Christ is Risen!
Forty days after the Resurrection of Christ we observe and celebrate the Ascension of Christ. This year we are fortunate to witness our gradual emergence from the coronavirus pandemic. Our increasing ability to hold the services of Great Lent and Holy Week and to enjoy some of our customary parish fellowship is a great blessing.
We will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord with Vesperal Liturgy on Wednesday, June 9th, at 7 p.m. The service will be followed by light refreshments in the Parish Hall.
With love in the Lord,
The next part of the Baptismal service after the anointing is the tonsure, or the cutting of the hair. In the Old Testament hair is a symbol of strength. Perhaps we recall the story of Samson in the Old Testament. He was the last of the judges, the leader of the Jews. For example, in Judges 13:3-5.
“And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:3-5)
Here God tells Manoah would bare child, who would defend the people of Israel from the enemy. Note that God says that a razor would never touch his head. And this child, Samson, did successfully fight against the enemy of the Jews. Unfortunately, Samson succumbs to temptation, to a prostitute named Delilah, in the pay of the Philistines. She learned that the source of Samsons strength is his hair. After he falls asleep, she has his head shaved and he loses his strength. He is blinded and put in chains.
“And she said to him, “How can you say, `I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me wherein your great strength lies.” And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his mind, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I be shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.” When Deli’lah saw that he had told her all his mind, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up this once, for he has told me all his mind.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep upon her knees; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” And he did not know that the Lord had left him. And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with bronze fetters; and he ground at the mill in the prison. So we see that hair was sometimes considered to be a source of strength. By cutting the hair and offering it to God we are saying that our strength is in God’s hands. Taking the scissors, the priest cuts the hair of the newly-baptized person in the form of a cross and says “The servant of God (name) is tonsured in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and the people respond “Amen.” (Judges 16:15-21)
Now the tonsure is just a matter of snipping off a few strands of hair. Tonsuring had been ore elaborate in the past. People are tonsured when they become readers, for example. Monks and Nuns are also tonsured when they enter the monastic life.
To complete the sacrament of Baptism and Chrismation, the baptized person then receives Holy Communion as soon as possible. Without Holy Communion, the Baptism and Chrismation are not complete.
In many Orthodox churches, Holy Communion is given immediately to the baptized person from the reserved sacrament.
Every year on Holy Thursday the priest prepares an additional Lamb (prosphora) to be consecrated at the Liturgy. The Lamb is not given in Holy Communion that day, but is dried, cut into pieces and placed in a special container which remains on the altar all year. These pieces are used to give Communion to those who, for on reason or another, are unable to come to church and receive in the normal manner. This practice shows the unity of the three sacraments. In other churches, the baptized person receives their first communion at the next Liturgy. If the Baptism takes place before the Liturgy this is quite easy. If the Baptism is not performed directly before the Liturgy the baptized person should come, or be brought, to the next Liturgy. In the case of babies or children, it’s important not to neglect this. To ignore the Liturgy and Communion is a serious error because as we have pointed out, Baptism, Chrismation and Communion belong together.
It should be noted here that this sacrament exists also in the Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches. There it is called Confirmation. Confirmation is separate from Baptism and is understood somewhat differently in other churches than in the Orthodox church. As we have seen, the ancient (and contemporary) Orthodox Church, the order of the sacraments are Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion, coming one after the other. In baptism we become partakers of Christ’s death and resurrection, in Chrismation we experience our own personal Pentecost and in Holy Communion we partake of the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. But when the Christian West separated the sacraments with Chrismation (Confirmation) reserved to the bishop a different understanding of the sacrament developed. Often the Baptism is administered to an infant or small child, Holy Communion is given when the child is seven years old and Confirmation being administered to an older child or teenager. Confirmation is understood as the person’s affirmation of his baptismal vows. In other words, in infant baptism, the God parents renounce Satan and express their belief in the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Obviously the child does not know what is going on. Therefore, at Confirmation the adolescent affirms that he or she believes in what the Godparents said in Baptism. It is a conscious choice to follow the way of Christ and the church.
However, because it’s so difficult for the bishop to get to each parish and perform these sacraments, the Orthodox Church uses the Chrism distributed by the bishop. In this way the bishop is participating in each baptism in his diocese.
In the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, Confirmation is done only by the bishop. And indeed, in the early church, baptism and chrismation was performed by the bishop. In a diocese of many parishes, obviously the bishop cannot confirm everyone at the same time. The Bishop will visit each parish once a year to Confirm. This quite clearly separates Baptism, Communion and Confirmation (Chrismation) even further from one another, distorting the ancient tradition.
However, in recent years Protestant and Catholic theologians are beginning to understand that the Orthodox way of doing Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion better represents the nature of these sacraments. Therefore, some Western churches are returning to the ancient Orthodox way of administering these sacraments.
What is Chrismation though? We can say that it is a personal Pentecost. We remember the fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Of course, most Chrismations are not so dramatic, but we are filled with the Holy Spirit at Chrismation. Just as Easter and Pentecost, in a sense are one feast, for us there is no difference between the death and resurrection though Baptism, and this Baptism is fulfilled through Chrismation.
As we saw in the last article, the primary reasons for baptism are the forgiveness of sins and the participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Having said this, in reality, most people are not thinking of these things when they bring their child for baptism. For most people it’s a family affair. Baptism is seen as something private. Family and friends gather together in church to make the child a member of the church. Sometimes baptism is even done in private homes, which is not ideal.
However, this idea is somewhat mistaken. Baptism is a sacrament of the whole church community, and is not simply a family affair.
For the first centuries of the church most people were baptized as adults. At the beginning of Lent people desiring to be baptized presented themselves to the bishop. He enrolled them as catechumens, meaning students. During the course of Great Lent they would attend classes about the Christian faith. They would then be baptized either before the Holy Saturday morning Liturgy or before the midnight Paschal Liturgy. Members of the parish would be present and, in a sense they would participate in the Baptism, bearing witness that the person is part of the community.
Of course, this is not how most people experience baptism today. But, in recent decades some churches have Baptismal Liturgies. The baptism takes place in the Liturgy. These Baptismal Liturgies are not common, but they show the unity between baptism and liturgy, melding the two sacraments together.
Many people think that baptism is one sacrament but actually in the current practice another second sacrament follows immediately after . This is the sacrament of Chrismation or anointing with a special oil. In the Old Testament, anointing with oil was done when a person became a king, a priest or prophet. This was a way of setting them apart for a new role. For example, here is the Prophet Samuel anointing Saul to be king.
“Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies round about. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.” (1 Samuel 10:1)
And here David:
“So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” (2 Samuel 5:3)
Here we see a prophet being anointed:
“…and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Eli’sha the son of Shaphat of A’bel-meho’lah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” (I Kings 19:10)
In the Book of Exodus God tells Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons to be priests.
“And you shall put them upon Aaron your brother, and upon his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 28:41)
“…and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests: and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” (Exodus 40:15)
And in fact, the Messiah predicted and prophesied by the Old Testament meant the anointed one. It is quite clear that Jesus Christ knew the Old Testament prophesies about Himself and consciously fulfilled them. For example, compare the text in Isaiah in which the Prophet Isaiah tells about the future Messiah to that in the Gospel of Luke.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Is 61:1-3)
“And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,…” (Lk 4:16-18)
These verses come right after Jesus Christ’s 40 days in the desert. He is publicly announcing for the first time that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah. Christos is just the Greek version of the same word. So when we say Jesus Christ, we mean Jesus, the Anointed One.
It should be noted that Chrism is not simply oil. Before a person goes in to the font, that person is anointed with ordinary blessed oil. However, after the immersion in the font, the baptized person is anointed again, this time with Chrism. Chrism is a special oil, having many ingredients besides oil and is made in a ritual, as described below.
The baptism proper is from the beginning of the service until the actual baptism in the font. Shortly thereafter, the sacrament of Chrismation begins.
Here is a description of Metropolitan Tikhon making the Chrism:
“The Rite of Consecration of Holy Chrism will begin on Holy Monday morning, as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon sanctifies water to bless the ingredients used in making Holy Chrism. Chrism, unlike the oil of Holy Unction and other blessed oils used in Orthodox rites, contains a number of exotic ingredients, including olive oil, white wine, styrax, benzoin, aromatic incenses extracted in oil, rose oil, basil, balsam, Venetian turpentine, galangal, oils of bergamot, clove, marjoram, thyme and sandalwood, and extracts of ginger root, calamus root, nutmeg, and orris root. (Historically there has been some variability in this mixture based on the availability of ingredients.) Bishops, priests and deacons will gather in two-hour shifts throughout the day and night from Holy Monday to Holy Thursday to mix these ingredients together in a stainless-steel pot as they are boiled and stirred continuously while the Gospels are read.” https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-week-at-st.-tikhons-monastery-confecting-chrism
Only the primate (the head bishop, which is Metropolitan Tikhon in our case) can make and distribute the chrism to each parish. Again, from the link above:
When the new Chrism is ready, it will be poured into bottles for use throughout the 700 parishes of the Orthodox Church in America, from Canada, to the United States, to Mexico…. Every batch of new Chrism has drops from earlier chrism. In the Archives of the OCA we still have a lead container that held Chrism brought from Russia in 1900. The Russian Church originally received Chrism from its Mother Church, Constantinople. Thus, every anointing with Chrism is powerful testimony to unity in the Church. But it is also testimony to our conviction that the anointing with Holy Chrism is anointing with the Holy Spirit.”
Right after the immersion in water and the putting on of a white robe, the priest anoints the person. As the priest anoints each part of the body he says “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the people respond “Amen.”
However, as mentioned earlier, baptism and chrismation are not private events. They are sacraments of the whole church community. That being the case, when the priest says “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”, everybody should say “Amen”. Contrary to what many think, there are no private sacraments. All sacraments are sacraments of the whole church community, no matter how many people are actually present.
Finally, why are we baptized? One reason, as mentioned above, is forgiveness of sins. Another reason is to become a member of the church. But perhaps the greatest reason to be baptized is to become a partaker of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Christ was three days in the tomb, the person being baptized goes down into the water three times. And just as Christ rose from the tomb, the person being baptized rises from the water. In this way we become partakers of Christ’s victory over death. As St. Paul writes:
“… and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:12)
And in Romans:
”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…” (Rom 6:J-5)
The baptismal Service says:
“That He/she may be a member and partaker of the death and resurrection of Christ our God, let us pray to the Lord”
“…that being buried after the pattern of Thy death, in baptism, he/she may in like manner be a partaker of Thy Resurrection… “
Of course, we still die in the sense that our body will cease functioning and body and soul will be disunited. But this is only for a limited period, for when Christ comes at the end of time our bodies will rise and be reunited with our souls. In other words, we will rise to an eternal life.
“Because we are baptized into the Christ’s resurrection, what happened to Jesus Christ will happen to us. For this reason, Christ is called the first fruit of the resurrection: but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (I Cor 15:20-23)
Our coming resurrection is foreshadowed by the raising of Lazarus, the son of the widow of Naim and Jairus’ daughter. Of course, they were all raised to a normal, mortal life and eventually died a normal death, but these incidents point to the fact that Christ has the intention and ability to raise us all from the grave. This is what we are called to in baptism.
Christ has called the Church to go out into the world and baptize all nations. We see this at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel.
‘Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20)
And right from the beginning, the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests, have done so. But of course, there are hundreds of millions of people who never have been baptized, despite the efforts of the Church . However, this does not mean that God condemns them. Non-Christians will be saved by following their conscience, which is the voice of God in the human heart. As St. Paul writes:
“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek . For God shows no partiality . All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law; and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them…” (Rom 2:9-15)
Ultimately, God wants to save all humanity and God has given all of humanity, Christians and non-Christians, the way to salvation. Again, to quote St. Paul, God desires “…all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)
To say this does not denigrate baptism. As we see, Christ desires all of humanity to be baptized, but He left us the means of salvation to those that are not baptized.