Baptism: a communal event
Sunday sermon during the Baptismal Liturgy of Patrick Paranyuk.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Christ is risen!
Today we are witnessing a unique event, something that happens only once in a person’s lifetime – a birth of a Christian. This is a monumental event, but it’s also an event to which every single person is called.
We are born to be baptized into Christ; we are born to be in communion with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we are born to be in a community with each other in the Church that was established upon the teachings, commandments, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And having been baptized, we are to witness to the One in Whose Name, Whose death and resurrection we are baptized. And through this witness, we are to bring others, in fact all the nations, into communion with God, into the community of the Church.
It’s on this communal aspect of the baptism that I would like to expand a bit more today.
There has developed a misconception among Orthodox Christians about baptism. People have come to believe that baptism is a private event. More than on a few occasions I heard the same even in our parish.
It’s not only untrue that baptism is a private event. It’s simply wrong to think or do baptism as something “private.” And I’m not saying that every baptism should be a Baptismal Liturgy. I mean, ideally yes, it should be. But it is possible to have a regular baptism that is not private, but communal, where the whole community participates.
And I am well aware that there can be exceptional circumstances where a proper communal baptism is not possible. For instance, I was baptized at home back in 1986 in Ukraine because the glorious communists did not like when people freely expressed their religious beliefs. But these are exceptions, they cannot become the norm.
Baptism, by default, is not a private, but rather a communal event. Under normal circumstances, baptism is done in church. This fact alone makes it not private. Church is not a catering hall which we rent out to do our baptisms, weddings, funerals, occasional memorials and whatnot. The church is not here to satisfy our drive for consumerism.
Church is a place of worship for a specific community. For example, this church is a place of worship for this community. And while a community is made up of unique individuals, this community only exists when these unique individuals get together to worship the one true God.
And any event that happens in the church is, therefore, an event of that community, not of unique individuals, much less of individuals who have no desire to participate in the life of the church, but only treat the church as a sacramental vending machine, “Here’s some cash, go and do your ritual because I am ‘Russian Orthodox.’”
You have no idea how much it irritates and hurts me when people just show up out of the blue and ask to baptize their child. If the parents are never in church, there is no point in baptism. One day I might start saying no to such baptisms. And that day may be near…but I digress.
Events of the church are the events of the community. This has always been an understanding in the Church (until recently that is, about a hundred or so years, when it somehow became "private"). So, for instance, Great Lent developed from this communal understanding. It used to be that anyone desiring to be baptized had to go through catechism, which would last anywhere from one to three years.
And baptisms were usually, not always, but usually done at or around Pascha. So the last part of catechism, of preparation for the baptism, was a fast of forty or so days. And the Christian community into which a person was entering, in order to show that a church, a parish, a community is one family in the Lord, fasted together with that person.
Do you see? Not only baptism wasn’t a private thing, but even the period of preparation was communal. When a person was joining the Church, the community was there with that person from the beginning to the end.
When a person, be it an infant or adult or anyone in-between, is baptized and becomes part of a particular community that whole community takes part in raising that person in the faith.
Teaching and showing the love of Christ and His commandments always falls on the parents first, of course. That’s why God grants the gift of children to them. It is also an opportunity for the godparents to help raise another Christian.
I always say this at baptisms, and I will say it to my brother and my cousin today, your job as godparents is not limited to gift giving on Christmas and birthdays. First and foremost, as godparents, you are to be the examples of Christian life to your godchild, and to help the parents in this great, and sometimes very challenging task.
And since the baptism happens in a particular community and a person becomes part of that community, it is also an opportunity for that community to help bring up a Christian.
So today, on behalf of you all, the community of Saint John the Baptist and our guests, I would like to welcome Patrick home. Home to his one and only community. Community in the risen Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen!
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