Jan 01 2015

Part 18: The First Stage:The Baptizing Christ P.2, 2-The Forgiving and Healing Christ (Part 1)

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ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY

Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed

Part Eighteen

CHAPTER 4

The first stage: The Baptizing Christ.

The stage of purification and

The beginning of the process of spiritual renewal for man (contd.)

(Part 2)

2-The Forgiving and Healing Christ (Part 1)

Delivery from the rule of Satan: Man must be, first of all, freed from Satan’s power. It is Christ only that liberates man from the devil’s reign. And as Jesus expelled devils during His earthly ministry, He Himself still casts the devils from any man joining the church when His name is called on this man. Therefore, the catechumen repudiate Satan publicly before their baptism since Christ has liberated them already from Satan’s dominion. The exorcism happens under diverse aspects of the ritual, whether by laying of hands, blowing, or anoint­ment. Also, it may be renewed in the course of life because the powers of darkness constitute an import­ant antagonistic factor in our spiritual fight. We should be careful not to overlook the reality and the strength of objective Evil, because the spirit of evil works in the world. We should be able to discern the genuine and Biblical features of the Prince of the world. He works through what appears appealing and occasionally through what seems to be noble thoughts. He is very dangerous, not so much because of his gross appeals to the flesh as by the pride and despair which he can suggest under the forms of philosophy, art, culture, and so on. He always enters the theater of human life with a mask on his face, as St. Paul says, “for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14) Sons of Baptism should always live rejecting Satan and refusing all his works. Now we have to remember that resorting to the use of magic, fortune telling, and communication with the spirits, is a return to submission to the power of Satan. This is a denial of faith, and the Christian should always resort to the Lord in Whose name he was baptized and in Whose hand is all power in heaven and earth. That person should not worry about the future or be afraid, because his future is in the hands of the loving and almighty heavenly Father, who said that not one hair shall fall from your head without His permission. Life in faith means that the believer submits all the events of his spiritual and bodily life to the Lord Who faithfully does all goodness.

1- The forgiving Christ:

Christ came to take away our sins (Jn. 1:29) by giving Himself as a sacrifice to put them away (Heb. 9:26). And because God knows that Satan enslaves us by sin, so He presents Himself as the forgiver for those who repent and believe in His name. Thus Christ’s forgiving power is a divine power that redeems and heals the sinful man who repents. Therefore the bible calls for repentance and baptism in the name of Christ to obtain forgiveness. The connection between repentance, baptism, and forgiveness was explained by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost when he said to the people who “were cut to the heart”: “repent and … be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). God grants forgiveness for the repenting heart that has been struck deeply by what we call the internal repentance. For this repenting heart, God says “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) In church, the sacrament of repentance is an extension for the baptismal grace and partaking of it. And it was called “new baptism” in the council of Cartage in the fourth century. Thus the repentant recovers the state of righteousness and the grace of new life which dwelled in him since Baptism but was hidden by his sin.

What is our attitude toward Christ: The person who was baptized as an infant with a godmother or godfather (a deacon or a parent) denouncing Satan on his behalf, and proclaiming his faith in Christ, has to willingly decide about his faith in Christ and his life with Him when he grows up. This is accomplished by repentance and faith because if the Lord Jesus said “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”, therefore he who did not believe before baptism, being a child, must believe as a grown up, because both faith and baptism are important for salvation. The effectiveness of Baptism is disabled for the baptized person who does not live in faith and does not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. And because the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit in us is not fulfilled without the person’s will and without his personal faith, repentance, and returning to God to really live in faith, therefore every Christian has to adopt the same attitude of denouncing Satan and of faith in Christ that happened when he was a child. In other words he has to develop the feeling of the catechumen getting ready for baptism. This person believes in the Lord Jesus with all his heart. He also repents, leaves behind all evil ways and sin, denounces Satan publicly to declare cutting all ties with the life in darkness, loudly confesses his faith in Christ and promises to walk according to His commandments and live to serve Him. Entering into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and proclaiming to follow Him in love, gratitude and obedience to this Savior who sacrificed Himself for all sinners, is what every Christian should do in order to make his Baptism unhindered and fully effective.

For this reason, when the sacrament of repentance is practiced in church, the priest has to make it clear to the repentants the importance of what is their stand toward Christ the first time they come for confession, explaining what happened during baptism when they denounced Satan and sin and confessed their faith in Christ and promised to live with Him. This is a very important point because without deciding what is his personal attitude toward Christ, the person can come frequently to the priest for confession without being seriously walking and following Christ. Such a person cannot live a true Christian life and struggle with the power of the Spirit that assists those who yield themselves to the Lord Jesus through true repentance and deep dedication to live and die for Christ. For he who is baptized to Christ is united with His death and His resurrection, i.e. he is joined to Him whether in life or death. Therefore the Holy Spirit grants him the power of the risen Christ so that he can struggle against the evil power that is working in the world, and he will conquer with the power of the victorious Christ.

As previously mentioned, repentance, unction of the sick, prayers for the first monastic profession, and second marriage prayers are extensions to the baptismal grace.

Repentance: It is a change in heart and conversion of man that makes him live in the light and be steadfast in it; or it is a deep inner change in the direction of man’s life; or it is the turn of man with all his heart to Christ the only Savior. Thus, the true repentant concludes what happened in the rituals of baptism by turning from the west, i.e. darkness, to the east, i.e. the sunrise light which is Christ. When man accepts the voice of Christ calling to repentance, Christ works through the Holy Spirit inside him in two ways at the same time: The first is exposing the bad condition of man in sin, his sadness and his broken heart because of sin. The second is the hope He puts in the heart of the repentant, hope of forgiveness and acceptance before God because of the mercy of our Savior and His great love for man. Those two actions, exposing sin accompanied by sadness, and giving the hope of forgiveness and acceptance, are what guarantees that our repentance is true and is in accordance with the Gospel of Christ. Without sadness and pricking of the heart, there is no true repentance; and at the same time sadness alone without hope of forgiveness of sin with the blood of Christ means that repentance wasn’t according to Christ’s Gospel, i.e. not a Christian repentance. We need both sorrow and hope at the same time. Whatever the form of repentance, we can say that it has to be a breaking of the heart at Christ’s feet as the sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house; i.e. the repentant must meet with Christ. Feeling Christ the Savior and Forgiver, even if it is mixed with sadness and the pricking of heart, is important in Christian forgiveness for it is humbleness in front of Christ; and as long as the repentant feels Christ in his heart there is no way he will lose hope however severe was his sadness and his tears.

True confession: It is declaration of repentance and returning to Christ before the priest, who when he sees the repentance of the confesser, will pray for him and place his hand on his head delivering forgiveness from God through the priest whom Christ entrusted to do that. This is called the prayer of absolution or undoing of the sin and all its ties to man, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in the man who repents and that is working through Christ’s servant to whom this gift is given.

(To be continued)

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