Baptism Part 1: Preparation for Baptism
In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, ascribed by the West Syriac Tradition, there are two parts. The first part is the preparation for Baptism, and second, the baptism proper. The first part consists of: the prayer for the making of a catechumen (from the Latin/Greek meaning the one being instructed); breathing of the Holy Spirit, signing of the cross without oil, prayers of exorcism; the renunciation and condemnation of the devil (by the God-parent); the acceptance of Christ; and the recitation of the Nicene Creed. All of which is a call to Baptism.
1) Prayer for the Catechumen
The first prayers are for a catechumen, that is, the one who is getting ready for Baptism. In the early Church adults were the first converts and so there was an understanding by the Catechumen about what he or she was getting ready for. Thus, the songs, (which are essentially prayers versified), are followed by Permion, Sedro, Epistle Reading, and finally the Gospel Reading.
“The Didascalia does not mention any post-baptismal rite (except again for the Eucharist), nor does it speak of preparatory rites. Nevertheless it seems to have been acquainted with a kind of catechumenate at the beginning of which there was a profession of faith; elements of instruction, however, do also seem to have followed baptism.” (Baptism and Chrismation in the Syriac Tradition of III—IVth Centuries, Orthodox Teaching on the Sacraments of the Church, Prof. Harald Buchinger, November 2007)
2) Breathing of the Holy Spirit
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
When we look back to the beginning, that is, the creation (Genesis 2:7), we see that God created through his breath. He gave life to man by breathing into his nostrils. Again, in Ezekiel 37, we see God conversing with Ezekiel. The dialogue is about the “dry bones” and could they possibly be brought back to life. God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that he will make “breath enter into them” to give them life. (Excerpt from Breath of God)
“Breathing is the essential biological function that keeps us alive, a function also that makes us totally dependent on the world. And the world is hopelessly polluted with sin, evil and death. (Of Water & The Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Fr. Alexander Schmemann)
3) Signing of the Cross without Oil
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17). This mark tells the Devil that you belong to Christ.
In the early Church the catechumen was brought to the bishop who was the shepherd of the local church. From there, the intentions of the catechumen would be examined. Then, his name would be written in the register of catechumens. Finally, he made three signs of the cross on the catechumen’s head and laid his hands on him. (Of Water & The Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Fr. Alexander Schmemann)
4) Prayer of Exorcism
Dialogue telling the devil “this person who has been marked has nothing to do with you?”
“I who am being baptized, renounce you Satan, your armies, your messengers, all the fear of you, and all of your deceitfulness.” (Service of Baptism)
“Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as a presence and not only absence.” (Of Water & The Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Fr. Alexander Schmemann)
5) Renunciation of Satan
The earliest Syrian sources do not point a renunciation of Satan. (Baptism and Chrismation in the Syriac Tradition of III—IVth Centuries, Orthodox Teaching on the Sacraments of the Church, Prof. Harald Buchinger, November 2007)
Fr. Schmemann writes that ‘the renunciation of Satan, was a renunciation of the world, of the idolatry that permeated the culture.’
6) Acceptance of Christ
“I who am being baptized confess and believe in You, Lord Jesus Christ, and in all the doctrines which You have divinely entrusted through the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Holy Fathers.” (Service of Baptism)
An explicit profession of faith is not part of early Syrian tradition. (Baptism and Chrismation in the Syriac Tradition of III—IVth Centuries, Orthodox Teaching on the Sacraments of the Church, Prof. Harald Buchinger, November 2007)
“This decision and this oath are taken once and for all; they are not to be reconsidered and re-evaluated from time to time.” (Of Water & The Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Fr. Alexander Schmemann)
7) Nicene Creed
Declaring that you are a believer means reciting the Nicene Creed. This is a public affirmation of your allegiance to Christ and His Church.
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)
“The entire faith is given to each, and each one is responsible for the whole faith.” (Of Water & The Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Fr. Alexander Schmemann)
Baptism Part 2: Baptism Proper
7) Anointing with Holy Oil
In the Syriac tradition there was only one pre-baptismal anointing known as rushmo or mark (The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation, Aidan Kavanagh, 1978) taken from Syriac Old Testament, Exodus 12:23, “For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” and Ezekiel 9:4. It is a representation of the marking of the homes of the Israelites.
The Holy Oil is also for healing for sin and body. This the same oil that is used for Anointing of the Sick. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)
“…Syrian baptismal initiation centered on the Jordan event as type and emphasized the manifestation there of Jesus as prophet, priest and king—the Anointed One…But the emphasis is on the anointing. “In the process of ritualization, therefore, it was the anointing that became, in Syria, the first and only visible gesture for central event at Christ baptism.” (The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation, Aidan Kavanagh, 1978)
8) Blessing of the Waters
Water is poured into the baptismal font via warm water on the right hand and cold water on the left hand. This pouring of hot and cold water was done for practical reasons, that is, water
Breathing: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
Invocation of the Holy Spirit: Similar to the Epiclesis in the Qurbana, here the Priest, being the representative of God on earth, calls down the Holy Spirit to fill the waters with His divine presence. Here we see that there is prayer of the Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:37) exactly as seen in the Qurbana. Following this “Answer me, O Lord” a series of prayer are chanted, three in all, symbolizing the completion. Further, it symbolizes the Holy Trinity, as is customary with liturgical practices in the Orthodox Church.
9) Anointing of the Waters
Holy Chrism: The waters are sanctified by applying drops of Chrism into the baptismal font in the sign of a Cross. But before he applies the droplets of Chrism, the Priest holds the bottle of Chrism over the waters and says the following: O God, the waters saw You, O Lord, the waters saw You, and were afraid. (Ps. 77:17) The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the glorious God thundered. The Lord is upon the great waters. (Ps. 29:3); Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; now and always, forever and ever. For each chant, except the last, which is Amen, the Deacon says, Halleluiah. The Chrism over the water is the Holy Spirit over the waters. It is He, the Holy Spirit that is present and hovering of the waters and making it more than just an element of nature. Now it becomes a “channel” where a human is changed from old to new, death to life. (It is interesting to note that Holy Oil is used to anoint the baptismal water in the Eastern Orthodox Church, not Chrism)
Sign of the Cross: After having put the bottle of Chrism down, the Priest flutters his right hand (like a dove) and makes the mark of the Cross by invoking the name of the Trinity.
The Sacrament of Chrismation
- Before sanctification of the water; forehead (consecrated Olive Oil, but not Chrism). (rushma-mark)
- Between the sanctification of the water and the water baptism; the whole body (Not practiced in the MOSC anymore).
- Immediately after the water baptism; the organs of sense (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin) with Chrism - this anointing is referred to as Chrismation. (hatma-seal)
After the candidate is immersed, or rather the Priest pours the baptismal waters over the candidate, from the North, South, East and West, which is also the sign of the Cross, the Priest then gives the candidate to the godparent; or if it is an adult the Priest instructs the candidate to dry off and accompany the godparent. Baptism is a sign of a new life in Christ, and now the candidate enters the Sacrament of Chrismation, which makes he or she partakers of the Holy Spirit.
Note: It should be noted here that the giving of the candidate to the godparent, or if it is an adult candidate the handing over, the godparent is instructed to guide and teach the way of faith to the baptized without any reservations. Therefore, the godparent must be Orthodox. There is no exception to this rule. For, how can a non-Orthodox instruct or bring up the baptized as Orthodox?
Either if it is a baby or an adult, the candidate who is wet with the waters of baptism, now enters the Sacrament of Chrismation, which is intrinsically tied to the Sacrament of Baptism. Chrismation is the completion of Baptism. That is why when a non-Orthodox desires to become Orthodox, there is an evaluation whether or not there was a valid Triune baptism in another Church (this is a hotly debated idea). Once that evaluation is complete if the determination is made that the candidate received a valid Triune baptism, and then he or she will receive the Sacrament of Chrismation. The Chrism is applied in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the forehead and then subsequently the sign of the Cross is made on both hands and feet.
[Now the priest turns to the baptized and dipping his thumb into the Holy Chrism, signs him/her on the forehead in the form of a Cross saying:]
Priest: By the Holy Chrism, which is the sweet fragrance of Christ, the mark and sign of true faith and the perfection of the gift of the Holy Spirit, [Name] is sealed
Priest: In the name of the Father
Priest: and of the Son
Priest: and of the living and Holy Spirit, unto life everlasting
At this point the Church believes that the candidate has entered into the fullness of the faith, that is, he or she is completely inducted into the Body of Christ.
The crowing is a visible sign to the people who are attending the baptism service that the newly baptized is a part of the royal priesthood. (1Peter 2:9) He or she joins the kingship of Christ, becoming royalty.
The Holy Communion follows the Crowing. Then, the crow is removed. Instruction to the Godparent follows. This is end the service of Baptism.