Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why should a child be baptized as an infant ? ( Elder Cleopa )

There are some who say Baptism should only be given to adults because we must first have repentance and faith. Earlier I was asked to comment on this subject and recently found the teaching of Elder Cleopa on this topic.

The Elder begins his explanation by pointing out the precursors to Baptism found in the Old Testament. He writes,

There in [the Old Testament] we read how God appeared to Abraham when he was ninety-nine years of age and, among things, told him to circumcise all the men and to circumcise all the male children who would be born from that time on on the eighth day after their birth. As for him who would not be circumcised , he would perish (Gen 17: 10-14). We see, then, that God did not say to Abraham that children and youth should be circumscribed when they became adults... Some say the Baptism of babies is meaningless since they don't understand anything when they are Baptized. But what did Issac, Abraham's child, understand on the eighth day? Undoubtedly he understood nothing. His parents, however, understood. This is how it is with Baptism as well, as it is practiced in the Orthodox Church, since it is well-known that circumcision symbolizes Baptism in the Old Testament.
He gives another example of the Exodus from Egypt and the passage through the Red Sea which is also seen by Church Fathers as prefiguring Baptism. This is affirmed by Paul who says, "Moreover brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor 10:1-2). Moses had told the pharaoh , "We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go." (Ex 10:9).
He then points out that on the day of Pentecost the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and preached to the people what the Spirit had tight them, telling them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for "the promise is unto you, and to your children" (Acts 2:39).
Elder Cleopa says,

"For what promise? The promise of Baptism. Thus, the promise was for the children as well. When it is said that they were baptized, it does not say three thousand men and women were Baptized, but three sous and fouls, which means that among those baptized were children."He next presents examples of families who were baptized as recorded in the New Testament. Lydia with her whole family (Acts 16:14). The prisons guard who took Paul and Silias to his house who was Baptised with his whole family ( Acts 16:33). Then there was Crispus and his family (Acts 18:8), and Stephanos and his household (1 Cor 1:16).

He writes,

Jesus Christ likewise, made it clear that little children ought to be Baptized, for when they brought Him some children to be blessed by Him, and His disciples obstructed them, the Lord scolded them, saying: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven; And He laid His hands on them, and departed hence" (Matt 19: 13-15). Hence , if the Lord calls children unto salvation from a young age, why would we obstruct them from receiving Holy Baptism?But how about the question of faith. Is it possible for children to be saved without faith?
The Elder responds,

"It is true that children are not capable of believing at the young age of their Baptism, but neither are they able to doubt or deny Christ. He is not saved who only believes, but he who first of all is baptized... While children do not have faith, they have godparents. These sponsors are adults who accompany the infants to Baptism and make the required confession of faith in their stead. Godparents are the spiritual parents of the children whom they baptize and undertake to guide them into a new life in the Holy Spirit... The priest conducts the Baptism based on the faith of the parents, the sponsors, and the other witnesses present.It is written in Scripture that the faith of a few can save others.
Here are examples given by Elder Cleopa,

"By faith the Roman centurion healed his servant (Matt 8:13). The servant did not believe, but on account of the faith of his master, Christ returned him to full health. Four people brought a paralytic tot he Savior: When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the also, Son, thy sons be forgiven thee (Mark 2:3-5)... On the basis of the faith of Jarius the Lord raised his twelve-year-old daughter (Matt 9:18). On account of faith of others, the Lord healed a dumb, demon-possessed man (Matt 9:32). On account of the faith of the woman of Canaan, the Savior healed her daughter, casting out the demon that possessed her (Matt 15:21). Likewise on the account of faith of a father, the Lord healed his epileptic son (Matt 17:14). These and many other testimonies from Holy Scripture make clear to us that on account of the faith of parents, and others who stand as witnesses at Holy Baptism, the Lord grants sanctification and salvation to the baptized children."We also see this practice from the early days of the Church, The earliest explicit reference to child or infant baptism is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, about 215 A.D.: "Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them." (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 21:15, c. 215 A.D.)

We must also keep in mind that baptism marks the beginning of our Christian life, each of us who are baptized must continue daily to persevere in our faith until the end of our earthly life. As St. Paul says: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect... I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do... I press on toward the goal to win the prize..." (Philippians 3:12-14)

Elder Cleopa
Reference: The Truth of our Faith, Vol. II, 17-34

A Story about Judging...

Schema-Monk Panaret of Philotheou

My blessed spiritual guide from Kafsokalyvia, Fr. Nikodemos, told me the following story, borrowed from Athonite patristic manuscripts:

A certain Christian believer went to his spiritual guide for confession over the space of 15 years, and confided his human infirmities to him. One day, as was his custom, he went to visit his spiritual guide in order to make his confession. When he came to the house, this man opened the door and saw his confessor sinning with a woman. He quickly went out of the house, and as he was leaving, he said to himself, “Oh, woe is me! I have gone to confession to him for all these years! What should I do now? What will happen to me now — will I perish? How can all those sins that he absolved me of be forgiven, when he himself is such a sinful person?” So this man reasoned, reeling under the weight of such a blow, and not knowing what he should do next.

As he was going back along the way, he became thirsty. Proceeding a little further, he stumbled upon a small, swiftly-flowing little brook with the purest, clearest water. He bent down and began to drink. He drank and drank, and even after he had satisfied his thirst he still wanted to drink this cool water. And, standing up, he thought: “If here, downstream, the water is so pure, how pure it must be at the source!” And with this thought he set off to find the spring where the brook began. And when he had found the source, what did he see there? To his horror, he saw that the water was flowing out from the muzzle of a dead dog — right from its mouth. Then, sighing from the depth of his soul, the man exclaimed, “Woe is me who have gone astray, I have defiled myself and have drunk this contaminated water! Apparently I really am sinful and bad, that such misfortunes are happening to me!”

And then, when he was so upset, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “O man, why are you so upset and so sad because of what is happening to you? When you saw the brook and began to drink from it, weren’t you filled with joy that you had found such pure water? You drank and couldn’t drink your fill, but now, after you have seen that the water is flowing out of a dog’s dirty mouth, you say that you have been contaminated? Even though the dog is dead and unclean, don’t be upset, because the whole world drinks the water that you drank, even though it flows out of a dirty dog’s mouth, because the water itself doesn’t belong to the dog—it is a gift of God, this water comes from God.

“And likewise your confessor: the sins that you confessed to him are forgiven you; the forgiveness of sins is not his gift, it is a gift of God to man. The Most-Holy Spirit grants the remission of sins to a person who thoroughly and sincerely confesses his sins and weaknesses.”

The Lord God Jesus Christ Himself said to His Holy Apostles and disciples, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:22-23). God grants this power to people in the Sacrament of the Priesthood, but only to those who have been canonically ordained and have a blessing to hear confessions and forgive sins. The Holy Apostles passed this power down to the first bishops and their successors, those who, in turn, were lawfully ordained priests and confessors. Inasmuch as priests celebrate the Holy Sacraments, their rank is far higher even than the rank of Tsar. The priestly rank is higher than any worldly rank, because, no matter in what worldly rank a man is, nevertheless he has recourse to a priest for the remission of sins. This establishment is of Christ Himself and the tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church — there is no other way in the Church.

“You only saw how he sins, but you cannot see his repentance”

And the Angel said to him, “Go to your confessor, whom you saw sinning, and do a prostration to him and ask him forgiveness for judging him. As regards his personal sins, God Himself tries his conscience and He Himself will hold him responsible. Thus, you only saw how he sins, but you cannot see either his repentance or how ardently he repented. So with you, instead of repentance is added the sin of judgement, while he, if he repents, can bring to God worthy fruits of repentance. And so, remember, don’t judge anyone.”

After the Angel had said this, he became invisible. This Christian, went back to his confessor as the Angel had told him to do, did a prostration and told him what he had seen and heard from the Angel of the Lord. His confessor began to weep bitterly and groan as soon as he had heard what the Angel had said, regretting his sin, and asking forgiveness from the All-Merciful, Compassionate and All-Good God, having a firm intention to correct himself from this time on and to make amends for his deed, unto the glory of God and unto the salvation of his soul.

After my spiritual guide, Fr. Nikodemos, had told me about this instructive incident, he continued further, with love: “There it is, my brother Haralampos (this was in 1934, before my tonsure)—we don’t have any right to judge and scrutinize other people’s sins and actions. As the Apostle Paul says, Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth (Rom. 14:4). How much less do we have the right to judge priests and spiritual guides, those whom the Lord tries far more seriously, and whom the devil tempts with sophisticated slyness and mastery. The Lord, addressing absolutely everyone, says, Judge not that ye be not judged, for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged (Mat. 7:1-2). We are commanded to forgive our close ones their mistakes and shortcomings, to repent of our own personal sins, and to judge and punish only ourselves. If we want to be saved, let us forgive our brother according to the Gospel commandment: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you… (Mat. 6:14).

Yes, my brother, judging is a great sin, and we should not be occupied with others and we shouldn’t scrutinize the sins and transgressions of other people! We receive spiritual benefit only when, seeing or hearing something indecent, we forgive our brothers with love and try to help them, praying for them.

Schemamonk Panaret of Philotheou
Translated by Dimitra Dwelley
from Dimitri Lampadist’s Russian translation of the modern Greek original


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