  A selection of suitable garments may be viewed here.

White Towels.
You should provide two large white towels to be used during the service.

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