|Homily on the Occasion of a Baptism|
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to
Jesus Christ. Glory forever!
Today we have witnessed a true miracle. It is a miracle greater than the loaves and fishes and even greater than walking on water! At first glance it may not appear to be much; it appears that we have taken a young child, dunked him in some water and said a few prayers, anointed the child with oil and cut a little of his hair. Where’s the miracle in that? If we had the eyes to see, though, what we have truly done, we would be in awe. The boy that came out of that water was not the same boy that went into it. To be sure it was the same person, but a great change was effected by the waters of baptism. It may seem odd to say when speaking of a four year old that the “old man” died in the waters of baptism and a new man rose out of the water....but it is true! That is exactly what happened.
When Collin went into the waters he died to his old self and he rose a new creation in Christ. Then when he was chrismated he received within him the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
While it is true, as many say, that in baptism sins are forgiven and ancestral sin is washed away, it seems odd, doesn’t it, to say that a four year old had any “sin” to wash away? Why do we even baptize infants and children then if they are free from sins? Little Collin (or Columcille) had no personal sins to wash away, but he had inherited from his forefather Adam the consequences of Adam’s sin. He had inherited, we all inherited, a nature that was separated from God. We had lost that direct conduit of God’s grace and energy that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. Today in baptism as he rose out of the water, Colin re-entered the Garden of Eden. When we entered the Church at whatever age, we all re-entered that Garden...or rather, the Garden entered us. Our hearts became the soil of the Garden of Eden and it is now up to us to tend that garden and see how it grows. It is also now up to us to make sure that Colin as he grows will tend that garden. While he’s little we are the caretakers of his heart’s garden. We need to teach him how to tend that garden so that he will be able to do so when we are not there to show him the way.
In the parable of the sower, Our Lord spoke of the many kinds of ground that the seed fell on. When we baptize an infant or child....we can be sure that the ground of his heart is going to be receptive to the Word of the Lord. His heart, Collin’s heart, is now free of the stones of regrets, sorrows, temptations and sins. Being in this world, these things will come as all of us know very well. We all sin. We then run to our “second baptism” which is called the mystery of repentance....but that is another topic for another time. It will suffice to say that we all sin as we grow out of our state of innocence. We all have our personal temptation with the forbidden fruit in the Garden. The difference here is that given the life in the Church we can prevent our expulsion from the Garden by repentance and by turning to God. With the gift of the seal of the Holy Spirit, with Chrismation, we have become the temple of the Lord within us. The Lord strolls within the garden of our heart. The energy of God works from within us rather than from outside of us. If, or rather, when we sin we have God to call upon to forgive us and to give us the strength to repent and the strength to resist sin as well.
Let me give another illustration of how this works. When I was young I was given a watch. This was before the days of digital watches, so I had to remember to wind up that watch every day or it would run down and stop working. Eventually, I was given my father’s watch for a graduation present. It too had to be started by winding it up. Once wound up, though, there was a mechanism within the watch that would move, tumble around as I moved that would wind the watch and keep it running. I would not need to re-wind it unless I stopped its motion. Here, if you will bear with me, is an image of our life before baptism and after baptism. We are given a watch that will just run down eventually. We have to keep winding it externally, but if we rest completely, it will just wind down and stop. Then we are given a new watch, which has within it a self-winding mechanism....as long as we do our part and keep moving a bit. It is a crude illustration and can only be taken just so far, I know, but it is in a certain respect an image of what happens to us at baptism and Chrismation. We receive within us the Holy Spirit which will keep us “running” as long as we do our part in synergy, working together, with Him. Of course, the Holy Spirit is not a mechanism. He doesn’t work like a machine within us. We are not machines. No, the spiritual life does not work exactly like that.
There is a movement between two persons: the Spirit and us using our free will. There is a movement of the Spirit within us and there are our movements toward God, the keeping of His commandments.
Also by partaking of the mysteries of the Church, the Eucharist, Confession, unction....we unite ourselves to Christ. We are united to the energies of God over and over again We partake of the grace of God which strengthens us in our life, guides us and teaches us...often in ways we do not even know or recognize but we see the fruits of these mysteries in our lives.
To keep the grace we received in baptism, we must continue all of our lives to do our part. It is best to start someone very young to ingrain the spiritual habits that will last a lifetime. Getting back to the image of the Garden we must prepare the soil before the weeds are even there. Then we must learn how to tend the Garden by a lifetime in the Church and by her guidance.
St. Gregory of Sinai wrote about how we keep or rather manifest the energy of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He wrote:
The energy of the Holy Spirit, which we have already mystically received in baptism, is realized in two ways. First –to generalize -- this gift is revealed, as St. Mark tells us, through arduous and protracted practice of the commandments: to the degree to which we effectively practice the commandments its radiance is increasingly manifested in us. Secondly, it is manifested to those under spiritual guidance through the continuous invocation of the Lord Jesus, repeated with conscious awareness, that is, through mindfulness of God.
So we see from St. Gregory that the Church gives us the means to live a grace filled life. Whether under the guidance of a spiritual father and the contemplative life or through the method most of us will follow, the arduous keeping of Christ’s commandments, we are to be mindful of God and work at the spiritual life. It is work. Gardening is tough work as any gardener will tell you....but the fruits of such work are beautiful, glorious.
Let me give you another example of what I am speaking of. I’ve told this story before, but any story told once is worth repeating: I have a great aunt, an older lady, perhaps in her eighties. She has lived her entire life in the Church. She isn’t what one would call a scholar. She couldn’t quote the fathers or the decisions of a single council to you. But she has struggled to keep the commandments as best she could. All of her life she attended, and still attends, Church faithfully; and she had parents who were diligent to teach her the life of the Church by example and by word. She was, as one of my friends once put it, marinated in the ways of Church life. She is a simple person who told me once how she went to Constantinople on a pilgrimage. She said she entered the Patriarchal Church and immediately without emotionalism without nostalgia or any hysteria, tears began to stream down her cheeks. She said you could feel the presence of the Spirit there. As she told me this in a calm voice I could see tears welling up in her eyes again and rolling down her cheeks. She was manifesting what the Desert Fathers call the gift of tears. Here she was the Desert Yia Yia sitting at a small kitchen table showing me an image of what the Fathers write about.
This is what baptism brings us. This is why we baptize babies and children. We baptize them so that they will be completely immersed in the Church, so that they will have a full lifetime of the life in Christ, the life in and of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that those of us who came into the Church as adults cannot live the fullness of the life in the Church. There have been a multitude of saints who came into the Church as adults. We all have our own blessings and our own way of living out the life in Christ. It is a great blessing, though, to begin that life at life’s beginning.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
2009 Fr. Philip Kontos