Baptism as Mystery

Although I am a mere Reader, I’m going to make bold to post and briefly connect a reading and a devotional on it.

It caught my attention that the cleansing of Naaman’s leprosy by bathing in the Jordan River is appointed as one of many readings for the Vespers of Theophany. Apart from the Jordan, what has this story to do with the Lord’s baptism?

I assumed that it was another of the many ways in which the Church reads the Old Testament typologically:

Typology is an approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures found in the New Testament itself, and in the writings of the Church Fathers, which sees certain people and events in the Old Testament (Types) as foreshadowing things fulfilled in the New Testament (Antitypes).

(OrthodoxWiki) I actually began to read the Old Testament typologically when I was yet a Protestant, as I moved from generic Evangelical to somewhat more historic Calvinism. Evangelicals tend to read – and boast of reading – the Bible “literally.” But with sensationalist eschatology as the issue driving me from Evangelicalism, I began to see that the New Testament did not read Old Testament prophecy literally very often. Again and again, we read of some event in our Lord’s life as “fulfilling” “what is written” in ways that are quite un-literal.

So it is with the Church’s reading of the Naaman/leprosy episode, read as a type of Baptism:

Saint Irenaeus connects the Baptismal Mystery with the cleansing of Naaman the leper as follows: “It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but it 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….”

The cleansing of Naaman points to the mystical nature of Holy Baptism but also warns against excessive, rational defenses or explanations of the Church’s initiatory rites. Certain well-meaning analysts observe that there are numerous instances in which those who were baptized as infants apostatize as adults from the Christian Faith, and so they condemn the practice of infant Baptism. These critics assert that initiation into Christ should be reserved for those who fully understand the commitments they are making. Thus, they say, candidates for the rite should reach the age of discretion. But does anyone really understand what God accomplishes?

(Dynamis devotional for January 13. Dynamis this year appears to be reflecting on each of the Vespers readings, over a period following Theophany proper.)

I like the connotation of the word “Mystery” as the Church uses it to describe what the Western Church tends to call “Sacraments” (or in some Protestant churches, “ordinances“). Does anyone really understand what God accomplishes?

There’s more to the devotional, which is well worth reading. I commend it as a possible addition to your Prayer Rule.


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