Some time ago before we moved into our cabin in the mountain, we bleached the exterior pine logs of our cabin. We applied a special mixture of Trisodium Phosphate, Clorox and water to the exterior and then rinsed with the power of a high pressure water hose. This process removed all the oil and stains that had weathered and blemished our logs during the construction process. Once dried, this process readies the logs for a protective coat to be installed to defend the wood from rot, wood boring bugs, carpenter bees and hopefully hard-headed woodpeckers.
Likewise in the process of life, we Christians also use a special mixture to remove our sinful stains and blemishes. We Orthodox use prayer, blessed oil and water and the help of the Holy Spirit. We call this process baptism. Baptism in the Church begins with the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. Before being baptized, a person, or his sponsors or godparents, officially proclaim the symbol of Christian faith, the Creed. Because the godparent speaks on behalf of the child, sponsors his entrance into the Church and “receives” the child out of the baptismal waters into the Church and cares for his spiritual life, the godparent himself must be an active member of the Church.
In the Christian Church the practice of baptism takes on a new and particular significance. It no longer remains merely a sign of moral change and spiritual rebirth. It actually becomes the act of a person’s death and resurrection in and with Jesus. Christian baptism is man’s participation in the event of Pascha. It is a “new birth by water and the Holy Spirit” into the Kingdom of God. (Jn 3.5)
During this sacrament, we pray over our baptismal water and it is blessed as the sign of the goodness of God’s creation. The catechumen to be baptized is also prayed over and blessed with sanctified oil as the sign that his creation by God is holy and good. And then, after the solemn proclamation of “Alleluia” (from Hebrew, meaning “God be praised”), the person is immersed three times in the water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The baptized person dies to this world as they are immersed, and is born again in the resurrection of Christ into eternal life. The newly illumined is then clothed with the “garments of salvation” symbolized by the white baptismal robe which is the “new humanity” of Jesus himself who is the new and heavenly Adam. (Jn 3, Rom 5, 1 Cor 15). The true words of the Apostle Paul are chanted as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia”. (Gal 3.27)
On this day on our church calendar, we remember the original Baptizer and the patron saint of godparents, and his sacrifice given for his true faith and prophecies in Christ. (Malachi 3:1, Luke 3:16-18) St. John the Baptist lured the lost sheep into the river water and by the power of the Almighty removed their stains, and through their repentance their lives were changed forever.
St. John’s father was Priest Zacharias and was murdered in the temple; and his mother Elizabeth (daughter of Aaron and cousin of the blessed Theotokos) took the young lad into the desert where he was raised. Later as a young adult, St. John began to preach about the necessity of repentance and self-sacrifice. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees and warned the tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder.
St. John baptized thousands of people as a sign of repentance and a preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven. And our Lord Jesus was also baptized by St. John not because he was sinful and needed to repent, but because in allowing himself to be baptized he showed that indeed he was God’s “Beloved Son,” the Saviour and Messiah, the “Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sins of the world”. (Mt 3, Mk 1, Lk 3, Jn 1–3)
I know that your baptismal waters bleached away all your stains, and the protective coating of salvation in Jesus Christ repels away all the sinful rot, fungus and the hard-headed woodpeckers of a world entrenched in sin. And we are continually cleansed us as we revisit our baptism at the chalice, receiving the most precious Body and Blood of our Risen Lord. This repetition is crucial for us! St. John Cassian the ascetic writes: “We must not remove ourselves from Communion of the Lord on the grounds that we recognize ourselves to be sinners. Rather, we should come to It more and more often, thirsting after the healing of the soul and cleansing of the spirit, but with such humility of soul and faith that. Considering ourselves unworthy of receiving such grace, we might yearn for greater treatment of our wounds. With the humility of heart with which we believe and confess that we can never worthily come into contact with the Holy Mysteries, we may receive them on every Sunday unto healing of our illnesses.”