By: Dr Adel Magdy
Of all the practices of the Church, the sacrament of Baptism is perhaps the most misunderstood. Baptism has been given various names by the Early Fathers of the Church, including the ‘new birth’, ‘sanctification’, ‘washing’, ‘seal’ and ‘illumination’. But what is it? Is baptism just the dipping of our flesh in some water, singing some prayers, and then saying that he is now Christian?
Has baptism merely become an opportunity for us to gather family and friends, and enjoy a celebration together? Is it simply an occasion that we photograph and frame on a wall, a time that we dress nicely? Or is it a time when the soul becomes dressed in Christ? Is it really essential for us to be baptised, or can I enter Heaven without it?
The words of the Lord Himself are clear: Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3). The very fact that the Lord Himself chose to be baptised in instituting this sacrament, is eloquent testimony to its value and significance.
Christ’s final instructions to His disciples, as recorded in the gospels, are as follows: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
And so, we see again, that baptism is in fact a pre-requisite for our salvation. But the question still arises: why? What is the significance of the sacrament of Baptism that makes it so crucial for our salvation? Why is Baptism the door by which the believer enters the church, and has the right to partake in the rest of the Sacraments?
In being immersed in the act of Baptism, we are in fact, dying. But this is no ordinary death: it is a death, with Christ. “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death.” (Romans 6).
And so, we are united together in the likeness of His death (Romans). It is not a coincidence that St. Paul says that we are united in the “likeness” of His death: because the two deaths are NOT the same, since His death is the body’s death but ours is a death of sin (St. John Chrysostom). And so, Baptism is the death of sin that lived in our old man.
But the story does not end there: for when we were buried with Him in baptism, we were also raised with Him through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead”. Just as Christ arose from His physical death on the cross, we too arise from our dead selves because of our sin.
And so, finally, we are closer to understanding the true meaning and value of this blessed sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is essential for our true life in Christ; for it is in baptism that we are united with Christ, it is in baptism that we die with Him and it is in baptism that we rise up with Him to a new life.
And so, just as we were united to Christ in the likeness of His death, we are united to Him in the likeness of His resurrection. No longer does death have dominion over us. No longer does sin reign over us. No longer is it I who lives, but it is Christ who lives in me.
May we follow in the footsteps of the holy men and women who lived before us, and who valued the significance of their baptism. May we, as a Church, follow the teachings of the ancient fathers that baptism should be our armour, our helmet, our love, our spear, our patient endurance and our panoply (See quote below).
My Lord, I beg You to hear me now, as I ask You to make me as pure as the moment of my baptism. Immerse me in Your love, that I may die to my sin and filth.
Let me arise with You to a life of joy and glory.
Let me follow Your command with zeal, that Your name be spread to all nations and all people.
Let me experience the joy when they too, experience the awe of baptism.
Let me live a life worthy of the calling with which You have called me
Let your baptism be your armour; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply (St Ignatius of Antioch)