The Church Fathers were able to capture the essence of the faith in just one prayer that is the essential statement of our faith – the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was formulated at the first Ecumenical Council in AD 325 and signed off in 381 AD at the second Ecumenical Council.
At the end of the Nicene Creed, reference is made to the vital importance of Baptism for those who wish to follow Christ and be saved:
"I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen"
It is not possible for anyone to enter the heavenly Kingdom unless they have been, "Baptized by water and the Spirit." These are the words of Christ, referred to in the Gospel of St John: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John, Ch. 3:vs 5)
All the Sacraments of the Church offer powerful transformation and healing to man by God in the name of the Holy Trinity, through the power and energy of the Holy Spirit.
The transforming energy of God is bestowed to man through the Sacraments of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How are we transformed? In Baptism our mortality is put away. Death is no more, because Christ defeated our death by His death on the Cross. In Baptism we are born again. Born again to eternal life.
In Baptism we are freed from sin. In Baptism we are illumined and sanctified. In Baptism we are washed clean. In Baptism we are united to Christ. We become one with Him.
In Baptism then we are healed and our sins are forgiven us. Having been washed clean, we now are gifted a new spiritual and radiant garment that adorns our soul. We must maintain this pure spiritual garment in as clean a state as is possible by avoiding and eliminating sin in our lives. The consequence of sin is death. This is the reason why God became Man. This is the reason why Christ came on earth to liberate us from the shackles of sin, gain victory over our death and to grant us new and eternal life.
Death was never part of God's plan for His creation. The tragedy of death came about by our ancestor's defiance of God's providence and command, designed to protect us from being cut off from God and His grace. The devil's lie was that we should go about our own lives as if we could enjoy life without Him because we ourselves could essentially be gods in our own right. So, having followed the lie of the serpent, our nature was corrupted, we became entangled with passions, we lost our communion with God, we lost the state of grace and peace we enjoyed with God, we fell into an unsustainable and unstable state, we found anxiety and stress, our mind became darkened, scattered and confused. Being subject to the passions therefore, we sought to live outside of Life itself and through our transgressions we became separated from the source of Life, which led to our being exiled from paradise, leading to our inevitable death. For God is Life, and anything outside the source of Life finds its conclusion in death. Existence in non-existence is the most excruciating pain of all. This is the miserable state we find ourselves in when we become separated from God.
Now, by the grace of God, by His love and our heartfelt sorrow, we can learn to return to Him, to change our ways and return to what is good, out of the darkness and into the light. For God is Light. The prodigal children, the faithful who follow Christ now return to their Father who is in heaven.
This is why the Church was established. This is why the Church places such great emphasis on repentance. Repentance is the essential means and precursor for us to be spiritually healed. We access this healing by the Sacraments of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit that restores us to communion with God and a state of grace. This is the precursor which St John the Baptist spoke of when preparing and instructing the people to receive the Messiah - "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew (Ch. 3:vs 2)
Herein lies a great paradox – for now fallen man can only learn to know God once again through the acknowledgment and knowledge of his faults and his sinful ways, and not through his sense of goodness nor accomplishments, his piety or righteousness, because this belongs to God alone. Our return to God can only come about by our repentance. The energy that drives repentance is realized through humility, through patience and suffering. For Christ said, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." (Matthew Ch. 9:vs 13) Those who do not see their sin and their need to be healed are unable to understand what is the true role of the Church and her Sacraments and Christ's words, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Matthew Ch. 9:vs 12)
In Baptism the Priest immerses us in the holy waters and then raises us up three times in the name of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As we are raised up, we are by our Christian name, we are gifted new life – we are born again. This re-birth through the font – the spiritual womb, is our being born again to eternal life.
Through Baptism then, we are made whole again, we are made one with God.
Everything that Christ did here on earth, he did for us. He put to death our death and by His death, resurrected our human nature to new and eternal life by His Resurrection. He ascended into heaven at the fortieth day, thereby opening the gates of heaven for us to sit at the right hand of the Father. As we become one with Christ through Baptism, all of these things are offered to us. All of this was won for us by Christ.
But these gifts are not realized without any effort from us. On the contrary, we have to strive for what is good all our life. We have to choose good things over evil things and fight for them, in our thoughts, in our actions and even in our intentions. We have to learn to love God and to keep His Commandments. We have to love the beauty of His House of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church. We have to apply ourselves and conform our will to the will of God. And what is God's will? God's will is completely selfless, it is full of love for His creation, for God, "desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:vs 4)
If we strive to fulfill God's will in us, the Priest's prayer read out during the Baptismal service can be heard by God – that our name is entered into the "Book of Life". For, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." (Rev. Ch. 3:vs 5)
We should see to it then that our Baptism is kept alive in us all the days of our life. It is a precious treasure, not something to be left dormant, nor neglected rendering us useless servants of God. This is what it means to be alive in Christ.
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou