The Fathers of the Church and the Power of our Baptism  

Baptism of the Neophytes, by Masaccio (1401 - 1428) (

The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which falls the Sunday after the Epiphany Sunday, officially ends the liturgical Christmas season.

There are some very inspiring quotes from the Fathers of the Church concerning the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. St Basil the Great (329-379) presents this feast as a school of innumerable number of virtues for us, Christ’s followers, precisely because Jesus has become one of us, humans.

Dearly Beloved, each word and deed of Our Saviour Jesus Christ is for us a lesson in virtue and piety. For this end also did He assumed our nature, so that every man and every woman, contemplating as in a picture the practice of all virtue and piety, might strive with all their hearts to imitate His example. For this He bore our body, so that as far as we could, we might repeat within us, the manner of His life. And so, therefore, when you hear mention of some word or deed of His, take care not to receive it simply as something that incidentally happened but raise your mind upwards towards the sublimity of what He is teaching and strive to see what has been mystically handed down to us.

For St Gregory of Nazianzen (330-390), the Baptism of Our Lord is a great encouragement for us to be His light for the world. This we can do if we repent and be cleansed from our sins. In his sermon on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord he said:

Today let us do honour to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom His every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of Him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more, the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendour, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Finally, for St John Damascene (675-749) Doctor of the Church the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism is reminiscent of the angels’, the heavens’, creation’s and, most of all, the human beings’ cooperation with God’s grace. Each through its representative.

O Lord, wishing to fulfill all things that You ordained before the ages, You received the servants of Your mystery, from among the Angels, Gabriel, from among Men, the Virgin,
from among the Heavens, the Star and from among the Waters, the Jordan, in which You washed away the sin of the world, O our Saviour, glory to You.

If Christ’s Baptism is a school of countless virtues for us, an exhortation to be a light for the world and for the need to convert, and, finally, a reminiscence of our faith models for their total cooperation with God’s redeeming grace then baptism, is necessary and powerful too.

It seems that the Fathers of the Church were quite convinced on this point. Baptism is made in the Name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and needs to be done with water. The Didache (written around 70 A.D.), says: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If  you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Didache 7:1).

Baptism is done for the remission of our sins. In the Letter of Barnabas (74 A.D.), Regarding  [baptism],  we have the  evidence of  Scripture that Israel would refuse  to accept the  washing  which  confers the remission  of sins and would set up a substitution of their own instead [Ps. 1:3–6]. Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, ‘Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.’ Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement,  we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls” —Barnabas, (Letter of Barnabas 11:1–10).  

The idea of Baptism as cleansing us from sin emerges with a certain power in St Justin’s work Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (160 A.D.): For since you have read, O Trypho, as you yourself  admitted, the doctrines taught by our Saviour, I do not think that I have done foolishly in adding some short utterances of His to the prophetic statements. Wash therefore, and be now clean, and put away iniquity from your souls, as God bids you be washed in this laver, and be circumcised with the true circumcision… The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them]  always  circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision,  by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ (  Dialogue with Trypho, 18 & 41). 

Baptism regenerates us for the kingdom of heaven. In his First Apology (151 A.D.)again St Justin the Martyr said: As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, and instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we pray and fast with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water and are regeneratedin the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Unless you are born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven(First Apology 61).  

The remission of sins through the baptismal water is accompanied by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the neophyte. In Fragment 34 (190 A.D.), St Irenaeus says: And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, by baptism we are circumcised by the Holy Spirit and solidified by His Holy action. John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on Colossians (395), tells us: Circumcision is no longer performed with a knife,  Paul  says, but in Christ himself; for no human hand circumcises … but the Spirit. The Spirit circumcises the whole man, not simply a part.… When and where? In baptism. And what Paul calls circumcision, he again calls burial.… But it is not burial only: for notice what he says, “Wherein you were also raised with him, through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (Homilies on Colossians, 6).

What a beautiful link there is between the Fathers of the Church and the power of baptism, thanks of course to the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.