The East preserves the practice of baptism by triple immersion, by which the symbolism of being buried with Christ and rising again with Him is highlighted.
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:1-4)
“He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)(photo: Gregory Safchuk, Mr. & Mrs. John H. Erickson)
As the word “Christos” means “Anointed One,” those who are grafted on to the Living Vine of Christ are anointed by His Spirit.
“Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
“Thou anointest my head with oil…” (Psalm 23:5)(photo: Gregory Safchuk, Mr. & Mrs. John H. Erickson)
The first steps the newly initiated Christian takes are accompanied by the triumphal strains of the Pauline hymn, ‘All you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia!’
“And He said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3)
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)(photo: Gregory Safchuk, Mr. & Mrs. John H. Erickson)
The newly-baptized, who is sealed with the Spirit, then partakes of the Food of Immortality, the very Body and Blood of Christ.
“In Him we have redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)
“Thou preparest a table before me…my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)(photo: Gregory Safchuk, Mr. & Mrs. John H. Erickson)
To express his gratitude, the newly-baptized offers the hair of his head to symbolize the total oblation of self.
“And you shall be hated by all men for My Name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall perish. By standing firm you will save your souls.” (Luke 21:17-19)
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Psalm 23:6)(photo: Gregory Safchuk, Mr. & Mrs. John H. Erickson)
There are three that testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three are one. (1 John 5:7-8)
Who is the faithful Christian unfamiliar with the words of Psalm 23? Since the day when King David, reflecting on his own youth watching over the flocks, compared Gods loving care for His people to that of a shepherd, this psalm has been dear to the hearts of believers everywhere. But perhaps the Eastern Christian loves it best because he sees in it not only a prefiguring of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, but also the three sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Chrismation, the Holy Eucharist.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul suggests the waters of baptismal rebirth. You anoint my head with oil brings to mind the myron or chrism that seals with the Holy Spirit Himself. The Eucharist illuminates the words You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies my cup overflows.
In the eyes of the Christian East, saving faith in the Holy Trinity is conferred by the three mysteries, or sacraments of initiation into the life of Christ. In retaining the unity of Baptism, Chrismation and Communion on the same occasion, the East follows the practice of the apostolic Church. An adult coming to the Church to receive Christ was initiated by the waters of Baptism, the anointing by the oil of Confirmation, and the communing of the Body and Blood of Christ. This tri-unity was maintained even when it became customary to baptize infants.
The Oriental Churches seem to say one is either fully a Christian or one is not. And so to this day the East chrismates or confirms immediately after Baptism and crowns the rite of initiation by granting the neophyte to eat and drink of the Eucharistic Mysteries. The infant is entitled to receive Holy Communion from then on, whenever his family brings him to the Divine Liturgy. When he achieves the age of discretion, he makes his confession and thenceforth approaches Communion on the testimony of his own conscience rather than on the faith of the Christian family.
Father Romanos is Director of the Office of Educational Services of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts.