An Agreed Statement of The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation|
Baptism and "Sacramental Economy"
St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, New York, June 3, 1999
I. ON BAPTISM
A. A Matter of Faith: Baptism rests upon and derives its reality from the faith of Christ himself, the faith of the Church, and the faith of the believer.
1. The faith of Christ: With this Pauline expression we refer to the fact that baptism, like all the sacraments, is given to us first of all as the result of Christ's loving fidelity to his Father, and as a sign of his faithfulness in the Holy Spirit to fallen humanity, "so that we are justified not by the works of the law but through the faith of Christ Jesus" (Gal 2.16, cf. Rom 3.22,26; Phil 3.9). Baptism is not a human work, but the rebirth from above, effected through "water and the Spirit," that introduces us into the life of the Church. It is that gift by which God grounds and establishes the Church as the community of the New Covenant, the "Israel of God" (Gal 6:16), by engrafting us into the body of the crucified and risen Messiah (Rom 6:3-11; 11:17-24), into the one sacrament (mysterion) which is Christ himself (Eph 1:3; 3:3; Col 1:27 and 2:2).
2. The faith of the Church: In the Church of the Apostles and Fathers, baptism was never understood as a private ceremony, but was a corporate event. This is indicated by the development of the Lenten fast in the fourth century, when catechumens attended their final instructions before baptism at the paschal vigil: their baptism was the occasion for the whole community's repentance and renewal. Likewise, the definitive statement of the whole Church's faith, the "We believe" of the Creed, was derived from the solemn questions addressed by the sacramental minister to the candidate in the baptismal font. Whoever, then, is baptized, is baptized into the unique community of the Messiah, and it is that community's common faith in the Savior's person and promises that the candidate is obliged to make his or her own. As the Church, we acknowledge the trustworthiness of him who said, "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (Jn 11:25). This is the faith of the Apostles and Fathers, of the martyrs and ascetics, and of "all the saints who in every generation have been well-pleasing to God" (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). In the words of the renewal of baptismal promises in the Easter liturgy of the Roman Rite, "This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord."
3. The faith of the Christian: As just noted, every Christian is obliged to make his or her own the faith of the Church. The "We believe" of the whole Church must become the individual Christian's "I believe," whether spoken by the adult candidate for baptism on his or her own behalf, or on behalf of a child by its sponsor and the assembled community, in the full expectation that, when it has grown, the child will make the common faith its own as well. By baptism, every Christian becomes a "new creation" (2 Co 5.17), and is called to believe and to grow "into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God...to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). Baptism is the beginning of each believer's life in the Spirit, the implanting within each of the seed of the fullness of Christ "who fills all in all" (Eph 1:23): a life on earth which is at once the present reality and the continuing vocation of each Christian, as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Co 6:19) and the dwelling place of divine glory (Jn 17:22-24). Christian initiation is the ground of our transfiguration "from glory to glory" (2 Co 3:18). It calls each of us to spiritual warfare as Christ's soldiers (Eph 6:10-17), and anoints us each with the oil of the Holy Spirit as priests who, in imitation of Christ, are to offer up ourselves as "a living sacrifice pleasing to God" (Rom 12:1; cf. Phil 4:18), and as prophets who are to call down upon ourselves and upon our world the fire from heaven which transforms (cf. I Kg 18:36-39; Mt 3:11; Lk 12:49). Also in baptism, we believe that we recover the royalty of Adam in Paradise, and that, as "having been clothed with Christ" (Rom 13:14), we are called to become ourselves the "christs" - the "anointed ones" - of God.