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Holy Baptism is one of the four compulsory sacraments of the Orthodox Church which sanctifies and gives strength to the faithful. When one enters the baptismal font they are not only cleansed from sin, but also reborn through God’s Grace. This death and resurrection is real, as they literally die to the old person and are reborn in Christ. The water used in Baptism is salvific water. Once blessed by the Holy Spirit it becomes, as emphasised in the service of Baptism, a fountain of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a remover of sins and a protection against infirmities.

Christ Himself establishes the sacrament of Baptism in the New Testament. He instructs the Apostles to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). This is a definite and clear command from our Lord to firstly make disciples, which involves catechising those who wish to enter the Christian faith, and secondly to baptise them in the name of the Holy Trinity. Here we have Christ giving us the essence of the sacrament. However, the Church over time, which is guided be the Holy Spirit, has decided on how the sacrament is to be conducted and celebrated.

For the sacrament of Baptism to be complete and valid the following needs to occur:

1) The epiclisis (calling upon) of the Holy Trinity – the Baptism must take place in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for it to be canonical.

2) Three immersions in water, which symbolises Christ’s three-day burial and resurrection. Through ecclesiastical economy the Church allows for a person to be sprinkled (or even baptised in the air) if they are in danger of dying and are unable to be immersed in water. However, sprinkling water is performed in extremely rare situations and the Church has never made this a general rule as practiced in the Western Church.

3) A canonical bishop/priest performs the Baptism and must not be forced or pressured to conduct the sacrament. In the case of an emergency a deacon can baptise as seen occurring in the New Testament where Philip baptises the eunuch (Acts 8:38). In the instance where there is no priest and the life of a person is in danger, then even a layperson is able to baptise. These types of Baptisms are still recognised by the church as valid and canonical. However, if the person baptised by a layperson recovers and is taken to church, then everything in the sacrament is conducted as normal, except the three immersions.

4) Preparation is required prior to Baptism. In the early Church all who wished to be baptised were catechised first for a number of years. However prior to this, in order to see if they had serious intentions in being baptised, the candidates were first brought to the bishop and asked to answer certain questions regarding their conversion to the Christian faith. Once this was complete, the candidates were considered catechumens and underwent catechism. Infants were excused from this and could still be baptised without having to prepare themselves. Today in the Orthodox Church the catechisms are conducted mainly at the door of the church looking towards the West, symbolising how we are still in the dark and yet to be enlightened. Here the priest asks the candidate (or the godparent if an infant baptism is being conducted) to renounce Satan three times. Then the candidate looks towards the East and is asked three times if they pledge allegiance to Christ. Following this they are asked to confess their faith in the Trinitarian God by reciting the Creed. Once all this is completed then, and only then, does the priest proceed with the sacrament of Baptism.

Finally, we also have the Baptism of martyrdom. In the early church many became martyrs without yet being baptised. These people were still recognised as saints and members of the church since they were considered as being baptised in their own blood. For example, Herod murdered 14 000 infants that were not baptised; however, we still commemorate them as saints seeing as they died martyrs.
The mystery of chrismation (Gr. ‘unction’) is the second of the three sacraments of initiation, representing a necessary step in the process of catechumens’ integration in the Church. Chrismation is performed by either the bishop or the priest, who, after calling the power of the Holy Spirit upon the newly illumined, or baptised, anoints them with the holy and great myrrh, saying: the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the life of the newly illumined, chrismation corresponds to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ at the river Jordan (cf. Luke 3:21-22). Also, it corresponds to the very nature of the Church, or the people of God, journeying in history under the Pentecostal dew of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:1-4). As such, the newly baptised become pneumatophores, bearers of the Holy Spirit, experiencing in grace the existential conformity with both Christ and his Church.

Through chrismation the newly baptised receive the energies (cf. St Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ 3:4), gifts or charismata of the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 11:2), being confirmed as members of the priestly people of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). The two aspects, the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit and the ecclesial dimension, appear as a common denominator of the two main ways of administrating chrismation – the laying on of hands (the initial fashion, as performed by the apostles) and the unction. Both ways, the visible sign (the laying of hands and the unction) indicates the ecclesial aspect while the charismata indicate the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the two aspects concur to the realisation of a complete theandric, or divine-human, life (cf. The Life in Christ 3:2) of the newly illumined, within the people of God. By taking further and consciously the spiritual path, of the virtuous life, the horizon of divine participation – in the Holy Spirit, through Christ, to the Father – is open to those receiving chrismation (cf. The Life in Christ 3:5-6).

As already stated, chrismation was performed originally by the apostles through the laying of hands (cf. Acts 8:14-17). Very soon, however, the practice of unction became largely used (as suggested in 1 John 2:20), either because the apostles were unable to attend all those baptised or in order to distinguish chrismation from the sacrament of ordination. St Nicholas Cabasilas considers both ways as efficient: ‘Scripture says that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid hands upon those who had been initiated. Now too the Paraclete comes upon those who are being chrismated’ (The Life in Christ 3:1).

The Orthodox Church administrates the three sacraments of initiation – baptism, chrismation and communion – within the same service (for infants and adults alike), given their existential value, of fully regenerating the inner being of the human persons and their integration in the Church. In turn, the Roman Church separates them for catechetical reasons. Thus, in the Roman rite, confirmation, the equivalent of chrismation, is administrated at the end of the catechetical instruction (when children are about 12 years of age). In line with the Roman practice, some Protestant Churches perform the ceremony of confirmation only for adults and teenagers, but do not consider it a sacrament.
Baptism Regulation
Baptism is the sacrament through which one is received into the Church. Through Baptism we receive the full forgiveness of sins, we “put on Christ”, becoming members of His Body, the Church. To remind them of their Baptism, Orthodox Christians usually wear throughout life a small Cross, hung round the neck on a chain during their Baptismal Service. Immediately after Baptism, the Orthodox Christian is “Chrismated” (confirmed) with the Chrism (in Greek “myron”) by the Priest. The Sponsor (or Godparent) of the baptised person must be an Orthodox Christian over the age of 12.

Non-Orthodox Christians wishing to enter the Orthodox Church are received by the Sacrament of Holy Chrism if they have previously been baptised in the Name of the Holy Trinity.

The Parish Priest will issue a Baptism Certificate, which will be presented after the Service.

In the case when the Baptism Certificate is lost, a copy can be obtained subsequently only from the Metropolis.