Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away though my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to Thee; at a time of distress, in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. Thou art a hiding place for me, Thou preservest me from trouble; Thou dost encompass me with deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you. May are the pangs of the wicked; but steadfast love surrounds him who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in the Lord! Psalm 32
Psalm 32 is chanted at every baptism, immediately after the person who has been baptized emerges from the water. The Psalm celebrates the beginning of a new life. In the early centuries of the church, only adults were baptized, after a period of education during which they were called Catechumens. The period of being a catechumen often lasted up to two years.
In the service of Baptism, prayers would be offered for the “old person” to die and for a new person to emerge from the baptismal font. And indeed this was the case for people who had lived 20 or 30 years or more and who had not known Christ, they emerged from the baptismal font a new person. We believe that baptism wipes out all the sins that precede it, so following immersion in the font, Psalm 32 would have been very appropriate to chant, because at that moment, all transgressions previously committed would have been forgiven, and all sin would have been covered by the waters of baptism. A transformed human being would emerge from the font.
In modern practice in the Orthodox Church, we baptize infants, who have not lived long enough to consciously sin. Thus, there does not appear to be an obvious “new person” that emerges from the font. There are some who argue that it is a mistake to baptize infants, that we should wait until people are older in order for there to be an “old person” to die and a new person to emerge. Many times, people have lamented to me that they wish they could have waited until they were 30 to be baptized, to get all the sins of youth behind them. The answer to this is that it is a good thing that we baptize infants, both to insure that they are baptized in case of an early death, but more important and more commonly, to allow a child to grow up knowing Christ before they know anything else, including how to sin.
However, we also know that baptism is by no means an end to the spiritual journey but rather a beginning. Unless one is baptized right before the moment of death, they will sin again after being baptized. Thus, the baptism of infants doesn’t deprive the infant of consciously sinning before baptism. Even if we waited until age 30 or 40 to be baptized, the “new person” would become corrupt through sin again and again.
This is why the sacrament of confession is so important, because it gives us an opportunity to get our soul back to the place it was at baptism, for the older person to die and for a new person to emerge. And even more frequently, this is why we receive Holy Communion hopefully weekly and pray daily, as a way for our sins to be covered by the grace of God. The change of a person from an “old person” to a “new person” is something that takes place in one sense at baptism, in that baptism initiates a person to be a child of God. It brings them from outside of the family of God into the family of God. And in another sense, the change from “old person” to “new person” takes place on a daily basis through prayer, as we daily seek to shed the sin of the “old person who is corrupt according to deceitful desires” (From the sacrament of baptism), and to “put on the new life, which renews him (her) according to the image of the Creator.”
The first verse of Psalm 32 is one that should come to mind often. Most of us don’t think of our baptisms, as we don’t remember them. However, we should remember that there was a moment in our lives at baptism, where we became children of God, and were dedicated to Him. And we should frequently affirm this for ourselves, that indeed we are children of God, our lives should be dedicated to Him, and that it takes effort and constant vigilance to grow in His image.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Indeed “blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered.” Even more so, it is a blessing when we realize that there is joy in desiring to continually grow in Christ, that the day of our baptism wasn’t an end, but the beginning of a life lived in and for Christ.