Before the ascension of Jesus into Heaven, he commanded the disciples to (Mathew 28: 19) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
During the first few centuries of the Church, this was conducted in a manner following the footprints of Jesus. He was baptized in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist and as a result of that, Christians preferred baptism in places with readily available flowing water.
And concerning baptism, Jesus taught us to baptize in this way: baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, you can baptize into other water.
But if you have no living water, you can pour out water three times upon the persons head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before you can baptism let the baptizer and the baptized fast, and whatever others can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.
This early instruction described that baptism could be done through a full immersion in a river or other “living water,” or it could be done by pouring water three times over the head. Both forms were valid and can be used depending on the situation.
Fasting, as can be seen in the quote above, was also one of the vital part of the preparation for baptism and included both the “baptizer” (i.e. the priest or deacon) and the one to be “baptized.”
During the 3rd century, ancient text called the Apostolic Tradition, describes how the rite of baptism was also surrounded by many other ceremonies. Below is a little guide to the major parts of baptism in the early Church.
In the Catholic Church, Baptism was and it is still preceded by several minor “exorcisms,” where priest or bishop said prayers over the catechumen which were about to be baptized, freeing them from any attachment to sin.
The Apostolic Tradition had it that, “They shall spend all that night in vigil, listening to reading and instruction.” Because, baptism was a major life-change for these early converts and the Church wanted to make sure that they were well prepared.
Profession of Faith and Renouncement of Sin
Before baptism could be done, the catechumens had to profess their faith in front of the priest/bishop and renounce their former way of life. In this case, the Catholic Encyclopedia explains how this renunciation and profession was practiced.
The catechumens would stand with their face to the West, which symbolized the abode of darkness, and stretching out their hand, or sometimes spitting out in defiance and abhorrence of the devil, was wont to make this abjuration.
It was also a custom for the candidate for baptism to make an explicit promise of obedience to Christ.
This was called syntassesthai Christo Greeks, which is the giving of oneself over to the control of Christ.
Anointing with oil
Those to be baptized were then anointed with oil before and after baptism. The first oil was always an “oil of exorcism” and the second oil after baptism symbolized their anointing into the three-fold mission which are “priest, prophet and king.”
The current formula for anointing the newly baptized also explains this symbolism, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
Removing off the old, to put on the new
Baptism is an awesome sacrament, one which marks the soul of a Christian forever.