Written by Vladimir Moss


     The new calendarist theologian Fr. John Romanides makes the astonishing claim that “Baptism… is not a negative forgiveness of guilt inherited as a consequence of the sin of Adam. On the contrary, it is a release from the powers of the devil… In the entire service of baptism there is not one statement about the forgiveness of any kind of guilt that may have been inherited from Adam.”

     This is not true. The very first words sung by the choir after the new Christian has emerged from the waters of Holy Baptism are: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Psalm 31.1). Moreover, three times he recites the Nicene Creed, which includes the words: “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”. Thus the baptismal rite reflects the fundamental belief of the Church that Holy Baptism is first and foremost the rite of the remission of sins. As St. Peter said to the repentant Jews on the Day of Pentecost: “Repent, and every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.38).

     Romanides makes this elementary and fundamental mistake because of his deep-rooted rejection of the Orthodox teaching on original sin and the Sacrifice for sin on the Cross. For if there is no original sin, then there is no Sacrifice necessary that would take away that sin, and no Baptism that communicates to us the fruits of that Sacrifice “for the remission of sins”. Or if, nevertheless, personal sins are remitted in Baptism, this is a secondary, “negative” aspect of the sacrament, which is not to be compared in importance to “release from the powers of the devil”.

     But why, then, does the Nicene Creed say only that baptism is “for the remission of sins”? Because this is the necessary condition for the reception of the other gifts. For there can be no “release from the powers of the devil” if the sins that give the devil power over us are not remitted; and the Holy Spirit could not be given until Christ had suffered on the Cross (John 7.39, 20.22).

     Another way to approach the question is to ask: what precisely does Holy Baptism remove or destroy? The traditional answer is: all sin, whether personal or original. However, it is obvious that mortality and corruption are not removed by Baptism: we all die, we are all corrupted, we all can feel within ourselves the workings of the old, fallen Adam. So if original sin, according to the Romanideans, is mortality and corruption, then original sin (or whatever term they prefer) is not removed by Baptism, according to them. But this is contrary to the teaching of the Holy Church… It follows that there must be a difference between original sin, which is removed at Baptism, and mortality and corruption and fallen nature in general, which are not. The cause is removed, but its consequences are allowed to remain.

     “An analogy,” writes Jonathan Grossmeister, “is when an infection damages an organ (like pneumonia can scar the lungs). After the infection is cured, nevertheless the scars remain, which permanently weaken the organ, rendering it more susceptible to future infections. In the same way, after baptism "cures" original sin, nevertheless our nature remains scarred and susceptible to sin, which is why we must continue to struggle…”

     The reason why the Lord allows the consequences of original sin to remain is explained by St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite: “An internal cause of thoughts, however remote, is the passionate and corrupted condition of human nature which was brought about by the ancestral sin. This condition remains in our nature also after baptism, not as ancestral sin as such (for this is removed through baptism, according to Canon 120 of Carthage), but as a consequence of the ancestral sin, for the exertion and testing of our free will, and in exchange for greater crowns and rewards, according to the theologians. For after the fall the intellect lost its innocent memory and thought which it had fixed formerly only on the good; but now when it wishes to remember and think upon the good, it is immediately dispersed and also thinks upon the bad. For this reason the divine Gregory of Sinai said: ‘The source and ground of our thoughts is the fragmented state of our memory. The memory was originally simple and one-pointed, but as a result of the fall its natural powers have been perverted: it has lost its recollectedness in God and has become compound instead of simple, diversified instead of one-pointed.’” Again, he writes: “Although baptism removes the ancestral sin and every other voluntary sin, it does not, however, remove the ignorance of the intellect, and lust, and the implanted inclination of the heart toward sin, and the other effects which that ancestral sin brought about in human nature; for these things remain as a consequence even after baptism in order to test our free will and for us to struggle and conquer, and for the baptized to receive their crowns.”

     As St. Diadochus of Photiki writes: “Although baptism removes from us the stain resulting from sin, it does not thereby heal the duality of our will immediately, neither does it prevent the demons from attacking us or speaking deceitful words to us. In this way we are led to take up the weapons of righteousness, and to preserve through the power of God what we could not keep safe through the efforts of our soul alone.”

     In the Old Testament, before the gift of Baptism was bestowed on us through the Cross of Christ, it was possible to struggle against fallen nature, but it was not possible to be saved, because it was not possible without baptism to conquer original sin. The greatest of the Old Testament saints, such as Enoch and Elijah, were even granted to be in “suspended animation”, by being removed temporarily from this life of corruption. But they, too, will eventually die… Even St. John the Baptist, “the greatest born of women”, died. Even the Mother of God, the greatest of all rational creatures, died…

     Death was finally conquered by Christ. Being alone without sin of any kind, whether personal or original, He alone did not have to die. But He destroyed “the sting of death”, which is sin, by offering the perfect sacrifice for sin in His voluntary death, and thereby destroyed its effect, death itself.

     For us “the sting of death” is removed, but not death itself – for the time being. And yet through baptism the antidote to death, “the medicine of immortality”, has been implanted in us, and when Christ comes in glory, that medicine will bring forth its full fruits and show its full healing and restorative powers. Then “the last enemy, death”, together with every remnant of corruption will be finally and permanently removed…

January 4/17, 2013.
Forefeast of the Baptism of Christ.

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