Baptism among the Orthodox is normally by immersion, as it was also in our own Church until the sixteenth century, when the ancient custom of dipping the child first on one side, then on the other, and then face downwards, was modified in 1552 to its present simplicity. This is expressed in the American Prayer Book in the words, "he (the minister) shall dip him in the Water discreetly, or shall pour Water upon him." The rubric of the Anglican Prayer Book is more explicit: "If they certify that the child is weak, it shall suffice to pour water upon it." The change was probably due to a question of climate. Perhaps for the same reason, affusion has now come into frequent use in the Orthodox Church in America. Another reason may be the inadequacy of church furnishings; I have, however, frequently seen an infant dipped into a deep basin in winter weather, in the absence of a suitable font.
As with us, lay Baptism is permitted in case of extreme necessity, but the child must later be brought to the church that the Baptism may be certified, as is also required in the rubrics of the Service for Private Baptism in our own Church. [The Russian Church demands that "the priest should teach his parishioners, and not only men, but even women who may be present at births, how to act in such circumstances. Doctrine of the Russian Church, p. 210]
There are two parts to the Sacrament:
1. The outward and visible signs, which are threefold: (a) water; (b) triple immersion; (c) the correct scriptural formula (St. Matt. 28: 19), without which Baptism is not valid.
2. The inward and spiritual grace, which is twofold, and which is clearly expressed in our own Catechism, "A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace." The Greek Orthodox Catechism puts this in the words, "While our body is cleansed externally by holy water, our soul is cleansed internally by the divine grace from sin both optional [wilful] and original, if we are of age, and from original sin only, if we are infants. Baptism is man's re-birth by water and the Spirit." [Cf. Callinicos, The Greek Orthodox Catechism, p. 39.] If a baptized person fall into grievous sin, and wishes to be restored to Church Communion, he must make use of the Mystery of Confession, as, of course, that of Baptism cannot be repeated.
The Sacrament of Baptism is followed immediately by that of Confirmation, as was formerly the custom in our own Church, a notable example being the case of Queen Elizabeth, who was baptized and confirmed at the age of three days by Archbishop Cranmer. [The York Pontifical contains the rubric: "If the bishop be present he (the newly baptized) ought to be confirmed immediately."] These Services became separated in the Western Church because it was only rarely that a bishop was present at a Baptism to administer Confirmation, whereas in the Orthodox Church, Confirmation is administered by the priest, and is known as "the Sealing," or the "Sealing Gift of the Holy Ghost," that is, the anointing with myron, chrism, the holy oil previously blessed by the Patriarch. After the ablution, the child is communicated.
The construction of the Ritual, as still in use, makes it evident that it was intended for adult catechumens, and formed originally three independent Services: (1) the Rite of the Catechumens, that is, the exorcism of the candidate, presumably a heathen, and his preparation for Baptism; (2) Baptism, followed immediately by the Rite of Chrismation, or Confirmation; (3) Ablution and the Communion of the candidate, which followed a few days later. This arrangement is still evident in the present form of the Rite of Baptism which has needed only a few verbal changes in order to adapt it for the use of infants.
It is not customary for the father to be present at the ceremony, and the mother cannot enter the church until after her Churching, which takes place when the infant is forty days old. The sponsors should be members of the Orthodox Church, or, at least, confess the Nicene Creed.
The Rite of the Catechumens The candidate to be "illuminated" is received by the priest at the church door. This custom remained in our own Church until 1552, and in principle still exists, since unless there is a baptistry, the baptismal font is normally at the entrance to the church, symbolizing the entrance into the Church of Christ.
Renunciation of Satan. The sponsor, with the child, faces eastward. The child's garments have been loosened by the priest, who breathes three times into its face, and signs it thrice with the cross. Then, laying his hand upon its head, he says the introductory prayer referring to the "illusions" hitherto held by the catechumen, who is about to be "illuminated," that is, baptized.
Prayers for the exorcism of the evil spirit follow, culminating in the prayer "Yoke unto his life a radiant Angel, who shall save him from every snare of the adversary, from encounter with evil, from the demon of the noonday, and from evil visions" (Psalm 91:6, Septuagint version). Then the priest breathes upon the mouth, brow, and breast of the catechumen, or infant, with the words, thrice repeated, "Expel from him every evil and impure spirit which has hidden and made its lair in his heart."
The catechumen, or infant, is next required to renounce the devil and all his works, upon his own account, as is done in our Baptismal Service. The priest turns his face to the west as the seat of spiritual darkness, and addressing the sponsor, demands of him, on behalf of the infant, the renunciation of Satan and all his works, and all his angels, and all his pride, to which the sponsor or candidate replies, "I renounce them all." Then, all turning to the east, the abode of light, the sponsor is asked, on behalf of the child, "Dost thou unite thyself to Christ?" To which the sponsor answers, "I have united myself." This formula is repeated and the sponsor is asked, "Dost thou believe in Him?" After the reply, "I believe in Him as King and God," the Nicene Creed is repeated, and the candidate testifies, "I worship the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the consubstantial and undivided Trinity." A prayer follows:
"O Lord and Master, our God, call Thy servant N. to Thy holy Illumination, and make him worthy of this great grace of Thy holy Baptism.
The Blessing of the Font. The priest, returning to the sanctuary, clothes himself in the white festal vestments with epimanikia, maniples, cuffs. All present carry lights. The priest proceeds round the font, to the edge of which three lights are fastened, censes it, and makes a reverence. A litany is said by the deacon. This is followed by several prayers by the priest, invoking the descent of the Holy Ghost to sanctify the water. He then blesses the water in the font, breathes upon it, and makes the sign of the cross in the water with his cross. Other prayers follow, and the deacon brings the vessel containing the oil, holding it while the priest breathes upon it thrice, and makes over it the sign of the cross. It is then blessed in a prayer in which the font is compared to the ark of Noah, and the dove and twig of olive are said to foreshadow the mystery of grace. He proceeds, "(Thou) didst provide the fruit of the olive for the fulfilling of Thy holy mysteries . . . bless also this oil with the power and operation and coming of Thy Holy Spirit so that it may become the chrism of incorruption." He then makes three signs of the cross in the water with the oil.
We may note here that in the English Prayer Book of 1549 the consecration of the water in the font was still a separate Service. It was omitted as such in 1552, but the blessing of the font is retained in the prayer: "... sanctify this water to the mystical washing away of sin. ..."
The Anointing. The child is now presented, and the priest, taking oil upon two fingers, or with a small brush, makes with it the sign of the cross, with the words, upon the brow, "The servant of God, N., is anointed with the oil of gladness, in the name of the Father," etc.; on the breast, "for the healing of soul and body"; on the ears, "unto the hearing of faith"; on the feet, "for the going of thy footsteps"; and on the hands, "Thy hands have made me and fashioned me.
The Immersion. The priest holds the child in the water in an upright position, facing the east, and says: "The servant of God, N., is baptized in the Name of the Father, Amen (immersion and emersion), and of the Son, Amen (as before), and of the Holy Ghost, Amen (as before)," and returns the child to the sponsor.
The priest washes his hands, and all chant Psalm 32 ("Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven"). He then invests the child with the special baptismal garment, saying, "The servant of God, N., is clothed with the robe of righteousness. In the Name of the Father," etc. This is followed by the troparion, "Grant to me a garment of illumination, Thou who envelopest Thyself with light, as with a cloak, O merciful Christ."
The baptismal garments consist of robe, girdle, veil, and cap, an obvious suggestion of the clothing with the monastic habit, as is also the cutting of the hair which follows." [The Nestorian Christians crown the newly baptized as in the Marriage Service. It is an interesting fact that in 849 the Khalif Mutawakkil ordered that, for the sake of distinction from those of the Muhammedan population, the Jews and Christians should wear a leather girdle, basing this law on the Christian custom of girding the loins of one to be baptized, an obvious reference to the catechumens. The putting on of the chrysom, that is, the white baptismal dress, disappeared from the English Service in 1552.]
The Rite of Baptism, as already stated, is followed immediately by that of Chrismation, the anointing with chrism, that is, the Confirmation. [It may be remembered that a rubric in the Sarum Pontifical says, "When the child has come out of the font, let the priest take some chrism with his thumb, saying: 'The Lord be with you,' and 'Let us pray,' 'Almighty God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has regenerated thee with water and the Holy Ghost, and has given thee remission of all thy sins.' " Here he is to anoint the child with the chrism in the form of a cross on the top of its head with the thumb, saying, "He anoints thee with the chrism of salvation in the same His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."]
The priest asks that the child, who has received Illumination by water and the Spirit, may now have "the seal of the gift of Thy Holy, Almighty and Worshipful Spirit," and the participation of Thy Holy Body and of the precious Blood of Thy Christ." The child is then signed with the cross with the Holy Chrism upon the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, the two ears, the breast, hands, and feet, the priest saying each time, "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen." [This phrase is based on II Corinthians 1:21. Doctrine of the Russian Church, p. 88]
The inward grace of this Mystery of Chrismation is, according to the Longer Catechism, op. cit. p. 88, that spoken of in I John 2: 20-27, namely, the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The outward form of Unction with Chrism was substituted by "the successors of the Apostles in place of the imposition of hands" used in Apostolic times (Acts 8: 14-16), following the precedent of the Unction of the Old Testament (Exodus 30:25; I Kings 1: 39). The essential teaching of the Rite of Chrismation is the same as that of our Confirmation Rite, when the bishop, laying his hands upon the head of the one to be confirmed, prays "... that he may daily increase in Thy Holy Spirit more and more."
The priest, with the sponsor carrying the infant, and others with lighted candles, signifying spiritual illumination, make the circuit of the font three times, singing, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia" (Galatians 3:2). The Epistle (Romans 6:3-11) and the Gospel (St. Matthew 28: 16-20, the same as in our revised Prayer Book), follow.
We may note that the signing of the cross upon the forehead of each candidate for Confirmation was the use of the Anglican Church until 1662 and is still maintained in certain dioceses, and required in the Scottish Rite.
Ablution, Tonsure, and Communion As we have seen, this was formerly a separate service observed on the eighth day after Baptism, the catechumen wearing his baptismal "robe of purity" and spending the intervening eight days in fasting and prayer. In the Anglican Church, till the year 1552, the baptismal robe was brought back to the church at the Churching of the mother. Children dying before that date were shrouded in it, and were hence called "chrysoms." Shakespeare's allusion will be remembered, that Falstaff "passed away, an it had been any chrysom child."
The priest recites two prayers referring to the blessings conferred by Baptism, and lifting the corners of the girdle and garments, he wets them with pure water, with a sponge, with which he then sprinkles the child, saying, "Thou art justified, thou art illumined" (I Corinthians 6:11). Again taking the sponge, he wipes the face, head, breast, etc., of the child, saying, "Thou art baptized, thou art illumined. Thou hast been anointed with the Holy Chrism, thou art sanctified. Thou art washed. In the name of the Father," etc.
The Cutting of the Hair. On behalf of the child, his offering to God is now made. The Prayer of the Cutting of the Hair is said, praising the comeliness of the human body, and ending, "Thou, Thyself, O Master, who through Thy chosen vessel, Paul the Apostle, hast bidden us to do all things to Thy Glory, bless now Thy servant, N., who is come to make a first offering shorn from the hair of his head, and likewise his sponsor," etc. Hair in the form of a cross is then cut from the infant's head, with the words: "N., the servant of God, is shorn. In the Name," etc.
Communion. The newly-baptized is now generally communicated, confession not being necessary until the seventh year. The red chalice veil is placed upon his chest under his chin, and a small morsel of consecrated bread, moistened with a drop of consecrated wine, is put into the mouth, with the words: "The servant of God, N., has received the Body and Blood of our Lord and our God Jesus Christ for the health of his soul and body."
While this takes place, the Hymn of Admission is sung. A short litany follows in which "the servant of God, the sponsor" and the "newly-illumined servant of God" are commemorated. The Service ends with the customary Dismissal. A small cross is fastened round the neck of the child, which is usually worn all through life.