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I Confess One Baptism for the Remission of Sins

January 4, 2014

theophany2_smallThe Nicene Creed contains a treasure of precious beliefs about God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and about Christ’s Holy Church prefaced by the words “I believe.” At this point in the Symbol of Faith, however, the verb changes to “I confess” (ὁμολογῶ) meaning I declare in the presence of all and before all a solemn profession, as a matter of faith and a matter of experience, that there is one baptism for the remission of sin. Belief may remain sheltered in the heart, but confession sets forth fearlessly in the open air. After the Apostles, the first distinct ranks of Saints were composed of martyrs who shed their blood for Christ and confessors who faced every torture and still confessed the truth of Christ. With the same martyrs’ boldness, Christians are called upon to confess one baptism for the remission of sins.

The ecumenical fathers who set forth the Creed note that there is one baptism, reminiscent of Saint Paul’s “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) uniting them all in Christ. That one baptism is the unique baptism of Christ that sanctifies the waters making them into a passage through His Death and Resurrection. As Saint Paul reminds the faithful of Rome, “Know ye not that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by our baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Into that one baptism of Christ’s Death and Resurrection are Christians baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and in so doing, they become a part of the Body of Christ, partakers of the grace of the Holy Trinity, and children of the Most High, who through their compassion and selfless love become the salt of the earth and light of the world. This wonderful transformation from “glory to glory” begins with one baptism just as our lives all begin with one birth. The one baptism is our one divine birth (θεογενεσία, Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Romans, PG 74.789ab) into newness of life and an abundance of light.

The one baptism is naturally unto remission of sins, for a new life brings freedom from the old life, the new Adam brings freedom from the old Adam, a new journey along the straight way leading to the Kingdom of God brings freedom from compulsive wanderings in old crooked paths of sin that have no destination other than emptiness. Just as the sins of the world have already been consumed through the Cross and Resurrection of the Lamb of God, so the one baptism into the one mystery of the God-man’s Cross and Resurrection completely burns up the sins of the believer who is initiated into this regenerating mystery that begins a new life, opens the gate to a new journey, and embraces the believer in a new community in heaven and on earth.

The Fathers wrote eloquently about what is meant by the one baptism of the Church. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem told those preparing for the mystery: “For although you now stand outside the door, may God grant that you may say, ‘the King hath brought me into His chamber. Let my soul rejoice in the Lord: for He hath clothed me with a garment of salvation, and a robe of gladness. He hath crowned me with a garland as a bridegroom, and decked me with ornaments as a bride. May the soul of every one of you be found without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing. I do not mean before you have received the grace, for how could that be since it is for remission of sins that you have been called? Rather, when the grace is given to you, may your conscience be found uncondemned and concur with the grace… Each one of you is about to be presented to God before tens of thousands of the Angelic Hosts: the Holy Spirit is about to seal your souls: you are to be enrolled in the army of the Great King. Therefore prepare yourselves and equip yourselves, not by putting on bright apparel, but by piety of soul with a good conscience. Regard not the baptismal waters as simple water, but rather regard the spiritual grace that is given with the water. For just as the offerings brought to the heathen altars, though simple in their nature, become defiled by the invocation of the idols, so the simple water having received the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and of Christ, and of the Father, acquires a new power of holiness.” (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture 3, On Baptism)

Baptism is the gateway to eternal life and the new life in Christ, but to confess the one baptism means to walk and live in accord with that baptism, so that being in the image of God, we may draw nigh unto His likeness. Saint Diadochos the God-Bearer writes, “Baptism renews the image of God in us, effacing the wrinkles of sin, but it is only with our cooperation, through prayer, that grace will lay the ‘colours’ of the likeness on this sketch, making one virtue after the other come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul from ‘glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18) in the ‘intimate sense’ of God’s sweetness.  The invocation of this glorious Name will lead the lover of divine things to the perfection of this ‘likeness,’ which is known only by illumination and the rapture of the intellect in perfect love”. (Synaxarion)

To confess one baptism for the remission of sins means to cultivate and foster this new direction in life, so that our lives blossom with all the beauty, all the joy, and all the sweetness that our victorious, risen Lord richly gives us. Confessing one baptism for the remission of sins, we become bold for virtue and base our decisions in life and our reactions to others on something more lasting then the ever shifting situations we find ourselves in. We make the criterion for our hopes and our dreams the reality that Christ has died and risen again and we have been baptized into that very mystery. We are reminded of that wonderful mystery concerning the dying and rising of Christ in our own lives through holy baptism, every time we make the sign of the Cross. We re-enter that mystery every time, we are moved by the love of One who first loved us. We continue that mystery when we forgive as the risen Lord forgave, bring peace as the Prince of Peace still does, and live our lives as ones already risen from the dead and living in Christ. Saint Paul describes what it means to confess one baptism for the remission of sins when he exclaims, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” May this be the exclamation of all those who confess one baptism for the remission of sins.

From → Nicene Creed

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