Many who are not Orthodox (and some who are!) wonder what actually happens during a baptism. In this post, we explore the symbolism and meaning behind the Orthodox baptismal service.
What is baptism?
The Orthodox Baptism consists of 3 parts: Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist.
First, baptism is cleansing of the soul and acceptance of Christ. The word itself means immersion in water. John the Baptist first baptized people as a ‘repentance’ and change to prepare for God’s Kingdom. Christ fulfilled this baptism and transformed it into rebirth through water and the Spirit. We are, in essence, born again when we are baptized.
An important distinction here: babies are born without sin. Therefore, baptizing a child establishes a protection from sin – as we said above, a rebirth. The child’s godparent (i.e. the Kum or Kuma) speaks for the child throughout the service. Additionally, the godparent wraps the child in a baptismal blanket and holds him/her.
The baptismal service
Just before the baptism, the sponsor rejects Satan by facing the West (e.g. the gates of Hades) and the priest asks, “Do you renounce Satan and all of his angels, his works, his services and his pride?” Once confirmed, the sponsor turns to the East (where Christ the Sun of Righteousness will come in His glory) to accept Christ, who is The Light of the World. Then, the priest asks “Do you unite yourself with Christ?” After the sponsor replies yes, the child is transferred from Satan to Christ – not allowing sin to enter. Then, the sponsor recites the Nicene Creed, professing belief in the Orthodox Faith, in Christ, and in His teachings.
After this, the priest prepares the water for the immersion through prayers and a blessing over the water. During the entire baptismal service (as in the Orthodox wedding ceremony), a candle remains lit to represent Christ’s light. Holding the child, the priest immerses him/her into the water 3 times – representing the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). After the ‘bath’, the child is clothed in white to represent ‘purity’ and the washing of the sins.
The service continues with Chrismation – fulfilling the child to live a Holy life with the Holy Spirit. The priest anoints the child with Holy oil repeating, “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” after each anointment (Ears – to hear, Eyes – to see, Nose – to smell, Hands – to touch, Feet – to walk, Heart – for life, Back – for strength.)
Now the child is Baptized an Orthodox Christian!