A New Day: On Baptism

baptism beginningGood people, today we celebrate the becoming of a new human person. We do not simply celebrate a ritual, a public profession of faith, but rather the regeneration of a life. It is an existential event which can be described as a new mode of existence.

Through the voluntary death, and burial in the life-giving water, which is the laver of regeneration, our newly illumined has been raised up by the power of the ever-present Holy Spirit. In his book, “ELEMENTS OF FAITH: An Introduction to Orthodox Theology“, Yannaras writes that our natural birth “brings a biological unit to life subject to the necessity of progressive decay and death.” Did you ever wonder why we pray for deliverance from necessity? Well, here is the answer. Our biological existence necessarily decays, and necessarily dies because it is perishable and corruptible. When we are born into this world, we already start the dying process. But here, today, something wonderful has happened.

Baptism is the regeneration of the biological individual, and because of the operation of the Holy Spirit, because of the goodness and grace of God who is life, Katie’s mode of existence has changed today. Before, she was a biological unit in a succession of others, subject to entropy, decay, and eventual death. Today, however, she has chosen to enter the tomb. She has chosen to die to necessity; die to decay; and even to die to death, so that she can be raised up into newness of life. Where once there was necessity now there is freedom. Where once there was decay now there is regeneration and theosis. Where once there was death, now there is life. It is a new dawn. It is a new day. In this baptism, the whole world is made new because a new living, breathing, human person has been born.

She has been born, and through the anointing with the all-holy chrism she has received the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. She has received adoption into the family of God. She has been illumined and made into a temple of Holy Spirit. She is a god-bearer, fully realizing her humanity. The newly baptized handmaiden of God has never been more of who she is than this moment, and all of creation rejoices at this chrysalis. And this is just the beginning. This is the birth to life. In a few moments will come the consummation and sustenance of this life, the partaking of the very Body and Blood of our Savior.

Let us too be filled with joy and thanksgiving, for Katie, for her family and godparents, and also for ourselves because this is the reality of the Church. This is what it means to be born into the Kingdom of God. This is what it means to be alive. Those of us who approach this table today with thanksgiving and awe as Orthodox Christian will also participate in the consummation of all things, and it shall flow out of us to all of God’s people.

Lastly, let me say a word of admonition and hope. In the beginning Adam and Eve had newness of life. There was no sin, there was only Christ and the garden. As long as they communed with Christ, kept their eyes and hearts on Him and looked at the garden, and each other, through Christ, then they had life. But when they took their eyes from Christ and looked to the creation for its own sake, they fell into death. They fell into the tomb.

I hope you can see the imagery of this in the Gospel lesson we just heard. As long as Peter keeps his eyes on Christ, he is able to walk on the water. He is freed from the necessity of his body sinking into the waves, but the moment he turns and concerns himself with the churning depths he is undone and falls into the grave. This is the admonition for the newly baptized, for each one of us. When we take our eyes from Christ; when we look at the cares, struggles, and even pleasures, of this world instead of seeing them and experiencing them in and through Christ, then we will most assuredly fall into the tomb.

When we turn from life there is only one outcome and that is death. But there is good news for us. As Christ descended into hell to raise up Adam and Eve, and as Christ reached down and plucked Peter out of the troubled waters and set him safely in the boat, so will He do for us in our repentance. God has not given us an obligation to repent, but the gift of repentance. He has made it possible for us to turn our minds and hearts towards Him, and when we do, we enter once again into this baptism. When we fall, and embrace death, Christ reaches out His hand to us. By turning towards Him and taking His hand, he will lift us up. He will renew our life. He will set us safely in the boat, and He will give us Himself so that we may live life and be free from the necessity of death.