Do you mean that, aged 3, they said they were saved? Or do you mean that in later life, as they looked back to their 3-year-old selves, they saw a child already in the kingdom?
According to their statements, they were saved. Now, how one determines one is saved is another point of contention between our faiths. We believe that you do not know until you hear the words "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matt 25:21) after you have passed. You believe it is once you have accepted Christ into your heart.
You are right: almost certainly they don't, though doubtless Piaget would have something to say on the theme. But I think we agree here. But does salvation depend on such understanding? Cannot a child's prayer be sincere at the level he is at, link him truly with Christ, and deepen as he grows in years?
Of course it can! I do not doubt the sincerity of the prayer. After all, did not our Lord say, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 19:14) My point is at what age are we to know when the prayers become sincere and when they are not? Just because we may not understand the utterances and cries of an infant does not mean God can't understand their hearts. We should not let our human limitations of anatomy and psychology confine the divine abilities for one to be saved.
the child, as it grew, for whatever reason, chose to abandon that which had been given to them. ... With the Baptists, once you have repented and been baptized, you are forgiven forever, and all is well
What you are saying is that the infant is saved, then later loses his salvation, then later can regain it. An odd concept. How many times can he drop out of the Kingdom and regain entry?
This is where we disagree. For the Orthodox, salvation is a process. We do not believe that once you have accepted Christ into your life that you have a golden ticket into heaven. This is a marathon race; our salvation is something we constantly press towards. During the race, you may slip and fall, but then regain your footing. You keep striving towards the finish line, even though you may have gone off into some trail in the woods at some point in your life. (Hey, who knows, maybe you have ADHD and can be easily destracted by such things!
St. Paul writes about this struggle in his letter to the Philippians, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)
Even the Lord himself warned us to be vigilent in our faith as we press towards our salvation in the parable of the ten virgins:
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." Matthew 25:1-13
This parable, by the way, is very familiar to the Orthodox, as we review it at length
during Holy Week.
Speaking of Holy Week and Lent, we also learn during that time that should we stray away from the faith that had been given to us as a child, we can return, and shall be welcome back with open arms.
...But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry." Luke 15: 17-24
How many times may we stray that the Lord may forgive us? I believe Christ addresses this in the parable of the unforgiving servant:
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Matthew 18:21-35
As we forgive, so shall we be forgiven.
Personally, I think it is much more reasonable to think that you will be judged on your faith and your actions throughout your life as a whole
, then just one prayer said as a small child. You say that a sign of true faith is a life changed by faith. I will not disagree that a person of faith must exemplify his faith through works. St. James himself writes about this in his Gospel, James 2:14-26.
However, I do believe that as people age they can go through periods of great faith and periods of little faith. They may go through entire periods of complete dis-belief in God. (Heaven forbid!) However, if they repent and come back to the faith they knew as a small child, I believe, and the Orthodox Church teaches, God will honor their faith.
I believe that by baptizing the child as an infant, you are allowing the child to have a solid bedrock of faith and the ability to experience the mysteries of the sacraments from a very early age. A friend of mine was born to parents whose mother was Orthodox and father was Roman Catholic. When my friend was born, he was initially baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church. Now, in the Catholic Church, you cannot receive communion until you are about 7 years old, and are old enough to go to confession. (I am not inluding this as a point of contention, but to make as part of the story.) At the age of 2, my friend had to have his tonsils taken out. His mother, out of concern for the health of both his physical being and his immortal soul insisted he be chrismated in the Orthodox Church and be raised Orthodox, so that he could receive the life-giving sacrament of communion prior to his surgery. (In the Orthodox Church, once one has been baptized and chrismated in the Church, one can receive communion, regardless of age.)
So you see, by having him baptized and chrismated at such a young age, he not only received the gift of having the Holy Spirit come down and dwell in him, but he also was able to receive the life-giving, precious body and blood of Our Lord.
This, to me, is the best and most important reason to allow for the baptism of infants. It opens the door to receive the other life-giving sacraments of the Church. Through the sacraments, we work towards achieving salvation.