The word baptism means washing and cleaning, but in the religious sense it indicates the ceremony of ablution by which one who is baptized is cleansed or purified from sin otherwise called original sin by theologians. Baptism is also called a new birth because the person who is baptized is to be cleansed of sin and born again in a baptismal font. With this new spiritual birth, the baptized person becomes a new member of the Church of Christ.
The Bible tells us that Adam did not follow the divine order during his presence in Paradise. Theologians call this transgression or disobedience to order the first (original) sin that Adam transmitted to all generations.
This is what Gregory of Tatev says about it: “The consequence of Adam's sin was the loss of justice and the fact to give birth to his son in sin and motivated by desire. The original sin is not atoned without being baptized in the death of Christ.”
Baptism is a prerequisite for becoming a Christian. To realize its importance, we must know that our Lord Himself was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Matthew 3: 13-17, Mark 1: 9-11, Luke 3: 2 -22, 4: 1). Then, when Jesus sent his disciples to preach, he instructed them: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus Christ was a perfect man, that is to say, without sin. In other words, nothing that is human is foreign to our Lord, nothing but sin. But still he was baptized to show to sinner mankind the necessity of baptism as a prerequisite for new or spiritual birth.
In chapter 3 of his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul says, “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our lives in malice and envy, hatred, and we hated each other. But when the kindness of God our Saviour and his love for mankind appeared, He saved us, through the washing of the new birth ad renewal by the Holy Spirit. "
And Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John describes the meeting of a Pharisee named Nicodemus with Jesus who said that no one, unless he is born again, that is to say, without being baptized can not see the kingdom of God, because no one who is not born again of water and the Spirit, can enter the kingdom of God, for what is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of spirit is spirit. And exemplifying the wind, he explained the sacrament of spiritual birth : “The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” .”
Faith is the precondition for baptism. Whoever wants to be baptized must believe in the Holy Trinity because, as we have already mentioned, Jesus said, “Baptize them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Also, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Therefore, the person who is baptized shall be someone reasonable enough to be confident in knowing the faith and the Holy Trinity and in participating in the baptism with the knowledge of things and be saved through his faith.
But why do we baptize the little ones who know virtually nothing? The reason is simple: parents have the obligation to take care of both the physical and spiritual needs. Fathers and mothers take care of food and clothing for their children, send them to school, teach them their mother tongue, transmit their national feelings, etc., and it is natural to educate their children in the spirit of their religion. This is why parents have their growing children baptized in the religious and national sentiment and the faith of their parents.
Another question that often arises: isn’t it more logical to wait until the children grow and get baptized when they can reason better? This is a very sensitive issue. What is the best age to understand the truths and religious sacraments? A father and mother, do they expect their child to reach a certain age and have some knowledge before sending them to school or determining their nationality? This is not natural and is contrary to reason. Parents, in a very natural way, raise their children according to their living conditions, and their nationality and religion.
So baptists are wrong. When Jesus Christ ordered his disciples to go baptize all pagans, he did not put an age distinction. The book of Acts shows us examples of baptism attended by whole families including children.
Being baptized is sufficient to become Christian provided that the person advances in the Orthodox faith and embraces a chaste life, remaining in grace because it is thanks to the good faith and chaste life of those baptized that the Church glows further and the Christian faith boasts. The purpose of baptism is to purify people and make them the son of God by joining the Christian church.
The baptism in our church is through ablution and by a church servant with a title of a priest. The person to be baptized arrives with his godfather. The priest asks the godfather, then takes the “child” and submerges him/her three times in water in the name of the Most Holy Trinity.
Here, the “child” means the non-baptized person. In the first centuries of the Christian church, there was a special period of 40 days before baptism for those who wanted to be baptized so that they are prepared to accept the holy sacrament. During this period they received the necessary Christian knowledge and were only baptized afterwards. This period of preparation is called “catechumen”.
If the person was born Christian but was not baptized as a child and became an adult, he is always called “child”. Similarly, those who adhere to other religions but want to become Christians must prepare themselves and be baptized after this period of preparation.
Just as there is only one Church of Jesus Christ (though it is composed of various Christian churches), there is also only one baptism. To become a Christian the person is baptized once. In other words, baptism is a unique sacrament. Here is what the Apostle says: “There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). “Or aren’t you aware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3). However, sometimes jealousy and ignorance blind servants of other Christian churches to the point that they do not feel embarrassed to baptize once again those who are already baptized. For the Armenian Apostolic Church, the immobility of baptismal fonts symbolizes the inflexibility of the sacrament of baptism according to the Catholicos Hovhannes Odzun.
By being baptized, not only people purify themselves of their sins and become the son of God in the grace of life, but they become also brothers and sisters once they are born of the same sacred baptismal font. It is by virtue of baptism that the sacraments of human equality, fraternity and justice are realized in the Christian Church. Here is what St. Paul says about this: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus . "(Gal. 3:27-28).
For those who are baptized to feel and maintain the grace of baptism, they must remain vigilant. They must save the living faith and live with conscience. Otherwise, apathy and carelessness can numb their mind and soul. Souls saved and purified by virtue of baptism are always connected to their Savior.
Children do not have the potential of adults and are entirely dependent on their parents. Therefore, the will, the conscience, the faith of their parents and chaste life is a good example and guide children. That is why parents are responsible for the education and the progress of their children in religious life.
And what is the responsibility and role of the godfather? Unfortunately, the role of the godfather has now become something symbolic, whereas initially it is the godfather who is the teacher of the baptized person. Like parents, the godfather had even more rights to his godchild This is why the godfather and the godchild became close spiritual parents, without ever establishing family links except a few exceptional canonized cases.
At a formal event, the presentation of a person is done by someone else: family member, relative or friend. Similarly, it is someone else who presents the “child” to the Church, and it is the godfather.
With regards to religious education of children, now it is mainly the parents or the school who take care of it because public education and education are now put under the care of the state.
Even if our Armenian schools also assume the role of religious teacher, unfortunately the level of efficiency is poor because the school curricula are filled with different disciplines, leaving a secondary place for religious education.
We try to fill this gap in religious education through the Sunday schools. This is a universal problem in the Christian world without clean only to our nation.
One day a week, for example, on Sundays, when children have no classes at school and can spend a few hours to receive religious education, can contribute significantly to their spiritual development and religious progress. And to encourage and contribute to the religious education of all those who are baptized, the church offers ceremonies and rites, as well as the living word of God accompanied by sermons.
Divine ceremony in a well-organised and luminous church has always a very effective impact on the spiritual life. It is necessary that those who are baptized remain vigilant and do not close their eyes to the demands of the spiritual life. This is because baptism is not intended to purify the exterior stains, but to keep the testimony of conscience awake (Pr. St. Pierre letter 3:21).
Jesus Christ, our Lord tells us, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). The duty of our Mother Church is to bring our children to Christ by giving them spiritual instruction based on our Armenian traditions. Our Sunday schools are established with our Armenian churches and it is the duty and role of parents and godparents to serve as spiritual teachers.
Confirmation is the inseparable part of baptism. Confirmation means mark, and baptism is otherwise known as a mark with a seal because once the child is baptized with water, he is also marked with a seal of anointing myrrh or holy oil.
Confirmation is a church sacrament that symbolizes the grace of the Holy Spirit. After the baptism of our Saviour, the Holy Spirit appeared and descended on him as a dove. Holy Myrrh symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized and who are “marked with a seal” by faith and the sacrament.
Again, the anointing gives the guarantee to learn and keep God's truth. Christians who remain vigilant get never strayed from the true faith, because the grace of the Holy Spirit coated with anointing in which the Christian is sealed during baptism is inseparable from it (Pr letter of St. John 2:26;. Letter St. Paul to the Ephesians 1:13, 4:30)
The Holy Spirit also appeared as a flame, for example, during the Pentecost which history tells us the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of flaming tongues. Fire symbolizes chastity. Just like any putrefaction and decay that disappear in flames, so is the Holy Spirit that keeps his grace in those who are baptized safeguarding them from putrefaction and spiritual decay.
Given that baptism and confirmation are mandatory prerequisites to be purified of sins and become the son of God, it is also important that Armenian parents respect the ancient traditions of our mother church, and they baptize their children eight days after birth except in cases of medical contradiction.
It is not forgivable for parents to leave their children without baptism for months or even years. Parents who, for no apparent reason, do not care about the baptism of their children and, as time passes, they are seriously responsible before God and before their children left without spiritual care.
Myrrh is a Greek word meaning fragrant oil, but in our context it means the oil we use in the church to mark with a seal those who are baptized and to consecrate priests, churches and any sacred object that is found in the church.
Myrrh is mainly composed of olive oil, but more than 40 other substances (flowers, roots) are added, the most important of which is the balm. In Armenian, the balsam tree, its flower and oil have a single name “balm”. Balsam or myrrh tree produces oil that ferments when mixed with the olive.
In the Armenian Church, the right preparation and blessing of myrrh is reserved to the Catholicos.
*This explanation written by the website is from the book “Christian” of the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Papken I Gulesserian. (4th Edition, Antelias 1971)