THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
Almost all religions practice some form of a rite of initiation. Baptism, which literally means immersion in water, was a ritual practiced by the people of the Old Testament. The rite of baptism symbolizes the start of a new life, of being born again into a new way of life. In the New Testament, St. John the Baptist was preaching repentance and baptizing people in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Christ Himself was baptized by John, not because He needed to repent but because through His own baptism, He showed the people that He was God’s beloved son, the Savior of the world and the expected Messiah – “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). By His baptism in the River Jordan, Christ gave a new meaning to baptism for His followers. Thus, baptism in the Christian Church means more than an outward sign of repentance and moral change. Christian baptism is indeed the sacrament in which a person participates in Christ’s own death and resurrection.
In the Armenian Church, baptism is the first sacrament. Unless we are baptized, we cannot partake of the other sacraments in the Church. That is why baptism is called the “Door to the Church”. Infant baptism is the accepted practice in the Armenian Apostolic Church today. The canons strongly advise baptism on the eighth day after birth. This may not be possible in our present circumstances. In any event, a child should be baptized as soon as possible.
The Sacrament of Baptism is administered in the Church and not at home or in another public or private place. In extreme cases when the child is ill and cannot be brought to the Church, a special dispensation may be obtained from the Primate to administer the Sacrament in the home or in the hospital. The person about to be baptized is brought to Church by his/her sponsors, the godparents, who must be practicing members of the Church. This is of vital importance because the godparents are special ambassadors of the Church and are responsible for the proper Christian instruction and upbringing of the child.
The Liturgy of baptism begins with the denunciation of Satan and the proclamation of faith in Christ be the reading of the Creed. Then the baptismal water is prayed over and blessed, and the person is immersed in the water three times, in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is at this moment of the liturgy that the child is formally given a name. Parents are urged to avoid non-Christian names. It is recommended that a biblical name or the name of a saint be given as the name given to a child at baptism is the child ‘s Christian name.
In the practice of the Armenian Church today, the Sacrament of Baptism is immediately followed by Chrismation, the sacrament of receiving the Holy Spirit. Chrismation is administered by anointing all parts of the person’s body with Muron, or Holy Oil, thus endowing the person with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Muron is traditionally prepared and blessed every seven years in Etchmiadzin by the Catholicos of All Armenians, and is distributed to all Churches throughout the world.
After the person is duly baptized and chrismated, Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is administered, which nourishes and sustains the spiritual of all Christians. At the end of the service, the priest kisses the forehead of the newly-baptized person, welcoming him/her into the fellowship of the Church. The godparents, parents, relatives and friends in attendance do the same.
Arrangements for a Baptism
To make arrangements for a baptism, contact the priest first and set a date and time. He will make an appointment to meet with the parents and godparents for a pre-sacramental consultation at which time, he will explain the meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism and what you need to do to prepare for it. Here are the only some of the customs and traditions related to baptism.
1. A large white towel must be at hand to wrap the child after the immersion in the water.
2. A pair of baptismal candles will be needed which will be lit at the time of the Chrismation of the child as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who came like a “fire” and rested on the disciples of Christ gathered in the Upper Room.
3. After the child is baptized and chrismated, he/she is clothed with a white robe. This symbolizes the “garment of salvation” which is the new humanity of Jesus himself who is the new and heavenly Adam.
4. It is customary that the god parents’ gift to the child be a cross, which is blesses in the course of the service. The priest will also bless a cross with red and white strings, which symbolize the redemptive blood which Christ shed on the Cross for our sins and the fluid that came out of His side. Both crosses will be placed formally on the newly baptized child in the course of the service.
5. At the end of the baptismal service, when the priest administers Holy Communion to the newly baptized child, it is recommended that the godparents, parents, and anyone else who is witnessing the sacrament join in receiving the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord.
After the Baptism
There is a special service to be performed two days after baptism to formally “unrobe” the child from his/her baptismal garments. this service is done at home. If you wish to have this brief ceremony performed, please make the necessary arrangements with the priest. Regardless of whether the special service is held or not, the following rules must be followed by all parents of newly-baptized children: the first bath of the child after baptism, as well as the washing of the underclothing and the baptismal garments should be done in a separate basin, and the water must be poured into the garden. This is done in order not to mix the Holy Muron with unclean water in the sewer system.
Adults wishing to be initiated into the Christian faith through the Armenian Apostolic Church receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation after discussing their desire with the priest. Since the Church’s Creed declares that there is only one baptism, it cannot be repeated on the same person more than once. Therefore, if the person has been baptized by another Christian denomination in a manner where the essential conditions are fulfilled, that person is only chrismated and received into the communion of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Please note that for the Sacrament of Marriage, should one of the couple be a non-Christian, he or she must be baptized before the wedding. If one of the couple has been baptized by another Christian denomination in a manner where the essential conditions are fulfilled, only the Chrismation is required.