Baptism is the sacrament through which a person is born again and accepted into the membership of the church after being dipped into water three times in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Of all the sacraments it is the first, because it is considered as the door through which the believer enters the church and the kingdom of grace according to what was said by the Lord: “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3: 5)
Therefore, it must be received by believers before they can receive any other sacrament.
II. Types in the Old Testament.
(1) The Ark of Noah. “When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.” (1 Pet. 3: 20, 21)
(2) The circumcision. “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with Him in baptism.” (Col.2:11, 12)
(3) Crossing the Red Sea. ”I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Cor 10:1, 2)
III. Baptism of John the Baptist
Although it was from heaven yet it was “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. “(Luke 3:3) and had no power of rebirth. It was to prepare the Jews to accept Christ, and was, at the same time, a sing or preparation for Christian baptism.
IV. Baptism by the Disciples before the Death of Christ
It was said that the disciples used to baptize during the days of our Lord on earth. (John 4:2) But this baptism was also to prepare the Jews to accept Christ. John Chrysostom says that it was exactly the same as the baptism of John the Baptist.
V. Institution of the Sacrament
Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself instituted this sacrament after His resurrection when He said: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”(Matt 28: 18, 19)
VI. The Visible Sign
The signs are the dipping into water three times, and the words said by the minister; “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”
(1) The use of water is because:
1. Christ was baptized into water (Matt. 3: 13-16)
2. Christ said: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5)
3. It was thus used by the Apostles and the early church in the apostolic age. “Then answered Per, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?” (Acts 10:46, 47) “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:38)
4. It has been used since the very beginning of the church.
5. Water cleanses the dirt of the body, and baptism cleanses the dirt of the soul.
(2) And the dipping into water is because:
(1) Christ was thus baptized. “And Jesus, when He was baptized went up straightway out of the water.”(Matt.3:16)
(2) And the early church in the apostolic age thus baptized too. “And they went down both into water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:38) No doubt, the eunuch had some water with him in his chariot, and Philip could have used some of it for sprinkling him had it been allowed to baptize with sprinkling.
(3) The word “baptism” is a Greek word and comes from a word which means “to dye” or to dip into water.
(4) Baptism resembles death and burial with Christ; and to bury a dead body is to put it down in the grave. “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom.6: 3, 4).
Therefore it is not right to baptize with the sprinkling of water as others do.
VII. The Invisible Grace.
(1) Rebirth. “Jesus answered and said unto him, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time in his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)
For this reason the apostle Paul calls baptism regeneration. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)
(2) Remission of sins”Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. “(Acts 2: 38)
(3) Purification and sanctification. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God). “ (1 Pet. 3: 21)
“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify it and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” (Eph. 5:25, 26)
(4) Salvation. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” (Mark 16; 16) “ The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 3:21)
(5) Adoption. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal. 3:26, 27
VIII. One Baptism
Our church teaches that those who have been validly baptized must not be baptized again. This is what St. Paul affirmed: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5)
The reasons why baptism must not be repeated are:
(1) Baptism is the rebirth, or regeneration. As man is born bodily only once, so we cannot be spiritually born more than once.
(2) Baptism is the partaking of Christ’s death and resurrection (Rome 6:4; Col. 2: 12) and Christ died and arose only once. Even when Christians reject the faith and come back again to the church, they are not baptized again In this case it is sufficient that they perform the two sacraments of penance and Holy Communion.
IX. Baptism of Infants
Some churches say that baptism should be given only to grown up persons. But our church believes that babies too should be baptized for the following reasons:
1. Babies are inheritors of Adam’s sin, and it is necessary for them to be purified of it through baptism.
2. In the Old Testament babies had to be circumcised in order to be accepted into God’s covenant. And since circumcision was a type of baptism, therefore babies should now be baptized in order to be accepted as members in the church. It should be borne in mind that circumcision which was a seal of faith (Rome 4:11) was applied to children who were incapable of faith. This sing marked them out as recipients of the covenant blessings of God.
3. God did not prevent babies from accepting some of the great graces, e.g. Jeremiah was sanctified before coming forth out of the womb (Jer. 1:5), John the Baptist was filled with Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15)
4. In the Apostolic age whole families were baptized and there must have been some babies among those families, like the families of Cornelius (Acts 10: 48), Lydia (Acts 16, 14, 15) the deeper of the prison (Acts 16:33), Stephanas (1 Cor. 1: 16) etc.
5. This was the custom in the church since the early centuries, as is shown in history and the writing of the fathers. Origen said: “The Apostles handed over to the church the tradition of baptizing babies also because babies are baptized for the remission of sins to be washed of the inherited sin.” It was said: “Baptizing babies is and Apostolic tradition.” In the Apostolic Tradition we read: “They shall baptize the little children first. If they can answer for themselves let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer, for someone form their family.”
6. Christ’s church on earth is composed of all those who profess faith in Him and obedience to His laws, together with their children.
X. Baptism of Blood
Martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of Christ before being baptized are considered to have received this kind of baptism according to the statement of our Lord “whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. “ (Matt 10: 32) Again: “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25)
XI. Who has the Right to Baptize?
This right was primarily given to the Apostles by the Lord Himself. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 28:19). Then it was given to bishops, and afterwards to the priests.
XII. Obligations of the Baptized
(1) Before receiving baptism. One must publicly declare:
1. His repentance; “Then Peter said unto them, repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 2:38)
In his confession of repentance he must declare also that he has rejected Satan and all his works.
2. His faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16: 16). In his confession of faith he must say the creed.
(2) But in the case of babies who are of course unable to declare repentance or faith he before baptism, their parents, god-fathers or god-mothers should give that declaration instead of them, and should promise to rear them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Rev. Marcos Daoud, The Orthodox Church Sacraments,
Tinsae Ze Gubae Printing press, Addis Ababa 1952.