Mystery of Baptism

Introduction

The Mystery of Baptism is one of the five pillars of mysteries in the Orthodox Tewahdo church. This mystery is stated in the creed of faith as “We confess one baptism for the remission of sins!” The term baptism is derived from the Greek word baptizein – meaning “dip” or immersion. Baptism means immersion in a blessed water (in the name of the Holy Trinity). Baptism is the gate/door/Point of entry to Christianity. One can not be a Christian without baptism. It’s the first sacrament to be performed for all Christians. Through baptism, we become children of God and member of the apostolic Church of God. All other sacraments are performed only for those who are baptized. That is why the Mystery of Baptism is referred as the gate to Christianity.

Establishment of Baptism

Mystery of Baptism is established by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He established it in three ways: By performance, preaching and giving commission to the Church. He established baptism by being our role model in getting baptised by John the Baptist in Jordan River. (Matthew 3) He cemented the place of Baptism in Christian life by establishing baptism through His preaching as he said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:3-6. He also commissioned the Church to perform baptism as He ordered his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt 28:19

Types of Baptism

There are two types of Baptism: Baptism of repentance and Baptism of rebirth. Baptism of repentance is for remission of sins. The Holy Bible describes this as “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4-8 Matt 3:11 Acts 19:4. The second type of baptism, Baptism of rebirth, is from Water & Spirit. It is the type of baptism which is the ultimate focus of church teachings about the Mystery of Baptism. This was what Jesus taught to Nicodemus. St Peter the Apostle also described this as “..having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…” 1 Peter 1:23. It’s important to note that sprinkling with Holy water during Epiphany (celebration of Jesus’ baptism) is not an annual re-baptism event. It’s a form of blessing people with water that got blessed by the prayers on that special day commemoration of Jesus’ baptism.

Sacramental Baptism/Christening

Baptism of rebirth is one (Ephesus 4:4-5). It can’t be repeated. As we are born from our parents only once, we get born from Holy spirit and water (through baptism) only once. But it can be performed in three ways. The first method is baptism with water and the Holy Spirit. We are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and born again from Holy spirit and water. John 3:3-6 This is the default form of sacramental baptism. However, there are exceptional cases for people who got baptised in different ways. The second form of is baptism with Holy Spirit: This was how the apostles were baptized. Acts 2:1-4. The third is baptism with blood. Baptism of the martyrs with blood is this type. This one is for those who were not baptized with water but were martyred for his name.

Performance of Baptism

The person to be baptized, if an adult, has to learn and believe the Dogmas of the church. These are mainly the five pillars of mystery as stated in the creed of faith. Proper education and proclamation of faith must occur before an official baptism. The proclamation of faith must also occur during the baptismal ceremony as the priest would require the person to be baptised to recite the prayer called the Creed of Faith. However, for pragmatic reasons, this rule doesn’t work for infants. If the person to be baptised is an infant, the Godparent has to testify on behalf of the infant.

Regarding the Baptist, only Bishops and Priests are entitled to Baptize. Deacons assist Bishops and priests but they are not entitled to perform baptism. Matt 28:19 Baptism is performed through immersion. The whole body of the individual has to be immersed in the blessed water. Romans 6:34 Acts 8:38 Coll 2:2 John 3:3 Matt 3:15. Baptism is a visible service. One can see the Prayer service, Person being immersed in to water, Person wearing white cloth…etc. But it gives an invisible grace: Blessing of the water, Re-birth from water and spirit, Getting grace, purity and holiness etc.

Immersion, Sprinkling, Affusion

To Baptize (Gr. Baptizo) literally means to immerse or to put into water. Therefore, baptism is by triple immersion, “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). This is based on evidence from Holy scriptures: 1) “Both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away” (Acts 8:38-39). 2) “We were buried with Him through baptism” (Rom 6:4), and “Buried with Him in baptism” (Col 2:12). 3) “According to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), 4) “Be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). Baptism is also called “washing” in the following verses (1 Pet 3:18-21; Eph 5:26). To wash a piece of cloth you need to completely immerse it in water. 5) “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water.” To come up from the water, one has to be immersed in the water. Matt 3:16 The most authentic form of baptism is therefore through immersion. However, in situations where there are no facilities for proper immersion, baptism is sometimes performed through sprinkling or affusion.

Baptismal name

A Christian has two names: Personal name (given by parents) and baptismal name (given at baptism). A person who believes in Jesus Christ and got baptized is a Christian and his faith is Christianity. The baptismal name indicates that a person is a baptized Christian. This is Biblical Tradition: God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, Jacob’s name to Israel, Simon’s name to Peter, and Saul’s name to Paul. Similarly, our church gives baptismal names to all its children at the time of their baptism. Here the priest/bishop is the one to give the name as we believe that this name need to be based on the will of Holy Spirit. Suggesting a baptismal name before the baptism (by parents or other people) is not the tradition of our church. The most common practice is that the priest performing the baptism will pick a baptismal name associated with the saint on whose commemoration day the baptism occurs.

Using the ecclesiastical language of Geez baptismal names are ascribed in the masculine or feminine forms. For example, if a baby girl and baby boy (man or woman) are baptised on Easter Sunday, the priest may name the baby boy Wolde Tensae and the baby girl Wolete Tensae. “Wolde” means “son of” whereas “Wolete” means “daughter of”. Tensae means resurrection. Similarly if the baptism occurs at a church named after St Michael or at holiday dedicated to St Michael, the priest may name the baby boy (man) “Gebre Michael (Servant of Michael)” or “Wolde Michael (Son of Michael)”, or Habte Michael (Gift of Michael), or Seyife Michael (Sword of Michael) or Sahle Michael (Mercy of Michael). In case of a baby girl (woman) baptised in similar circumstances, the priest may name her “Amete Michael (Servant of Michael)” or “Wolete Michale (Daughter of Michael)” or “Ehite Michael (Sister of Michael)”.

According to the tradition of our apostolic Orthodox Church, the saint or angel in whose name a Christian is named after is considered as the nominated protector (with prayers and covenant) for the soul of the baptised. A christian can only have one baptismal name. This is symbolic and it doesn’t mean that one is only protected by the prayers and covenants of the saint he/she is named after. In the same way that a church (building) is named after only one saint, one can only have one baptismal name. This has deeply engaging spiritual symbolisation. The name church (in Geez Bete-Christian) has three meanings: an individual christian, a congregation of Christians and a church building. Recently emerging commercialisation of church names and number of tabots for annual rituals at a given local church have caused naming a church after two or more saints. This, however, is an adulterated and spiritually meaningless practice. Some people tend to coverup such a fiasco in the name of “love for other saints”. The fact that a certain church is named after one saint doesn’t mean that the church doesn’t honour other saints. Similarly, the fact that one is named after a certain saint doesn’t mean that that Christian soul is protected only by the prayers of the saint he/she is named after.

Godfather/mother

Godfather/mother (baptismal father or mother) takes responsibility for the faith of infants baptised (to teach faith). Godfather/mother should be a person who 1) is not a relative of the infant, 2) can (is able to) teach the child, and 3) is himself/herself an orthodox Christian. Only men can be Godfather for boys and only women can be Godmother for girls. Godfather/mother is expected to treat his Godchild the same way as his/her biological children and teach him/her the basics of the faith as the child grows. Being a Godfather/mother is not just a means to establish family relationship but a responsibility to help children grow in Christian faith. One common mistake in relation to Godfather and Godmother is dedicating the child to the tabot of the church one is being baptised. Many people do so out of love to the saint or the church. But that is a wrong practice unsubstantiated by the teachings of the church. It should be noted that everyone baptised in any church has God as his father and the church as his mother. Failing to dedicate a baptismal father or mother would negate the justification for infant baptism and is therefore strongly condemned by church scholars.

Baptismal thread

Baptismal thread is a sign of our baptism, a sign that identifies us as Christians. It signifies that Jesus was tied and pulled with a rope. John 18:12-24 Baptismal thread is an identity or stamp for those who are baptized. Baptismal thread is usually three threads made in to one – an indication that we are baptized in the name of Trinity. We also use a single black thread. Baptismal thread is useful to bear witness for our Christianity, to defeat the devil, and to take blessings from the church. Jacob Elberedi, who started the use of Baptismal thread, used it to differentiate Christians from other heretics.

Indispensability of Baptism

Baptism is a necessity for Salvation. It’s not just a mere ceremony. The bible clearly states that “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:16. It’s also a must to enter the kingdom of God. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ stated this clearly us “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. We also believe in baptism for the remission of Sins. St Peter told the people to repent and be baptized: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Acts 2:38. Through baptism we resemble Christ in his death and resurrection Romans 6:3-4 Coll 2:12. Through baptism we ensure we become body of Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:27

Analogies of Baptism

There are several analogies of baptism in the old testament. Abraham’s crossing Jordan river (the water) to meet Melchizedek (the priest) is considered as an analogy of baptism. Gen 14:17. Job was baptized in Jordan river and got healed. This was also an example for the forthcoming baptism in the new testament. Neeman was baptised in Jordan and healed from Leprosy. 2 Kings 15:14. This was another example too. Arc of Noah (Gen 7:13 1 Peter 3:20). Circumcision (Gen 17:9 Coll 2:11) and crossing of Eritrean sea by Israelites (Exodus 14:21 1 Corrin 10:1) were also among analogies of baptism in the old testament. The analogy is that, as those who declined to hop into the Arc of Noah didn’t survive, those who fail to be baptised won’t join the Kingdom of God.

Age for Baptism

The first Apostles baptised all those who believed in Jesus regardless of age. Later baptizing at 40 days (boys) and 80 days (for girls) was introduced. This is based on the rites that Israelites going to the temple 40 and 80 days after birth for boys and girls, respectively. Lev 12:1-10. Adam and Eve entered to heaven 40 and 80 days after they were created. Jubilee 4:9 Those older than the recommended age of Baptism can be baptized after they learn and believe in the dogmas of the church. However, if an infant is sick or miss the 40 or 80 days mark due to different reasons, they should be baptized before or after the 40/80 days. However, these are exceptional cases.

In old testament circumcision, now replaced with baptism, was for both adults and infants. Gen 17: 1-5. The Israelites who crossed the sea where of all age groups, including infants. 1 Corr 10:1-2. In the ark of Noah, an example for baptism, there were both adults and children. Gen 7:1-17. All these justify the baptism of children. Moreover, if babies can get the Holy spirit when they are in the womb, what is it that prevents them from being baptized after they got born? Luke 1:15 Jeremiah 1:4-5. The Holy Apostles baptised the whole family including infants. Acts 10:44 11:13 16:15 16:43. Jesus Christ’s words on baptism are applicable to all people including children. John 3:5. St Peter the apostle also stated that baptism is without any restriction by age. Acts 2:38. Our Lord also said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them.” Matt 19:14 In His Teachings and command our Lord Jesus Christ does not specify the age of those who are to be baptized. He meant infants should also be baptized.

Does infant baptism violate their rights?

The simple answer is No. Children are baptized on the basis of the faith and the consent of their parents. This could be compared with immunisation of children. Children get immunised (vaccinated) through the consent of their parents. Besides, baptism doesn’t put the infant in any form of physical risk. Based on the Bible, God did not ask Adam when he put breath into him. This was baptism for Adam. But this doesn’t mean that God coerced Adam. In the same way, the church doesn’t directly ask the infants’ consent but it doesn’t mean that they are coerced. However, older children/adolescents should give informed consent before baptism. When children become adults they are free to decide on their faith. Children have the right to religious/spiritual services too.

Infant Baptism: For rebirth or remission of original sin?

It is for rebirth. But there are differing views on this depending on differing conceptualization of original sin. Some say it’s for both remission of the original sin and re-birth. Others say it’s to ‘heal’ the consequences of original sin and ensure their salvation through re-birth. The upshot is that original sin is avoided by Jesus and infant baptism is for re-birth from water and Holy Spirit only. Overall, infants should be baptized for re-birth from water and Holy spirit to ensure their salvation. For those who died after at 40/80 days, the parents will be accountable. Unbaptized infants who died before 40/80 days, they are free as they are not responsible for any sin. Ezk 18:20

We believe in one Baptism for the remission of sins

Baptism is one, there is no re-baptism. As we are born only once from our parents, we are born only once from water and Holy spirit. Circumcision, which was an example of baptism, was also conducted once. Coll 2:11 Jesus died, got buried and resurrected once. This is an example of baptism. Romans 6:3. If someone already baptized in our church but denounced it and go to other religion, he/she won’t be re-baptized if he/she decides to return back. Instead, a baptism of repentance will be conducted. Unless coming from other oriental churches, anyone coming from other denominations shall be re-baptized as his/her previous baptism is not considered valid.

Yes we believe in and confess baptism for the remission of sins.

Glory be to the Father, Glory be to the Son, Glory be to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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