Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
GLORY TO HIS THIRD-DAY RESURRECTION. WE BOW DOWN TO HIS THIRD-DAY RESURRECTION.
THE HISTORY OF INFANT BAPTISM IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Infant Baptism in the Holy Bible.
We can find plenty of instances of Infant Baptism in the Holy Scripture:
1 Corinthians 1:16 Saint Paul baptized the household of Stephanus.
Acts 11:3 St. Peter baptized the household of Cornelius.
Acts 16:15 Saint Paul baptizes the household of Lydia.
Acts 16:31 Philippian jailer's household is baptized.
Here we can see that in the New Testament period, the entire household was baptized.
"Then little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these." (St. Matthew 19:13-14)
Infant baptism has been the normal practice of Christians throughout the entirety of the Christian era, from the early Church up to the present time. It is still the practice today among Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and most Protestant denominations. It was never a controversial or debated issue until about 1525, when those in the "Anabaptist" movement rejected infant baptism and began re-baptizing each other, viewing their infant baptisms as invalid.
According to our Holy Orthodox Church and Tradition this great Mystery (Sacrament) of Baptism is commonly seen by all who call themselves Christian as a foundation initiation. Vaptism was a ritual that was found in Judaism in the New Testament period, designed to serve as the initiation rite for pagan females who wished to convert to Judaism.
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to observe all things, that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (St. Matthew 28:19-20).
Holy Baptism is rooted in an act of command that lies outside time, poised between history and the eschatological present of that moment when the Risen Lord gave the command to His disciples to become a new future, by evangelizing the whole world through teaching the observance of His commandments and by baptizing new disciples in the threefold and singular name of the Holy Trinity. Our Lord taught Nicodemus that baptism, as a spiritual rebirth, was necessary for entrance into the Kingdom of God. And elsewhere the Holy Scripture makes it clear that baptism is a fundamental requirement for Christian initiation.
The Mystery of Baptism is the door into the Church, the Kingdom of grace. It is with Baptism that Christian life begins. Holy Baptism "is the frontier that separates the members of Christ's Body from those who are outside it." In Baptism the human person is arrayed in Christ, following the words of Saint Paul which are chanted as the newly-baptized is led around the baptismal font: 'For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). In Holy Baptism the human person dies to his sinful life and rises again to new spiritual life."
According to Father John Anthony McGuckin, "as the Apostle Peter also taught his hearers, in the full charismatic gift of the pentecostal Spirit, repentance and baptism precede the full remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit of God. The spreading practice of infant baptism took away from many celebrations of the baptismal mystery the clear element of repentance and remission of sins that came so clearly before the eyes of the ancient Christian congregations when adult pagans (for soon the candidates for the church were largely gentile and dubiously formed in their moral upbringing) stood before the font and made their renunciation of their past lives of sin, along with their formal dedication to Christ."
"At the time of Constantine the Great (4th century) adult baptism was more common than the baptism of infant, the emphasis being laid on the conscious acceptance of the Sacrament. Some postponed the Sacrament until the end of their life in the knowledge that sins were forgiven in Baptism. The Emperor and later Saint Constantine was baptized just before his death. Saint Gregory the Theologian, a son of a bishop, was baptized only when he reached maturity. Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom were baptized only after completing their higher education.
However, the practice of baptizing infants is no less ancient--the holy Apostles baptized whole families which might well have included children (cf Acts 10:48). Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century) says: 'Christ came to save those who through Him are reborn into God: infants, children, adolescents and the elderly'. Origen in the 3rd century calls the custom of baptizing infants an 'Apostolic tradition'. The local Council of Carthage (3rd century) pronounced an anathema upon those who rejected the necessity of baptizing infants and newly-born children.
The Mystery (Sacrament) of Baptism, like all other Sacraments, must be received consciously. Christian faith is the prerequisite for the validity of the Sacrament. If an infant is baptized, the confession of faith is solemnly pronounced by his sponsor (godparent/s) who thereby are obliged to bring the child up in the Christian faith and make his Baptism conscious. An infant who receives the Mysterion (Sacrament) cannot rationally understand what is happening to him, yet he is fully capable of receiving the Grace of the Holy Spirit. 'I believe'; writes Saint Symeon the New Theologian, 'that baptized infants are sanctified and preserved under the wing of the All-Holy Spirit and that they are lambs of the spiritual flock of Christ and chosen lambs, for they have been imprinted with the sign of the Life-Giving Cross and freed completely from the tyranny of the devil.' The Grace of God is given to infants as a pledge of their future belief, as a seed cast into the earth: for the need to grow into a tree and bring forth fruit, the efforts both of the godparents (sponsors) and of the one baptized as he grows are needed.
Immediately after Baptism or in the days that follow, the newly-baptized, irrespective of age, receives Holy Communion. In the Roman Catholic church Chrismation (Confirmation) and First Communion takes place after the child has reached the age of seven, but the Orthodox Church admits children to these sacraments as early as possible. The understanding behind this practice is that children ought not to be deprived of a living, even if not a fully conscious, contact with Christ."
The parents of the child who is presented for baptism are expected and need to have "the desire to enter into a greater communion of love with their own child, by means of sharing the presence of Christ with it. It stands to reason that they are expected to bring up their child as someone rooted in the customs and practices of the faith from their earliest days. It is a burden to parents impose on their children, not a mark of love, if they offer a child for baptism and are then careless about its religious formation. The sponsors of a child in baptism are required to be Orthodox themselves, and are undertaking a serious obligation to 'keep an eye' on the spiritual and moral development of their 'children' as well as on their educational and social development. In Orthodox countries this entrance into the role of sponsor or godparent (nounos, koumbaros) creates a kinship between the families, and especially between the nounos and the newly baptized. It is seen as a lifelong relation of great force. It is a 'spiritual relationship', of affinity (syngeneia) for example, that precludes all possibility of a subsequent marriage between the two person. The sponsor is like a father or a mother: a guardian to that soul, not its partner on the road."
"In ancient times Christian parents would enroll their children as catechumens, who would attend the church services, marked with Christ's Cross, and dedicated to him, but not yet taking that personal step of conforming all their life to Christ's service. The catechumens stayed in the outer part of the church building and did not receive the eucharistic mysteries. They had such a profound sense of the holiness of life required of the baptized that they often delayed baptism until their last years; looking to its sanctifying effect to atone for all their past sins. This custom of a lifetime of catechumenate was denounced by the great Fathers so successfully that infant baptism became the standard path to initiation in Christian countries afterwards. With this success, perhaps, came a relaxation of the awe that once attended baptism as the once-for-all commitment and remission given of sins. Today Orthodox Christians have the great benefit, which was not always available for their Christian brothers and sisters in all parts of the ancient Church, of ready access to the sacrament of confession, through which they can charismatically experience the grace of repentance and the consecration which Christ Himself gives them as part of the 'Spotless Bride' of the Lamb." ( Father John Anthony McGuckin).
Please note: New born babies are not sinners. So how can a 4 month old baby "repent and be baptized"? The babies of course didn't need to repent as they were not sinners. The entire household, along with babies were baptized in early Christian tradition. However, Protestants and Roman Catholics believe that infants are born sinners! This is their teaching regarding Original Sin. This is according the teaching of the Western father St. Augustine of Hippo. The Roman Catholics adopted this teaching while the Orthodox Christians of the Eastern Christendom rejected this. Later, even after the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants continued to believe in this doctrine of St. Augustine. "Saint Augustine had also taught that 'unbaptized infants go to hell' and this is also what the Roman Catholic church teaches. This is complete heresy and an anti-scriptural, anti-traditional belief."
The Orthodox Christian understanding of the Ancestral (Original) Sin is different from that of the West. "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:20).
[Father John is a Stavrofor Priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church. He is the Nielsen Professor of Early Christian and Byzantine Church History at Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christianity at New York's Columbia University.]
In our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God