“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXVI)
13 Οκτωβρίου 2009
Concerning one Baptism for the Remission of Sins.
Man becomes a child of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Baptism is the door to Christianity, the beginning of life in God. Baptism restores the image of God in man and bestows the saving power of Christ’s redemptive feat on him. Through Baptism the Christian receives access to all the Holy Sacraments and acts of grace of the Church, which lead him to deification.
Baptism is called the second birth because in it a man dies to his sinful life and is reborn into a new, spiritual, holy life, in which he puts on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Through Baptism men are reconciled to God, cleansed from the impurities of sinful acts by the Divine Spirit, and become fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19), and children of God (John 1:12).
Just as the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon the Lord Jesus Christ during His Baptism in the River Jordan, so is every Christian endowed with Divine Grace in a mystic way during his Baptism. St. Peter says: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Through the action of God’s sanctifying grace in the Sacrament of Baptism all the sins of the person being baptized are forgiven. Man’s sinful state is totally eradicated by Baptism, and his sins are washed away as if they had never existed. The newly-baptized leaves the font as a new creature.
Our Savior says: Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Baptism, therefore, is necessary for every man who enters the Church. Only through Baptism can infants be cleansed of Original Sin and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. They are baptized according to the Lord’s words: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:14); on the basis of Apostolic Tradition, and according to the faith of their parents and godparents.
All the saving actions of Divine Grace are indivisible in the Sacrament of Baptism. Grace, by regenerating man, cleanses him from all sin, justifies and sanctifies him. And, by justifying and sanctifying him before God, Divine Grace makes him a son of God, a member of the Body of Christ — the Church — and an heir to Eternal Life.
Water is the substance used in the Sacrament of Baptism. Man has long associated water with the concept of a life-giving, regenerating power that cleanses and revives nature, a power vitally necessary for human life. Therefore water in the Sacrament of Baptism is the best symbol of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which cleanses man of sin and regenerates him.
Baptism is administered by triple immersion of the one being baptized, with the intoning of the Holy Name of the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — Who bestows the power of grace to the Sacrament. The Church always administers Baptism, as Christ commanded (Matt. 28:20), through the invocation of the Threefold Name. The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, one of the oldest Christian writings (lst-2nd Centuries), says in Chapter 7: “Baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And, as St. Athanasius the Great says, “He who takes anything from the Son, or the Father and the Son, without the Spirit receives nothing…for attainment is only in the Trinity.”
The Creed, just as St. Paul (Eph. 4:6), calls us to confess one Baptism. This is because regeneration through grace (is born again — John 3:3), that man experiences in Baptism, is unique and unrepeatable, just as his natural birth is unique and unrepeatable, and just as Christ’s Death and Resurrection are unique.
A Christian should confess his baptism through a life pleasing to God, for Christ our Savior says: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). Therefore a man’s visible, external life is a reflection of his inner, spiritual life. The Sacrament of Baptism lays the foundation for a new life of grace, and the perfection of this life with the help of Divine Grace is the task of every member of the Church. For a Christian the path to the confession of the grace-bestowing gifts of Baptism lies through living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:15-16), a life according to faith (James 2:20), membership in Christ’s Church, and a constant sense of prayerful repentance (Heb. 13:15; Acts 17:30).
St. Paul tells us: without faith it is impossible to please [God] (Heb. 11:6). The basis of the Christian’s spiritual life is faith in Jesus Christ, in the Triune God, in the Divine Economy of our salvation, and in the Holy Orthodox Church. Living faith in Christ perfects the Christian, makes him wise and firm, and gives him joy and the life eternal (James 1:4-8, 12).
In addition to his heartfelt faith in Christ, the Christian should confess his Baptism through his life in faith. A Christian life is a constant struggle against sinful temptations, a feat assisted by divine grace. In translating the Savior’s Gospel into life, a Christian is serving the commandments of goodness and justice on the basis of the pure teaching of the Gospel.
A Christian can attain perfection in his spiritual life through constant prayer in church and at home. Prayer is a means of constant communion and union with God. It preserves a man from spiritual fall and maintains him on the path of spiritual ascension. Prayerful communion with God rewards the person praying with great spiritual consolations: an ineffable joy, peace and an inexplicable feeling of blessedness, which serves as a guarantee of our future total union with God in His Kingdom.
Prayer must be accomplished by a sense of repentance, which is the basis of a spiritual feat. Repentance is necessary to achieve a living faith in Christ and to maintain this faith. Without true repentance a Christian cannot attain a single virtue. A repentant feeling saves a man from many pitfalls on the path to salvation. Penitence is a second Baptism and renews the grace of our first Baptism; for he who truly repents and promises to turn away from sin is not only forgiven, but his sin is erased by God, as well, and he attains the purity and sanctity given him at Baptism.
The confession of Baptism through a deep, truly Christian spiritual life is only possible if a man is a member of the Church, the Body of Christ. In the Church he is made one with Christ. Christ our Savior not only revealed God to man and drew us closer to Him, but also showed us a perfect model of sanctity, what a man’s inner, spiritual essence should be.
Concerning the Resurrection of the Dead.
Man is created by the Lord for life, and human thought cannot reconcile itself to the thought of death. Death was a consequence of the first man’s sin, for as St. Paul says: sin came into the world through one man and death through sin (Rom. 5:12). As a consequence of his sinful disobedience to God, man deprived himself of paradise and knew death. The Fall deformed man’s inner, spiritual nature, as well as the entire visible world. The accord between human freedom and Divine Grace was destroyed, an accord through which man was directly called to deification. This break was so forceful that man could no longer return to this previous condition by his own power.
By His Resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ conquered Death by death, and revealed to man the path leading from death and corruption to eternal life (Acts 2:24, 27-28; 2 Tim. 1:10). Although man remains mortal as before, death has no power over him; for it was defeated by the Risen Christ — the First-fruits from the dead and the Author and Finisher of our own resurrection. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep… [so that] all be made alive… at His coming (1 Cor. 15:20-23). For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53).
By the words of the 11th Article of the Creed, “I look for the Resurrection of the dead,” the Holy Church confesses that through the action of God’s omnipotence all the bodies of the dead shall reunite with their souls, come to life, and be both spiritual and immortal. The universal resurrection of the dead, as the Bible tells us, is linked with Christ’s second, glorious coming (1 Thess. 4:16).
Resurrection of the dead was known in Old Testament times, too. The Prophet Job said: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27). The holy Prophet Ezekiel also prophesied the universal resurrection of the dead (Ez. 37:12,14).
By His Resurrection, Christ the Savior affirmed the truth of the universal resurrection of the dead. All of Christianity is founded on Christ’s Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14). Brought into communion with Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, man becomes one whole with Him in the body of the Church, which is at once human and divine. As a result of this union of grace, the Christian partakes in both Christ’s Resurrection and in eternal life. While man’s spiritual link with Christ is established through Baptism, his physical unity with Him is accomplished through the Holy Eucharist (John 6:54-57). The Eucharist — Christ’s Body and Blood — is a guarantee of resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection is the beginning and guarantee not only of our resurrection, but of a universal renewal and transfiguration of all creation (Rom. 8:20-21).
The Orthodox Church’s prayers for the dead are based on faith in universal resurrection and on the unity of the Churches Militant and Triumphant. By His Resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ showed that death is not annihilation and non-existence, but the gate to life and immortality. The Christian looks on death as the transition to an eternal life.
Concerning the Life of the World to Come.
The Creed ends with this confident hope on the part of the Christian: “I look for…the life of the world to come.” By “the life of the world to come” the Holy Church means the life that shall be after the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s last judgment.
A man is responsible to God for the life that he has been given. It is here on earth that, of his own free will, a man lays the beginning of that life which shall begin when his body dies. His fate after death depends on how he has lived his life on earth. If he has always been with Christ, joined closely to Him through the Holy Sacraments in His God-Man organism of the Church, then after his death he shall also be with God, ceaselessly experiencing the blessed and eternal joy of living communion with God which we who live on earth call in the words of Holy Scripture Paradise (Luke 23:43), the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3-10,8,11; Luke 13:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:50), the house or the mansions of our Heavenly Father (John 14:2).
This ineffable joy of life in Paradise cannot be expressed in human language (2 Cor. 12:2,4); it derives from the fullness of knowing God and from the nearness of God. That is why Christ our Savior says: And this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent (John 17,:3).
This joy is immutable, but it affects the human soul in different ways. The depth of perception of this joy by man’s soul also differs. In My Father’s house are many mansions (John 14:2), says Christ the Savior. There are many mansions, and all of these mansions, prepared for the souls of those saved and redeemed by the Son of God’s death, are illumined by a light coming from God, the Source of Light, Life and Blessedness; and in each of these mansions the presence of our Savior the Lord can be felt, giving life and joy to those who dwell in it.
Only those who consciously and stubbornly disdain the call to repentance, the call to a life worthy of repentance, shall remain outside communion with God at death, deprived of Light and Grace (Luke 16:23; Matt. 5:22,29; 8:12; 22:13; Phil. 2:10).
We should not suppose that the attaining of eternal blessedness and the Kingdom of Heaven are goals in themselves for the Christian, the purpose for which he lives and towards which he strives. The blessed state in the life to come is a result of moral perfection, the deification of man, which he attains here on earth. The Savior says: Seek first [the kingdom of God] and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well (Matt. 6:33)
To be continued…