Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Conversation on Byzantine Baptism

     Periodically I get that knock on the door from various Christian groups doing their part to evangelize. The last time this happened it was a person of the Baptist tradition. I shared with him many things about my own tradition and he was excited to hear that we Baptize by full immersion just as they do. On the other hand, he could not understand why we do this for children. He could agree with me on many points of faith and doctrine but this seemed like a big issue to him. We didn't get a chance to talk about the other sacraments that we give after infant Baptism {Chrismation and Eucharist} but I think he would have a hard time with that as well .
     When it comes to infant baptism the basic premise is that children are welcome to the kingdom of God. This practice has its foundations in the Genesis chapter 17 where Abraham is given instruction about his future children who would remain in a covenant with God. In vs. 12 we read, "12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised(NIV)". Here God himself gives instruction for babies to enter into a covenant relationship. The argument usually against why children shouldn't be baptized "they don't understand" falls short when compared to these specific instructions of God to bring babies into the covenant of their parents.
     Baptism of infants has become an almost universal practice when looking at Catholicism and other mainstream Christian groups. However, babies receiving Chrismation(conformation) and Eucharist has not and sometimes people outside of the Byzantine tradition have struggled with the practice. The struggle comes from a philosophical concept called "the an age of reason". A concept that was integrated into the Roman Catholic tradition and became the model for how they distribute their sacramental rites, which continued in some of the protestant groups that broke off. This practice for the most part is really an innovation and does not have any foundation in scripture or tradition. In fact, the three sacraments(Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist) that confers on individuals the full power of being a child of God were never meant to be separated.
     We are all born into a fallen world. This fact stays the same no matter how well a person understands theological concepts. God in his goodness has never stopped trying to lead humanity away from this fallen condition. All through the scripture we find God coming down to our level through the many covenants to bring us up to his. Never at any point could we say as human beings that we were rationally ready for this or through a process of rationalizing say" we understand God now", especially those Hebrew children circumcised at the eighth day. What we do find in our history are moments when we say "yes, we accept this gift". There are plenty of Christians who have grown up in church and received sacraments at the "age of reason" only to discover in their adult life what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
     In Baptism we are given the gifts of the Spirit, in Chrismation we are given the Spirit himself, and in the Eucharist we are given the ability to become everything that God is by grace. There is no theological reason for parents who are given these things by God to deny them to their offspring. A child needs just as much as an adult the powers given to us by God to deal with our common fallen condition. In fact, a child who has access to the mysteries of God can achieve great levels of intimacy of God. In our tradition we even celebrate this possibility with feast of the entry of the Theotokos into the temple. This feast marks an essential step of holiness that the Theotokos achieved at the age of only three.
     If you think about it there really is no possible way one can grasp what happens when we receive any sacrament. I know that the man I spoke to was concerned that babies don't have the rational ability to follow Christ. Maybe intellectually and on a social level this is a justifiable concern. However, we don't know what God is doing in a heart of child. Even in our lives no matter how well we strive theologically to understand the mysteries we are left in a state of awesome wonder to what God is actually doing.


  1. very good! I would love to use this as a guest post on my blog if you would be willing to share- email me if you are interested

  2. It should be obvious that the concept of the age of reason has nothing to do with infant baptism in the RCC.

    With respect to reception of the Eucharist, the point is that before the age of reason there is no sinfulness that breaches the spiritual communion re-established at baptism. Therefore the therapeutic need for Eucharistic reception is not necessary.

    This same idea is at the root of the Eastern perception that children do not need to confess before receiving the Eucharist.