The Baptism Of The Lord. Mystras. Church of the Mother of God of Peribleptos, XIV C.
This Church hymn that reminds us that we were baptized into Christ addresses our conscience with power particularly today. The Baptism of Christ reminds us that we too were once immersed into the waters of Baptism, that the heavens once opened above us and the Holy Spirit once descended on us, sent by the Heavenly Father, according to the promise and atonement of the Son of God. And at that moment of our Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, the Heavenly Father, in some sense, spoke about each of us: This is My beloved son (daughter) with whom I am well pleased (see also Lk. 3:22). Truly through Baptism we are children of God, Who deigned to adopt us by His inexhaustible mercy. That is why we speak to Him with confidence in our prayer, “Our Father Who art in Heaven.” That is why we hear the comforting words of the evangelist, But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name (Jn. 1:12).
That is a great and ineffable gift! But every gift, every right, also imposes obligations on us. And the higher the right, the higher the obligation.
What is the obligation, the duty imposed on us by the Holy Baptism?
Sometimes we hear the following words in response, “We were baptized as unconscious little infants; how can one impose any obligations on blissfully ignorant babes? Are we responsible for our infancy? Are we obliged to fulfill the obligations that we ourselves did not take on? They were taken by others for us and without our knowledge!” We have to hear these confusing claims quite often. But brethren, isn’t it a crafty trick to think this way? For not only were we baptized and chrismated in our childhood, but also in adulthood we are filled with the Word of God and prayer, partaking in other sacraments, receiving God’s forgiveness by repenting of our sins, uniting with Christ in Holy Communion, having our marital unions blessed in holy matrimony, and praying for God’s blessing in every kind of work that we do.
But we are unaware that it is Holy Baptism that makes all these sacraments and practices available to us. Doesn’t it mean that we acknowledge our Baptism by our whole lives? And if we do acknowledge it, then we dare not claim that the Baptism, performed over us in infancy, cannot impose any Christian duties on us. Otherwise why do we call ourselves Christians? Why do we go to church then? Why do we turn to God in prayer, as those redeemed by the Blood of Christ? We can draw a parallel from our everyday life as well. Let us assume that I have borrowed a sum of money for you at your parents’ request but without your knowledge. I have kept this sum for you and, handing it over to you, said clearly and with determination that this sum is not yours—it was borrowed for you. Assume further that, well aware of it, you started to live on this sum and spend it actively. But, to be honest, can you assert in these circumstances that obligation is not compulsory for you? Can you with clear conscience appeal to the fact that the money was borrowed without your knowledge? Will you be right to claim that you were free to spend somebody else’s money, but not bound to repay the debt? Won’t it be a crafty, sly trick? Won’t the person who lent you this money be right to say, “You knew that the money was borrowed; you could have returned this money, but since you began spending it you thus demonstrated that you borrowed this money and are obliged to repay this debt some day.”
Aren’t the claims associated with Holy Baptism the same? Maybe this comparison is rough and too secular, but it fits the subject we are discussing. You were a baby. As a newborn and uncomprehending infant you were in the power of the devil, not a participant of redemption and outside the Church of Christ, for without Baptism it is impossible to be saved and become children of God. Your pious parents couldn’t help taking pity on you and having their hearts bothered. “What if the baby is going to die? What if the parents will die and there will be nobody to take care of the child and enter the door of the Heavenly Kingdom before him through Baptism?” And the Church of Christ, guided by the spirit of solicitude and compassion, allows infants to be baptized, following the example of the early Church and the tradition that was originated by the apostles. For if your parents wait for the time when you develop a conscious attitude towards your faith, they may not live to see the day of your Baptism. For the consciousness of a child, a youth, an adult man and an old man vary; after all, the realm of faith can never be fully known by means of consciousness and intellect only.
Baptism is spiritual rebirth. But nobody ever demands that a person first become conscious and then be born by his mother… That is why you were baptized; your parents vouched for you and your faith; and that is not enough: according to the Church rules, your godparents were standing near you at the time of your Baptism—they then confessed the faith in Christ for you and on your behalf, they promised the Church that you would grow and be brought up in the faith of Christ. You grew; from the first moments of your awakened consciousness you were aware that you had been baptized; you enjoyed all the rights that Baptism gave you—you were a member of the Church, you made use of its prayers and sacraments. So, we ask you again, can you with a clear conscience assert and be sure that your Baptism did not impose any obligations on you? Of course that would be a mere justification of sin and vice, a sly desire to find an excuse for your impious life. But if in relating to people you can by means of your crafty wiles “shield yourself” from your responsibility, pretending that you neither know nor remember anything, then is it possible to project this attitude towards God and your own conscience? Isn’t it a repetition of the impenitence of Adam and Eve, who blamed each other and the serpent, but not themselves?
You can deceive neither God nor your conscience. So may the voice of temptation together with that sinful thought fall silent. We are baptized. In Baptism we received the greatest and ineffable gifts. And with them we received the highest rights and the highest obligations.
What are these obligations?
The following Church hymn figuratively answers this question, “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ!”
Archpriest I.I. Vostorgov. Complete Works, Vol. 3, “Homilies and Instructive Articles on Religious and Moral Themes” 1906-1908 (Moscow: B.V. Nazarevsky Russkaya Pechatnya Press, 1915), 447-450.