26 - The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
Albair Gamal Mikhail
December 25, 2003
The rite of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, including the Seventh Day Prayers and the Consecration of the Baptistery.
Rite of the Seventh Day Prayers
The priest comes on the seventh day of the birth of the child, and pours water in a basin, and puts a bit of oil and salt. Seven candles are lighted, and the priest begins by praying the Prayer of Thanksgiving, and then he raises incense. The Pauline Epistle (Heb. 1:5-12) is read, and then the Trisagion is chanted, which is followed by the reading of Psalm 112:221 and the Gospel of St. John 1:14-19, then the Gospel Response.
The priest prays the Three Short Litanies, which is followed by the Creed, and then the prayer “O God, the Great and Eternal, the Almighty Lord…” The congregation respond with “amen, amen, amen,” and the priest continues with praying Psalm 148 and 149. Then the congregation says the Lord’s Prayer, the priest says the three absolutions, and signs the water saying, “one is the Holy Father…” The congregation then chants Psalm 150 in the same way as that said during communion, and the priest washes the child with the water, and says the blessing as usual.
Introduction to the Rite of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism
Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments of the church. It is called the door of the sacraments as it leads to the rest of the sacraments, since no one is allowed to derive benefit from any of the sacraments of the church unless they are baptized. Given that this is a sacrament, it consists of two parts: the first is visible, and the second invisible. St. Gregory Nazianzen said concerning this matter, “As we are created of a body and a soul, the first visible and the second invisible, so the washing in baptism comes as seen and unseen work, of water and Spirit. The body receives the work of the water according to the visible, and at the same time the work of the Spirit takes place invisibly away from the body. The water is a sensible truth, while the Spirit, who washes the depths, is an unseen truth. This is what the birth offers to us and makes us new, instead of the old.”
The Lord of Glory has established this Sacrament by Himself when He was baptized in the Jordan River. Also St. Peter the Apostle has said “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39). St. Paul said that whoever is baptized into Christ has put on Christ (Gal. 3:27); he also confirms the fact that through baptism, we are buried with Christ and rise with Him, hence we become united with Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5). St. John Chrysostom comments on St. Paul’s words saying: “… he did not say ‘His death’, rather ‘the likeness of His death’ because the two deaths are not the same, since His death is the body’s death but ours is a death of sin.” Therefore, Baptism is the death of sin that lives in our old man. St. Paul also adds, “…when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). From all the above, we believe that baptism is related to our true life in Christ, for in baptism we are united with Christ, die with Him and are risen up again. Our old man that inherited the sin from Adam dies in the baptistery, and our new man inherits eternal life – which the Lord of Glory has paid its price by His Blood on the wood of the cross – and rises up after receiving the sacrament of Baptism.
Through baptism we enter into a new relationship with God, for we become His adopted children. Therefore, it is truly an essential step towards salvation: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). This is why the Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). St. John Chrysostom compared Adam and the coming forth of Eve out of his side on the one hand, and the Lord Jesus Christ and the coming forth of the church out of His side on the cross on the other; and he ties this thought with baptism and communion saying, “… one of the centurions came and pierced Him in His side with a spear and immediately water and blood came out: the water was a symbol of baptism and the Blood of communion … out of these two came the church … by this, Christ becomes the One who formed the church completely out of His side as God formed Eve out of Adam’s side while he was asleep … and as He took the rib out of Adam while he was in deep sleep, likewise He gave us the Blood and water after His death.”
Moreover, in this Sacrament the Holy Spirit descends upon the water, sanctifies it and gives it the power of burial, resurrection and the uniting with Christ: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn. 3:5). In relation to this subject, St. John Chrysostom says, “It is not man who runs this sacrament, but the grace of the Holy Spirit, for it is the one who sanctifies the nature of water and touches your heads (that is the heads of those who approach the sacrament of baptism) with the hand of the bishop.” We also read in St. John’s first epistle that the witnesses in baptism are three: the water, the blood, and the Spirit, and these three are one (1 John 5:8). The white clothes that the baptized puts on after baptism symbolize purity and cleanliness, as said by David the prophet, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). St. Ambrose commented saying, “Because the church has put on these clothes in the basin of renewal she says in the Song of Songs, ‘I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem’ (Song 1:5); black because of the weakness and emaciation of its humanity, but beautiful in the mystery of faith. And the daughters of Jerusalem look at these clothes in admiration saying, ‘Who is this coming out, becoming white’ (Song 3:6), she was dark, how can she become white all of sudden?”
Concerning the conditions for those who approach baptism, if they are adults, then they should have believed, repented and desired to live in Christ. This is why St. Cyril of Jerusalem has cautioned the catechumens saying, “If you stay in your worst state of preparation, then he who is talking to you is not responsible, and you should not anticipate the grace when you go into water, since the Spirit will not accept you. Therefore, if anyone is wounded let him be bandaged, and if anyone has fallen let him arise.”
On the other hand, if the baptized is an infant, then the “eshbeen” (a Syrian word, meaning Godfather/mother) is temporarily charged, in place of the infant, to denounce the devil, to confess the faith in Christ, and to promise to live with Him. This is done on the basis that when the child will grow up, he or she will choose, freely and out of his or her own will, the faith and life with Christ. In fact, the baptism of infants is an old tradition in the church. Master Origen himself confirms that by saying, “The church has received from the apostles the tradition of baptizing infants, for the infants are baptized for the remission of sins…” St. Augustine also says, “The church has always held onto baptizing infants according to what she had received from the ancestors. She still keeps this till now and will keep it till the end of ages.” Most importantly, the church has always warned of repeating baptism. St. John Chrysostom says, “In baptism, we were buried with Him to death; and as it is not possible for Christ to be crucified a second time, so in the same manner the one who had received baptism cannot get baptized once more.”
Regarding the appointed time of baptism, in the old days (since the beginning of the third century) it was generally preferred to baptize the adults on Easter day, when they would have prepared themselves throughout the Holy Lent and the Passion Week periods. They also used to baptize on Pentecost and on Epiphany; however, it is acceptable to baptize at any time of the year. For infants, if the mother will be the Godmother during baptism, then the baby boy should be baptized after forty days and the baby girl after eighty days, since the mother should not enter the church or take communion before the end of her purification days. However, if a different Godmother/father will replace the mother, then the baptism could take place at any time before the forty or the eighty days. In this case, the mother should not breastfeed the infant for three days, but a nurse should breastfeed the infant – unless a nurse for the infant could not be found, then the mother could breastfeed the child after the ribbon (zennar) has been untied by the end of the day. It is also preferred to have the liturgy start at the same time the prayer of baptism is taking place so that the infant would be able to partake of the Holy Communion after its baptism and before it is fed by its mother’s milk or that of a nurse. In addition, the church does not permit circumcising the nursling males after baptism, since circumcision is a symbol of baptism and should precede it.
Lastly, the rite of Baptism could be divided up into four stages: the prayer for the mother’s purification or the woman’s absolution, the denouncement of the devil, the prayer for blessing the water, and the untying of the ribbon (zennar). The denouncement of the devil refers to his casting out, denying, and refusing the devil’s works; it also means repentance from the old works of the flesh. In this Sacrament a special type of oil is used, called the Ghalilawon, which is the Greek word for joy and happiness. This is a Palestinian oil in which the sediments of the ointments of the holy Myron are boiled after it has been filtered.
The following is a detailed explanation for the order and hymns of the rite of Holy Baptism.
The Absolution of the Mother
The absolution of a mother after forty days from a son’s birth:
The priest prays the Thanksgiving prayer, and raises incense while the Pauline is read from Hebrews 1:8-12. Then the Trisagion is chanted, followed by Psalm 31:1,2 and the Gospel from Luke 2:21-35. After this the priest prays the three short litanies (peace, fathers, and congregations), then the Creed. Next, the priest says “O Lord God the Pantocrator, the Father of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ the treasure of light…” and the people follow with the Lord’s Prayer. Afterward the priest says the three absolutions and the blessing and anoints the mother with the oil, by which she enters the church to partake of the Holy Communion.The absolution of a mother after eighty days from a daughter’s birth:
The priest prays the Thanksgiving prayer, and raises incense while the Pauline is read from 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. Then the Trisagion is chanted, followed by Psalm 44:12 and the Gospel from Luke 10:38-42. After this the priest prays the three short litanies, then the Creed and the above mentioned prayer in the son’s absolution; and the people follow with the Lord’s Prayer. Afterward the priest says the three absolutions and the blessing and anoints the mother with the oil, and then she enters the church to partake of the Holy Communion.
The Rite of Holy Baptism in BriefThe prayer of the Devil’s denouncement and the prayer for the catechumens:
The priest reads the absolution for the infant’s mother. Then the litany for the catechumens is prayed.The prayer over the anointing oil for the catechumens:
While the priest prays this prayer, he anoints the catechumen’s jaws and back saying, “This oil annuls all the resistance of the adversary.” Then he continues with the prayer until the end, where he puts his hand on the catechumen asking for their purification, and blows into their face. At this point the deacon says, “Of God we ask,” and the people say, “Lord have mercy.”The sanctification of the water for baptism:
The priest enters the baptistery with the “common simple” oil (olive oil which has been prayed over previously) and pours it into the water three times as the sign of the cross saying, “In the name…”, and the deacon answers, “Amen.” Then the priest says the following prayer inaudibly, which starts with “Call your servants, O my Master, to your pure light and make them worthy of this great grace…” After this he prays the Thanksgiving prayer and raises the incense. Here, the deacon reads the Pauline from Titus 2:11-3:8 and the priest says the Pauline prayer inaudibly. Next is the Catholic Epistle from 1 John 5:5-14 while the priest says the special prayer and the absolution of the Son.
Afterwards, the deacon reads the Praxis from Acts 8:26-39, then the Trisagion is chanted followed by the Litany for the Gospel. The Psalm is read from Psalm 31:1,2, and the Gospel from John 3:1-21, after which the priest prays some inaudible prayer. Next come the seven long litanies (the sick, the travelers, the water, the plants, the air, the king, the departed, the oblations, and the catechumens). After the litanies are over, the priest says, “O God of the prophets and Lord of the apostles, to you befits glory.” And the chanters say, “Saved Amen.” Then the priest prays for himself inaudibly while he bows by the “Jordan.” Afterwards the three long litanies are prayed (the peace, the fathers, and the assemblies), followed by the Creed. Then, the priest takes the holy oil and pours it in the water of baptism three times in the sign of the cross to bless the water saying, “In the name…”, and the specific prayer for blessing the water. After this the deacon answers saying, “Pray for perfect peace, love and the holy apostolic kisses. Lord have mercy.” Then, the special Adam Espasmos is chanted, after which the deacon says “Greet one another with a holy kiss …” and the people reply with “Through the intercessions…”, but at the end they say, “A mercy of peace, a baptism of praise.” Now the priest continues as in the liturgy of baptism.
Note: The Watos Espasmos is the same as that of the Epiphany Liturgy.
When the priest reaches the part where he says, “…and my lords and fathers the apostles and the rest of the saints who pleased you. By the grace, compassion and the love-of-mankind of your only begotten Son…”, the people say the Lord’s prayer. After this the priest says the three absolutions, and the people reply with “Amen.” At this point, the priest says the three signings while he pours the Holy Myron in the baptism water in the sign of the cross. When the priest says, “Blessed is the Lord who gives light to every man that comes into the world now and forever…”, the people sing Psalm 150. Meanwhile, the deacon guides the baptized from the West and takes them to the East, on the priest’s left to be baptized. The priest immerses the baptized three times in the water, if the infant is healthy. However, if the infant is weak, then the priest immerses it twice up to its waist and the third time fully. Moreover, if the infant is sick, then it is sufficient to wet all its body with water without immersion.
With every time, the baptized is immersed, the priest blows in its face saying, “I baptize you (…) in the name of the Father, amen. And the Son, amen. And the Holy Spirit, amen.” And he blows in its face and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” After baptism, the priest anoints the babe with the holy Myron – the word “Myron” is a Greek word that means “oil” or “ointment.” The anointing of the baptized with the Myron is necessary, even if the baptizer is a bishop, since the laying of the hand is meant to be done with the Holy Myron.
The baptized is anointed with the Myron in thirty-six areas of the body, as follows:
- For the heart, the navel, the back and the backbone: 4 anointings/signings
- For the top of the right shoulder joint, the armpit, the elbow joint and its inside, and both faces of the wrist: 6 signings.
- For the top of the left shoulder joint, the armpit, the elbow joint and its inside, and both faces of the wrist: 6 signings.
- For the right hip joint, the groin, the right knee: front and back, and both sides of the ankle: 6 signings.
- For the left hip joint, the groin, the left knee: front and back, and both sides of the ankle: 6 signings.
- For the top of the head, the nostrils, the mouth, the right ear, the right eye, the left eye, and left ear: 8 signings.
After anointing the infant or the baptized with the holy Myron, the priest prays, “May you be blessed…”. He then blows in the face of the baptized and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit, and be a pure vessel through our Lord Jesus Christ…”. Then he puts the first clothes on the baptized while saying, “The imperishable garments of eternal life. Amen.” After this the priest prays the prayer of “O Master, Lord, God who alone is the Pantocrator …” and after each part, the people reply with “Amen.” At this point, the priest puts on the baptized the crown and ties the ribbon around him/her while the people say, “Worthy, worthy, worthy, O (…) the Christian.”
Afterwards, the priest reads some commandments to the parents or the Godparents of the baptized. Now, they attend the Liturgy and partake of the Holy Communion, after which the priest lays his hand on them, blesses them, and they leave.
There was a tradition in the past in which the baptized is given some milk and honey to taste, symbolizing their entrance into the Heavenly Canaan as they have just received the Sacraments of Baptism and Myron (Chrismation) and are now fit to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Dismissal of the Baptism’s Water
There is a prayer that the priest prays for the dismissal of the baptism’s water so it returns back to its first state. The tradition is that the priest – after finishing the baptism – pours water on his cross, his hands and over the baptistery. He also washes around the “Jordan” and pours some regular water in the sign of the cross while he prays the prayer of dismissal. This way, the holy water returns back to its first state and the priest dismisses it in the well located below the baptistery, or pours it in a place where no feet trample.
The Untying of the Ribbon
This prayer was done on the third or eighth day after baptism. A vessel is filled with water, and around it candles are lit. Then the priest prays the Thanksgiving prayer and raises incense while the Pauline is read from 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. Afterwards the Trisagion is chanted, followed by the Litany for the Gospel. The Psalm is read from Psalm 32:1,2, and the Gospel from St. Matthew 3:1-22. After this, the priest says the three long litanies, then the Creed. At this point, the hymns Qen `vran and “worthy, worthy, worthy…” are chanted in the Palm Sunday tune, then the Lord’s Prayer. The priest makes the sign of the cross three times on the water while he says, “One is the Holy Father, one is the Holy Son, one is the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then the chanters chant Psalm 150, while the infant bathes and its ribbon and clothes are washed in the water. After this the water is thrown in a river, sea, well or a field.
Consecration of the Baptistery
Three litanies specific to the baptistery are prayed over the baptistery itself, and then it is anointed with the Myron. This rite has been ordered by Anba Botros, the Bishop of Behnasa. If the baptistery was still to be built, it should be located in the north-western side of the church, with the picture of St. John the Baptist baptising our Lord, to Him is Glory, above it.
Hegomen Armia – may God repose his soul – has documented that the consecration is to be done on Sunday’s eve. The new basin should be washed on Saturday evening and remain uncovered. After the Midnight Prayer on Sunday’s eve and the Matins Prayer, three clay lamp-stands are placed in the corners of the baptistery with three oil-lamps filled with olive oil. They should be lighted facing the east, and beside them three new clay pots full of fresh water. They should have absorbed the water by the evening. Beside the pots there should be a handful of basil tied with palm leafs, some parsley, a new and unused sponge, and two candles placed in candlesticks. Then the priests enter the new baptistery with songs and candles, and the Patriarch or the bishop uncovers his head, and the priests and deacons put on their tunics. At this point the Prayer of Thanksgiving is prayed. Three new clay vessels are filled with water and basil; and seven oil-lamps are lit on seven lamp-stands.
After the Prayer of Thanksgiving, incense is raised, and the following psalms are read: Psalm 50, 123, 131, 132, 133 and 134. Next are the prophecies from the Torah, Isaiah and Ezekiel that are read in the Liturgy of the Blessing of the Water (Lakkan) in the Apostle’s Feast. Afterwards Tenouwst is chanted followed by the Pauline from Eph. 4:1-10, the Catholic Epistle from 1 Pet. 3:17-22, and the Praxis. Then, the Trisagion is chanted and the Litany of the Gospel is prayed. The Psalm is read from Ps. 28:3,4 and the Gospel from Mt. 16:13-19. Then the priest prays the three long litanies (the peace, fathers, and assemblies) followed by the seven long litanies, the Creed and Kuri`e `eleicon ten times in the long tune.
After this, the bishop prays the litany of “O Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son,” and in its end the deacon says `Proceuxac;e . Then the bishop says, “Again, O Lord, we ask,” after which the chanters respond with Kuri`e `eleicon three times. The bishop now anoints the baptistery with the Myron while saying, “I sanctify this basin in the name of John the Baptist. Qen `vran …”, and the people respond with “Amen” in the three signings. The congregation prays the Lord’s Prayer, and this is followed by the three absolutions. The bishop then takes the consecrated water and pours it into the baptistery, and he sprinkles the basil around it and below it in the shape of the cross.
Meanwhile, an “Alleluia” hymn for the baptistery is chanted (this hymn is now lost). The bishop reads Psalms 25, 26 and 42, after which the congregation chants Doxa Patri , followed by Psalm 150. He then takes a sponge and wipes the baptistery. Then, he pours Myron on its the four sides, while using the other hand to wipe it. On the east side he says, “I sanctify this basin in the name of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” On the north side he says, “I sanctify this basin as that of our pure fathers the Apostles, Amen.” On the south side he says, “I sanctify this basin as that of St. John the Baptist,” and he anoints the centre of the baptistery. He says, “Blessed be the Lord God now and forever, Amen.” Afterwards he says the blessing for the people.
The virtuous father, Shams El-Reyassa Abu Al-Barakat, also known as Ibn-Kabar – may God repose his soul – has documented the following for us: “I have attended with the Patriarch Anba Youannes, may God repose his soul, the anointing of the baptistery. It was broken and then repaired without renewal. He started with the Prayer of Thanksgiving, then the Raising of Incense, then Psalm 50, and the following passages: A passage from the Torah “And God spoke to Moses saying: ‘You shall also make a laver of bronze, and they shall be washed and serve me,’” and the Pauline which is the same as the one read in the liturgy of the wedding, from Ephesus 3 “I beseech you, brethren, according to the gift of Christ…” Also the Psalm “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean…” As for the Gospel two passages of the Holy Gospels were read: one from Matthew 16:13-19 “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi … will be loosed in heaven,” and the other one from Luke and it starts with “And when He went seeking and saving who was lost.” Then the seven long litanies are to be said, and one litany, followed by the Lord’s Prayer. After this is the absolution, and ‘Alleluia’ is chanted with the baptistery tune (currently this hymn is not memorized, but it is mentioned in the old manuscripts). Then the parts mentioned in the book of baptism and the anointing of the baptistery with the Ghalilawon and the Myron on its sides and bottom, and at the end the blessing and the conclusion of prayer. I have also attended with him the consecration of a renovated baptistery in the Church of Saint Mercurios on Sunday the Tuba 10, 1030 A.M. (which is the year 1314 A.D.). He put seven lamps on seven porcelain lamp-stands, and three nice porcelain vessels filled with water and hyssop; and he said the Prayer of Thanksgiving, raised incense and read Psalms 50, 131, 132, 134 and 135, some prophecies and the Gospels as usual. It was concluded with the absolution and the blessing.”
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p. 971 - 987. Translated from Arabic by Mina Girgis, edited by Bishoy K. R. Dawood.