1981 (2) To the Newly Baptized

To the Newly Baptized

Welcome once again, dear brethren, to the Community of Faith, the living Body of our Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is in and through Him that you have been reborn, of water and the Spirit, as He commanded and invited.  It is in Him that you now live and move and have your being, both internally as the Spirit lives and moves in you, and externally as you share in the life of His Body, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. 
We often speak of Holy Baptism as a "rebirth," and indeed it is – a new birth into a new life, a life as unlike the old as is death unlike life.  But no birth occurs unprepared, without conception and pregnancy.  The spark of divine life, of course, has been present in you from the moment of your conception, the Holy Spirit calling you to life eternal.  But the time of pregnancy did not reach its fulness until these past weeks, during which you gave yourself up wholly to the growth of the Spirit within you, submitting your will to His, your mind to Him in learning, your whole body and self to His cleansing in the exorcisms which you have undergone.  Such cleansing, however, is quite insufficient; for, as you know, the man who has his house swept clean of the demons, but then lets it stand empty, only invites the return of the same forces of evil with a multitude of companions. 
So it was that only a few hours past you were brought, amidst the whole assembly, to stand in darkness beside the water, to undergo you knew not what.  The mystery of Holy Baptism is far too great to permit of trivial small talk beforehand; far too profound to allow any meaningful communication concerning it by mere words; far too precious to permit it to be a public spectacle for multitudes ill-prepared to understand it.  So it was that you came to stand beside those waters only in the company of your new brethren who have truly dedicated themselves to a life in the Faith, unaccompanied by uninitiated family or friends. 
Like nearly everyone else in this world of ours, you have approached your baptism knowing that you were going to get wet; that you would undergo in it a profound transformation of your being; that in it you would somehow partake of Christ Jesus.  Like nearly everyone else, you knew little more.  Your training in the past weeks has been focused upon the Gospel, the saving acts of our God, the life and teaching of our Lord, the Truth conveyed to us in Him.  But of the most profound Mysteries of the Faith there have been only hints and foreshadowings, for these things in their most profound sense are only accessible to them who have already become one with our Lord and with His holy Body, the Church.  So it is that you now enter a new dimension of your instruction: the revelation to your mind of that which you have already experienced with your senses.  And so it must be, for this which has happened and is happening to and in you can only be comprehended by those who undergo it.  It is no more intelligible to the uninitiate than is birth to a stone.  But make no mistake: it is not entirely intelligible to any created intellect, for the mystery of Baptism partakes of divine reality.  While it can be wholly undergone by man, it can never be fully understood by him. 
You were asked to come on the night of Great and Holy Saturday prepared for your baptism, prepared to leave behind you forever the world in which you had so long been a slave.  You were given certain instructions concerning your manner of dress, and told to come bearing upon your person nothing apart from that simple clothing, unless it were some token of that past life with which you were prepared to part forever.  The reasons for these earlier instructions no doubt became evident when you were instructed to remove all your clothing and any other adornment, and stand unclad before the heavens and your Creator just as you were at the moment of your first birth.  It was you and you alone whom our Lord sought to join unto Himself in those waters, and nothing of that vain world which had been your captor.  You stood naked in manifestation of simplicity, of poverty, and of your willingness to expose yourself entirely to Him, unashamed of His Creation, but fleeing in shame from the overlay of vanity, greed and evil you had allowed to build up upon that blessed simplicity. 
Your bare feet upon the uneven stones, your body exposed to the chill of the night and to the searching gaze of the angels both of death and life, arms upraised in both surrender and petition – you were repeatedly questioned concerning your willingness to renounce once and for all "Satan and all his angels and all his works and all his service and all his pride."  "Enough!" you might have said, after the second or third repetition – even as blessed Peter cried to our Lord.  But a hundred times could not be enough – indeed, we must continue to renounce him every day and moment of our lives.  Words, however, do not suffice – we are creatures of flesh, and our words often belie us.  So you were directed to gaze into the darkness of the west, to that place both without and within yourself whence comes all evil, and to reject the Evil One with your whole being, drawing up from the depths of yourself that which is cast out into the gutter, and spitting into his face.  You have seen, of course, that the Holy Church takes no account of the reluctance of "civilized" man to admit that his faith is a matter of life and life of bodily, fleshly beings – not merely an affair of assent to intellectual propositions.  With the devil, it would seem we have no such problem! 
Having reviled the devil by breathing and spitting upon him, thereby making yourself his sworn enemy forever (and make no mistake, he takes not such a challenge lightly), you were turned back to the east, the lights of Christ flickering before you, illumining the darkness, as indeed He illuminates the darkness within those who turn to Him.  Standing before Him, your hands at your side, powerless, stripped of all which gave you identity in the world, having left behind the old master, you were interrogated by the new – again Insistently.  You were called upon to sing before Him the great song of faith, declaring your belief in the new life of the Holy Trinity about to be born in you.  Having sung it, you at once fell prostrate on the ground before Him, present to you in the Heavens. the water before you, the lights playing upon you and the waters, and, perhaps above all else, the people of His Body surrounding you in joy. 
You continued in prayer, in expectant waiting, as the instruments of your birth were prepared.   As befits a birth, the minister of it was clad in white, and the whole baptistry filled with the sweet fragrance of incense: at once an offering of sweetness to our God, the representation to ourselves of the sweetness of life in Him, and an odor utterly intolerable to the Enemy.  The attention of the assembly was turned from you to the waters and the oil, declaring the presence of God in these fruits of His creation and seeking His blessing upon them – and giving you, as it were, a space in which to meditate on the magnitude of the renunciation and commitment which you had just made.  Your betrothal made, you were given a last interval in which to reverse your course (God forbidl), were you ) yet unprepared to enter in joy into the fulness of the wedding-feast.  You were not found faint-hearted – glory to Godl 
Being brought once more to the center of the assembly, before the hallowed waters, the rushing voice of the Spirit in them mingled with the prayers of  His people, you had imposed upon you the blessed oil of the olive.  Perhaps here it would be good to remind, you that in the cosmos in which God has become Man, born of a Virgin for our salvation, there is no such thing as a "mere symbol."  Everything in creation is real; everything partakes of God the Creator; and it is precisely in and through the concrete reality of His creation that He has prepared the instruments of our salvation. 
The oil which was imposed upon you – first in the sign of the Cross upon your mind, heart and senses (dedicating your whole being to Him Who died for you), and then upon your whole body – this "oil of gladness," prepared you as a glistening, fragrant offering for the great festival of your life.  This is the oil of death, that death which is life, preparing you for your death unto Sin in Christ. your death to the world, that death in which there is no burial because the burial is pre-empted by re-birth.  This is the same oil which burns in thousands upon thousands of lamps, a perpetual offering to our Lord and presence in our life of His light – in it you are prepared to burn, yourself a light in this world, a witness to His glory. 
Then for a moment time was suspended, as it is always at a birth.  You descended into the rushing waters, surrounded in the darkness of that place which was at once for you tomb and womb by the icy reality of death and the cold, crisp reality of life.  Above you hovered the diamonds of divine light in the skies and the flickering flames of their reflection upon this earth.
Neither your death nor your birth were unattended: beside you in the waters the midwife, as it were; above you, about the waters, your mothers and fathers, about to become your elder brothers and sisters; and filling the whole vault of heaven the choir of angels, rejoicing in the birth of a new child of God.  Three times were you plunged into the waters, as every heart stood still, even at the moment of your death allowing the birth within you of the triune divine Life.  Not just a single God is He into Whom you are born, nor yet Three – but in that Mystery which transcends human comprehension Father.,Son and the Holy Spirit.  He-Who-is.  To each of the great names the cry went up to Heaven, "Amen" – So be it!  This one time nameless servant of the powers and principalities is now named anew, born anew, a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom.  Blessed be God! 
Ah, but the work is not yet finished.  The child is amongst us, the moment of crisis is past, the birth is accomplished and mother and baby are well. but we have only begun.  Singing a psalm of thanksgiving for your deliverance from bondage to sin, we returned, a glittering torchlight parade, to stand before the Holy Altar.  It was then that you received a new vesture, replacing the rags left beside the waters, a pure white robe of righteousness. your wedding-garment. T he Bridegroom, Who has brought about your birth, awaits you at the Altar, to confirm and seal in you His wedding-gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, placing upon you the seal of His holy Kingdom, branding you, as it were, as His own once and for all. 
And so it was done to you – not ordinary oil, but consecrated chrism, signing you as one of the anointed, a member of a race of kings, even though by adoption, a holy nation. set apart for a witness to His glory, a royal priesthood.  And so the holy chrism poured down upon you, again in the sign of the Cross, marking forever the fulness of your being as consecrated unto Him: mind, senses. activity – all that you are.  Not only of water are you born, but of water and the Holy Spirit, entering into you under the forms of water and oil and sweet-smelling fragrances. Born again you are, and entitled to the holy name of "Christian" – let it not be sullied in your life! 
You were then led in solemn procession about the holy tabl,. celebrating your birth, your wedding.  You were led and presented as an offering to God.  Joining yourself to that perpetual offering which takes place before His holy throne.  A man freed from slavery unto sin, you willingly gave yourself up into slavery to the one Master of all – that slavery which alone is true freedom.  Take care that you serve well! 
But my dear brethren. our celebration ofyour birth was not quite yet complete.  No, the babe must have his first meal – he must be taught where it is that he is to find nourishment for this new life in Christ.  For this life no ordinary food will suffice.  For the children of this world, worldly food is sufficient for the life of bondage.  But for the children of the heavenly Kingdom. only heavenly food will do.  So in due time you were brought before the holy altar to partake for the first time, surrounded by the rejoicing company of your brothers and sisters in the Kingdom, of the heavenly food, the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus, at once hidden and revealed to us in the form of bread and wine. 
Before, you had seen your Lord in the light surrounding you and shining forth from the holy icons; you had felt Him in the gentle softness of the caressing oil spread upon you by the loving hands of those privileged to attend your birth; you had heard Him in the divine word proclaimed tirelessly before the altar; you had smelled His presence in the sweet fragrances.  But now ... now you were brought to taste of Him, to taste and see how good the Lord is, to take Him as food into your very body, to let Him enter in and penetrate
into every cell ofyour being.  It has often been said that we are what we eat – and in this Holy Communion we become indeed Whom we eat, and, in so becoming also become one with each other in Him. 
My beloved, it is to no club that you have been admitted, but into the Divine Body that you have been born.  In the name of all your elder brethren and sisters here gathered with you, and of all the company of heaven, let me again repeat: Blessed is God, for this our brother who was dead is alive; he who was in bondage is free; he who was lost is found. 
There remains much to be shared and explained – and much which can never be explained.  In the days of this Holy and Bright Week, as you partake daily of the Heavenly Food. as you continue in the shining brightness of your wedding-garment, as you continue daily in the company of your brothers and sisters, much more of the Mysteries shall be opened to your gaze and understanding.  But remember, dear brethren, and never forget: no matter how much we may know, or understand, and no matter how eloquently we may speak, we remain forever in the sight of our Lord as children, children bound to do His will in all things.  Obedience is our calling, and glory our reward. 

- Fr. Gregory (Williams) 

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