On Baptism

49th Apostolic Canon

50th Apostolic Canon

    If any Bishop or Priest baptize anyone not into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Lord’s ordinance, but into three beginningless beings or into three sons or into three comforters, let him be deposed.”

    When the Lord sent forth His disciples to preach the Gospel, He told them: “Go you, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Therefore, the present Apostolic Canon prescribes that any Bishop or Priest, who instead of baptizing in that manner, in accordance with the Lord’s ordinance, baptizes into three beginningless beings, into three sons, or into three comforters shall be deposed. For certain heretics, blaspheming against the Holy Trinity, were being baptized in such a manner notwithstanding that the Orthodox Church had received instructions to say the Father on account of His being beginingless and unbegotten, even though the Son is also said to be beginningless as respects any beginning in point of time, as St. Gregory the Theologian theologically argues: and likewise to say the Holy Spirit, though not with respect to cause and natural beginning for this characteristic belongs only to the Father. Accordingly, the formula includes a Son on account of His ineffable birth, and a Paraclete (or Comforter), the Holy Spirit, on
account of His procession out of the Father alone, which is beyond understanding. Note, on the other hand, that all the Canons of the Apostles that relate to and speak of baptism mention only Bishops and Priests. For they alone have permission to baptize, and deacons and other clergymen have not.


    If any Bishop or Priest does not perform three immersions (baptisms) in making one baptism, but only a single immersion (baptism) that given into the death of the Lord, let him be deposed. For the Lord did not say, Baptize into my death, but, “Go you and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

    There are three things quite necessary and in any case altogether indispensable in the mystery of Holy Baptism: sanctified water; triune immersion in the water; and an invocation of each of the most divine Hypostases (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). In the previous 49th Canon the divine Apostles ordered and taught concerning the three invocations, what names we are to be said and in what order. In the present 50th Canon they proceed to ordain concerning the three immersions and emersions. This means, as we have said, that these are necessary69 as regards what is simply called necessary, and are constituents of true and orthodox baptism.
    Accordingly, without them not only is a baptism incomplete, but it cannot even be called a baptism. For if to baptize means in more familiar language to descend under water, then speaking of immersions in the water is the same thing as speaking of three plunges or baptisms; a descent into water is also called a baptism, and is not so called for any other reason. [The Greek word means “to plunge under water as in dying clothes”]. But let us see what the Apostles decree in regard to the word. Whatever bishop or priest in the single mystery of baptism fails to perform three baptisms, or three immersions, but instead performs only one immersion carried out as though into the one death of the Lord, let him be deposed. (See this Apostolic
Canon refuting Eunomius (a bishop of the West deposed 361 A.D., being the first to substitute a single immersion in baptism, though other heretics may have been doing this even in the time of the holy Apostles.) Since the Lord did not tell us, His Apostles, when He was sending us forth to preach, “Baptize you in my death,” but instead He told us, “Go you and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” — which means, of course, baptize them with three immersions and emersions, and with each immersion add aloud each single name of the Holy Trinity.
    For in a single immersion and emersion is not the three days’ death of the Savior lucidly represented nor are the mystery and the theognosy (i.e., knowledge of God) of the Holy Trinity at all indicated. Hence any such baptism, being destitute of theology, and of the incarnate economy, is most impious and bad teaching. But with three immersions and emersions, both belief in the Holy Trinity is clearly affirmed and the three days’ and nights’ death and burial and resurrection of the Savior are at the same time symbolized. Consequently it follows that our baptism comprises the two foremost dogmas of our expression of the Orthodox Faith — that, I say, of the theology of the Life-creating Trinity, and that of the economy of the Incarnation of God the Logos.