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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part II: Faith and Worship
    • Orthodox Worship: The Sacraments
      • Baptism
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Baptism

In the Orthodox Church today, as in the Church of the early centuries, the three sacraments

of Christian initiationBaptism, Confirmation, First Communion — are linked closely together.

An Orthodox who becomes a member of Christ is admitted at once to the full privileges

of such membership.

Orthodox children are not only baptized in infancy, but confirmed in infancy, and given

communion in infancy. “Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not; for of such

is the Kingdom of Heaven(Matthew 19:14).

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There are two essential elements in the act of Baptism: the invocation of the Name of the

Trinity, and the threefold immersion in water. The priest says: ‘The servant of God [name] is

baptized into the Name of the Father, Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.’ As the name of each person in the Trinity is mentioned, the priest immerses the child in

the font, either plunging it entirely under the water, or at any rate pouring water over the whole

of its body. If the person to be baptized is so ill that immersion would endanger his life, then it is

sufficient to pour water over his forehead; but otherwise immersion must not be omitted.

Orthodox are greatly distressed by the fact that western Christendom, abandoning the primitive

practice of Baptism by immersion, is now content merely to pour a little water over the candidate’s

forehead. Orthodoxy regards immersion as essential (except in emergencies), for if there

is no immersion the correspondence between outward sign and inward meaning is lost, and the

symbolism of the sacrament is overthrown. Baptism signifies a mystical burial and resurrection

with Christ (Romans 6:4-5 and Colossians 2:12); and the outward sign of this is the plunging of

the candidate into the font, followed by his emergence from the water. Sacramental symbolism

therefore requires that he shall be immersed or ‘buried’ in the waters of Baptism, and then ‘rise

out of them once more.

Through Baptism we receive a full forgiveness of all sin, whether original or actual; 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.

Baptism must normally be performed by a bishop or a priest. In cases of emergency, it can

be performed by a deacon, or by any man or woman, provided they are Christian. But whereas

Roman Catholic theologians hold that if necessary even a non-Christian can administer Baptism.

Orthodoxy holds that this is not possible. The person who baptizes must himself have been baptized.




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