The importance of the role of Baptism in the life of the Christian and the Church is seldom disputed by any Christian theological tradition. However, the particular components of a Baptismal Theology are varied and contradictory amongst those various theological traditions. In this essay, the role of Baptism as an ecclesial event, the connection between Baptism and the Eucharist and the contemporary practice in American Orthodoxy (as experienced by the author) will be discussed. Hopefully, a clear connection to 2000 years of Orthodox tradition will be brought to light.
The Didache makes an important comment regarding the status of Baptism as an ecclesial, or “whole-church” event. It is not an explicit comment, but important nonetheless. When giving instructions pertaining to the practice of Baptism, it states: “…before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able." From the earliest days of the Christian Church, Baptism was viewed as the entrance of the penitent sinner into the Body of Christ. There is a union between the Christians and Christ during baptism. Many in the West view this as an individual union, but Orthodoxy has always looked upon it as a group-oriented ritual, as evidenced by the quote from The Didache. This idea was further developed when St. John Chrysostom taught that there was no “multiplicity of bodies, but one body… we are united with Christ and with one another.”
The continued teaching of Orthodoxy concerning Baptism is that the event serves first as a new birth (St. John 3:5). Christians have been given existence through Christ’s life. In addition, the baptized are identified with Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:5-11). Yet this identity in Christ is manifested in the life of the Church. The Church not only prepares the catechumen for entrance into the Body of Christ, it is the very vehicle through which the Christian life is lived out on a daily basis.
St. Paul provides a wonderful metaphor concerning the Church in 1 Corinthians 12. There the Apostle says:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. (verses 12-14)
So Christians are baptized into ONE body, composed of all the members of the Church. Baptism serves as the ritual through which the sinner is received into the body of the whole. Just as a human body participates in the actions of each constituent member, so the whole Church participates in the actions (Baptism, in this case) of each member.
Unfortunately, this ecclesial nature is often absent in modern practice. Many view Baptism as a family event, referring to the earthly family, rather than the Church family. It is often practiced outside of the corporate worship of the Church. It is important that the Church rediscover the fact that Baptism shapes who we are as the Body of Christ. As Fr. Schmemann further states: “the entire faith is given to each, and each one is responsible for the whole faith." This leads to reality that through Baptism the Church as a whole is renewed.
to be continued...