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Why do we baptize our children? Of course, it is important to understand what baptism is and signifies, first.

The Orthodox believe that baptism is essential for salvation. (Baptism is essential for salvation because we are commanded to be baptized. This does not mean that God cannot save someone who has not been baptized.) That is, we do not know how one can be saved without baptism. Baptism is the first act of obedience, and it goes without saying that Christians should obey God. In John 3, Jesus tells us that we need to be born "of water" and through baptism, we are "born again". Baptism is the first sacrament. It is followed, in all of the Orthodox Church and in some parts of the Roman Catholic Church, by the chrismation and communion.

But, is a infant who cannot even walk, much less speak his mind, is that infant showing obedience when he is baptized? Can a child really be saved?

That isn't really a very good question. Do we let an infant decide what he will do and where he will go? Do we let a toddler decide whether or not she is going to church? Of course not. We decide these things for them. We teach them how to obey.

So it is that we decide for our children that they will be baptized -- that they will obey God while they are under our care. When an infant affirms the baptismal vows, he does so by proxy. His godparents renounce the devil in his name.

Just as my children are not allowed to choose whether or not they will go to church or eat their vegetables, they are not allowed to choose whether or not they will be Christians. While they live with me and while I care for them, they will be Christians. The first time I heard Dr. Laura, she said essentially the same thing -- you don't allow your children to put off until later whether or not they will be physically healthy by what they eat, so why would you let them put off until later what makes them spiritually healthy?

(Some people, especially those who adhere to the idea of once-saved-always-saved, will find this philosophy difficult to accept. "They aren't really saved" they'll say. This could lead to a whole other discussion, but I'll refrain for now and ask that anyone who wants to discuss that can of worms reads 1 John first and tells me how a person determines his own salvific status.)

In the old testament, Joshua tells Israel "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." By baptizing my children, I repeat his statement.

Now, what about later? What about the child who has been baptized, but "backslides"? Then, they fail to live up to their baptism. And certainly this happens. As Bishop Ware has put it, "I am being saved by God's mercy and grace." Since God created us in his image and gave us free will, I can choose at any moment to rebel against God, to reject him and his grace. I can throw the gift of salvation back in his face. God won't force me to take it.

And so it is with some people. Their parents make every effort; they guide them in every way that they know how. And, perhaps for a while, the momentum of habit allows the person to carry on in Christian living. But there comes a time where they reject the grace that God has given them until then.

St. Theophan was very aware of this. In his letters to a young woman (collected under the title "The Spiritual Life"), he writes:

With respect to you, I would add that you do not have to begin anything special. Live in that spirit in which you were brought up, and keep those pious customs which you note in your immediate family and relatives. The thrust of my entire discourse is this: That you wholeheartedly embrace this very way of life and that you of your own accord decide to live that way to the end.

Your life up to this point really has not been yours. You were guided in this way. It is very beneficial, but will not last if you do not choose this particular life of your own accord and set it for yourself as inviolable law. If you do not do this now, the evil spirit of worldly life will attract you [...].

So, why do we baptize our children? To teach them obedience. To allow God's grace to work to its fullest extent as soon as possible. Why would we, who are seeking after the Kingdom, give our children anything less?