My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
The plan made for us by our good God, Who loves mankind, is to raise us from our primaeval fall and to restore us to that state of familiarity with God Himself, which was turned to alienation by our disobedience. Herein lies the reason for Christ’s Advent in the ﬂesh, His Passion and Cross, His Burial and Resurrection: that man, who is being saved by Christ, may receive back that ancient sonship by adoption.
For perfection of life it is necessary to become like Christ in the characteristics of His life, such as mildness and humility; as the Lord Himself said: Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.
But it is also necessary to become like Him in His Death; as the Holy Apostle Saint Paul says: Being made conformable unto His Death, if by any means I might attain unto His Resurrection from the dead.
It is the mark of a Christian, therefore, to be born again from above of water and the Spirit in baptism. The attribute of one who has been born of this water is not to be swayed by any sin, to be dead to sin, even as Christ died unto sin once.
As many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His Death: therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death, knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
The attribute of one who is born of the Spirit is to be spiritual, according to the measure which is given; this is what it means when our Lord speaks of being born of the Spirit, as it is written: That which is born of the ﬂesh is ﬂesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
The characteristic of being born from above is to put off the old man with his deeds and concupiscences, and to put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him That created him.
As the Apostle also says: As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Thus, it is necessary for a man to abandon the pursuit of his first way of life, that a second way may begin; and a type death, as it were, serves as the intermediary between these two lives; it is necessary for him to forsake his former wicked deeds and to make a beginning of the good deeds yet to be done.
This is not possible unless we are born from above, according to the Lord’s own words. The bodies of those who are baptized are buried by water, and their bodies are cleansed from their former uncleanness and from earthly ways of thinking, with baptism showing the repudiation of the works of the flesh.
We do not practice ablutions for every sin, after the manner of the jews, but we recognize only the one great washing, that of baptism unto salvation, since Christ died once for the whole world and rose once from the dead, and of this baptism is the image.
Therefore, the Lord Who lays out our life has laid down the commandment of baptism, which bears an image of life and death; by water it shows an image of death, while it bestows a pledge of life by the Spirit.
Whereas the disobedience of the old Adam closed paradise for us, the obedience of the new Adam opened heaven for us and gained for us greater bliss than that of old.
Christ appears to the people as One beautiful and majestic; for John the Baptist spoke of Him prophetically to the multitudes, but few paid attention. Now, seeing the Lord baptized in the Jordan, wondrous things are wrought; the heavens are opened, showing that He had come from them; and then there was the voice, and the dove.
The Father, then, testified from on high concerning the Son, and, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, indicating the One to Whom the testimony applied. This dove was the antitype of the dove which brought Noah the good news of the end of the deluge. Just as that dove heralded the receding of the waters of the ﬂood, so also this one proclaimed the same concerning sin.
Though He be invisible to the eyes of the senses, there is no just cause for disbelief: for signs were given, not for them that believe, but for them that believe not. Faith suffices for us instead of signs. In the matter of the Passover Christ accomplished two things at one meal: He brought the Jewish Pasch to its end and made a beginning of His own Pascha; so also at His Baptism He accomplished two things in one river: the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended; and all these things were prefigurations of Christian baptism.
It is necessary briefly for us to speak about the different baptisms – or precursors of baptism – of olden times of which the fathers often speak.
The first baptism was that of the Great Flood, for the elimination of sin.
The second was in the sea and the cloud, – the passing of the Hebrew people through the Red Sea – wherein the cloud was a ﬁgure of the Spirit and the sea a figure of the water.
The third baptism was the ablution under the Law of Moses, according to which everyone who was unclean had to wash himself and his garments with water before entering the congregation.
The fourth baptism was that of Saint John the Baptist, which brought those who were baptized to repentance, that they might believe in Christ.
The fifth baptism was that by which our Lord was baptized; which took place not because He Himself needed cleansing, but that He might proclaim our purification; that He might crush sin, and completely bury the old Adam in the waters; that He might sanctify the Baptist; that He might fulfill the Law; that He might reveal the mystery of the Trinity; and that He might give us a figure and image of our baptism; for we also are baptized with the perfect baptism of the Lord, which is of water and the Spirit.
Under the new and eternal Testament, by the institution of our Lord we have the great Sacrament of Baptism, the one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, which we profess in the Creed. In this one Baptism we find the finality and the truth to which the previous precursors of Baptism pointed.
In the putting on a new garment on those Baptized we have an image of stripping off the old man and putting away a former way of life.
In facing the west, and renouncing Satan and rejecting him with gestures, and then turning toward the east and making vows to the Lord clearly illustrates that one who receives the sacrament of Baptism, having first renounced and utterly rejected fellowship with the darkness of evil, must go on to stand in the divine light, to receive pure illumination in a thoroughgoing repudiation of evil, to vow himself to virtue and move toward it.
Anointing with them oil shows that they are partakers of the good Olive Tree, Which is Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, when our Lord had been baptized in the Jordan and came out, the Holy Spirit came in His own Person; and when the visible bodies of the baptized are anointed with chrism, their souls are sanctified by the Spirit.
They are anointed first on the forehead, that they may be cleansed from the shame of sin, and that they may behold the glory of the Lord with open faces. Next on the ears, that they may spiritually hear the divine mysteries. Then on the nose, that they may become the sweet savour of Christ. Then on the chest, that they may be clothed with the armour of righteousness to stand against the wiles of the enemy.
Let us regard these things, my friends, and fortify ourselves. Let us observe and keep the confession and the promises which we made at holy baptism. We have renounced the devil, as being our enemy and tormentor; let us, then, thoroughly despise him, and flee far from his malice. We have pledged ourselves to Christ, Who redeemed us from the bondage and servitude of the enemy, and Who freed us from the curse of sin and its condemnation; let us glorify Him till our last breath.
Let us adhere to our way of life at all times, and support it with good habits of every kind, that on the dread day of judgment, we may not be put to shame as we stand before Christ’s tribunal, but that we may hear from Him those blessed words: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”