April 2010

“In Christianity truth is not a philosophical concept nor is it a theory, a teaching, or a system, but rather, it is the living theanthropic hypostasis – the historical Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Before Christ men could only conjecture about the Truth since they did not possess it. With Christ as the incarnate divine Logos the eternally complete divine Truth enters into the world. For this reason the Gospel says: ‘Truth came by Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17).”

– Blessed Father Justin Popovich


Pope Saint Gregory the Great

“He, therefore, who sets himself to act evilly and yet wishes others to be silent, is a witness against himself, for he wishes himself to be loved more than the truth, which he does not wish to be defended against himself. There is, of course, no man who so lives as not sometimes to sin, but he wishes truth to be loved more than himself, who wills to be spared by no one against the truth. Wherefore, Peter willingly accepted the rebuke of Paul; David willingly hearkened to the reproof of a subject. For good rulers who pay no regard to self-love, take as a homage to their humility the free and sincere words of subjects. But in this regard the office of ruling must be tempered with such great art of moderation, that the minds of subjects, when demonstrating themselves capable of taking right views in some matters, are given freedom of expression, but freedom that does not issue into pride, otherwise, when liberty of speech is granted too generously, the humility of their own lives will be lost.”

– St. Gregory The Great (Pastoral Care)

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.  But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

(Matthew 19:13-14)

Infant baptism has been the normal practice of Christians throughout the entirety of the Christian era, from the early church up to the present time.  It is still the practice today among Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and most Protestant denominations.  It was never a controversial or debated issue until about 1525, when those in the “Anabaptist” movement rejected infant baptism and began re-baptizing each other, viewing their infant baptisms as invalid.

(It is interesting to note that there is a political twist to the story: infant baptism was used by the secular government for tax registration, so this may have been a tax protest in disguise!  If Christians had not allowed Caesar to meddle in the affairs of the church, perhaps we would not have the controversy over infant baptism today.)

One of the arguments used against infant baptism is that it is not referred to in Scripture — that is true.  But there is also no mention in Scripture of the practice of Christian parents waiting to baptize their children until they are older.

Although infant baptism is not mentioned explicitly in Scripture, there are hints of it in several passages that record the baptism of a whole “household,” which may have included children and infants:

  • “… she [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized…” (Acts 16:15)
  • “… immediately he [the jailer] and all his family were baptized.” (Acts 16:33)
  • “… I [the apostle Paul] also baptized the household of Stephanas…” (I Corinthians 1:16)
  • Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children…” (Acts 2:38-39)

The earliest explicit reference to child or infant baptism is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, about 215 A.D.:

“Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so.  Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.” (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 21:15, c. 215 A.D.)

Martin Luther and John Calvin, the two primary founders of the Protestant Reformation, both believed in infant baptism:

Of the baptism of children we hold that children ought to be baptized.  For they belong to the promised redemption made through Christ, and the Church should administer it to them. (Martin Luther, The Smalcald Articles, Article V: Of Baptism, 1537)

“If, by baptism, Christ intends to attest the ablution by which he cleanses his Church, it would seem not equitable to deny this attestation to infants, who are justly deemed part of the Church, seeing they are called heirs of the heavenly kingdom.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559)

Nevertheless, there are a minority of Protestants who do not practice infant baptism but who wait until children have reached an “age of accountability” (also not referred to in Scripture) to be baptized.

In his article What About Infant Baptism? Mark Copeland presents some common Protestant arguments against the historic Christian practice.  The author makes two major points:  (1) Infant baptism is not “real” baptism, because it is not immersion.  This is erroneous, because all persons baptized in the Orthodox Church, whether as infants or as adults, are baptized by full immersion.  When our son Garrett is baptized, he will be immersed in water not just once, but three times, in the name of the Holy Trinity.  (2) Babies “are not lost and in need of salvation.”  Copeland interprets the doctrine of “original sin” to mean that babies are born with the guilt of Adam’s sin, and he rejects the doctrine on that basis.  This, however, is a misunderstanding of original sin.  What we inherit from Adam is not personal guilt but a fallen nature that is subject to death.  “God created man for incorruption” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23), but “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men” (Romans 5:12).  Thus, the author’s case against infant baptism is based on two errors — a factual error and a theological error.

Orthodox Christians understand baptism to be a sacrament or a mystery — a visible means by which the grace of God is communicated to us.

We understand the sacraments of the New Covenant, established by Christ in the church, to be the fulfillment of the types and images that were foreshadowed in the Old Covenant, between God and the people of Israel.  (See Hebrews 9-10)  In the Old Testament, circumcision was the means by which a Jew entered into the covenant of Abraham.  In the New Testament, it is baptism which marks our entrance into the kingdom of God, the beginning of our Christian life.  Just as Jewish boys were circumcised as infants, so also the children of Christian parents are baptized as infants.  St. Paul makes this explicit link between circumcision and baptism:

In [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

When does a person’s Christian life begin?  For an adult, it begins at the time that one freely chooses to embrace the apostolic faith in Christ.  But for a child born into a Christian home, the Christian life begins at birth, as his parents teach him to love God, as they read the Scriptures to him and teach him to pray with them, and as they bring him to church regularly to worship with other believers.

While baptism marks the beginning of our Christian life, each of us who are baptized must continue daily to persevere in our faith until the end of our earthly life.  As St. Paul says:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect… I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do… I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:12-14)

One final point that bears mention: the Orthodox Church practices not only infant baptism but also infant communion.  In the Catholic Church, children are baptized as infants but do not receive the Eucharist until they are old enough (typically around 7-8 years old) to make their first confession of sins and then receive their “First Communion.”  Then, at an older age (usually 12-15 years), they receive the sacrament of confirmation (called chrismation in the Orthodox Church).  By contrast, in the Orthodox Church, the three sacraments of initiation — baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist — are all administered to babies, and children continue to receive communion regularly throughout infancy and childhood.

Written by Mark Swearingen. Sunday 2000, October 8.


St. Basil the Great

“Any part of the Scriptures you like to choose is inspired by God. The Holy Spirit composed the Scriptures so that in them, as in a pharmacy open to all souls, we might each of us be able to find the medicine suited to our own particular illness.

Thus, the teaching of the Prophets is one thing, and that of the historical books is another. And, again, the Law has one meaning, and the advice we read in the Book of Proverbs has a different one.

But the Book of Psalms contains everything useful that the others have. It predicts the future, it recalls the past, it gives directions for living, it suggests the right behavior to adopt. It is, in short, a jewel case in which have been collected all the valid teachings in such a way that individuals find remedies just right for their cases.

It heals the old wounds of the soul and gives relief to recent ones. It cures the illnesses and preserves the health of the soul.

Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.

Every Psalm preserves friendship and reconciles those who are separated. Who could actually regard as an enemy the person beside whom they have raised a song to the one God?

Every Psalm anticipates the anguish of the night and gives rest after the efforts of the day.  It is safety for babes, beauty for the young, comfort for the aged, adornment for women.

Every Psalm is the voice of the Church.”

– Commentary on Psalm 1, by Basil the Great, 4th century. Translation by Thomas Spidlik, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI – Spencer, MASS, 1994

St. John the Dwarf

“It was said about John the Dwarf that one day he said to his older brother: I want to be free from care and not to work but to worship God without interruption. And he took his robe off, and went into the desert. After staying there one week, he returned to his brother. And when he knocked at the door, his brother asked without opening it: Who is it? He replied: It’s John, your brother. The brother said: John has become an angel and is not among people anymore. Then he begged and said: It’s me! But his brother did not open the door and left him there in distress until the next morning. And he finally opened the door and said: If you are a human being, you have to work again in order to live. Then John repented, saying: Forgive me, brother, for I was wrong.”

– From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908)

“When you are praying alone, and your spirit is dejected, and you are wearied and oppressed by your loneliness, remember then, as always, that God the Trinity looks upon you with eyes brighter than the sun; also all the angels, your own Guardian Angel, and all the Saints of God. Truly they do; for they are all one in God, and where God is, there are they also. Where the sun is, thither also are directed all its rays. Try to understand what this means.”

– St. John of Kronstadt

“Those who seek humility should bear in mind the three following things: that they are the worst of sinners, that they are the most despicable of all creatures since their state is an unnatural one, and that they are even more pitiable than the demons, since they are slaves to the demons. You will also profit if you say this to yourself: how do I know what or how many other people’s sins are, or whether they are greater than or equal to my own? In our ignorance you and I , my soul, are worse than all men, we are dust and ashes under their feet. How can I not regard myself as more despicable than all other creatures, for they act in accordance with the nature they have been given, while I, owing to my innumerable sins, am in a state contrary to nature.”

– St. Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia, Vol. IV.

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