Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

Joy of all the Sorrowful - Mays Landing, NJ (f. 1966)

Infant Baptism in the Orthodox Church

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What if a child leaves or rejects Christ later in life?

This is real concern, but not a reason to keep children from full membership in the New Covenant by denying them baptism and communion. We should rather accept them as the Lord commanded us to do, because to raise them up in the life in Christ, with all that that means, is to give them a much better chance of carrying this life beyond our parental guardianship. If someone has no intention of raising a child in Christ, by which I mean that if they have no intention of attending church regularly, praying as a family in the home daily, teaching the bible, encouraging questions about the faith and giving their children every opportunity to experience the life of the church, then they should in no way bring their child to be baptized. When we decide to baptize a child we make the most solemn of promises to God. We are promising to do everything in our power to bring that child to Christ, and this is a promise that we can only make if we are doing everything we can to draw near to Him our self. Children take seriously what we take seriously. If they grow up in a home in which Christ is part of normal conversation and prayer and bible reading and the lives of the saints are part of normal daily life, they will feed off this as much as the food we put on their plates at the dinner table. Children are deeply impressed by candle light and incense, by flowers at Pascha, by late-night processions in Holy Week, by palm leaves on Palm Sunday, by icons and by lake blessings at Theophany, by vestments and altar service. They are fascinated by all of this and they are drawn into Christ through all this. I can see, as a priest, just how real this all is to children when they approach the chalice to receive communion; it is in their eyes, and I am humbled. When they see that we are excited and involved, they become so too. Raising a child in Christ is easy, just be a child yourself in Christ, just take it seriously. In fact, children take faith very seriously, and we should honour that faith ourselves, or else we shouldn’t baptize them.

But what if they do leave Christ? What if we do all that we can do and they still walk away for whatever reason? Wouldn’t it have been better not to baptize them? Of course not. Would a responsible parent ever dream of keeping their child outside full family membership until they were sure that the child would ‘want’ to be in the family? As Peter Leithart, a Presbyterian and father of ten children himself, has put it:

Romans normally excluded children from the dinner table until the age of fifteen or sixteen, at which age boys received the toga virilis that marked their entrance to manhood. Family dinner as we know it was a Christian invention, not some "natural" form of family life. The family dinner is a reflection of the eucharistic meal, the meal that welcomed all members of Christ to the table. Opposition to communion of children is pagan and seeks to reverse the revolutionary table fellowship established by the Church. It is an attempt to return to Egypt. (Against Christianity, p. 93)

In other words, the family that eats together should receive communion together, the one an image of the other. But what if an adult should be baptized and then abandon the faith, do we worry as much about that as we do about our children? Children in fact have a much better start than adults do anyway. True, an adult may have accepted baptism from the deepest of experiences with Christ, they may have come to know Christ through the darkest of roads and so appreciate the light of Christ all the more. But a child, raised in the fullness of the faith and in a home full of others who are doing the same has the greatest of foundations, beside which an experience, however profound, simply can’t compare. Every human being is free to do God’s will or not; this is God’s doing not ours. His desire is for us to do His will, but even when He knows that we won’t, He still does not deny us food, clothing, shelter, even love, joy, long life, and children ourselves. Will we be so afraid of what our children might do that we deny them the one thing needful (Lk. 10:42) for all ages, not just for adults: communion in the Church, full membership in the life-giving covenant of Christ? Where is our faith? Where is our resolve? Where is our love for God and for our children? To whom is Christ speaking now, when He says, “do not hinder them from coming to me”?

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