What’s the Point of Baptism?

Originally appeared at: Pravmir

The Lord Jesus Christ has His longest, most serious, and most revealing conversation with the very last person one would think.

It is not with His friends.  It is not with His enemies.  It is not even with His Holy Mother.

It is with the most unlikely person – someone He was even forbidden to speak with or to meet: a Samaritan woman, living a life of adultery, who happened one hot day to meet Him at a well, looking for a drink of water.

But we know nothing happens by chance, brothers and sisters: everything – including this meeting – happens by God’s providence, for the help and salvation of people.

This Samaritan Woman is a foreigner to the Jews. Saint Augustine says she represents all of us who are outside God’s first chosen people. Christ speaks with her anyway.

She is an adulteress – six times over – not unlike many people today. The Lord knows her sinful life – He tells her so, to get her attention. He doesn’t dwell on it.

He is there to speak with her about something else: about the Water of Eternal Life.

It takes her a while to catch onto this: it’s not because she’s dumb, she’s just distracted. First she wants to discuss the water in the well, but then – what she really wants to discuss – is whether it’s the religion of the Jews that’s the right one, or the religion of the Samaritans.

But that is not what Christ has come to discuss. He has come to lay out for her the spiritual truth of the Water of Eternal Life. Saint John Chrysostom says, the fact that she calls Him Lord, and recognizes Him as a prophet, shows that she is more than ready to have this conversation – the ultimate conversation.

Are you ready for it?

One of the Church Fathers tells us that most people miss the point of their baptism.

They miss the power and the grace that the Holy Spirit pours into them through that Holy Mystery.

And sadly, too often, their faith stalls right there and then – at the font – before the waters of baptism are even dry. The Water of Eternal Life?  Why would I be interested in that?

Three great saints – Fathers of the Church – explain to us just what the Lord means when He is speaking with the Samaritan Woman about the Water of Eternal Life.

They tell us five things.

NUMBER ONE: Saint Augustine tells us, the Water of Eternal Life – the Holy Spirit, when we receive it, and don’t chase it away again and again – is not stagnant. It does something. You notice it.

Everyone who is baptized and receives Holy Chrismation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit should start to see some difference in them. But then we need to work at it, and to not chase the Holy Spirit away.

Many people in the Orthodox Church fail to do this. We become exactly the same as everyone else in the world, those outside the Christian Church, who have never received the Holy Spirit.

It takes work to not become stagnant.

NUMBER TWO: The Water of Eternal Life – the Holy Spirit – pushes us toward Eternal Life.

The main reason priests and monastics in the Orthodox Church wear black clothing is to remind us of death, and eternal life. This applies to everybody.

If we are trying to forget about eternal life – which includes trying to forget about our own death – we are actually fighting against the Holy Spirit.

Because, what happens when we think about eternity?  We start to live differently!  We start to live for eternity – not just for temporary life. We start to cooperate with God! The Holy Spirit gushes up inside us toward eternal life… unless we turn off the flow!

One of the great blessings of the recent pandemic is, it has reminded us of the nearness of death and eternity. But the foolish worldly authorities (and sometimes even religious people) squawk as if this is the worst possible thing we could think about.

We must think about it, brothers and sister. Eternity will come to all of us: in a few weeks, or months, or a couple of years. If we are thinking about it, it means we are working together with the Holy Spirit.

NUMBER THREE: Saint Augustine says that the Water of Eternal Life – if it’s alive in us – will reach other people.                                                                      

This is the reason the history of the missionary saints of the last two thousand years is not a history of television ministries and big outreach campaigns.  When the Holy Spirit is in people, and those Christians cultivate it by the way they live, and their daily prayer, they will become magnets for others to come to Christ, and to come into His Church.

Never say, brothers and sisters, that the Church isn`t growing fast enough.

If you are saying that, what you are really saying is, you have not personally become a magnet for a thousand souls to be saved around you, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov famously said.

We know the Samaritan Woman – Saint Photini was her name – is known in the history of the Church to have proclaimed the Gospel to all her siblings and cousins.

And what happened?  They all converted!  This is the Holy Spirit at work, because it had been cultivated in one human heart.                                                                        

NUMBER FOUR: Saint Cyril of Alexandria says, the Water of Eternal Life – the Holy Spirit – will water our parched human nature and change us.  It will change us!

How will it change us?

The saints teach us that the first sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person is, the person will see their own sins. Very often, about a year or two after baptism, a person will come to their priest and say, “I’m a mess! I thought I’d be a better Christian by now, but just look at me – I’m worse than ever!” 

But this is good news!  You are not any worse – you’ve always been that bad! Only now, the Holy Spirit, like a light in a dark room, has allowed you to see yourself, and now the cleansing work can begin.

Finally, NUMBER FIVE: Saint John Chrysostom tells us, the Water of Eternal Life quenches the attacks of the devil. This is very important, since we know the world around us and our own passions within us, are very vulnerable to the devil’s attacks.

We must fight. We must be strong. We must use our willpower – and as they say, our “won’t” power. But we must also call on the power of God, so it can flow through us in the midst of our fight.

There is no use trusting in the power of the Cross, if we won’t mark ourselves with the Sign of the Cross.                             

There is no use trying to walk in the footsteps of the saints of God who read the Psalms every day as their prayers, if we are not reading the Psalms every day for our prayers.

There is no use trusting in the Heavenly King and Comforter, if we don’t call down the power of the Heavenly King and Comforter.

In His unlikely meeting with the Samaritan Woman, the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the Water of Eternal Life – the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you have been baptized in the historic Christian Church, you have received this Water of Eternal Life.

The question – the critical question – is what will we do with that Water of Eternal Life?

Will we leave it stagnant – or work with it every day?

Will we try to forget about it – or allow it to push us towards eternity?

Will we hide it – or work to acquire it more and more, so it affects those around us?

Will we leave ourselves defenseless – or will we take it up as our greatest power, and greatest weapon?

As one elder of the Orthodox Church said, our Faith is not just a belief about God: it is the Power of God.

Now it is up to each of us to humbly work with God, that His Eternal Life might work in us.


– Archpriest Geoffrey Korz is a parish priest in Hamilton, Canada.

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