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Sunday, December 30, 2012

St. John Moschos: The Incredible Story of a Baptism with Sand


Abba Palladios told us he had heard one of the fathers whose name was Andrew (whom we also met) say:
 

When we were in Alexandria, Abba Andrew at the eighteenth mile post told us saying:
As a young man I was very undisciplined. A war broke out and confusion reigned so, together with nine others, I fled to Palestine. One of the nine was a fellow with iniative (Grk. philoponos, strictly, one who likes hard work, an industrious fellow) and another was a Hebrew. When we came into the wilderness, the Hebrew became mortally sick, so we were in great distress, for we did not know what to do for him. But we did not abandon him. Each of us carried him as far as he was able. We wanted to get him to a city or to a market town so that he should not die in the wilderness. 
But when the young man was completely worn out and was brought to the point of death by hunger and a burning fever, by utter exhaustion and a raging thirst from the heat (in fact he was about to expire), he could no longer bear to be carried. With many tears, we decided to abandon him in the wilderness and go our way. We could see death from thirst lying in store for us. We were in tears when we set him down in the sand. When he saw that we were going to leave him, he began to adjure us, saying: ‘By the God who is going to judge both the quick and the dead, leave me not to die as a Jew, but as a Christian. Have mercy on me and baptise me so that I too may depart this life as a Christian and go to the Lord.’ We said to him: ‘Truly brother, it is impossible for us to do anything of the sort. 
We are laymen and baptizing is bishops’ work and priests.’ Besides, there is no water here.’ But he continued to adjure us in the same terms and with tears, saying: ‘Oh, Christians, please do not deprive me of this benefit.’ While we were most unsure of what to do next, the fellow with initiative among us, inspired by God, said to us: ‘Stand him up and take off his clothes.’ We got him to his feet and with great difficulty and stripped him. The one with initiative filled both his hands with sand and poured it three times over the sick man’s head saying: ‘Theodore is baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, and we all answered amen to each one of the names of the holy, consubstantial and worshipful Trinity. 
The Lord is my witness, brethren, that Christ, the Son of the living God, thus cured and reinvigorated him so that not a trace of illness remained in him. In health and vigour he ran before us for the rest of our journey through the wilderness. When we observed so great and so sudden a transformation, we all praised and glorified the ineffable majesty and lovingkindness of Christ our God. When we arrived at Ascalon, we took this matter to the blessed and saintly Dionysios, who was bishop there, and told him what had happened to the brother on the journey. When the truly holy Dionysios heard of these things, he was stupefied by so extraordinary a miracle. 
He assembled all the clergy and put to them the question of whether he should recognize the effusion of sand as a baptism or not. Some said that, in view of the extraordinary miracle, he should allow it as a valid baptism; others said he should not. Gregory the Theologian enumerates all the kinds of baptism. He speaks of the Mosaic baptism, baptism in water, that is, but before that of baptism in a cloud and in the sea. ‘The baptism of John was no longer Judaic baptism, for it was not only a baptism in water, but also unto repentance. Jesus also baptised, but in the Spirit, and this is perfection. 
I know also a fourth baptism: that of martyrdom and of blood. And I know a fifth: the baptism of tears.’ ‘Which of these baptisms did he undergo?’, asked some, ‘so that we might pronounce on its validity? For indeed the Lord said to Nicodemus: Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:5).’ To this, others replied: ‘But indeed they were baptised, as Clement, the author of the Stromates, testifies in the fifth book of Hypotyposes. 
In commenting on the saying of the Apostle Paul, he opines: I thank God that I baptised none of you (1 Cor. 1:14) that Jesus is said to have baptised none but Peter; Peter to have baptised Andrew; Andrew, James and John, and they the others.’ When they had said all this and much more beside, it seemed good to the blessed Bishop Dionysios to send the brother to the Holy Jordan and for him to be baptised there. The fellow with iniative he ordained a deacon. 

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