St. Gregory Palamas on Baptism

Baptism is one of the commonest themes in [St. Gregory] Palamas’s sermons, as it is in his theological and spiritual writings. The sheer number of his references to Christian initiation shows the importance he attached to it; for him neither Christian experience nor spirituality could exist outside the sacramental grace which, in the Church, communicated the divine life to the faithful. It was ‘to make a new being of us, and to renew us by baptism,’ that Christ was incarnate; ‘he has broken on the cross the record of our sins’ (Col. 2:14), and he has rendered innocent those who by baptism are buried with him (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). Baptism, by delivering us from the original corruption, is a ‘resurrection of our soul,’ and to us, ‘communicates strength to conform to the body of the glory of Christ’ (Phil. 3:21). The triple immersion is a symbol of the three days’ sojourn of the soul of Christ in Hades that it might go out thence, and rise again in the body. At baptism we receive a disposition to do good, and we conclude a pact with God, but it depends on us to give real value to this grace. ‘If a man called obeys the call, and accepts baptism to be called a Christian, but does not behave in a way worthy of the name he bears, and does not in fact accomplish the promises given at his baptism, he is called, but he is not chosen.’ Then the promises are of no avail to him, but rather condemn him.

By baptism all Christians are holy – ‘If the vessel consecrated to God is holy,’ Palamas says, ‘how much more is the man holy who is joined to him by the bath of regeneration’ – and they are sons of God, but they are still required to prove by their works that they have received this gift; ‘Renewal and new creation of the characteristics of the soul are accomplished by grace in the bath of regeneration; they grow and reach perfection through just actions in accord with faith.’” (John Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, pp 160-161)

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