THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
“The Savior said, ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he can not enter the Kingdom of God.’ (Jn. 3:5) Because the Church is called ‘the Kingdom of God,’ and baptism is being ‘born of water and the Spirit,’ then it follows that baptism is the initial act of man’s salvation.”
Although the previous chapter gave detailed arguments from Scripture to prove that baptism is not “a birth of water and the Spirit” neither is baptism a condition of salvation, let us take note of some facts here. Examining this “sacrament” and the details of
Orthodox teaching on baptism, the reader will see more visibility its strangeness and contradiction to Biblical teaching.
In the belief that baptism is a mandatory condition for salvation (because according to the Orthodox, although three Roman officers had great faith in Christ, only one was saved – Cornelius, the only one who was baptized in Acts 10), the Eastern Church adheres to doctrines that have no basis in the Bible. In fact, by studying this sacrament and how it is performed in the traditional Christianity of the East, one will recognize the fact that many Serbs and peoples of other Orthodox nations are not properly baptized at all. Thus, their baptism is not valid even by the standards of Orthodoxy. Lazar Milin comments on the proper way to baptize:
“The only proper way to baptize is done with the three-fold immersion into water and the utterance of these words: ‘Servant of God (Name of subject) is baptized in the name of the Father – Amen – and of the Son – Amen – and of the Holy Spirit – Amen…’ This has been the method of baptism since apostolic times, and the Church upholds it today. Exceptions were allowed only in two situations. If someone were sick and could not enter into the water but had to be baptized in his bed, then that person could be baptized either by sprinkling or pouring. If a sick person were in the hospital, he could be baptized while he was lying in bed. Another exception is the so-called baptism of blood. If someone wanted to be baptized but could not because of persecution, yet he were to die for Christ’s sake before having been baptized of water and the Spirit, then his martyrdom would be counted as a substitute for water baptism. His martyrdom would prove that he was ‘worthy to drink the cup that Christ drank.’ (Mt. 20:22)… These are the right and proper methods for baptism: by immersion or in blood. The Church has always practiced baptism by immersion in water, to which among other things is attested by the deep baptismal fonts in the old temples. However, the West gradually slipped into performing baptism by dipping, or even sprinkling. The [Orthodox] Church does not accept these as valid baptisms…”
The book What Orthodox Christians Believe, amongst other things, states:
“The Orthodox Church conducts baptism by full immersion in water.”
Citing an ancient Church Father, Bishop Nikolai elaborates:
“‘Whoever is not baptized cannot be saved, except for the martyr who sheds his blood to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,’ says St. Cyril of Alexandria.”
According to these sources, Orthodoxy teaches that the only proper way for baptizing someone is done through threefold immersion in water (with the exception of sickness, in which case sprinkling of patients in bed is acceptable). Yet how is it possible that so many priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbia do not observe even their very own canonical rules? The fact of the matter is that we know that most Serbs (especially since the baptisms recorded in the 1990’s, the last decade of the last century) were baptized by pouring water on the person’s head! (This is in spite of the fact that most people were completely healthy and not gravely ill!) This is the very means of baptism that Milin describes as “not deemed valid by the Orthodox Church!”
On the other hand, although Milin and Bishop Nikolai mention a baptism “by blood”, such a concept exists nowhere in Scripture, nor is it taught. The Bible, of course, does record cases of martyrdom for faith in Christ. Examples include the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), the apostle James, the son of Zebedee (Acts 12), and many other unnamed Christians. However, it is likely that most of them at the time of martyrdom already had been baptized in water on the basis of their faith. If it happened that someone were murdered for their faith before one could be immersed in water (which is certainly possible), such a person would certainly have been saved for eternity. However, it would occur not because of their act of “baptism in blood”, but rather because of his justification through faith in Christ the Savior.
Examples of Salvation of People Who Were Not Baptized
Scripture mentions the example of a man who received salvation yet was neither baptized in water nor suffered martyrdom for Christ (“baptism in blood”). Rather, he suffered and died as a thief and criminal. This man was certainly one of the robbers crucified with Jesus on Mount Calvary. Before we say anything more about this event, let us listen to what Mr. Milin said against this argument of evangelical Christians, who attempt to defend their position that baptism is not necessary for salvation:
“And how did the repentant thief arrive in Paradise, even though he was not previously baptized? Thus, baptism is not a necessary condition of salvation, say the Baptists.
The thief on the cross is a special situation, which Christ never intended for every Christian to hold up as a rule. It is good to repent, but it is not good to wait until the last moment, as did the thief on the cross. In addition, if the thief did not receive water baptism in a “bath”, neither did anyone preach to him a gospel sermon, quite the opposite of the Baptist complaint that people cannot receive salvation without hearing an evangelistic sermon. If the case of the thief demonstrates that baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation, just as the Baptists allege, then in the same case one can also conclude that neither should the preaching of the gospel be a condition for faith and salvation, because the thief never heard a gospel sermon. Therefore, the case of the thief on the cross should be set aside as an exceptional example of an extremely fruitful and truly amazing action of God’s grace.”
So, by Lazar Milin’s assertion, the case of the thief on the cross is extraordinary. According to him, this case contradicts the Baptist logic in that the thief received salvation without hearing the gospel of faith in Christ the Savior preached. The Scriptures clearly say:
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
However, was it true that no one really preached to the thief? What then caused him to turn to religion in the last hours of his life? The truth is that this man lived a lawless and unjust life. The Romans were correct to arrest him. Also, in the first hours of his crucifixion, he along with other criminals and the masses of people in the area mocked the crucified Christ:
“In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’’ In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
“‘Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
However, as time went by, something happened in the heart of this man. Although he himself was in a very unenviable position at the time when his life was slowly departing from him, something that the Old Testament prophets had proclaimed appealed to the robber’s Israelite memory. Since Jesus’ activity was known both among the Israelites of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria and the Gentiles of the Decapolis, Syria, Phonecia, and others. Somehow, the infidel robber just a few hours before his death saw the truth that he was crucified in the midst of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah whom the Israelites awaited for centuries. The Evangelist Luke elaborates on this event:
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
What we see clearly is the fact that the thief believed Jesus to be the Heavenly King and Messiah, when he stated: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Keep in mind his faith came at a time when the apostles doubted their own. While it is true, of course, that the thief heard no preaching while hanging on the cross, yet it is also true that he clearly remembered the earlier preaching about the future Messiah that was heard in the Jewish synagogues, which he apparently once visited. Connecting the preaching he must have heard about the prophecy of Messiah together with the blessed life and now crucifixion of the insulted Galilean on the wooden cross, the thief could come to only one conclusion. Jesus of Nazareth is the prophesied Messiah and King of Israel, the Savior who took upon Himself all the iniquities of sinful humanity. The apostle John, in relation to the faith of the individual, specifically stated in his epistle the following:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God… I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Therefore, the way by which the thief was saved is not a “special situation”. Rather, the situation of the thief corresponds to the law that says that man is saved by God only
through faith in Christ the Savior and through spiritual rebirth by God. Man cannot be saved by merits, good works, or religious rituals. We have already demonstrated this principle in the previous two chapters.
However, the aforementioned Orthodox authors are not completely honest to their unsuspecting readers in hiding the faith of the crucified and unbaptized thief as the real basis for his salvation. As we will confirm from the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church, this criminal was saved because at one time our Lord Jesus Christ was under obligation – while still a baby in the arms of Mary! Here is what “Sacred Tradition” says about the “indebted Christ”:
“When the holy family fled before Herod’s sword to Egypt, robbers leapt out on the road with the intention of stealing something. The righteous Joseph was leading the donkey, on which were some belongings and on which the Most-holy Theotokos was riding with her Son at her breast. The robbers seized the donkey to lead it away. At that moment, one of the robbers approached the Mother of God to see what she was holding next to her breast. The robber, seeing the Christ-child, was astonished at His unusual beauty and said in his astonishment: “If God were to take upon Himself the flesh of man, He would not be more beautiful than this Child!” This robber then ordered his companions to take nothing from these travelers. Filled with gratitude toward this generous robber, the Most-holy Virgin said to him: “Know that this Child will repay you with a good reward because you protected Him today.” Thirty-three years later, this same thief hung on the Cross for his crimes, crucified on the right side of Christ’s Cross. His name was Dismas, and the name of the thief on the left side was Gestas. Beholding Christ the Lord innocently crucified, Dismas repented for all the evil of his life. While Gestas reviled the Lord, Dismas defended Him, saying: This man hath done nothing amiss. (Luke 23:41). Dismas, therefore, was the wise thief to whom our Lord said: Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Thus the Lord granted Paradise to him who spared Him in childhood.”
As we see from this Orthodox story, the thief named Dismas was rewarded with salvation because he relented from robbing the holy family and also on account of the beauty of the baby Jesus. Christ obviously had to save the thief because at that time, the “Most Holy Mother of God” bonded Him to this obligation even while he was in diapers. Just as the Bible contradicts salvation by works, so we also do not find anywhere in the Bible any teaching whatsoever about “God’s earlier obligations” to save anyone based on their merits. Such Orthodox teachings on salvation lie in utter contradiction to the Gospel taught in God’s Word.
However, this is not the only example of someone finding salvation yet not being baptized (neither by water nor by blood). There exist examples even within “Sacred Tradition” itself, which, according to the Orthodox Church, are equally authoritative as God’s Word. The event described in the following text will occur during Judgment Day, and comes from a vision of the Venerable Saint Gregory of the ninth century:
“After these things, the Lord separated to the left side those who were spiritually
blind and did not live according to His will. For in them there was no evil, and in fact they were looked like righteous ones. And the Lord looked at them and was not angry at them. Rather He was angry at their parents because they did not sanctify their children in holy Christian baptism. And the Lord said to them that they would have a small inheritance of eternal life in the last place in the West, but they could not gaze upon the face of God. And they answered: Master and Lord, you are blessed and gentle, and you have a gracious heart. You are the Lord of life and death. You took us from earthly life prematurely by some of Your wondrous mysteries. But we beg you for one thing, Oh Lord! And the LORD granted them some of His gifts and blessings. These souls are the children of Christian parents who did not receive holy baptism. And they were all of equal stature.”
Thus, children who have been baptized, but do not live by the will of God
(meaning they were great kids, not babies), and “looked like righteous ones” – they earned their place in Heaven. However, they inherited the “West End of Heaven” where they received “a small inheritance of eternal life”. Even though they cannot look at God’s face, Heaven is still Heaven.
Of course, one does not need a great deal of wisdom and knowledge from the Holy Scriptures to conclude that it is impossible to be in Heaven only to inherit “a small inheritance of eternal life” (as if the “small inheritance” were not really eternal). Furthermore, one cannot experience true heavenly bliss while being apart from the people of God. It is impossible for someone who does not obey God’s will to arrive in Heaven and resemble the righteous, for no evil can exist in a truly righteous person. “Sacred Tradition” creates chaos by giving us contradictory statements as to what will happen on the Day of Judgment.
First of all, both the Lord Jesus and the apostle John show that it is impossible for someone who does not obey God’s will to enter Heaven:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Also, the vision that Gregory claimed to see in the ninth century after Christ is quite different from John’s vision in Revelation from the first century on the issue of “gazing at God’s face.” John writes specifically that all inhabitants of Heaven will see the face of God, and His name shall be written on their foreheads:
“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
This view is, therefore, not only contrary to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, but it also even contradicts the doctrine of Orthodoxy that addresses the impossibility of reaching paradise by those who are not baptized with water or blood. This ultimately
proves that teachings within the Eastern Church contradict themselves.
On the other hand, “Sacred Tradition” and Orthodox dogma inform us of the possibility that seriously ill people, when they do not have an anointed priest with the enlightened power of apostolic succession, can be baptized even by ordinary believers (laity):
“The baptism of immersion in water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, can also be performed by a bishop, presbyter, or a deacon. Even in an exceptional situation, someone besides these people could perform baptism if a person is in danger of dying and is not baptized, anyone of the laity could baptize that person.”
Some others, who did not have had the “luck” to be baptized by some faithful layman and were suspected to be near death, baptized themselves in the river or went outside of their home in rainy weather. These served as substitutes for baptism. Others had the privilege to be baptized by angels from Heaven. Let us hear some accounts from Orthodox tradition:
“St. Drosida: Daughter of the Emperor Trajan, she was seized with five other women when they were gathering the bodies of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ by night, and was for this cruelly mutilated by the Emperor. These five women were terribly tortured and at last thrown into molten copper, where they surrendered their souls to their Lord. But Drosida remained under strict imperial guard. However, she escaped from the court and baptized herself in a river. After eight days she gave her soul into God’s hands. (March 22)”
“St. Lupus: He was the servant of the Great Martyr Demetrius, and was present at his martyrdom… It is said that, as his death approached, he prayed to be baptized before his death, for, though a believer in Christ, he had never been able to be baptized. A cloud suddenly poured down a torrent of water upon him, answering his prayer. After great suffering, he visited and entered the Kingdom of Heaven. (August 23)”
“St. Philemon: When Philemon appeared before the idols, the light of the Christian Faith suddenly shone in his heart, and he made the sign of the Cross. After he came out of the temple, he began to shout: “I am a Christian! A servant of Christ the Living God!” Hearing this, the judge laughed, thinking that Philemon was mocking the Christians. Later, Philemon endured horrible tortures. Rain fell from heaven and baptized him. (December 14)”
“St. Conon: He was brought up in the Faith of Christ and baptized in the name of the All-Holy and Life-giving Trinity by the Archangel Michael, the Commander of the Angelic Hosts of God. Until his death, the archangel of God invisibly watched over him. (March 5)”
Beyond any doubt, it is critical at this point to emphasize that the first century Christian praxis never considered that believers could be baptize themselves, nor by stormy weather, nor by an archangel. The Lord never told the apostles about any of these methods nor commanded them to do so. On the other hand, the Orthodox does not stop at the previously cited unbiblical teachings on baptism and its improper application by pouring or sprinkling with water. Orthodoxy also allows for baptism in the absence of water, even though water was considered a material part of how baptism was conducted in first century apostolic Christianity. Here is what we read about possible ways of baptizing in special emergencies, when there is a danger that someone dies without baptism (and goes to eternity without the possibility of salvation):
“Few people realized that if someone might die at the risk of a violent or natural death, any layman can baptize. Baptism can be performed with a little bit of water, or even in the absence of water with a little bit of sand. You need to pour (or sprinkle) on the person’s head and utter the words: ‘I baptize you (name of subject), servant of God, in the name of the Father, Amen (pour), and of the Son, Amen (pour again), and of the Holy Spirit, Amen (pour again).”
Such examples which are taught in the Eastern Church demonstrate their clear unbiblical contradiction to the plain teachings on baptism that Christ and the apostles spoke and wrote down.
The Orthodox misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the Bible with regard to the “holy sacrament of chrismation” will be examined in the next section.