Rites of initiation

The fact that we have two recensions with differences in the liturgical descriptions suggests a diversity of practice in these communities. However, what they yield overall is an emerging pattern of initiation by anointing followed by baptism, with an emphasis on calling the Spirit to come upon and sanctify the oil. The main baptismal images used are of protection and new birth. This ritual sequence is confirmed in the Didascalia, where an anointing of the candidate's head was followed by anointing of the whole body, and then baptism in water. The theological emphasis is on messianic status and new birth. However, the Gospel of Philip, which may have originated in Edessa and reflects beliefs which would later be deemed Gnostic, seems to know the sequence to be baptism and then anointing - though again with considerable emphasis on the anointing. Even here, though, the main image is on the messianic status of the newly baptized who receive the Spirit, which is associated with the anointing.

The Apostolic Constitutions was written in Greek and reflects a Greek-speaking community in the region of Antioch. The author tends to espouse a semi-Arian Christology. He uses a number of sources, including the Didache and the Didascalia, and therefore has duplications. In the rite, which is original or peculiar to the document, we have a pre-baptismal and post-baptismal anointing. The first oil is blessed 'for the remission of sins, and the first preparation for the confession of baptism, so that the candidate, when he is anointed, may be freed from all ungodliness, and may become worthy of initiation, according to the command of the Only-Begotten' (7: 42). The water is blessed in a prayer which gives thanks for the wonderful works of God. After the baptism the candidate is anointed with myron (chrism), with an emphasis on cleansing.

As far as evidence for the Palestinian, or Jerusalem, usage is concerned, our first clues come in the Mystagogical Catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. (For a trenchant defence of Cyril's authorship, see Doval 2001.) Cyril's rite of baptism included - after instruction - a ritualized renunciation of Satan and commitment to Christ, stripping of clothes, anointing, baptism, post-baptismal anointing with chrism, which Cyril associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the putting on of a white garment.

An early Syriac commentary on the liturgy (British Library Additional MS 14496) was used by subsequent East and West Syrian commentators. It exists in several recensions, some of which reflect use of a pre-baptismal anointing only, which seemed to be the East Syrian usage, and some a post-baptismal anointing, which seems to have been the West Syrian usage (Brock 1980).

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