The Incredible Story of a Baptism with Sand

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

Abba Palladios told us he had heard one of the fathers whose name was Andrew (whom we also met) say:

When we were in Alexandria, Abba Andrew at the eighteenth mile post told us saying:

As a young man I was very undisciplined. A war broke out and confusion reigned so, together with nine others, I fled to Palestine. One of the nine was a fellow with iniative (Grk. philoponos, strictly, one who likes hard work, an industrious fellow) and another was a Hebrew. When we came into the wilderness, the Hebrew became mortally sick, so we were in great distress, for we did not know what to do for him. But we did not abandon him. Each of us carried him as far as he was able. We wanted to get him to a city or to a market town so that he should not die in the wilderness. But when the young man was completely worn out and was brought to the point of death by hunger and a burning fever, by utter exhaustion and a raging thirst from the heat (in fact he was about to expire), he could no longer bear to be carried. With many tears, we decided to abandon him in the wilderness and go our way. We could see death from thirst lying in store for us. We were in tears when we set him down in the sand. When he saw that we were going to leave him, he began to adjure us, saying: ‘By the God who is going to judge both the quick and the dead, leave me not to die as a Jew, but as a Christian. Have mercy on me and baptise me so that I too may depart this life as a Christian and go to the Lord.’ We said to him: ‘Truly brother, it is impossible for us to do anything of the sort. We are laymen and baptizing is bishops’ work and priests.’ Besides, there is no water here.’ But he continued to adjure us in the same terms and with tears, saying: ‘Oh, Christians, please do not deprive me of this benefit.’ While we were most unsure of what to do next, the fellow with initiative among us, inspired by God, said to us: ‘Stand him up and take off his clothes.’ We got him to his feet and with great difficulty and stripped him. The one with initiative filled both his hands with sand and poured it three times over the sick man’s head saying: ‘Theodore is baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, and we all answered amen to each one of the names of the holy, consubstantial and worshipful Trinity. The Lord is my witness, brethren, that Christ, the Son of the living God, thus cured and reinvigorated him so that not a trace of illness remained in him. In health and vigour he ran before us for the rest of our journey through the wilderness. When we observed so great and so sudden a transformation, we all praised and glorified the ineffable majesty and lovingkindness of Christ our God. When we arrived at Ascalon, we took this matter to the blessed and saintly Dionysios, who was bishop there, and told him what had happened to the brother on the journey. When the truly holy Dionysios heard of these things, he was stupefied by so extraordinary a miracle. He assembled all the clergy and put to them the question of whether he should recognize the effusion of sand as a baptism or not. Some said that, in view of the extraordinary miracle, he should allow it as a valid baptism; others said he should not. Gregory the Theologian enumerates all the kinds of baptism. He speaks of the Mosaic baptism, baptism in water, that is, but before that of baptism in a cloud and in the sea. ‘The baptism of John was no longer Judaic baptism, for it was not only a baptism in water, but also unto repentance. Jesus also baptised, but in the Spirit, and this is perfection. I know also a fourth baptism: that of martyrdom and of blood. And I know a fifth: the baptism of tears.’ ‘Which of these baptisms did he undergo?’, asked some, ‘so that we might pronounce on its validity? For indeed the Lord said to Nicodemus: Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:5).’ To this, others replied: ‘But indeed they were baptised, as Clement, the author of the Stromates, testifies in the fifth book of Hypotyposes. In commenting on the saying of the Apostle Paul, he opines: I thank God that I baptised none of you (1 Cor. 1:14) that Jesus is said to have baptised none but Peter; Peter to have baptised Andrew; Andrew, James and John, and they the others.’ When they had said all this and much more beside, it seemed good to the blessed Bishop Dionysios to send the brother to the Holy Jordan and for him to be baptised there. The fellow with iniative he ordained a deacon. (The Spiritual Meadow 176)


  1. This made me think of Fr. Seraphim and his truly other-worldly focus, his truly catholic spirit, and the persecutions with which the hyper-zealous had persecuted him and his disciple, then-named Alexey Young.

    St. Nikodemos mentions in his comment on a Canon of St. John the Faster about the necessity for parents to emergency baptize their dying children that nevertheless should they survive, they should be given the full rite of baptism in the Church from the beginning. The holy Patriarch did not say this in his canon, but St. Nikodemos mentions it and it is probably the most correct. Nevertheless I can tell you that not many would today implement St. Nikodemos’ advice in all its rigor, and I can give you the following example:

    My son was born with a diaphragmatic hernia– a hole in the organ that moves to fill the lungs. This can be quite deadly for a number of reasons: suffocation through lack of ability to breath in enough air, pulmonary hypertension through organs being up on the chest cavity, etc. We were then attending an OCA parish where the priest advised us that, due to the risk of our little one’s death, we should baptize him immediately if he came out alive.

    We did just that. Basically the first time I touched my son it was in order to baptize him with the holy water that we had brought with us, and it was simply through “sprinkling” on his little forehead, since he had been immediately paralyzed and intubated upon birth. His godfather was there with us, who prayed the trisagion prayers quickly, and then I performed the baptism.

    Miraculously (and I don’t say that lightly), he made a full recovery in 21 days. Nevertheless, our priest did not baptize again, but rather did everything but baptize. I checked with another priest from the OCA and mentioned St. Nikodemos’ recommendation but he simply said that such a repetition was “not in our tradition.”

    I think I disagree, but upon re-assuming membership at our ROCOR parish, our priest (and I think wisely) also did not think it proper to re-do any of the initiatiatory holy Mysteries, since little Haralambos had frequently received holy Communion since that time and thus was a full member of Christ’s Body, the Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    Nevertheless, it is stories like these which remind us that God often honors the intentions of His children who may not be able to provide everything externally correct– His Holy Spirit makes up that which is lacking. Glory to Him whose will is our salvation!

  2. Thank you for those edifying comments. May God grant health and many years to His servant Haralambos!! Your priest’s decision reminds me of a story in St. Dionysius’ (of Alexandria) epistle to the Pope of Rome. A convert saw an Orthodox baptism and despaired because his own baptism outside of the Church was inadequate and even blasphemous (of course not the case with your son, God forbid!). He was received into the Church by chrismation by someone other that St. Dionyius. The convert was inconsolable and he desperately desired to be baptized but St. Dionysius would not only because he received the Holy Eucharist:

    And throwing himself at my feet, he began to confess and to protest that this baptism by which he had been initiated among heretics was not of this kind, nor had it anything whatever in common with this of ours, because that it was full of blasphemy and impiety. And he said that his soul was pierced with a very bitter sense of sorrow, and that he did not dare even to lift up his eyes to God, because he had been initiated by those wicked words and things. Wherefore he besought that, by this purest laver, he might be endowed with adoption and grace. AND I, INDEED, HAVE NOT DARED TO DO THIS; BUT I HAVE SAID THAT THE LONG COURSE OF OF COMMUNION HAD BEEN SUFFICIENT FOR THIS. FOR I SHOULD NOT DARE TO RENEW AFRESH, AFTER ALL, ONE WHO HAD HEARD THE GIVING OF THANKS, AND WHO HAD ANSWERED WITH OTHERS AMEN; WHO HAD STOOD AT THE HOLY TABLE, AND HAD STRETCHED FORTH HIS HANDS TO RECEIVE THE BLESSED FOOD, and had received it, and for a very long time had been a partaker of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.(Epistle 9 to Sixtus)

    Your priest wisely demonstrated the same patristic discernment.


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