by Fr. John Hainsworth
Another concern folks have about infant baptism in the Orthodox Church – what if a child rejects Christ later in life?
This is a 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 raising them up in the life in Christ will 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—if they have no intention of attending church, praying as a family in the home, 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 ourselves. Children take seriously what we take seriously. If they grow up in a home in which conversations about Christ, prayer, and reading from the Bible 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 candlelight and incense, by flowers at Pascha, by late-night processions during Holy Week, by palm leaves on Palm Sunday, by icons, by lake blessings at Theophany, and by vestments and altar service. All of this fascinates them and draws them into Christ. As a priest, I see just how real the life of faith 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 will become excited and involved.
Raising a child in Christ is simple. Just be a child yourself in Christ. Take it seriously. Children take faith very seriously, and we should either honor that faith ourselves or 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? Wouldn’t it then 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 wants to be in the family? Peter Leithart, a Presbyterian and father of ten children himself, makes an excellent point in his book Against Christianity:
“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.”
The family that eats together should receive communion together, the one an image of the other. A child raised in the fullness of the faith has the greatest of foundations. Every human being is free to do God’s will or not. He wants us to choose to do His will. But even when He knows that we won’t, He still does not deny us food, clothing, or shelter. He does not deny us love, joy, long life, and children of our own. Will we be so afraid of what our children might do that we deny them the one thing everyone needs—communion in the Church and 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,
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them”?