What is baptism?
A sermon delivered at the Baptismal Liturgy of Nikolai Festa
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Today we are witnessing a unique event, an event that one doesn’t get to see and participate in all that often.
This event is the birth of a new Christian – a follower and disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptism is also a conversion experience. It’s when a person goes from one state of being to another, from not participating in the life of God’s Church to fully partaking of everything that God has to offer us.
Once someone said to me, “Father, in our parish we do not have converts.” I remember thinking to myself, looking at the people in the church, “Then who are they?”
The thing is, no one ever was born a Christian (except for Christ, but He is God, so He is special). No matter how many generations of our family have been faithful Christians, no one is born a Christian. Everyone, who desires to be a Christian, needs to be baptized, needs to convert – go from one state of being to another, from not participating in the life of the Church to fully partaking of everything God has to offer us.
This is what Nikolai is going through today – he is converting from being a non-Christian into a Christian.
And so I would like to look at what exactly we are converting from during baptism, and what exactly we are getting ourselves into. It’s a really great thing for us to witness baptism, not only to participate in the birth of a new Christian, as I said, but also to remind ourselves what the consequences of baptism are.
Both in the Scripture readings that we just heard and in the baptismal prayers, one of the main themes that is highlighted is us being set free.
Free from what?
Free from death and sin.
As Saint Paul says, we are baptized into Christ, into His death. One of the reasons we, in the Orthodox Church, fully submerge a person under water is to emphasize this fact. The person goes under water, just like Jesus went into the underworld after the crucifixion to bring out all the righteous from the beginning of the age. And the person comes out of the water, as did the Lord, leaving hell empty-handed.
Again as Saint Paul says, as Christ was raised from the dead, so we are raised with Him, because we have been baptized into His death, and into His resurrection.
Baptism also frees us from sin. Sin enslaves those who do not know who their master is. In baptism we are clearly told Who our Master is, Who our Lord is, Whom we worship – the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And since we know our Master, we are no longer slaves of sin, but slaves of righteousness. Think about it. We are no longer striving to commit wickedness and evil, but goodness and righteousness.
And how are we freed from sin? By Christ’s saving Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Saint Paul says that the end of sin is death. Well, in Christ we are freed from death. Death no longer has dominion over those who faithfully follow the Resurrected Lord.
In baptism we are also converting from an old self, or old man, as the prayers say, into a new man, a new person. The old self is stuck in an ancient delusion.
What is this ancient delusion? It’s the delusion of the serpent from the garden of Eden – the belief that we can be gods, knowing what is good and what is evil, without living in the grace of God.
I think looking at the history of humanity in general, and at the present circumstances of our society, we can easily say that we have proven incapable of knowing what is good and what is evil without knowing God. And we are certainly no gods, not even to ourselves.
So in baptism we go from this ancient delusion into faith, hope, and love of God. Faith that God is true to His word. Hope of the resurrection to come and eternal life. And love of God that is selfless, sacrificial, and salvific.
And finally, in baptism we are converting from being members of this world into the members of God’s Kingdom. That Kingdom is not only somewhere out there, awaiting us in the eternal life. God’s Kingdom is already here and now.
We get the foretaste of this Kingdom when we gather together as the assembly of God, as His Church, to worship and praise Him, and to partake of Christ’s holy Body and Blood.
In the Eucharist, in Communion, we are united with Christ … Who is where? Seated on the right hand of God the Father … in the Kingdom of heaven.
At baptism we go through our own personal Pentecost, when we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guided the first apostles and disciples in preaching the Gospel and spreading the word of Christ’s victory over death.
And the same Holy Spirit guides us today to preach the same Gospel, to bring the same message to the world we live in, to convert all the nations, making them disciples and members of God’s Kingdom.
So again, as we are celebrating this amazing day in the life of Nikolai and his family, let us remember the oaths we gave at our own baptisms and conversions, and the promises given by God – that we are free from death and sin through baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection; that we have put off the old self, that was mired in the ancient delusion, and instead we have put on the new self that lives in faith, hope, and love; and we are no longer members of this world. We may live in it, but we do not belong to it. We are the converts from the world of death and sin and delusion into the world of eternal life…
…where may we continue to worship, praise, and glorify One God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
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