By Fr. Gabriel Wissa – Parish Priest from St. George & St. Joseph Coptic Orthodox Church, Montreal, Canada.
What makes baptism so essential for my salvation? To be able to answer such questions we have to go back to the time of Adam and Eve and see what happened there.
God created Adam and Eve, and there was love and communion between them and God. God told Adam, “If you eat of the tree, of Good and Evil, you will surely die.” However, in Genesis 3, the devil comes to Eve and tells her, “If you eat from it, you will not surely die.” The problem is when Adam and Eve chose to eat, they chose something outside of God, something opposite to God. That is a big problem because they chose to separate themselves from God who is the source of life.
Therefore, if I choose to separate myself from the source of life, I will naturally die. It is said in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” Why is the consequence of sin death? Because sin means separation from God. Thus, if I separate myself from the source of life, I will die. That is what happened to Adam and Eve. We in consequence have inherited that corruption in human nature from Adam and Eve. However, it was not the will of the Holy Trinity to leave it this way.
Just to recapitulate: Adam and Eve’s nature is now corrupt, and since we are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we have inherited that corrupted nature, which leads us to sin, and this separates us from God. Since God is the source of life, being separated from Him leads to death. Yet, the Logos, Son of God, was incarnate, and became man. He was fully God, fully human. He died on the cross in the flesh. However, when He died on the cross, because He is of one essence with the Father, He is Life. Thus, Life swallowed up death. Death could not contain Life, so Christ was naturally raised from the dead. Therefore, that body that Christ has is alive, raised from the dead. For me, to be alive, I need to be part of that body. If outside, I will be dead. How did Christ manage to have us in His body?
In the Old Testament, God gave Abraham a beautiful sign. When his child is 8 days old, he should circumcise him (Genesis 17:12). When the child is circumcised, he becomes part of God’s people, the Jewish assembly. Saint Paul understood that very clearly. He knew it was just a shadow for something else that would come in the New Testament. That is why he says the following in Col 2:11-12; “11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins[a] of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead”.
He talks in this verse about the circumcision of Christ, without hands: a different type of circumcision. What is this new circumcision? It is the baptism. When I am baptized, I am truly buried with Christ, and I am raised with Christ again. Therefore, when we are baptized in this way, we become “circumcised”, which means we become part of the assembly of God, part of His people, part of the true Body. Thus, as in the Old Testament, being circumcised meant to be part of God’s people, so it is in the New Testament, but in a different way. It means that we are part of the true Body of Christ. That same body that was raised up. That’s why, in Col 2:19-20, St. Paul says that we are tied to the Head. Hence, the Church is the Body and Christ is the Head. He adds that we have died in Christ, confirming the true understanding of baptism. In Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 5:30, he confirms that we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.
Finally, Saint Basil says the following in the Liturgy of the faithful (Liturgy of Saint Basil): “Was incarnate and became man, and taught us the ways of salvation. He granted us the birth from on high through water and spirit i.e. baptism (John 3:3-5). He made us into Himself an assembled people, and sanctified us by Your Holy Spirit.”
Now that we are baptized, we still have free will. We can still choose to sin and separate ourselves from God. Therefore, although we were baptized in the Body of Christ, if I willingly sin, I remain outside of His Body. If there is no repentance, no confession, or Eucharist to be back in communion with God and be in union with Him, I will remain outside. On the other hand, if I do all these things, I remain inside the Body. Remaining in the Body is a lifelong process, and once it is done at the end of our lives, then we are raised with Him, in Christ.
Why is baptism so essential? Because it is the beginning of this journey of being part of the Body of Christ and as well as many other qualities as we will see in future videos.