Liturgy Of Baptism

LITURGY OF BAPTISM

The office of holy baptism comprises four sections: (1) absolution of the woman; (2) renunciation of the devil; (3) sanctification of the water of the font; and (4) loosening of the girdle of the baptized.

The Absolution of the Woman

When a woman has given birth to a male child, at the end of forty days the priest begins the prayers by saying: “Have mercy upon us, O God, Father Almighty. All-Holy Trinity, have mercy upon us. Lord God of powers, be with us, for we have no help in our tribulations and afflictions, save Thee.” Then follows the Lord’s Prayer and the prayer of thanksgiving, after which incense is offered. The Epistle (Heb. 1:8-12) is read, the Trisagion is chanted. The priest says the prayer of the Gospel. Psalm 31:1-2 is read, then the Gospel (Lk. 2:21-35), then the three greater intercessions (peace of the church, the fathers, and the congregation).

Then the is recited, and the priest says the next prayer: “Lord God Almighty, Father of our Lord, our God and our Savior Jesus Christ, . . . who came to us in the flesh through the Holy Theotokos and the Holy Spirit, healer and physician of our nature. For the sake of man whom Thou didst form and the creature of woman whom Thou didst produce from him, to be his assistant, after the dispensation of canonical marriage, Thou didst bless the fruit of the lawful offspring of the image of Thy likeness. . . . Wherefore, O Lord, Thou hast purified our nature, and delivered us through the inward personal reconciliation in mystical fellowship. . . . We pray Thee to look upon Thy handmaid. May she be renewed in body, in soul, and in spirit. Absolve her from all accusations, all her acts and forgive her all her trespasses. . . .” The Lord’s Prayer follows, then the three absolutions and the benediction.

When a woman has given birth to a female child, at the end of eighty days the prayers remain the same as in the case of a male child, but the readings from the scriptures differ. The epistle is from 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, the Psalm versicle is 44:9, and the Gospel is according to Luke 10:38-42.

After this, the priest anoints the mother with oil, and she enters the church to receive Holy Communion.

The Renunciation of the Devil

The priest says the prayer of absolution over the mother of the child, which, after a reference to the ordinance of the purification according to God’s command to Moses, includes the following: “May she be worthy of the communion of Thy holy mysteries, without falling into judgment.”

Then follows the intercession of the catechumens, “O lover of men, have mercy on Thy servants the catechumens, who have received instruction. . . . Strengthen them in Thy faith . . . show them the way in which they ought to walk, instruct them in the grace of Thy Holy Spirit. Bestow upon them remission of their sins, and grant them by Thy grace that they may be made worthy of the holy baptism of the new birth.”

Here the priest prays over the oil of the catechumens. Taking the vessel of oil, he says: “Lord God Almighty we pray and beseech Thy goodness . . . to look upon this oil, give it the power to cast out devils, magic, sorcery and all idolatry; change it and manifest it as an oil for the anointing of catechumens and imparting of faith to the soul, through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then follows another prayer over the oil, beginning with the words, “Lord God Almighty, Father of our Savior Jesus Christ, who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, when He had made the good confession; send Thy holy power upon this oil . . . for the overthrow of all evil acts.”

At this point the priest removes all rings, earrings, ornaments, or bracelets from those children who will be baptized, and takes the vessel of oil and proceeds to anoint them, the males first and then the females. He anoints the forehead, saying “Thou [name] anointed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, One God, [with] oil of catechumens in the holy only catholic and apostolic church of God, Amen.” Then he anoints the child’s chest, his right hand, and his left hand, saying: “May this oil make all assaults of the adversary void. Amen.”

He continues to pray that God may grant His servants growth in His faith, and remission of their sins, preparing them to be temples of the Holy Spirit, worthy to obtain the grace for which they were presented, and to be cleansed from the sin and corruption of the world. Then they kneel down, and the priest prays over them saying, “Let us pray that God may open the ears of their hearts, and kindle within them a light of knowledge, . . . to grant them a saving purity, and eternal redemption, to beget them a second time by the new birth of the laver and remission of their sins.”

After this, the priest lays hands upon them and prays for their delivery from all demons, darkness, and uncleanliness (this last section is partly a prayer of exorcism).

Then the person to be baptized, looking toward the west, with the left hand outstretched, repeats after the priest, “I renounce thee, Satan, and all thy unclean works, and all thy wicked angels and all thy evil demons, and all thy power, and all thy abominable service, and all thy evil cunning and error, and all thy host, and all thy authority, and all the rest of thy impieties.” Then the following sentence is repeated thrice: “I renounce thee.” The priest breathes upon the face of the candidate, and says thrice “Come forth, unclean spirit.”

After this, turning to the east, and with both hands uplifted, the person to be baptized says, “I join myself to Thee, O Christ my God, and all Thy laws which are for salvation, all Thy life-giving service, all Thy vivifying works.” Then follows the confession of faith, in the following words: “I believe in one God, God the Father almighty, and His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy life- giving Spirit, and of the flesh, and the one only, holy, catholic, apostolic church. Amen.”

The priest here asks the candidate thrice, “Do you believe?” and he answers, “I believe.” Thereupon the priest prays that God may “establish their faith, and let His power dwell in them that they turn not back again to those things they have left, . . . to renew their life, to fill them with the power of the Holy Spirit unto oneness and union with His only-begotten Son.”

While the candidate kneels, the priest resumes his prayer over him, saying: “Master, our Savior, the beneficent Lover of man, to Thee alone is this mystery performed . . . we beseech Thee, enlighten the eyes of their understanding with the light of knowledge . . . all traces of idolatry and unbelief cast out of their heart. Prepare their souls for the reception of Thy Holy Spirit. Let them be worthy of the new birth of the laver.”

The priest takes the oil of joy or gladness and anoints the person to be baptized on his forehead, his heart, his arms, his back (opposite the heart), and in the middle of his two hands in the sign of the cross, saying, “Thou [Name] anointed with the oil of gladness, availing against all workings of the adversary, unto thy grafting into the sweet olive tree of the holy catholic apostolic church of God. Amen.”

The priest says the first prayer of laying on of hands: “Let them be of the flock, and sons of Thy heavenly bride chamber, and heirs of Thy imperishable and eternal kingdom.” In a second prayer, he asks that God may “open the eyes of their heart, that they may be enlightened with the light of the gospel of Thy kingdom. Let the angels of light have a part in their life, to save them from all attacks of the adversary and from all evil assaults . . . And make them sheep of the fold of Thy Christ, . . . purified vessels, sons of the light, heirs of Thy kingdom.”

Unction is performed thirty-six times before the actual baptism, and the same number of times with the holy chrism immediately after baptism. There is a strong symbolic reference to the fragrant oil that the woman poured over Christ’s head at Bethany, and to our Lord’s words, “She has done it to prepare me for burial” (Mt. 26:12), since the very act of baptizing resembles the death and burial of Jesus Christ. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

The use of oil prior to baptism was also mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions; “concerning baptism, O bishop, or presbyter, we have already given direction, and we now say. But thou shalt beforehand anoint the person with the holy oil, and afterward baptize him with water, and in the conclusion shalt seal him with the ointment.”

The sanctification of the Water of the Font

The priest enters the baptistery, takes the pure (unmixed) oil, and pours it into the font in the form of the cross, saying, “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Blessed be God the Father almighty, Amen. Blessed be His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen. Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Amen.” He says inaudibly the prayer “Our Master, call Thy servants to Thy holy light. Make them worthy of this great grace of holy baptism.” Then follows the prayer of thanksgiving, and he offers the incense. The Pauline Epistle (Ti. 2:11; 3:7) is read, and the priest says the prayer of Paul, beginning, “O Lord of knowledge and Dispenser of wisdom, . . . who in Thy goodness didst call Paul who was once a persecutor to be a chosen vessel, etc.”

Then follows the Catholic Epistle (1 Jn. 5:5-13) and its prayer, beginning: “O Lord our God, who through Thy holy apostles didst reveal unto us the mystery of the glorious Gospel of Thy Christ. . . .” The priest says the prayer of absolution, addressed to the Father, beginning: “Lord God Almighty, the Healer of our souls, our bodies, and our spirits, etc.” Acts 8:26-39 follows, and after this the Trisagion, the intercession of the Gospel, the psalm-versicle (32:1-2), and the Gospel (Jn. 3:1-21).

Then the seven great prayers are said: for the sick; for travelers; for the waters (sowings, or the weather); for the ruler; for the dead (those who have fallen asleep); for the offerings; and for the catechumens.

The priest then prays on behalf of the persons to be baptized: “O God of the prophets and Lord of the apostles, who didst proclaim the coming of Thy Christ through Thy holy prophets, and didst send John the prophet and forerunner before Him, we pray that Thou sendst Thy holy power that it may come upon this baptism, give power to Thy servants and prepare them to receive the holy baptism of the new birth, unto the remission of their sins and the hope of incorruption, etc.” He also prays an invocation inaudibly that God may enable him to fulfil the ministry of the great mystery of baptism that was first constituted in heaven.

After this the priest says the three great intercessions for the peace, the fathers, and the congregation, and then the creed. He then pours the oil into the baptismal font three times in the form of the cross, saying, “In the name of the Father, etc.” and “Blessed, etc.” as he had done earlier with the unmixed oil. He then says the following prayer: “Creator of the waters, Maker of the universe, we call upon Thy holy and eternal power. . . . We pray Thee, our Master, for Thy servants, change them, transform them, hallow them, give them power, that through this water and this oil, all adverse powers may be brought to nought, etc.” Here he breathes thrice upon the water in the form of the cross, saying, “Sanctify this water and this oil that they may become a laver of the new birth, Amen; unto eternal life, Amen; a garment of incorruption, Amen; a grace of sonship, Amen; a renewing of the Holy Spirit, Amen, . . .” He seals the water thrice with the cross, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The deacon says, “Pray for perfect peace and love and the holy salutation of the apostles.” The people say, “Through the intercessions of the holy Theotokos Mary, O Lord, bestow upon us the forgiveness of our sins. “

The rest of the liturgy of baptism is conducted with various interpositions by the deacon and responses from the congregation. The priest then takes the holy chrism and pours a little of it in the baptismal font three times in the form of the cross, repeating what he previously said in the course of the consecration of the unmixed oil. He also says the Alleluia and the following portions of the Psalms while stirring the water: Psalm 29:3, 4; 34:5, 11; 66:12; 51:7-10; 132:13. The people sing Psalm 150.

At this point the deacon leads the person to be baptized from the west and brings him to the east against the font, to the left of the priest, who asks him his name, and immerses him thrice. At each immersion, he raises him up and breathes in his face. At the first immersion, he says, “I baptize thee [Name] in the name of the Father,” at the second immersion, “and of the Son,” and at the third immersion, “and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then, taking the holy chrism and praying over it, saying, “Lord, who alone mighty, bestow the Holy Spirit in the pouring out of the holy chrism. Let it be a living seal and a confirmation to Thy servants.”

Then he anoints the baptized person with the holy unction thirty-six times in the sign of the cross, during which he says, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. An unction of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Amen. An unction of a pledge of the kingdom of heaven, Amen. An unction of a fellowship of life eternal and immortal, Amen. A holy unction of Christ our God, and an indissoluble seal, Amen. Thou [Name] anointed with holy chrism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

Then the priest lays his hand upon the baptized person and says, “May thou be blessed with the blessing of the heavenly ones, and the blessing of the angels. . . .” He breathes over his face saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit, and be a purified vessel through Christ Jesus our Lord. “

After this prayer, the priest clothes him in a white garment, saying, “A garment of life eternal and incorruptible, Amen.” Then he says a prayer, “Lord God Almighty who commanded that Thy servants be born through the laver of the new birth, and bestowed upon them forgiveness of their sins, the garment of incorruption and the grace of sonship. . . .” Afterward the baptized are clothed with the rest of their garments, and the priest says a prayer over the crowns and the girdle, “Lord God almighty, . . . who hast bestowed crowns upon Thy holy apostles, Thy prophets and Thy martyrs, do Thou again bless these crowns which we have prepared to bestow on Thy servants who have received holy baptism, that they may be unto them crowns of glory and honour, Amen; crowns of blessing and glory, Amen; crowns of virtue and righteousness, Amen; crowns of wisdom and understanding, Amen; give them strength to fulfil Thy commandments and Thy ordinances, that they may attain to the benefits of the Kingdom of heaven.”

The priest girds the baptized with a girdle in the form of the cross, and sets the crown on the head of each one of them, saying, “Set, O Master, Lord God, upon Thy servants crowns from heaven, Amen; crowns of glory, Amen; crowns of faith invincible, Amen; crowns of confirmation, Amen; crowns of righteousness, Amen. Grant that Thy servants be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Then follows an address by the priest to the parents and spiritual sponsors of the baptized, emphasizing their commitments toward them. Holy Communion is then administered to those who have been baptized, and the priest lays his hand upon them saying, “Make Thy servants, O God, grow in Thy wisdom; give them understanding in Thy fear; bring them to maturity; bestow upon them the knowledge of the truth; keep them undefiled in faith, through the intercessions of the Lady of us all, the Holy Theotokos, Mary, the baptist forerunner John, and all the choir of the saints, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs and the cross-bearers, Amen.”

A unique feature of the Coptic baptismal rite ensures that the water, to which a few drops of the holy chrism have been added, is properly disposed of at the end of the baptismal service. The priest pours water over his hands in the font, and washes its surroundings as well as the cross. Then he says a prayer for the release of the water. The priest allows the water to be drained away, either into the well beneath the font or elsewhere, making sure that none of it is put to any other use.

Loosening of the Girdle of the Newly Baptized

This service is performed eight days after baptism. The priest says the prayer of thanksgiving over a basin containing some fresh water and surrounded with lighted candles. Then he offers incense, and the Pauline Epistle (1 Cor. 10:1-4) is read, followed by the , the intercession to the Gospel, the psalm versicle (32:1-2) and the Gospel (Mt. 3:1-6). After this the priest prays the three great intercessions (peace, the fathers, and the congregation), and the people recite the and the Lord’s Prayer. The priest says the absolution prayers, makes the sign of the cross over the water three times while saying: “One is the Holy Father, One is the Holy Son, One is the Holy Spirit, Amen.” Then the people sing Psalm 150. After this the child is bathed in the water, and his girdle and baptismal robe are also washed in it, before it is disposed of in the sea, the river, or a field.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Burmester, O. H. E. “The Baptismal Rite of the Coptic Church, a Critical Study.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie Copte 11 (1947):27-86.
  • Evetts, B. T. A. The Rites of the Coptic Church, the Order of Baptism and the Order of Matrimony, trans. from Coptic manuscripts. London, 1888.
  • Percival, H. R. Excursus on the Worship of the Early Church. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser., ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956.
  • William Sulayman Qeladah. Kitab al-Disqulayah Ta‘alim al-Rusul, chaps. 38-41, pp. 488-97. Cairo, 1979.
  • Woolley, R. M. Coptic Offices. London, 1930.
  • Yuhanna Salamah. Kitab al-La’ali’ al-Nafisah fi Sharh Tuqus wa- Mu‘taqadat al-Kanisah, Vol. 2, pp. 9-54. Cairo, 1909.

ARCHBISHOP BASILIOS