The Priest unties the girdle of the one who is about to be enlightened and divests them of outer clothing and shoes. He stands them facing East, wearing only a tunic, unbelted, bareheaded and unshod, with the hands down. He breathes on their face three times, signs the forehead and breast three times and places his hand on their head as he says the following Prayer:
In your name, Lord God of truth,
and that of your Only-Begotten Son and your Holy Spirit,
I place my hand on the head of your servant [name],
who has been counted worthy to take refuge in your holy Name
and to be guarded under the shelter of your wings. [Ps 90/91: 4] Remove from him/her that ancient error [cf. Gen 3] and fill him/her with faith in you, and hope and love, [cf. 1 Cor 13:13] so that he/she may know that you are the only true God,
and your Only-Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and your Holy Spirit.
Grant that he/she may walk in your commandments [cf. Ps 118/119:32, 35] and preserve those things that are pleasing to you,
for if someone does them, they will live by them. [Rom 10:5] Inscribe him/her in your book of life [Phil 4:3; Rev 20:12 cf. Ps 68/69:29] and unite him/her to the flock of your inheritance. [cf. Lk 12:32; Jn 10:16] Let your holy Name be glorified in him/her [Ps 85/86:12] and that of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ
and of your life-giving Spirit.
Let your eyes remain ever fixed in mercy on him/her,
and your ears to hear the voice of his/her supplication. [Ps 27/28:2; 114/116:1; 139/140:7] Make him/her glad in the works of his/her hands and in all his/her race, [Ps 27/28:4] that he/she may confess you,
worshiping and glorifying your great and most high Name,
and may praise you throughout all the days of his/her life.
For every power of heaven sings your praise, [Prayer of Manasses, 15; cf. Ps 148] and yours is the glory, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
This prayer from the current Byzantine Office of Baptism is found in the earliest manuscript of the service book of Constantinople, Barberini gr. 336, dating to the end of the 8th century. The three mentions of the Son and Holy Spirit (lines 2, 9, 16f) are a bit awkward, suggesting that they were later additions to an ancient prayer, made as a response to theological controversies in the 4th and 5th centuries.
According to Orthodox theology, the spiritual life is lived within the Church and this prayer has begun the process of initiation for Eastern Orthodox (both children and adults) since, possibly, the 4th century when St. John Chrysostom describes rites quite similar to those indicated in this text. One is called to the spiritual life by the action of the Holy Spirit and, accordingly, in his second Baptismal Instruction, Chrysostom urges his listeners to sense “that it is the grace of the Spirit . . . [that] touches your head together with the hand of the priest” (II.10). The candidate may have come under his or her own power (or, if the candidate is an infant, he or she may have been brought by parents), but beyond that, the person seeking initiation is passive. Through the prayers and symbolic actions of the Church, a new relationship is created between the candidate and God. The prayer makes it clear that the human is vulnerable, seeking refuge in God’s name and protection under God’s wings.
Alluding to the fallen state of creation that affects each human (Orthodox Christianity does not include the theological concept of “Original Sin”), the prayer asks that the “ancient error” be replaced with faith, hope, and love. In a sense this speaks of metanoia and a reorientation of life away from misguided judgment toward what is good so that God can be known. The person is now able to live according to a godly ethic, thereby pleasing God.
The prayer incorporates images lifted from Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the book of the living, God’s flock) that early Christians applied to their community. These indicate a new relationship between the candidate for initiation and God; for the duration of his or her life, the person will be seen and heard by God. This new relationship will result in fruitful actions, leading to confession and glorification of God.