Sacrament of Holy Baptism

In Catechesis I, 2, from the Montfaucon series (P. G., XLIX, 225) St. John lists the names of baptism, looking for a biblical basis for each of them. He calls baptism: cleansing, mystical cleansing, bath of rebirth, enlightenment (cf. Hebrews X, 32 and VI, 4), burial (cf. Rom. VI, 4) circumcision (cf. Col. II, 11), cross (cf. Rom. VI, 6), etc.

Addressing the catechumens in the pre-baptismal catechesis, St. John tells them that the service of Baptism was explained to them beforehand, so that they might know and approach this Sacrament with greater faith and confidence and be able to fully enjoy the divine generosity. In order to better understand what will be done to them, catechumens must have strong faith and see with the eyes of the soul, with the spiritual eyes, so as not to think only of those that fall under the senses. Under each of the forms of rites seen, they must see the invisible work of God.

Speaking about the purpose of exorcisms, St. John says: “You must know why after the daily catechesis we send you to the voices of exorcists. For this is done neither in vain nor at random. But as you prepare to receive the heavenly King, therefore, according to our word of instruction, receiving those ordained to it, as some who adorn a house for the king who is to come into it, so they cleanse your conscience by those frightening words, which drive away all the cunning of the evil one, make it worthy of the coming (presence) of the emperor. For it is impossible for the devil, no matter how bad and untamed he may be, not to leave you, in great haste, after uttering those frightening words and invoking the public Master of all. And then, this very rite pours a lot of piety into the soul and urges it to a lot, heartbreaking ”.

The effects of the exorcisms were thus: the expulsion of demons, the purification of the mind and the repentance of the heart, that is, the psychological preparation of the catechumen for the reception of his true master and emperor.

St. John does not miss the opportunity to emphasize now the perfect equality of all candidates for baptism in front of the Church and the Christian mystery, regardless of their condition or social status: difference and any social mismatch. For if (in social life) one is in some worldly office, another is proud of his good people, another with the glory of this life, but here also some like them stand side by side with the beggar and the clothed man, and often with the blind and the lame, and they are not ashamed of what is done; for they know that in the spiritual all these have no price, but only the state of purity of the soul is considered ”.

The assertion of such Christian conceptions and attitudes, with such clarity and firmness, in this fourth century of the Christian era, in which the whole organization of the pagan slave society was based precisely on the profound difference between social classes, certainly had the meaning and importance of a true social revolution; and this St. John does in many of his homilies.

The outward attitude of the catechumens, who come to barefoot exorcists, naked (covered with a simple tunic or cloak) and with their hands outstretched to the sky, symbolizes the pain felt by those held in chains by the devil, thus showing their state of captivity, of slaves who want to free themselves from the tyranny of the evil one and at the same time prepare to enter a new captivity, to receive the yoke, the easy one to bear, of Christ.

Pr. Prof Ene Braniste

St. John then addresses the Christians who guaranteed for catechumens (today the godfathers), drawing their attention to the responsibility they took and to their duties as Chezais and spiritual guides of their ends on the path of virtue. Using a term of comparison in the economic and legal life of the time, it resembles what we call today guarantors, ie those who take responsibility for the joint and several payment of a debt contracted by others and who, in case of non-payment of debt by debtors, they are liable to the same penalty as them, or have to pay in their place. St. John calls them spiritual parents (those who receive the neophytes, immediately after leaving the water of Baptism), and the fine are their spiritual sons; they must take their commitment seriously and supervise, urge, advise, and correct their children with a truly parental affection.

The two paragraphs (15 and 16) of Catechesis II, from the series A. Wenger (op. Cit., Pp. 141-143), consecrated by St. John to the godfathers at baptism, are one of the few patristic texts that attest to the existence since antiquity. , of the institution of godparents.

The attitude of the captives, with which the catechumens appear before the priests and their prayer on their knees, with their hands raised to heaven, shows both the heavy bondage from which they escaped and the lighter bondage of Christ, from which they now enter. From the sacramental formula of renunciation (“I renounce you, satan…”), St. John explains only what we must understand by the words “the pomp (brightness) of satan”, which even then seemed probably more difficult to understand: all kinds of sins, pagan performances in hippodromes and theaters, meetings full of laughter and shameless speech, predictions and riddles, auguries and observation of times, incantations, amulets, pagan holidays, etc. (Catechesis II, from P. G., XLIX, c. 239 and Catechesis III, from Papadopulos-Kerameus ed., P. 172).

Arriving at this moment from the baptismal rites, in one of his catecheses, Saint John makes an emotional digression, remembering the unforgettable day, in which he also said these words at the reception of Baptism (circa 372) and bitterly regretting the sins committed by then, sins for the forgiveness of which he also implores the catechumens to pray, as loving sons; In a similar catechesis, he resembles more married women, who, when they see young brides advancing to the altar, weep because, after their wedding, they did not know how to keep their white bridal veil spotless.

St. John does not explain in more detail what union with Christ consists in, but takes the opportunity to emphasize once again the great goodness of God, Who, in exchange for these few words spoken by catechumens, grants us, who give nothing in return. , a whole treasure trove of spiritual goodness.

The anointing oil is also oil for the anointing of the athletes, and perfume for the anointing of the bride, and the anointing or seal is made in the form of the sign of the cross, as St. John Chrysostom states in other homilies. The priest therefore anoints the catechumen as a fighter enlisted in the arena of spiritual struggles and at the same time as a bride of Christ, who is preparing for the wedding. For, according to St. John, Baptism is first and foremost an embodiment in Christ. And those who join this spiritual army must believe in God and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one consubstantial with the Father and in all things like Him, but known in His own hypostasis (Catechesis I, 20-21, ed. A. Wenger , p. 119). Here, in the exposition of the orthodox Christological doctrine, it seems that St. John is inspired by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol. He clearly combats the Aryan and Sabellian distortions of correct dogma, advising catechumens to close their ears to the speeches of Arius’ partisans and tell them that the Son is like the Father by nature, and to teach Sabelie’s adherents It is unique to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but there are three people.

Sfântul Ioan aseamana apoi Botezul cu o nunta spirituală. O mare parte din începutul Catehezei, din seria publicată de A. Wenger, is consecrated by St. John to the development of this comparison. The betrothed of Christ is the Church, coming out of Christ’s side, on the cross, during the sleep of His bodily death; being made up of Christians, each soul becomes the betrothed of Christ through Baptism, Who makes him enter the Church and become a partaker of all its prerogatives. St. John uses, moreover, here a Pauline comparison (see II Cor. XI, 2: “I betrothed you to one man, that I might present you as a pure virgin before Christ”). It is the goodness and love of God that washes, cleanses, forgives, and forgets the sins and iniquities that hate the human nature of the bride, making her a clean, beautiful bride worthy of His wedding chamber.

But here it is not a matter of a carnal union, but of a spiritual one; The bridegroom (Christ) does not seek here bodily beauty, but the soul, or whatever it may be; it does not ask for any wealth, but puts only one condition: forgetting the past and goodwill for the future. The dowry brought by the bride is obedience and commitment to the husband. The gift that the husband brings to the wife before the wedding is the manifestation of Christ’s love for His Church, for which He sacrificed Himself, cleansed Himself through the bath of His own blood shed on the cross, to sanctify it and make it holy and blameless.(comp. Efes. V, 25-27).

Baptism is at the same time a contract or spiritual agreement between Christ and the candidate for baptism. Just as in civil life contracts are concluded (written deeds) between the one who entrusts his goods to someone and the one who receives them, just like here, between the catechumen and his new master, from whom he receives goods invisible and perceptible only through the eyes of faith. , a convention, a contract or a covenant is concluded, written not on paper and not in ink, but in God, by spirit; for the words of the commitments spoken by the catechumens here on earth are inscribed in the heavenly books by the angels, who participate unseen in the performance of Baptism, and they will remain indelibly forever in the eyes and ears of the heavenly Lord.

Let us therefore watch carefully for the observance of the contract signed at Baptism, because there is no other cross, no second forgiveness (of sins) through the bath of birth again, says St. John, affirming the uniqueness and unrepeatability of baptism. And it is easier to keep the white robe of Baptism, than to regain its purity with tears and repentance, after you have been defiled with the filth of sins. He who can remain clean, remains all his life a neophyte or freshly enlightened, rightly deserving of this name of honor.

Since, as I said, Baptism is a spiritual wedding, that is why its celebration lasts seven days, that is, the whole week of Easter, as well as the wedding festivities; and when the white robes of the neophytes are kept pure, we may say that the baptismal feast lasts a lifetime.

The holy sign of the cross, anointed, is like a seal on the catechumen’s forehead.

The second pre-baptismal anointing (complete anointing of the body) is done “to strengthen all their limbs (of the catechumens) and to make them invulnerable against the arrows of the evil one.”

The undressing and nakedness of the candidates, which was done in order to lower them into the water of baptism, which immediately followed, also reminds the nakedness of the first people in paradise and is not a cause for shame. “Adam and Eve were naked and did not know shame until they received the garment of sin, which filled them with shame. But here there is no reason to be ashamed. For the baptismal pool is much better than paradise. In it is not the serpent, but Christ, Who serves the initiation for the rebirth through water and the Holy Spirit. There are no beautiful and pleasing trees in sight, but the charisms of the Spirit. This is not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, neither law nor commandment, but grace and gifts

“Baptism is death and resurrection,” says St. John, succinctly summarizing the well-known fundamental conception of the symbolism of baptism, initially formulated by St. Paul the Apostle and then resumed, in one way or another, by all the mystagogues of the patristic age. “For the old man is buried in sin, and the new is risen, renewed in the image of the Builder,” he continued, reading (probably from memory) his great master and inspirer, the Apostle of the Gentiles (comp. Col. II, 12 and III, 10 ). “We take off our clothes and put on our clothes, that is, we take off the old garment, which is defiled by the multitude of sins, and we put on the new, untouched by any stain. But what do I say? We clothe ourselves in Christ himself; for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, says (St. Paul) – have put on Christ ”(Gal. III, 27) 49. the one renewed in the image of the One who built it. Then, finally, through the words of the priest and his hand, the descent of the Holy Spirit occurs and (out of the waters) rises another man in place of the old one, a man washed of all the defilement of sins, stripped of the old garment of sin and clothed in garments. the royal one ”.

This explains, after St. John, the fact that at that time the baptism (of adults) was usually done at Easter, the feast of the resurrection. Although the grace of the Holy Spirit is not tied to a certain time in the year, we still do the Baptism at Easter, when we celebrate the triumph of our king, Christ, over the devil and death; for Baptism is, indeed, the crucifixion of old man and death for sin. Then we partake not only of the pain of the crucifixion, but also of the joy of the resurrection. But our resurrection through Baptism differs from that of the Savior in that it is immediate; we are no longer obliged to stay in the grave for three days. In the Commentary on the Gospel of John (Homily XXV, P.G., LIX, 150), the great Christian preacher considers the rebirth through Baptism as a new creation of man, which is far superior to the creation of the first man. The first man was made in the image of God, the new man is united with God. The first man commanded the animals, the new man is placed above the heavens. The first man was made on the sixth day, the new man is reborn on the first day (of the week), with the light.

St. John does not forget to emphasize, on this occasion, the orthodox dogma about the homosexuality and inseparability of the persons of the Holy Trinity, in whose name Baptism is performed; he also repeats here another idea, often stated in his writings, namely the role of simple organ of the Spirit, which has the priest performing the Baptism (and the Sacraments in general), which also explains the impersonal form (passive ) of the classical sacramental formula of Baptism (“Baptize X…”). “And in order to learn from here that one is the being of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in a proper way the teaching (performing) of Baptism is also done. For when the priest says: Baptize X In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Sense of the Spirit, he dives them and raises his head three times again, preparing him to receive the descent of the Spirit through this mystical ceremony. Because it is not only the priest who sinks the head (catechumen), but also the right hand of Christ. And this is also shown in the very words of the one who baptizes. For he does not say: I baptize X, but: He baptizes X…, showing that he himself is only a servant of grace and that he only lends his hand, because to this he has been ordained by the Spirit; but the one who fulfills (accomplishes) all is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the inseparable Trinity. Therefore, faith in this gives us the forgiveness of sins, this confession gives us adoption

Without foreshadowing, St. John leaves in this text his precious argument in favor of the justice of today’s Orthodox formula of baptism, used in antiquity throughout the Christian Church and kept unchanged in almost all Eastern liturgical rites today.

St. John also draws the parallel, which is found earlier in St. Cyril of Jerusalem, between Christian Baptism and the passage of the Jews through the Red Sea, generally regarded in patristic mystagogical literature as a type or symbolic preconception of Baptism. Baptism is for Christians what was for the Jews deliverance from the bondage of Egypt; let us no longer think of the bondage and bricks of Egypt. Through Baptism we were entitled to see greater miracles and gained greater favors than the Jews on their exodus from Egypt. They saw Pharaoh drowning with his army; you saw the devil swallowed by the water with his weapons. The Jews crossed the sea; you went through death. They were delivered by the Egyptians; you were set free by the devil. They escaped barbaric slavery; you have escaped the heavier bondage of sin. The Jews were entitled to see the lighted face of Moses; we have seen Christ in His glory. They were accompanied by the Lord by the grace of Moses; we are accompanied by Christ himself. For the Jews, after leaving Egypt, the desert followed, for us the sky follows. They were led by Moses, and we by God himself, Who is our guide and commander. Moses procured from his countrymen in the wilderness only manna and water from the rock; God gives us the nourishment of eternal life and draws us from the inexhaustible springs of the Holy Spirit, which spring from the holy table set in the midst of the church

By kissing brotherly love, which the faithful give to the neophytes on their way out of the water of Baptism, they share with them the joy of deliverance from the bondage of sin and the devil and the entry into the new state of beloved sons, invited to the royal table. This kiss is also a fulfillment of the Savior’s command to reconcile with our brothers before bringing our gifts to the altar, but it is also a mystical, holy kiss, according to the word of the Apostle, because the mouth with which we kiss and kiss is the entrance the temple of Christ, in which our body was transformed by Baptism; it must therefore be done with a clear conscience and without any hidden or evil thoughts.

The neophytes are then led to the dreadful table, where they will taste the Holy Body and Blood, becoming the abode of the Spirit, and – like some who are clothed with Christ – they appear as earthly angels, shining like the rays of the sun

St. John speaks with great perseverance about the effects of Baptism, not only in Baptismal Catechesis, but also in some of his exegetical homilies. He emphasizes, more than other Holy Fathers, the cleansing power of baptism, which washes away in its waters every sin, however great: be full of all human wickedness, – yet, if it descends into the crystalline waters, it will come out of the divine waves cleaner than the rays of the sun… ”.

Recalling what the Holy Apostle Paul says in “Epistle I to the Corinthians (VI, 11: “And so were ye, but ye were washed, ye were sanctified, ye were sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God”, St. John adds: “We will endeavor to show you that those who approach the bath (baptism), become clean from all wickedness; but our word has shown more: that they become not only pure, but also holy and righteous. For (the Holy Apostle) not only says: “You have been washed…, but: You have been sanctified and you have been corrected…”. As a spark that falls into the future waters is immediately extinguished, so human sin, falling into the colimvitra of the divine waters, sinks and is destroyed. Baptism is called regeneration, precisely because it is a new creation, a rebuilding. Just as a golden statue, darkened by smoke, antiquity, rust, or dust, if remelted, regains its original radiance, so Baptism is like a melting pot of the Spirit, in which our flesh, defiled by the traces of sin, is remelted. through the fire of grace, regaining the radiance of original purity and molding a new man from the old.

Speaking elsewhere about the effects of baptism, St. John emphasizes that the neophyte is a completely new creature, recalling the words of St. Paul the Apostle:
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Cor. V, 17)
. God’s grace reshapes and pours out souls again, making them different from before, not transforming nature, but changing the will and enlightening the eye of the mind, to see clearly the abomination of sin and the beauty of virtue. Former idolaters now worship the Creator of creation and despise worshiped idols. They became members of another city, of the heavenly Jerusalem, new soldiers of Christ (Catechesis V, 26, ed. A. Wenger, p. 213), spiritual soldiers of the Church, etc.

In another of his catecheses, St. John describes and enumerates, with his known oratorical solemnity and in a wonderful gradation, the multiple effects of Baptism. The neophytes, he says, are like stars that shine brighter on earth than the stars in the heavens, they disappear at daybreak, they begin to shine with the unspoken day of Christ’s resurrection, and they will shine even brighter on the dreadful day. of His latter appearance, when “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew XIII, 43). “Those who were slaves yesterday are now free (Matthew VIII, 36) and citizens of the Church; those who were once ashamed of their sins are now safe and righteous. For they are not only free, but also holy, not only holy (Rom. I, 7) but also righteous (Rom. II, 13), not only righteous but also sons (Rom. VIII, 14), not only sons but and heirs (Rom. VIII, 17), not only heirs but also brothers (Matthew XII, 50) of Christ, not only brothers of Christ, but also co-heirs (Rom. VIII, 17), not only together- heirs but also members (I Cor. VI, 15 [/ higlight]), not only members, but also temple (I Cor. III, 16), not only temple but also organs of the Spirit.

The most powerful weapon the Spirit has given to His new athletes enlisted in the army of Christ’s warriors and which they can use in the fight against demons and sin is the blood of Christ, the blood of the New Covenant. The blood and water that flowed from the Lord’s rib, imposed with the spear on the Cross, were the symbol of the water of Baptism and the blood of the Holy Sacraments. From His shore, therefore, Christ made the Church during His death with the body, just as from Adam’s shore He had made Eve during His sleep.

After baptism, that is, after the birth of grace, Christ Himself continually feeds His own blood, those born of Him. They gain the honor of being called Christians (that is, worshipers of Christ) and believers by the grace of God. So be worthy of this great honor! – urges St. John Chrysostom to neophytes. Flee from all the temptations of the devil, adorn yourself with zeal for virtue, attend church, spend your day in prayer and thanksgiving, in reading and soul-building, in spiritual conversations, and so on. For “Baptism is useless, if after Baptism we continue to live an unworthy life” (Homily XI in the Gospel of Matthew, 6, P.G., LVII, 198).