IN THE PAST, during the “golden age” of Christian liturgy, the sacrament of Baptism was performed on the paschal night as an organic part of the great annual celebration of Easter. Even today, long after the link between the two solemnities has been broken, the baptismal rites and the paschal liturgy still keep an indelible mark of their initial connection and interdependence. Not many Christians, however, are aware of this. Not many know that the liturgy of Easter is primarily a baptismal liturgy; that when on Easter eve they hear the biblical readings about the crossing of the Red Sea, or the three children in the furnace, or Jonah in the whale’s womb, they listen to the most ancient “paradigms” of Baptism and attend the great baptismal vigil. They do not know that the joy which illumines the holy night, when the glorious announcement “Christ is Risen!” resounds, is the joy of those who were “baptized into Christ and have put on Christ,” who were “buried with Him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,” even so they also should walk in the “newness of life” (Rom. 6.4). Not many Christians have been taught that Easter as a liturgical feast, and Lent as a liturgical preparation for Easter, developed originally from the celebration of Baptism; that Pascha, the “Feast of Feasts,” is thus truly the fulfillment of Baptism, and Baptism is truly a paschal sacrament.
Knowing all this, however, is more than just learning an interesting chapter in liturgical archeology. It is indeed the only way to a fuller understanding of Baptism, of its meaning in the life of the Church and in our individual lives as Christians. And it is this fuller understanding of the fundamental mystery of the Christian faith and Christian life that, more than anything else, we badly need today.
Why? Because, to put it very simply, Baptism is absent from our life. It is, to be sure, still accepted by all as a self-evident necessity. It is not opposed, not even questioned. It is performed all the time in our churches. It is, in other terms, “taken for granted.” Yet, in spite of all this, I dare to affirm that in a very real sense it is absent, and this “absence” is at the root of many tragedies of the Church today.
—Fr Alexander Schmemann, Of Water & the Spirit
miracle of the Easter fire in Jerusalem
Fr Schmemann on Easter and the Resurrection
Fr Schmemann on Easter and the Resurrection
The celebration of Pascha at St Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, Texas
Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) was educated in France before moving to the United States in 1951, where he quickly gained recognition as a dynamic and articulate spokesman for Orthodoxy. He was for many years Dean and Professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. Through his lectures on college campuses, his regular radio broadcasts to Eastern Europe, and his books, now translated into eleven languages, he brought the Faith to an ever-growing audience. The following paragraphs are from his book Great Lent - Journey to Pascha, published in 1969:
It is necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is “brighter than the day,” who has tasted of that unique joy knows it. But what is that joy about? Why we can sing, as we do, during the Paschal liturgy: “today are all things filled with light, heaven and earth and places under the earth”? In what sense do we celebrate, as we claim we do, “the death of Death, the annihilation of Hell, the beginning of a new life and everlasting . . .”? To all these questions, the answer is: the new life which almost two thousand years ago shone forth from the grave, has been given to us, to all those who believe in Christ. And it was given to us on the day of our Baptism, in which, as St. Paul says, we “were buried with Christ...unto death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead we also may walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Thus, on Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us . . . That is why, at the end of the Paschal Matins, we say: “Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave!”
. . . It is not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the “new life” which we received as a gift, and that, in fact, we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? . . . We manage to forget even the death and them, all of a sudden, in the midst of our “enjoying life” it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless. We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various “sins”, yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us; Indeed, we live as if he never came. This is the only sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.
If we realize this, then we may undrestand what Easter is . . . and understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it . . . It is the worship of the Church that was from the very beginning and still is our entrance into, our communion with, the new life of the Kingdom. It is through her liturgical life that the Church reveals to us something of that which “the ear has not heard, the eye has not seen and what has not yet entered the heart of man but what God has prepared for those who love Him.” And in the center of that liturgical life, as its heart and climax, as the sun whose rays penetrate everywhere, stands Pascha. It is the door opened every year into the splendour of Christ’s Kingdom, the foretaste of the eternal joy that awaits us, the glory of the victory which already, although invisibly, fills the whole creation: “death is no more!”
Love Without Limits
Archimandrite Lev Gillet, who signed many of his books “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” was one of the great Orthodox spiritual guides of the last century. His biography, written by his longtime friend Mme. Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, has been translated into English and offers invaluable insight into the life of Fr Lev, as well as of the circumstances surrounding the growth of Orthodox Christianity in Western Europe, especially following the Russian Revolution.
In 1990, St. Vladimir’s Seminary published two essays of Fr Lev in a volume titled Serve the Lord With Gladness. The first, “Our Life in the Liturgy,” is a simple and highly accessible introduction to the Orthodox Divine Liturgy or Eucharistic service. The second, “Be My Priest,” is a profound meditation on the significance of the priesthood, which appeals to both ordained clergy and others who make up the “universal priesthood” of baptized believers.
In this series of webpage columns dedicated to “Life in Christ,” we will be offering occasional translations of chapters from another of Fr Lev’s books, Amour Sans Limites (Love Without Limits), published in 1971 by “Éditions de Chevetogne,” a Roman Catholic monastery in Belgium (where the monks celebrate both Western and Byzantine rites). It is difficult to render Fr Lev’s lyrical French into English, but we hope that these efforts will provide readers with something of the spiritual richness and profound theological insight that characterized this humble monk, who was truly a modern Father of the Church.
“To You, Whoever You May Be”
Whoever you are, whatever you may be, says the Lord of Love, my hand is resting upon you at this very moment. By this gesture, I am letting you know that I love you and that I call you for my own.
I have never ceased loving you, speaking to you, or calling you. Sometimes it was in silence and solitude. Sometimes it was there, where others were gathered in my name.
Often you did not hear this call, because you were not listening. At other times you perceived it, but in a way that was vague and confused. Occasionally you were at the point of responding with acceptance. And sometimes you gave me that response without any lasting commitment. You were deeply moved to hear me. You recoiled from the decision to follow me.
Never thereafter did you finally submit, totally and exclusively, to the calling of Love.
Yet now, once again, I come to you. I want to speak to you once more. I want you wholly for myself. Let me repeat: Love desires you, totally and exclusively.
I will speak to you in secret, confidentially, intimately. I will place my mouth close to your ear. Hear, then, what my lips want to speak to you in hushed tones—what they want to murmur to you.
I am your Lord, the Lord of Love. Do you want to enter into the life of Love?
This is not an invitation to some realm of tepid tenderness. It is a calling to enter into the burning flame of Love. There alone is true conversion: conversion to incandescent Love.
Do you wish to become someone other than you have been, someone other than you are? Do you wish to be someone who lives for others, and first of all for that Other and with that Other who calls all things into being? Do you wish to be a brother to all, a brother to the entire world?
Then hear what my Love speaks to you.
My child, you have never known who you really are. You do not yet know yourself. I mean, you have never really known yourself to be the object of my Love. As a result, you have never known who you are in me, or all the potential within yourself.
Awake from this sleep and its bad dreams! In certain moments of truth, you see nothing in yourself but failures and defeats, set-backs, corruption, and perhaps even crimes. But none of that is really of you. It is not your true “me,” the most profound expression of your true self.
Beneath and behind all that, deeper than all your sin, transgressions and lacks, my eyes are upon you. I see you, and I love you. It is you that I love. It’s not the evil you do—the evil that we can neither ignore nor deny nor lessen (is black actually white?). But underneath it all, at a greater depth, I see something else that is still very much alive.
The masks you wear, the disguises you adopt might well hide you from the eyes of others—and even from your own eyes. But they cannot hide you from me. I pursue you even there where no one has ever pursued you before.
Your deceptive expression, your feverish quest for excitement, your hard and avaricious heart—all of that I separate from you. I cut it away and cast it far off from you.
Hear me. No one truly understands you. But I understand you. I can speak about you such wonderful, marvelous things! I can say these things about you. Not about the “you” that the powers of darkness have so often led astray, but about the “you” who is as I desire you to be, the “you” who dwells in my thoughts as the object of my love. I can say these things about the “you” who can still be what I want you to be, and to be so visibly.
Become visibly, then, what you already are in my mind. Be the ultimate reality of yourself. Realize all the potential I have placed within you.
No man or woman is capable of realizing any inner beauty that is not equally present within you. There is no divine gift toward which you cannot aspire. Indeed, you will receive all those gifts together, if you truly love, with me and in me.
Whatever you may have done in the past, I will set you free, I will loose your bonds. And if I loose your bonds, who can prevent you from rising up and walking?
Copyright © Éditions de Chevetogne, Namur, Belgium, 1971;
The Patriarch of Moscow serves
The Lord's Funeral, Good Friday
Sister Vassa (Orthodox) on Holy Saturday
(and about Pope Francis and Hell)
Sister Vassa on Easter
Sorry about my coverage of this week, but I have been both ill with an allergy and deeply depressed, without energy. Then, today, the depression was lifted, and I have been working hard to catch up. Depression is a strange thing. All the reasons for being depressed are still there, but I don't have to bear them alone. Christ has risen!! Alleluia!!
The Easter Fire arrives from Jerusalem to Moscow 2018
The Easter Fire arrives from Jerusalem to Moscow 2018
Patriarch Kirill leads Orthodox Easter service at Christ the Saviour Cathedral