Written by Vladimir Moss



     The very beginning and foundation of the Christian life is the mystery of Holy Baptism. The Christian enters the Church through Baptism, and without Baptism it is impossible to be saved. As the Lord Himself said: "Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God" (John 3.6). Again: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16.16). And again: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28.19-20).


     If Christ Himself has laid it down as a condition of our salvation that we follow His teachings, and especially the teaching on Baptism, how foolish are we if we ignore His words! And if Christ Himself, Who alone was sinless and did not need Baptism, consented to be baptised at the hands of St. John the Forerunner, saying: "thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3.15), of what condemnation shall we not be found worthy if we ignore His example and introduce a righteousness of our own making?! And yet in the Christian world today we are witnessing a radical corruption of both the doctrine and the practice of Holy Baptism.


     This corruption comes from different historical sources: the rejection of full triune immersion - from Catholicism, the rejection of water baptism in favour of a so-called "baptism of the Spirit" - from Protestantism, the rejection of the very necessity and efficacy of baptism - from Ecumenism. Let us consider each of these in turn.



     1. How is Baptism performed? The Greek word baptizein means "to immerse repeatedly".[1] Therefore a baptism which is performed with only one immersion (as is done by the Baptists) or with no immersions but only sprinkling or pouring (as is done by the Catholics, the Anglicans and many Protestant sects) is not Baptism in the proper meaning of the word. The 50th Canon of the Holy Apostles declares: "If any bishop or priest does not form three immersions, but a single immersion, that given into the death of the Lord, let him be deposed. For the Lord did not say, 'Baptize ye into My death', but, 'Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'."


     Threefold immersion represents both the Triune Divinity and the three-day Death, Burial and Resurrection of the Lord. To be immersed only once signifies to die in the Lord's Death, but not to rise in His Resurrection. It is as if the rebirth which is to be accomplished by Holy Baptism were aborted, or - a stillbirth.


     According to the 84th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, a person who does not know or cannot demonstrate that he was correctly baptized must without hesitation be baptized. Hence the practice, in the True Church, of baptizing Roman Catholics and Protestants when they turn to the True Faith. Although this is sometimes called "rebaptism", this is a misnomer, because, as we have seen, "baptism" that is not three immersions is not in fact baptism at all.



     2. In what does Baptism consist? If the Catholics cut short the rite of Holy Baptism and therefore abort it, the Protestants of the contemporary "born again" variety eliminate it entirely. The Lord said that Holy Baptism is "by water and the Spirit". But the "born again Christians" first divide the indivisible concept of the One Baptism into two, by distinguishing between a "water baptism" and a "baptism of the Holy Spirit", and then reject "water baptism" altogether - or allow it as an optional extra to "the real thing", the so-called "baptism of the Holy Spirit".


     What is this "baptism of the Holy Spirit"? Although clear theological descriptions or definitions are hard to come by, it seems to be a conversion experience, apparently quite sudden and independent of any rite. On receiving this conversion experience the believer suddenly considers himself saved and in need of nothing else.


     Now a true conversion experience is, of course, of great significance for the salvation of the believer. If baptism is a birth, then the genuine conversion experience is the moment of conception. It is, as Fr. Gregory Williams puts it, "the spark of divine life [which] has been present in you [the baptized] from the moment of your conception, the Holy Spirit calling you to life eternal?.[2]


     But a conception that is not allowed to reach its fullness in birth, which is considered to be both conception and birth, is no conception at all, but a phantom pregnancy. And the Protestant doctrine that denies the necessity of full birth "by water and the Spirit" - that is, through the full rite of triune immersion carried out by a duly ordained priest - may be considered to be a (fully reliable) contraceptive device which prevents the conception of real Christians in the womb of their mother, the Church. It is of such "phantom Christians", who have either never been truly reborn in the Spirit or have never given birth to Christ in truly spiritual works that that great father of the Gentile Churches, the Apostle Paul, says: "I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!" (Galatians 4.19).


     St. Paul himself had the archetype of all true conversion experiences in his famous encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus. But what does the Lord tell him to do? To go to Ananias. And what does Ananias do at the Lord's command? Baptize him (Acts 9.18).


     Other examples could be multiplied. Thus when the eunuch receives his "conversion experience" through the Apostle Philip, he says: "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptised?" And he was baptized - by immersion; for "they both went down into the water" (Acts 8.36-38). Again, although Apollos was "fervent in the Spirit, and spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord" (Acts 18.26), he had only had the baptism of John, and so had to be baptized "by water and the Spirit". Again, when the centurion Cornelius and his household had been converted, the Apostle Peter said: "Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit as we have?" (Acts 10.47). Now at first sight this might seem to prove the Protestants' point in that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before baptism. But it in fact proves just the opposite; it proves that the gift of the Holy Spirit which is given in faith (and, in this case, the speaking of tongues), far from making the still greater gift of Baptism unnecessary, rather makes it mandatory.



     3. What does Baptism do? Baptism is the participation of the individual Christian in the Death and Resurrection of Christ (Romans 6.3-11). The baptized person receives the forgiveness of all his sins, both personal and generic; he is reborn to a new and holy life; he has put off the old Adam and put on the new Adam, Christ; he is a new creature. This rebirth is absolutely necessary for salvation because "flesh and blood", i.e. the "old nature which is corrupt through deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4.22), "cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven" (I Corinthians 15.50).


     The gift of faith alone without Baptism cannot, as the Protestants claim, lead us into the Kingdom of heaven; for the man with faith alone can see the goal of the Kingdom and can strive for it, but is prevented from entering because he has not received the redeemed and regenerated human nature which is given through the sacraments, and especially the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist. Faith without works is dead, and the first work of faith is the reception of the sacraments in accordance with Christ's command. Baptism washes the believer clean, clothing him in a robe of light; Chrismation gives him a new spirit, sealing him with the gift of the Holy Spirit; and the Eucharist gives him the Body and Blood of Christ, of which the Lord said: "Verily, verily I say unto you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you" (John 6.53).


     In the Life of St. Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus we read of a certain catechumen who died without baptism while the saint was away. On his return, the saint, fearful concerning the lot of his spiritual son, resurrected him so as to baptize him. In reply to those who questioned him about his experiences after death, the catechumen said that he had been taken to a dark and gloomy dungeon - he had not been granted to enter Paradise because of his unbaptized state.


     Now the ecumenists like to talk about rebirth, enlightenment, resurrection - all those images and symbols that we associate with Baptism. But they give them a meaning which is quite contrary to Orthodox Christianity. For there is no question, for the ecumenists, of crucifying the old man with all his lusts and fallen desires, and putting on the new man who is "created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4.24). Rather, the goal of life for them is to give the fullest possible freedom and expression to the old man in his fallen nature, oriented as it is entirely to this-worldly pleasures and pursuits. Holiness as an ideal is completely foreign to them; they recognize no saints, and no ascetic struggle, unless it be the purely secular "sanctity" and struggles of such figures as Che Guevara or Martin Luther King.


     Again, the World Council of Churches recognizes the baptisms of all its constituent churches. But what can this mean if, on the one hand, baptism for its "born-again" members, as we have seen, does not even involve water or a rite of any kind, and, on the other hand, it is proclaimed that all religions lead to God? For if Jews and Muslims and Buddhists, who do not have baptism and do not even believe in Christ, are equally on the way to God with the Christians, the only conclusion must be that neither Baptism nor Christ Himself are necessary for salvation. The Apostle proclaims "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism" (Ephesians 4.5). But the new ecumenist gospel is: many lords, any kind of faith, and no baptism...


     St. Paul teaches that before Baptism "we all lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2.3). But in the Spirit-filled water of Baptism we received mercy instead of wrath, light out of darkness, life after death. For those, however, who attempt to separate the water from the Spirit in a purely "spiritual" baptism, the living water of the Spirit, too, has run dry (John 7.38-39). For, as the Lord said to the prophet, "they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2.13). And those who attempt to deny the need for real rebirth, for a new Spirit of holiness that cannot abide with the spirit of this world, have fallen victim to a quite different, unholy and lying spirit, like those false prophets of whom the Prophet Michaeas said: "Lo, the Lord has allowed a lying spirit to enter the mouths of all these your prophets..." (III Kings 22.23)


     The Protestant doctrine of the ?Baptism of the Spirit? recalls an ancient heresy called Messalianism. This heresy, as Metropolitan Athanasije (Jevtic) of Herzogovina has written, preached a spirituality that was ?non-ecclesial and non-liturgical?. In its pure form, it ?denied the Church and the Church's liturgical life: the sacraments (baptism, eucharist, priesthood), common worship, and all that in the name of a non-ecclesial and non-liturgical ?spirituality?. To this the Orthodox ecclesial liturgical-hesychastic true spirituality responded vehemently with unanimous condemnation, such that this type of heretical ?spirituality? fell under the same sharp condemnation, just as in the 4th century, so also in the 14th century, and that condemna­tion remains in effect today.?[3]


     One of the saints who wrote particularly against Messalianism was St. Mark the Ascetic in the fifth century; and it will be worth examining St. Mark?s teaching on Baptism and the Spirit in more detail.


     St. Mark, writes Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra monastery, ?wrote particularly to refute the Messalians, who disparaged the value of the sacraments and maintained that, once the ?Baptism of the Spirit? had been received, then the supposedly ?perfect? man would not be required to participate in the Church?s life and could content himself with constant prayer. In reply, Saint Mark insisted that the whole of the spiritual life is nothing other than the development of the grace received in Holy Baptism. ?Christ, perfect God, has given to the baptised the gift of perfect grace in the Spirit; it can be given no sort of increase on our part, but is developed and manifested in us in the measure to which we put the commandments into practice. Adam?s transgression placed our whole human nature in a state ?against nature?, giving it over to the death of soul and body. Renewed by conformity to Christ the Second Adam in the washing of Holy Baptism, and placed in the Paradise of the Church as in a new Eden, man is hereafter free to work according to the commandments and the holy virtues, with the aim of discovering Christ in ?the most interior, hidden and pure place of his heart?. The grace of the Holy Spirit is therefore freely given to us from the time of our Baptism, but it remains there in bud unless we bring it to radiant flowering through the practice of the Commandments, being gradually led by it to a conscious sense of the fruits of the Holy Spirit ?in a taste of full certitude?.


     ?This gift of grace that Baptism gives us does not place us in a passive situation, but, on the contrary, represents for Saint Mark the beginning of a ceaseless battle against the passionate predispositions that dwell within us and against the thoughts suggested by the demons. This spiritual combat is that of repentance (metanoia), which must not only precede Baptism but be pursued throughout the whole of our life. All Christians must do violence to themselves till death in embracing the path of repentance, in order to show Christ that they have definitively turned from the inclination to evil inherited from our first father. ?All the commandments are contained in one single commandment,? he says, ?that of repentance?. And he adds: ?The Lord conceals Himself within His commandments, and we find Him in the measure to which we seek Him?.


     ?Militating thus for Christ according to the spiritual Law of our renewed freedom, we must constantly keep very close to Him by remembrance of God, with pain of heart, and offer Him, as our first-fruits, all our thoughts as soon as they take root in our mind; thus repelling, through the grace of prayer, the assaults of the ?three giants? of evil: ignorance, negligence and forgetfulness. ?At the moment at which you remember God, pray with all your might, so that God will remind you when you forget Him?, the holy ascetic recommends. It is by knocking, through prayer, at the door of this secret sanctuary of our heart, with perseverance and without distraction, that Christ the High Priest will finally open to us, received our offering and consume it by the fire of the Holy Spirit, making the grace of our Baptism shine forth in resplendence for all eternity??[4]


Vladimir Moss.

February 5/18, 1997; revised March 5/18, 2011.


[1] Archbishop Nikifor of Slavensk and Cherson, "Encyclical Epistle against Baptism by Pouring", 1754; reprinted in Sviataia Rus', N 2, 1993, pp. 55-57 (in Russian).

[2] Williams, "A Baptismal Mystagogy", Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 2, March-April, 1981, p. 31.

[3]Metropolitan Athanasije, ?Liturgy and Spirituality?,

[4] Hieromonk Makarios, The Synaxarion, Holy Convent of the Annunciation, Ormylia, 2003, volume 4: March, April, pp. 50-52.

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