My community group just finished studying Galatians in detail, and I join in the Apostle Paul's amazement at the Galatians' "bewitching", as he wonders aloud in many different ways how it was that the Galatians would exchange this Gospel of grace for a system of God's grace + human effort, no matter how innocuous and otherwise-endorsed-by-God it might be. No matter whether this human effort is adding the very God-ordained sign of the God-ordained covenant in the OT - circumcision. But it's permissible if we add the God-ordained sign of the God-ordained NT covenant - baptism - to it?I've often sat back and marveled at the similarities of form that exist between the Pharisees of Christ's day and those of the Orthodox Church. Hierarchy and a sad history of replacing the Ignatian model of the bishop as locus of unity with that of him as the source thereof; ancient, venerated, often-complex roles of tradition and the subsequent tendency at times to strain at gnats and swallow camels; the deference of a desire to encounter the living God to a willingness to surrender oneself over to the rubrics books...sons of hell we all can so easily be and become.
I could speak of the scriptural parallel between circumcision and baptism (Col. 2:11-12). I could speak of how it itself is the pledge of a clean conscience, a pledge which is salvific through an appropriation of Christ's resurrection (1 Pet. 3:21). I could speak of how we are, in our view, mandated to do this and are saved because of this.
But I would rather speak of how absurd it is, really, to think that our meager prayers, our weak actions, our vulnerable, mortal bodies, dripping and cold (and, later, oily), could ever fathom standing on their own merits as somehow deserving of salvation per se. We have been given a gift in baptism, a gift of nothing other than grace undeserved. We ask that the Holy Spirit descend into waters we're meant to drown in and, hopefully in humble obedience, we follow, submitting both ourselves and our children to our God in a manner He has given us. We do this in faith that God will bring the increase, and that increase is solely by grace. His is the seed of life sown within us, for He is the Sower.
As was the case with circumcision, so the case with baptism: any ritual without Christ is a mockery and a sick, diseased, tragedy. My wife and I offered up our girls to the Creator of all things when we gave them to the font; for us to then ignore the Holy Scriptures, neglect lives of fasting, discipline and self-denial, pile up other priorities for ourselves instead of Sunday liturgy and evening Vespers (or, if not feasible, evening prayers at home in the family icon corner -- which, of course, being "magic Christians" who believed in baptism per se, we would do infrequently, if at all), fail to speak of our saintly Patriarchs, prophets, saints and martyrs as our holy guides and fellow-confessors -- such a life would be a mockery, a denial of our pledge to Him, completely unworthy of the calling to which we were called when we were buried with our Adam in a death like His.
We have, as Orthodox Christians, renounced the devil; not only have we done this, but we have breathed and spit upon him, turning immediately afterwards to the East to unite ourselves to the Christ of the living God. Christ, in His mercy, has given us a very accessible and obtainable means of union -- one that only He could effect. His Sun of Righteousness shines down on us once we pass, simply and obediently, through this womb of baptism which our Virgin Mother, the Church, has been given to bear Her children who've been orphaned by this world; for us to glory in getting wet is the height of arrogance and blindness.
This, I know, sets the stage for when the body is dry and one is no longer "oily 'round the ears"; how is it that one can justify a life lived in strict obedience to and self-denial for God -- a taking up of crosses, as it is termed in Scripture -- as a prerequisite for eternal life in Christ and yet adamantly deny that one is saved by his works? I would begin HERE. As for my own response...perhaps for another night; it is late, and I must go early tomorrow to welcome kids to Summer School. May it be blessed, and may I bear it honorably and for Christ. Prayers are appreciated.