by Andrea Elizabeth
I thought I’d get back to The Saving Work of Christ, Sermons by St. Gregory Palamas in commemoration of his Sunday during Lent, which was yesterday. The only Lenten sermon is on Palm Sunday, so I’m reading his “On Epiphany I”. I’ve explored before the distinction between Christ’s uniting Himself to all of creation and taking on human nature in His Incarnation and what baptism into Christ accomplishes. I still don’t want to place a legalistic demand on baptism into Christ, which is influenced probably by my non-sacramental Protestant upbringing, God’s mercy, the saying, ‘we know where the Spirit is, but not where He is not’, the Scripture, ‘even if I made my bed in hell, You are there”, and being somewhat convinced by some non-Orthodox people’s relationship with God, even if they don’t have all the facts or procedures straight. Still, I don’t want to throw out the bathwater. Without further ado, here’s some quotes,
Repentance is the beginning, middle and end of the Christian way of life, so it is both sought and required before holy baptism, in holy baptism, and after holy baptism. We are asked to express our repentance in words at the time of our baptism, when we are questioned about our good conscience towards God, make a covenant with Him and promise to live a God-pleasing life that bears witness to our love for Him. For, having believed, we promise allegiance to Christ, who is good and surpasses all goodness, renouncing the evil and thoroughly depraved enemy, and we take it upon ourselves to hold with all our strength to God’s commandments, which bring about what is good, and to abstain from every evil thought and deed. When asked, we reply, either in person or, as happens in the case of infants being baptized, through our godparents, concerning what we have believed, inwardly accepted and agreed to with our minds. And since, according to the apostle, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10), when we make this good confession with our mouth we receive salvation through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). (p. 19)
This reminds me that in my daughter’s Protestant 4th grade Bible class, when teaching on Nicodemus, the teacher in paraphrasing the verse that says you must be born of water and spirit, said that you only need to be born of the spirit. So much for Sola Scriptura. Back to St. Gregory:
Water is a means of cleansing, but not for souls. It can remove dirt from those being baptized, but not the grime that comes from sin. For that reason the Healer of souls, the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9), Christ, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), enters the water before us to be baptized, as we celebrate today in advance. He draws the grace of the all-holy Spirit from above to dwell in the water with Him, so that later when those being baptized as He was enter the water, He is there, clothing them ineffably with His Spirit, attaching Himself to them, and filling them with the grace that purifies and illumines reasonable spirits. And this is what the divine Paul is referring to: “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). (p. 21,22)
For this reason, the bishop, having clothed the person who has been baptized in a radiant white garment, and anointed him with holy chrism, and having made him a communicant of Christ’s body and blood, then sends him on is way, showing that he has thenceforth become a child of light, both united in one body with Christ and a partaker of the Holy Spirit. For we are born again (cf. John 3:3-5) and become heavenly sons of God (cf. Rom 8:14-19, Phil 2:15, 1 John 3:1-2) instead of earthly beings, eternal instead of transient. God has mystically implanted heavenly grace in our hearts and set the seal of adoption as sons upon us through anointing with this holy chrism, sealing us by means of the all-holy Spirit for the day of redemption (cf. Eph. 4:30), provided we keep this confession firm to the end and fulfil our promise through deeds, though we may renew it through repentance if it drifts a little off course. That is why works of repentance are necessary even after baptism. But if they are absent the words of our promise to God are not only useless but also condemn us. “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Eccles. 5:5).
[…] Repentance means hating sin and loving virtue, turning away from evil and doing good (Ps. 34:14, 1 Pet. 3:11). These acts are preceded however, by condemning ourselves for our faults, being penitent before God, fleeing to Him for refuge with a contrite heart, and casting ourselves into the ocean of His mercy, considering ourselves unworthy to be counted among His sons. As the prodigal son said when he repented, “Lord, I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (cf. Luke 15:19) (p. 22,23)