Friday, March 23, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 04: Infant Baptism

Everything I have written so far on the Mystery of Holy Baptism has kept nagging at me to explain how any of this could possibly apply to an infant. It therefore seems good to digress long enough to set forth the Orthodox view on this contentious subject.

It seems to me there shouldn’t really be any contention, as Baptism is what, in the New Covenant, replaces Circumcision in the Old Covenant, and circumcision was performed on male babies only 8 days old.  I think, in some denominations, it may have to do with the desire for purity of the Church:  only believers should be allowed to join.  But of course there has never been any perfect Church any more than there was ever a perfect Israel, nor even any perfect local church.  There has always been the mixture of wheat and tares, which only Christ can separate in the end (and not before).

In any case, certain questions do arise concerning infant baptism. So I was poking around the Internet looking for material on it when I came across this, by Jordan Bajis, on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. As it is definitely better than anything I could write, I hereby let myself off the hook and commend this article to anyone curious about, interested in, or scandalized by the baptism of infants.

Oh, but one more note, first.  Yes, we do dunk babies, head and all.  One need not be alarmed; their reflex reaction is to hold their breath.  The immersion doesn't harm them.  Some priests, though, being afraid or unwilling to alarm the parents, only sit the baby in the water and pour the water over the rest of the child.

(Jordan Bajis, by the way, has written a book entitled Common Ground:  An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian, which I enjoyed greatly.)

Infant Baptism
By Jordan Bajis

"Should I be baptized again?" Many renewed Orthodox Christians have asked themselves and others whether they should be baptized as adults. I readily understand why this question is asked, for I myself must admit that I did not always feel comfortable about the Orthodox Church baptizing infants. I asked myself several other questions as well: "How can an infant 'believe and be baptized'?" "Where in Scripture does it show an infant being baptized?" "Is not the baptizing of infants the reason why the contemporary Orthodox Church has a need for renewal and re-evangelization?"

These questions were so significant to me that I refused to actively support or encourage the practice of infant baptism until I was able to get some satisfactory answers. On one occasion, I even rejected the honor of being the best man at a close friend's wedding unless he was willing to absolve me of the accompanying responsibility of being the baptismal sponsor for his first child. Only after he agreed to my request did I consent to become his best man.

Knowing that as a committed Christian I could not refrain indefinitely from making a decision on this matter, I embarked on an intensive study of Scripture and early Christian history. I resolved that I would not finish my study until I had settled the issue in my mind and in my heart. Surprisingly, the area was much more complex than I first envisioned it to be. I must admit that at the outset, it looked as though the argument for infant baptism was about as valid as the theory that the earth was cigar-shaped. However, I uncovered many facts that are usually unknown to the common layman and which I think will prove helpful for those who are now in a doctrinal dilemma similar to the one I was in previously. I can now say, after having looked into the arguments of some of the most respected scholars on this subject, that there is a very strong case for the baptism of infants of Christian parents.

Before I begin to share some of the things I discovered, I think it is important to note that, although I have dedicated months to the thorough study of this subject, I do not pretend to be a theologian, professor of Church history, or Greek scholar. I am not an expert on the subject; I am a student of the subject. It is also important to note, however, that the evidence and arguments I produce here are mainly, not my own but rather a synthesis of research and conclusions distilled from several noteworthy scholars. It is not my purpose to be overly technical, to illustrate the minute peculiarity of each counter-argument's counter-argument, or to take the reader back to study the original documents in order to discuss grammatical controversies surrounding the texts. It is not that I consider these types of investigations unimportant, but I simply restrained myself from doing this because I do not think it is very profitable for the average layman. The scholars are much better qualified than I to define and explain these more exacting details, in any case.

Given this preface, let me get to the point of the article. How is it that I can now recognize infant baptism as a valid practice whereas before I was highly distrustful of it? I will record a number of reasons for this below in as straightforward and direct a way as I know. Some facts will require a bit of explanation, but many will consist of only a sentence or two. At the close of the list, I will offer some concluding thoughts and insights about infant baptism. I have categorized the evidence supporting the practice of infant baptism into three main sections: Scripture, History, and the Fathers of the Early Church. I recognize that each argument may not be able to stand on its own, but taken together, they present a conclusive picture.

Read the rest here.


Sarah in Indiana said...

Hi, Anastasia. The link to the full article is broken. For those interested, here is the url:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Many thanks, Sarah, for taking the trouble to find and post this! I've made the correction.

David Roquemore said...

You begin with "how any of this could possibly apply to an infant." I can't remember where I saw this, but it seems that the earliest rite was one of conversion: rejecting Satan and all the rest of it. The Church simply used this same rite with their children. As baptism of infants became more common that adult conversions, the rite was not changed.
By the way, I am a long-time reader of your blog, enjoying and appreciating it very much.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you very much, David, for your kind words and support. I wasn't sure, until this morning, whether anyone but David Garner was reading any of this. But now, encouraged by you and David and Sarah, I have written tomorrow's installment in immersion in water, and have begun to assemble stuff for the next bit, probably for Monday, on Chrismation.

Again, thanks.

Maria said...

I should chime in and let you know that I am enjoying this series of posts very much. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Very king of you, Maria; thanks. Have you a blog?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

KIND of you. Kingly, also...