The first of the seven sacraments of our Church is Baptism. It is sent from God. Christ Himself commanded it when he said to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew, 28:19); elsewhere He said “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark, 16:15-16).
In these words of Christ we see firstly that He established baptism, and secondly that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
It should be noted here that, even though He was sinless, Christ was baptized. He was baptized so that He could teach us in a practical way that we benefit from being baptized.
The command and example of Christ were applied by the Apostles, and are and will continue to be applied till the end of the world by the Church.
Actually, baptism should take place after catechism. The person who will be baptized is first of all catechized. He is taught the Orthodox faith. He accepts the faith and is then baptized. Infant baptism has prevailed, however, even from the first centuries of Christianity. Why? The reason is that no one should die unbaptized, since there is no salvation for him who is not baptized. You may ask what happens to a little baby that dies before it is baptized? We cannot answer this question. What we do know is that the baptized person is saved. What will happen to the person who apart from his own will, dies unbaptized is a matter for God and He will judge. We cannot know the will of God, nor can we become judges of God. What happens, though, with the catechesis of an infant? All the responsibility of the catechesis falls on the godparent and the parents of the baptized. They must catechize the baptized infant.
Baptism is performed with three immersions in water, just as Christ ordained, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Orthodox Church does not accept baptism by sprinkling or pouring of water, unless there is absolute need for it. It does not accept these other forms of baptism because the very word baptism means immersion, plunging in water. Christ said “baptized” not “sprinkled.”
He who is baptized is cleansed from original sin and from all other sins that he has committed up to the time of his baptism. His immersion in water symbolizes death. The sinful man dies. The baptized person is reborn and becomes a member of the Church, the mystical body of Christ. He puts on Christ. “Those who are baptized in Christ, put on Christ.” After baptism, or rather with baptism, he enters the Kingdom of God. He is saved. This creates a problem, however. Because he has entered the Kingdom of God, because he is saved, does this mean he will remain there? No. That will depend on the individual and the effort he puts into not soiling the new garment again with sin, and not dirtying the beauty of the soul. We say that it depends on the individual because “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy, 2:4). Although with baptism he is cleansed from all sin and from original sin, the Christian does not cease to be free, and not unlike his forefathers who disobeyed God, so too after his baptism he may not follow God or do His will, but rather do his own will. St. Paul tells us “Do you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans, 6:3-6). This is how it is. We should not be serving sin and working for the sake of sin after baptism. Unfortunately, though, many of us return to our old ways. Though we entered the Kingdom of God through baptism, it is possible to be driven out from the Kingdom of God by the sins that we commit, just as Adam and Eve were driven out of Paradise.
Baptism is also called illumination because with it man comes out of the darkness of sin and into the light of righteousness–the light of Christ. He is illumined. He becomes wholly light and life, and radiates divine light and spirituality. In the past, the catechumens were called the “illumined.” Baptism is also called the fountain of renewal because man is reborn through baptism.
Christ, You are the true light Who illumines and sanctifies every man who enters the world, You who by deed and word taught and established the sacrament of baptism in order for man to be cleansed from original sin, from all sin, Who gave baptism for the death of the old man, and for the reborn man to become a member of Your Church–Your mystical body–and to work no longer in sin and for sin, make, O Lord, everyone accept this great gift of baptism. Make the baptized and reborn return no more to the old deception, nor become slaves of sin. Make them remain in the light, in freedom, and in Your grace, love, and kingdom. Make them remain holy, honourable and healthy members of Your mystical body as long as they are on earth, and after death grant them eternal life and Your kingdom. Accept O Lord our thanksgiving and doxology, for to You belongs all glory, thanksgiving, praise, and worship.