This homily was given on Sunday morning at the end of the baptism of Stefan.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! The baptism of a child is such a wonderful and beautiful occasion. The baptism of their children is something that Christian parents and communities have rejoiced in since New Testament times. When the Roman soldier, or the first Gentile convert Lydia, come to Christ, they bring the Apostles into their homes and their entire household is baptized. Men, women, children, even slaves. But we also know that infant baptism was not the universal practice of the Church until much later in history. For many centuries some people baptized their children, others waited. Some of the most renowned Saints of the Church were baptized in adulthood. Take St. Gregory the Theologian—his father was a bishop, but he wasn’t baptized until he was 30. But then we later see he, as well as other Saints like Basil the Great the John Chrysostom, urging their flocks to baptized their infants. And we can see from the modern practice, where infant baptism is the universal practice of the Orthodox Church, we can see that the plea of these Saints was heard. But why? Why does the Church think it so important to bring 40 day old infants into the Temple and baptize them? Because of what the Church understands baptism ultimately to be. On some level we certainly see baptism as the 1st step in Christian life, the sacrament of initiation into the Body of Christ, necessary before one can approach any of the other Mysteries of the Church. But most importantly, centrally, the person being baptized is being healed. And Christ calls everyone to be healed. In baptism, our humanity is restored. When Adam turned his back on God in the Garden, all mankind suffered from this alienation. Christ comes to earth, God incarnate in human flesh, and heals this chasm. And then He offers us the chance to participate in his life and have our human nature restored as well. As we heard in the Epistle reading—we are baptized into Christ, we become sharers of His life, and death, and resurrection. The curse of Adam–bondage to sin and death–is annulled, and we’re born anew in baptism to life in Christ. The Christian Church has always believed that this healing is available to anyone, regardless of age or ability to reason. Both adults and children can experience the saving and transforming power of Christ, even if we don’t fully understand or even choose it. Who can really understand what it means to die to the old man and be clothed in the new? Who can fully choose in one moment every aspect of what it means to be Christian, to bear the cross of Christ? As human beings we can’t fully understand these things—which is why they’re referred to as Mysteries. The Mystery of Holy Baptism, the Mystery of Life in Christ. We give ourselves to be transformed by the saving grace of God. And this Mystery is accomplished in the service of Baptism. We began the service this morning by blessing and sanctifying the baptismal waters. The demons are commanded to leave, and we pray for God to send His grace down into the water—that it be for the healing of the one being baptized. We even pray that is become the water of Jordan, in other words, we are literally baptizing this person into the life of Christ. Bishop Basil says that in this blessing of water we aren’t making “super water”—rather we’re asking God to restore the water to its proper purpose—that it be for healing and cleansing, for life. Next, the one being baptized is anointed with blessed olive oil. This act recalls the promise of redemption made by God to Noah in the ark, when the dove came back with the twig from an olive tree. This is why it’s called the oil of gladness. And then the person is immersed in the water. At this moment, the grace of the Holy Spirit descends on him and gives him a new life, washing away all his sins, and giving him the first taste of eternal life by uniting him to Christ. While being immersed, he is buried with Christ for the sake of resurrection. As a token of the purity of the newly baptized person’s life, he is then dressed in a white garment, signifying that he truly is risen from the dead. Next the newly baptized is anointed with holy chrism on all parts of the body in the name of the holy spirit, receiving the holy spirit into himself in order to grow and be strengthened in the spiritual life. The effect of this mystery is the bestowal of the gifts of the holy spirit. At the very end of the service an offering is made, the hair of the newly baptized and chrismated person is cut in an offering to the Lord. And then the newly baptized is churched—is brought into the midst of the people of God as one of them for the very first time. And so now Stefan, just like each and every one of us who have been baptized into Christ, must continually grow in the experience of Christ received in Holy Baptism. We must all cooperate with God daily in the working out of our salvation. Receiving the grace he offers us for Christian life and struggling on our own part to live in the fullness of this grace. May God preserve us all in the purity of our baptismal robes and grant us life in his heavenly kingdom. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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