Baptism and Baptismal Liturgy

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 15 November 2009
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Homily/Lesson (23rd Sunday after Pentecost; Baptismal Readings)
Welcome guests. Beautiful day. I am so happy that the [family] agreed to allow us to Baptize [their child] during Divine Liturgy. Nothing wrong with doing it after Liturgy: this is the way most of you were Baptized, and (as it was the way all the parents until now have preferred) it is the only way I have done it since I was blessed to begin serving this parish. The water is blessed in both cases; in both cases the child is brought into a more direct union with God through the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, and Communion. In both cases, the ceremony is performed with the whole Church. Both ways set the child up for success.
So I love all baptisms. But since this tradition [of the Baptismal Liturgy] is new to most of you, let me share three reasons for celebrating Baptisms together during Divine Liturgy.
First: Baptism is a social event. We are welcoming a new member into our midst. The institutional part of this in every Baptism [regardless of when or where it is celebrated] is the witness or sponsor. In case of the Baptismal Liturgy the joy is physically witnessed and shared by the whole community: everyone participates in the service and everyone welcomes the child into the living Body of Christ. Remember: the Sacraments do not simply unite the individual participant more closely with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit – they unite us all together more closely with one another and with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This truth is proclaimed and celebrated more fully when we are physically together around the baptismal font.
Second: there is great joy in both the miracle of physical birth and [the miracle] of spiritual re-birth through Baptism. On Sunday morning we express and share our greatest joy and thanksgiving through our celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving” – and it and Baptism naturally go together. We can separate Baptism and the Eucharist for pastoral reasons, but they really were meant to be celebrated together. As evidence of this, I offer you some Liturgical evidence: at several of our major feasts, we sing “As many as have been baptized” instead of “Holy God, Holy Mighty”. I am sure you have been told the reason for this change by many priests: now perhaps you will feel the connection in your heart.
Third: as your priest and a member of this parish, I believe that Baptismal Liturgies are good for us. We are challenged by the legacy of decades of watching our community get smaller and smaller. The way to counter the self-defeating mindset that often accompanies such a thing is to be more intentional about celebrating things like Baptism. Not only will this remind us of the joy and hope of our salvation and growth in Christ, it can also give us a healthier attitude towards the Sacraments. I am afraid that our attitude towards the Church and Her Mysteries has been contaminated by some unhealthy worldly poisons. Instead of embracing the Church as the source of our healing and joy, we are tempted to see her as a source of rules. This changes our focus from experiencing and enjoying our communal sanctification through the Mysteries that she [the Church] offers; into a focus on the manner in which the Sacrament should or should not be performed. The Sacraments then become a source of temptation and division rather than a celebration of a more closer and joyful union. As your pastor and as a member of this parish, I desire the healing and sanctification of our community. This requires that we change our attitude towards the Holy Mysteries and that we deepen our participation in each of them. Baptismal Liturgies can be part of that process.
In conclusion, let me say a few words about this within the context of church growth. I have studied this subject as a sociologist and I have participated and prayed for it as a parish leader. There are many models of church growth, but they are all about getting more people to join a given parish community. It comes down to the question of how do you get more people to visit, and how do you get more people to stay. [Here at St. Michael’s] We have young families that are doing their part: we are blessed with lots of wonderful children in this parish. Just the past year we have added three infants to our ranks: Sadie Marie, Jack, and now Owen Matthew. Having children is one obvious way to grow our parish. So we offer both our thanks and our help to all of our parents as they do this difficult work.
But what are the rest of us to do? Those of us who are not in a position to have children have other work to do – and [while it may not involve as many sleepless nights] it is no less demanding. We have to help make this the kind of parish that children want to stay in and that adults want to join. I have mentioned how we need to change our attitudes towards the sacraments: I think we need to change our attitudes towards Orthodoxy, in general. It really is tempting to think of Orthodoxy as a set of rules – and Lord knows we have enough of them (Homer Simpson quote “…more rules than Blockbuster…). But the good Christian is not the one who follows rules, but the one who loves God with all his heart, soul, and mind; and loves his neighbor as himself. The rules are only there to help us develop the capacity for that kind love. [Let me give you some examples:] We fast because it increases our capacity to understand and selflessly love others. We say our morning prayers because they teach us how to love God and allow us to help even those whom we cannot see.
Here at St. Michael’s, we have the potential for so much growth: extraordinary music, incredibly moving rituals and services, a beautiful temple, a rich history and culture, real nice and committed people, … the list goes on and on. But if we have these things but do not have love, then both our own souls and our community are destined for decline and spiritual death. As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians; “For though I speak in the tongues of men and angels and have not love then it’s all just clanging cymbals and bell-cracking trumpets.”
Children will not stay and adults will not join a community that makes that kind of spiritual noise, no matter how beautiful our services and temple are; no matter great our past is; or even how good looking your priest is ( just checking to see if anyone is still listening).
So that is our job: developing our own capacity for selfless love, and then spreading it to everyone we meet. We can start by doing this with [this child].
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The published results of the WHO tests seem to debunk rumors of biowarfare, etc. The NYTimes reports that even this “normal” sized outbreak taxed a broken system.
Freedom/Volya Moment:
My Outline for Baptismal Liturgy.
(prepared with the blessing of my bishop)
Preparation before the Divine Liturgy:
Prayers at the Reception of the Catechumens are conducted beforehand (this time we baptized an infant, so we decided to pray these the evening before). Proskomenia has been already been served; the clergy are vested; the font has warm water in it; the oil, Chrism, scissors, sponge, etc. are on the tetrapod; the priest has opened the Holy Doors and taken the Gospel out to the tetrapod; the priest has led the baptismal party to the front/center of the nave; the deacon has completed his censing of the altar, nave, font, and people; the deacon and priest share their dialogue and prayers (we did this at the tetrapod, per Fr. Alexander Schmemann); then the service begins]
Order of Baptismal Liturgy
  • “Blessed is the Kingdom…” “Amen.”
  • Great Litany: includes extra baptismal litanies.
  • Choir sings Antiphon One (this seems optional per Fr. Alexander).
  • In place of the Little Litany: “The Blessing of the Baptismal Water” and the “Blessing of the Oil of the Catachumens”. Ends with “Blessed is God…” Choir: “Amen.”
  • Antiphon Two (this seems optional per Fr. Alexander).
  • In place of the Little Litany: The Anointing and the Baptism.
  • Antiphon Three. (this seems optional per Fr. Alexander)
  • “Little Entrance” is from tetrapod. At Holy Doors (as usual): “Wisdom, Let us be attentive” “Come Let us worship…” Normal Hymns. 
    •  Priest and deacon go back out to tetrapod during hymns. 
    •  Baptismal party dresses child, leaving feet, hands, etc. exposed/available (this was a practical matter – otherwise the child would be naked a looong time).
  • Immediately after hymns: Chrismation.
  • Priest: “For You are Holy…” Deacon: “… and unto ages of ages.” Choir: Amen.
  • In place of Trisagion: “As Many as have been Baptized” as Baptismal party circles the tetrapod. During “Glory”, the clergy go back into the altar (High Place) as usual.
  • Then the service proceeds as normal (can do two readings etc. (fwiw, the subdeacon and servers stayed out until after the Gospel reading); should add appropriate Litanies; Fr. Alexander says can skip Litany of the Catachumens, but we did it).
  • Newly baptized communes first among the faithful.
  • Immediately after the Liturgy (after blessing, but before the kissing of the cross): Rites of Ablution and Tonsuring (some do this earlier). Churching/St. Symeon’s prayer. “Many years”.

This moved well and felt organic (not forced/artificial). The children of the parish sat/stood up front. Lots of smiling faces. The bottom line for the impatient was that it only added about 10 minutes to the length of the Divine Liturgy (which meant a total of about 80-90 minutes).