Thursday, September 14, 2006

baptism of tears

As I brought up last month, Fr. Thomas Hopko refers in his lecture series on the Apocalypse to St. Gregory the Theologian on a baptism of fire and a baptism of desire. Fr. Thomas says the first is martyrdom and the second is where someone dies to self in their heart, as though they've been baptized but without the sacrament. His point is to show that a person who was not sacramentally baptized (i.e., not formally part of the Orthodox Church) in life can still go to heaven. Now, I thought a month ago that I'd found the right spot in St. Gregory, even though it didn't seem quite right. Now I'm a bit more certain that I've found the right passage. It's not in his "Homily on Holy Baptism," but in the one that he preached the day before, on the feast of Theophany, "On the Holy Lights." (Of course, if Fr. Thomas had thought to include better footnotes in his recorded lecture, I wouldn't have this problem.)

Toward the end of the homily (par. 18), he actually discusses five types of baptism: the baptism of Moses, the baptism of John, the baptism of the Spirit (the one that Jesus performs), the baptism of martyrdom (which he calls a baptism of blood, not fire--Fr. Thomas might have changed the terminology so the two would rhyme), and a baptism of tears, which I think is Fr. Thomas's baptism of desire:
Yes, and I know of a Fifth also, which is that of tears, and is much more laborious, received by him who washes his bed every night and his couch with tears (Ps 6:6); whose bruises stink through his wickedness (Job 38:5); and who goeth mourning and of a sad countenance; who imitates the repentance of Manasseh (2 Chr 38:12) and the humiliation of the Ninevites (Jonah 3:7-10) upon which God had mercy; who utters the words of the Publican in the Temple, and is justified rather than the stiff-necked Pharisee (Luke 18:13); who like the Canaanite woman bends down and asks for mercy and crumbs, the food of a dog that is very hungry (Matt 15:27).
Now, if I understand correctly from Schaff's translation (I don't have the source text right now), he goes on to make a point about this last type:
I, however, for I confess myself to be a man,—that is to say, an animal shifty and of a changeable nature,—both eagerly receive this Baptism, and worship Him Who has given it me, and impart it to others; and by shewing mercy make provision for mercy. For I know that I too am compassed with infirmity (Heb 5:2), and that with what measure I mete it shall be measured to me again (Matt 7:2).
This then feeds into his argument against the Novatians, a group that had gone into schism because they felt some bishops had been too lax in allowing lapsed Christians back into the Church. He's using this idea to chastise them for being so unforgiving, when all humans are so much in need of forgiveness.

Of course, now I'm really in trouble, since I can't remember having shed tears in at least 15 years . . . unless really spicy chicken wings count :-)

1 comment:

Lucian said...

There IS actually a Baptism of Fire: the one at the end of the world (prefigured by Sodom and Gomorah). And the number is actually 8 or 9: you're forgetting Noah's Flood, and Circumcision, for instance.