Dear brothers and sisters!
Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, came into the world to redeem us from sin and, through baptism, to bestow upon those who believe in Him the grace of the Holy Spirit, which steers us to a new life, delivers us from sinful captivity and directs us to the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the mystery of Baptism, a person enters into a new, everlasting covenant with God, promising to fulfil His commandments, to die to sin and live for the Lord.
The title of Christian, which is given to a person at baptism, is a lofty one and demanding of responsibility. In baptism we are called to eternal life, which may be found simply by creating the Kingdom of God in our own soul, so that we may then enter into eternal life with the Lord.
St. Ephraim of Syria teaches: “The Kingdom of God is within you, O sinner. Go inside yourself, search more diligently and you will find it with ease. Outside of you is death and the door leading to it. Enter yourself, inhabit your heart, for God is there. If you do not find the Kingdom of God here, it will not be there” (sermon 142).
Prior to conducting the mystery of baptism, a priest must explain to the receivers (godparents) and parents its significance and necessity with regards to the salvation of the soul and finding eternal life. Without baptism, the salvation of the soul is impossible, as the Lord said: Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).
Christ, Who came to the world for the salvation of mankind, “in fulfilment of all righteousness”, accepted baptism from John the Baptist. He, the Sinless One, immersed Himself into the waters of the Jordan in Divine humility, in order to renew our nature, to cleanse it from the defilement of the fallen Adam’s original sin, and to free us from the damnation and condemnation arising from the disobedience of our progenitors toward the Creator. As a symbol of reconciliation with God of all mankind, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus Christ at the moment of His baptism.
St. John Chrysostom in a sermon on Baptism writes: “On the Jordan, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove showed that a spiritual man is born in baptism, and he must be gentle, simple and innocent.” Full immersion symbolises death, and emergence from the water – a new life.
After the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the ancient barrier between man and God fell, and the road to the Heavenly Father in His Kingdom was opened to man, where, according to the word of the Apostle, there is no “condemnation for Adam’s sin” (Rom. 8:1–5).
For a baptised person, the path to salvation is open through the desire to reside in goodness and in close unity with Christ. Baptism is akin to grafting a wild branch to a fertile trunk, which feeds and revives the grafted branch to fruiting. It is no wonder that Christ summons His followers: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4-17). And who does not abide with Christ, “he is cast out as a branch and is withered” (John 15:6).
Christ shed His blood for the remission of the sins of the whole world (Matt 26:28), but an unbaptised person, like a branch that has been broken off, has no hope of being redeemed by the Saviour’s sacrifice upon the Cross. Baptism is only the beginning of the path to salvation; it is where a person achieves their first victory over sin. By baptism, we are endowed by the grace of the Holy Spirit with the power to battle against the authority of the sinful world, its “opposition to God” and the diverse passions. In the mystery of Baptism, the flesh, with its inclination to fall, loses its power over the spirit. The grace of the Holy Spirit renews human nature which was overwhelmed by sin and bestows upon it its original purity.
Prior to baptism, sin is that power which enslaves man; Apostle Paul speaks of its action: “… What I will to do, I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do… O wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:15-24).
The human race is subjugated by its attraction to sin, and its inclination to fall and injure the spirit, similar to a hereditary disease that inhabits a person from birth. Of this state of sinful heredity, the prophet David says: For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me (Psalm 50).
Baptism by the grace of the Holy Spirit helps to expel this “sinful corruption”, unifies one with Christ and “grafts” them to His life-giving Body and Blood.
In baptism, the Lord accepts a child’s soul into the bosom of His Church, where He, as Guardian and Mentor, together with a holy guardian angel protects the soul of the child. The Lord becomes a loving and merciful Father, as though leading His child by the hand along the dangerous and difficult path of life.