Thursday, December 30, 2010

The baptizing Christ

Notes on chapter three of Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition, "The Baptizing Christ".

  1. Jesus and the Water of Life. "Water has become the sign of salvation" (Isa 55:1; John 3:5; John 7:37-18; Matt 28:19). "Eastern Fathers, chiefly St Ignatius of Antioch, teach that the contact of our Lord's body with the water of the Jordan is the principle of the sanctifying action of water in the holy mystery of Baptism." The feast of the Baptism of Jesus (Epiphany or Theophany) has a special emphasis in the Orthodox Church. It is more important than Christmas, "which she regards as a comparatively private event". On that day they bless water for the faithful to drink. Water is associated with the mysteries of light and illumination, so that Epiphany is also called the Feast of Lights. Light is such an important aspect of Orthodox theology that "it could rightly be said that Orthodox mysticism is a 'Light-mysticism.'"
  2. Baptismal grace. "Baptismal grace is the 'first grace', i.e., the grace that communicates to man life in Christ." It continues throughout life. It can be lost and recovered. The Holy Spirit is given in baptism, though this must be distinguished from the Pentecostal grace of chrism, which will be discussed later. "Our Lord invisibly grants [baptismal] grace to souls of good will who, consciously or even unconsciously, are longing for the Water of Life. This has been called 'baptism of desire'." There is also a "baptism of blood" for unbaptized martyrs. The "baptism of fire" (Luke 3:16-17) is thought by some of the Fathers to be the "ultimate purification of souls and the final destruction of sin." Three fundamental elements in the Orthodox rite of Baptism:
    • Liberation from the yoke of Satan, or Christ forgiving and healing
    • The creation of the new man, or Christ conforming to Himself, the patter and archetype
    • Incorporation into Christ
    In each of these there is an ascetical (human effort) and mystical (divine gift) aspect.
  3. The forgiving and healing Christ. Repentance, baptism, and absolution are inseparable. First, the soul must be freed from the power of Satan, which is done in the rite of exorcism within the baptismal rite. This exorcism can be renewed throughout life. Types of Penance:
    • Inner penance, "being pricked in the heart"
    • Public penance, prescribed for idolatry, murder, and adultery, but seldom used now
    • Private penance (confession and absolution)
    Penance is a "new baptism". The priest hearing a confession is not a judge but a witness, and the absolution is imperative, not declarative. "Whatever form Penance may take it must always be a breaking of the heart at the feet of Christ." Tears may even be a form of baptism. Some Fathers even believe that sins committed after water baptism may not be forgiven without the baptism of tears. [Comments: This is far too close to justification by works for me. Granted, the tears are probably seen as granted by God, but they don't always come.] Monastic profession contains a penitential element and is considered a second baptism. The rite of second marriage is also penitential. [Comments: The details of the rite as related by Gillet are unduly harsh.] "The mystery of Unction, in the Orthodox Church, is a joint mystery of bodily healing and of remission of sins" (James 5:14-15).
  4. The re-creating Christ. "Baptismal grace takes away original sin, and penitential grace, the extension of Baptism, blots out actual sin. But the baptizing Christ performs yet another work. He restores the primitive order abolished by sin, and creates a new man." Jesus as the New Adam returns us to the "state of integrity" possessed by the first Adam. This is the true "state of nature". This re-creation is expressed with the "oil of catechumens" applied before baptism as a preparation for it. It differs from Chrismation, which comes later and communicates Pentecostal grace. The restoration of the state of nature, or better yet the nature of Jesus, is the grounds for asceticism. "According to Origen, asceticism is to make the nous [the rational mind, or heart] dominant over the whole man: the entire soul must become nous." Asceticism is "the good fight" against the main sins of gastrimargia (gluttony), porneia (impurity), phylargyria (covetousness), kenodoxia (vainglory), lupe (melancholy or acedia), katalalia (slander), orge and oxycholia (irascibility), pikria (bitterness). This are reducible to "the three fundamental lusts - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, pride of life [1 John 2:16] ... which are but various aspects of one egoism: the self-assertion of the separated." There are four main ascetical methods for the defeat of these sins:
    • The custody of the heart, i.e., "strict and permanent control of the imagination"
    • Continence. Sexual activity is good, provided it is "directed toward the multiplication of the children of God and controlled by the Logos". As a result of human weakness, however, this is rarely the reality. Therefore, the Orthodox Church considers "the way of continence as in practice a safer means to perfection ... [and proclaims] the superiority of virginity and celibacy over marriage", though she does, like Jesus, bless marriages. [Comments: I'm far too Protestant to accept this.]
    • Fasting and alms-giving. The Orthodox Church has strict rules for fasting, but, in order to heed Isaiah's warning in Isa 58:6-7, it does not separate fasting from alms-giving.
    "The whole asceticism of the Orthodox Church may be said to be expressed in the prayer of St Ephrem which is recited in all the Lenten services: 'O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of slothfulness, of discouragement, of lust of power, of vain babbling. But vouchsafe unto Thy servant the spirit of continence, of meekness, of patience and of love. Yea, Lord and King, grant that I may perceive my own transgressions and judge not my brother.'"
  5. Our incorporation into Christ. "Christian life is more than Christocentrism: it is Christification." We are in Christ, made members of his mystical body. Mystical in this case means "secret" or "invisible", not symbolic. "Chrysostom insists: the baptized Christian is not only born of God, but has put on Christ; and this not only morally, through charity, but in reality. The Incarnation (ensarkosis) has rendered our incorporation into Christ and our divinization (theosis) possible." As St Gregory Nazianzen said, "What has not been assumed has not been healed."
  6. The spring of the soul. The Christian life is not "the full summer of spiritual life. It is the transition from the winter of sin to the spring of the redeemed existence. It is the morning dawn, not the splendour of noon. ... These times of Baptism, of Penance, of conversion, of healing and forgiveness, are the blessed times of the first meeting, or of a new meeting, with the Lord Jesus."

1 comment:

  1. "On that day they bless water for the faithful to drink. Water is associated with the mysteries of light and illumination, so that Epiphany is also called the Feast of Lights."

    Have you considered the evil of fluoridation, which poisons the water and brings darkness to the soul? Fluoride induces apathy and was given to prisoners in WWII to reduce escape attempts. Every Christian should be a foe of fluoride.


About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.