This is not a thought out theological reflection. I simply want to point out that the Old South, at its best, pointed out theological themes that had either been ignored in history or had lessened in value below what the Scriptures and Holy Tradition would hold as their true value.
Among those diminished values is the value of the Baptism of Tears, which renews the Baptism that we received as children. The Baptism of Tears, originally, was not something that took place every time one went for confession, but that which hit at certain points in a person’s life and utterly undid that which the world had done to the one confessing. The Baptism of Tears corresponds quite well, in some of the church fathers, to what the old Southern folk would have seen as a recommitment of one’s life at a camp revival. The Baptism of Tears is the realization of all that we have done to displease our God.
We do not rebaptize as Orthodox. But, the Baptism of Tears is the recognition that there is a type of rebaptism, not the official baptism of the Church, but rather the washing of our tears which recognizes that we have not lived up to the promises that were made for us at Holy Baptism, and which we renew when we go to Confession. For some the first Baptism of Tears may be the first time that they have allowed their Holy Baptism to truly become active in their lives. In this sense, there is some similarity to the Pentecostal insistence that a Baptism of the Holy Spirit is needed in order to progress in the spiritual life. But, for others, the Baptism of Tears may be the recommitment of promises that they made as adults, and from which they have fallen.
Yet, here is what we also need to notice about the church fathers. Those who are undergoing yearly Baptisms of Tears are not to be recognized as spiritual, but rather as those who have not truly understood the faith. The Baptism of Tears is a rare and not often repeated experience. Rather, it is the uncommon experience of God’s presence calling one to repentance and to truly change into the likeness of Christ.
May many of us who are Orthodox receive the nudge of the Holy Spirit that leads us to the Baptism of Tears.