Sermon Illustrations

Baptism of Ivan the Great Tsar of Russia

Ivan the Great was Tsar of Russia during the Fifteenth Century. He brought together the warring tribes into one vast empire. As a fighting man he was courageous. As a general he was brilliant. He drove out the Tartars, establishing peace across the nation.

However, Ivan was so busy waging his campaigns that he did not have a family. His friends and advisers were quite concerned. They reminded him there was no heir to the throne, and should anything happen to him the union would shatter into chaos. "You must take a wife who can bear you a son." The busy soldier statesman said he did not have the time to search for a bride, but if they would find a suitable one, he would marry her. The counsellors and advisers searched the capitals of Europe to find an appropriate wife for the Tsar. And find her, they did - the beautiful dark eyed daughter of the King of Greece. She was young, brilliant, and charming and the Tsar agreed to the marriage without having met her. The King of Greece was delighted, but there had to be one condition, "He cannot marry my daughter unless he becomes a member of the Greek Orthodox Church." Ivan’s response: "I will do it!" So, a priest was dispatched to Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Ivan was a quick student, learning the catechism quickly.

The tsar made his way to Athens accompanied by 500 of his personal palace guard. He was to be baptized into the Orthodox Church by full immersion, as was the custom of the Eastern Church. His soldiers, ever loyal, asked to be baptized also. The Patriarch of the Church assigned 500 priests to give the soldiers a one-on-one baptism crash course. The soldiers, all 500 of them, were to be immersed in one mass baptism. Crowds gathered from all over Greece. What a sight that must have been, 500 priests and 500 soldiers, a thousand people, walking into the blue Mediterranean. The priests dressed in black robes and tall black hats. The soldiers wore their battle uniforms with of all their regalia—ribbons of valour, medals of courage and their weapons of battle. Suddenly, there was a problem. The Church prohibited professional soldiers from being members; so they would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed. They could not be killers and church members.

After a hasty round of diplomacy, the problem was solved quite simply. As the words were spoken and the priests began to baptize them, each soldier reached to his side and withdrew his sword. Lifting it high overhead, every soldier was totally immersed-everything baptised except his fighting arm and sword. The ‘un-baptised’ arm is a true historical fact. How many un-baptised arms are here this morning? How many un-baptised wills are here? How many un-baptised talents? How many are there here this morning? Since Baptism, like circumcision, is an external sign of commitment to God, it calls for our lips to be baptised, our hearts to be baptised, everything about us to be baptised, submerged, covered by the work of Jesus, made alive with Christ who forgives us all our sins (2:13), thank God!

From a sermon by Warner Pidgeon, Baptism: What does it mean to have a cicumcised heart?, 11/8/2009

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