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Holy Baptism - H.G. Dr. Mathews Mar Severios
Are Orthodox Christians “Born Again”? This is a strange question asked these days by certain Christian denominations to the members of the traditional Christian Churches. This is unheard in the last 2000 years of our Christian tradition. The statement of Jesus Christ to Nicodemus that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3) was further clarified by Himself pointing towards Holy Baptism in the following verse (Jn.3:5) saying unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” fulfilling the prophecy of John the Baptist concerning the mission of Christ (Jn.1:33).
However, the question above inadvertently presupposes two classes of Christians-born again Christians (supposed to be Evangelists) and a different class or “lukewarm” Christians (alleged to be Orthodox or members of other traditional Churches) as assumed by the perpetrators of such a school of thought. Those who consider themselves as “born again” Christians assume Jesus Christ as their personal savior, having a personal salvation experience and they believe a fundamentalist or “evangelical theology”. Hence they claim that the traditional Christians are not “born again” Christians. This has created an unwanted confusion in the minds of traditional Christians.
Original to this phrase is "ANOTHEN". It has three meanings: "from the beginning" (radically), '''again'' (second time) and "front above" (from God). In the Christian baptism all the three meanings are well guarded. Through the baptism we begin to "walk in the newness of life" (RomS4-a radical beginning) through "the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Tit.3.5- a second birth). Further the baptized "become children of God by the will of God" (Jn.1.12, 13-from above) through the abundant mercy of God, the Father (1 Peter.1.3). Through Baptism the four Principles connected with the Christian faith namely; Rebirth, Kingdom of God, Sonship and Eternal Life are fulfilled. Thus the Principle of "born again" is much more than just forgiveness of sins through the washing in the water of Baptism or a mental acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior and accepting His teachings. It is our union with God through Christ, a right and full relationship with the Holy Trinity (Matt.28.1 9), through the Word of God, which lives and abides in our lives (1 Peter 1.22,23). It appropriates the Salvific death, resurrection and rising up with Christ (Rom.6.3-5) through the symbolic stepping down to the baptismal water and coming out of it. Moreover, through baptism we are ma<;!e living stones, spiritual house and holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2.4-5). Baptism is initiation to these blessings through which we have to grow in to the full stature of salvation by the Word of God (1 Peter 2.12), both pronounced and became flesh (In.1.1-2; 1.14), He gave us His body to eat and His blood to drink so that we may dwell in Him and He in us (In.6.56).
The phrase "born again" indicates that the action is done by somebody else, other than the recipient. God gives birth to a person to be His child. It is the work of God or His grace works in rebirth. Faith or the intellectual understanding or the strong decision of the recipient doesn't work by itself in his rebirth. It is only an act of submitting his preparedness to receive that blessing of regeneration. Thus the will of God works in bestowing the grace of baptism and the willingness of the recipient is barely limited to his being brought to God. Jesus healed the paralytic considering the faith of those who brought him near and not of the paralytic himself in the healing power of Jesus (Mk.21-12). Hence a grown up or an infant can be brought to Baptism by the faithful of the Church so that he maybe born again solely by the grace of God. The measure of our faith in Jesus Christ is a growing reality. Nobody can claim at any age that he has the fullness of faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, it is the duty of a responsible parent to bring his child before Jesus Christ to be born again as early as possible i.e., to be initiated in the growth of spiritual life without the request of the infant as the parent cares for the physical growth of his child as early as possible with out the request of the infant. “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mtt. 19:14)
Another interesting doubt of the so called “born again” Christians is about the beginning and development of grace as well as faith in an infant as it is lacking intellectual ability and rational power. This is the same old question Nicodemus asked to Jesus when He told him about the New Birth from the Holy Spirit. “How can these things be?” (Jn. 3:9). Jesus answered telling him that the work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery incomprehensible to the human mind. Our lack of understanding does not prevent us using and enjoying the benefits which a motor-car or electricity or Television or Radio or computer or mobile phone confers. A patient who takes medicine without knowing the ways of its process of curing the illness trusts in the intelligence of the Doctor who prescribes it for him. Therefore, a child brought for baptism without knowing the works of regeneration in him through the power of the Holy Spirit can enjoy the blessings of Baptism and be nurtured by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is what we receive and not what we achieve. It is not a reward or wages according to the measure of our faith, but a free gift from God.
The earliest reference to the child or infant baptism is in the “Apostolic Tradition” of Hippolitus, about 215 AD. “Baptize the children first, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak of them” (Hoppolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21:15, c. 2:15 AD)
"If, by Baptism, Christ intends to attest the absolution by which He cleanses his Church, it would seem not equitable to deny this attestation to the infants, who are justly deemed part of the Church, seeing they are called heirs of the heavenly kingdom"(John Galvin, Institutions of the Christian Religion,1559). There are only a minority of Protestants who do not practice Infant Baptism.
In the new birth a true mystery takes place. Our entering into the Baptismal pond of water symbolizes our death with Christ. Our coming out of the water symbolizes resurrection with Christ. Thus we unite with Christ in the sacrament of Baptism and we are bon; again to be the children of God.