Interesting experience and narration. Personally, I find it best just not to engage those who wish to argue as they have no intent on listening to what you have to say but just wish quarrel.
I wrote a little paper my first year in seminary on whether Baptism is a “private” or an “ecclesial” event? How is Baptism connected to the Eucharist? Does the contemporary Orthodox practice to which you have been exposed make this clear?
This is some 4 years old and not very well written but you might find it interesting.
Is Baptism a “private” or an “ecclesial” event? How is Baptism connected to the Eucharist? Does the contemporary Orthodox practice to which you have been exposed make this clear?
This question is framed into three parts and I would like to address each part individually. First I will address the nature of Baptism in relation to the idea that it should be “private” or an “ecclesial” celebration. I will continue with the undeniable connections Baptism shares with the Eucharist. Finally, I will discuss the Orthodox practice I have been exposed to personally.
Before I continue I would like to clarify my interpretations of the terminology, for the sake of this argument in this essay, will be defined. “Private” will not refer to a function that only a select few are invited but rather done outside of the Church building itself and / or the office of Liturgy, but yet still be cooperate in nature. “Ecclesial” will refer to a direct connection to the office of Liturgy and also cooperate in nature. There are no services in the Orthodox Church that are not cooperate in nature and in all my experience “private” baptisms has never been an exclusive event but a collaborating one where all are invited. Every service is cooperate even if it is just one individual performing it. The cooperation comes from the Saints, the Angels, the many eyed Cherubim and six winged Seraphim. All the heavenly host participate in the glory of God.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s “Of Water & The Spirit” makes a strong case for Baptism being an “ecclesial” event. I think it important to explain that Fr. Schmemann’s idea of “ecclesial” means the participation of the entire Church directly connected to the Liturgy itself. He lays out his case with the idea that Pascha, and to some degree Liturgy, as being primarily baptismal in nature. Fr. Schmemann claims that by baptism being separated from Liturgy there is a universal loss of piety by Christians for this Holy Mystery. (1974, Schmemann, p.4)
What Fr. Schmemann fails to address is how the real life of the Church would not be able to deal with his vision. Particularly when whole countries became Orthodox and children are born everyday it would be impossible for baptism to be strictly “ecclesial” as he defines. The sheer number of children and adult converts would make for the length of services and stress on the clergy to be overwhelming. Another problem that arises, and I have experienced this personally, is disregard for the proper order and the shortening of the Baptismal service by the priest.
I am at a loss with some of Fr. Schmemann’s statements; he strongly feels that baptism should be “ecclesial” but makes the proper point that the Holy Spirit guides the Church today as yesterday and affirms that baptism is not an “ecclesial” but “private” celebration in the Church. Fr. Schmemann argues in his “Introduction to Liturgical Theology” that Western infiltration to Orthodoxy and scholasticism has caused the divisionary concept that there are “private” services. This statement is not in parallel to Christian history in that Baptism was performed predominately within homes and at chapels built on family properties throughout the East, especially in Greece. To truly understand this argument there must not be operation of words. I believe the root of the question is should Baptism be directly connected to a Liturgy.
I find it very difficult to label this Holy Mystery as “private” or “ecclesial” but there is a plethora of evidence that shows throughout the history of Christianity the Holy Mystery of baptism has been “private” more often then “ecclesial”. Though this Holy Mystery took place more often privately then “ecclesial” one can hardly ague, canonically, it should be one way or the other. The New Testament accounts particularly in the book of Acts how Phillip baptized the Enuch (Acts 8: 26-40). Saul was baptized by Ananias in his own home after a vision from the Lord (Acts 9: 10-19). Apostles Paul, Timothy, and Silas baptized Lydia and her whole household at Philippi (Acts 16:11-15). The Philippian jailer was baptized with his whole family (Acts 16:25-34). All of these accounts were “private” in nature and do not reference a Eucharistic celebration in direct connection to the baptism.
This does not mean “ecclesial” baptism’s did not or should not take place. In fact early Jerusalem was known for mass baptisms of the faithful on Pascha and were very joyous celebrations and in some ways represent the ideal situation. I feel that Fr. Schmemann makes a very strong argument and clearly shows the connection baptism shares with the Eucharist. This connection though is not a requirement for the other to be present at the same time. In other words, the connection is symbolic in reality. The nature of this sharing is profound and clearly Baptism prefigures Eucharistic sacrifice.
How is Baptism connected to the Eucharist?
Baptism is linked to the Eucharist in that it is a rebirth into Christ. It is also part of the required process of putting on of Christ by the death of the old man and resurrection of the new. The taking away of the sins of the world in the triple immersion in the Holy water of life is likened unto confession. The Eucharist being the Body broken and Blood spilled for the salvation of the human race is a direct correlation to Christ’s freely laying down of his life for the sins of this world, taking up the Cross, and personally bearing it for his crucifixion. Baptism is the beginning of a new life in Christ in the Church; A life of community.
In my own experience baptism has been “private” in nature. This has been a result of many different factors. The time factor, whether right or wrong, plays a large role why most priest choose to separate the Holy Mystery of Baptism outside of the Sunday Liturgy. Baptism performed in full is upwards of two hours in length. This does not include the sermon given to the faithful on the importance of this Holy Mystery. What I have experienced when baptism is performed directly after Liturgy has lead not to a cooperate experience with the whole church participating but rather the opposite. Parishioners are a bit tired and often are hungry after Liturgy, children are restless, and unfortunately the average parishioner is not willing to stay for five to six hours of service. This also does not take into account how draining it is on the clergy to spend four hours or more serving, especially if Matins is performed before Liturgy.
Does the contemporary Orthodox practice to which you have been exposed make this clear?
With these factors taken into account, in my experience, Baptism performed after Liturgy, often the Baptismal service is shortened to detriment of the soon to be baptized. If not shortened then the service is divided into parts such as the Exorcism and Blessing of the Waters before Liturgy begins and the triple immersion / Chrismation performed after Liturgy. This is clearly not canonically allowed yet the priest often tries to bend the rules so the service will be as Fr. Schmemann desires; a earthy cooperate event.
This paper, as a first year student, has been by far the most challenging to write. I agree with much of what Fr. Schmemann explains as a Christian ideal, a conciliatory washing away of sins in the faithful and soon to be Christian / Chrismated. Why then has this not been the path the Church has followed in that the Holy Spirit today as yesterday guides the Church? I can not agree with Fr. Schmemann’s idea that “old fashioned liturgics was unable to view critically that realm of the Church’s life in which worship has long since in fact been accepted on the one hand as a “meeting of needs” governed by the “demands” of believers”. (Schmemann, 1966, p.24)
This “fact” seems to be shared by Schmemann and the “Paris school of theology” alone and is not the universal view of the Orthodox Church. I firmly believe that if Fr. Schmemann’s declarations are the perfection of the "true" understanding of the Baptismal rite then the Church would be in conciliatory agreement and this direction would have been taken. This would have been the path of the Holy Sacrament of Baptism but in reality it has not been. Another factor pointing towards Baptism being “private” in nature is the ancient celebration of Slava. Slava is a Slavic tradition dating back to the sixth century, which links the baptized to the Kom or godfather. As Orthodox Christians who desire the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives, strive for this acquisition, we become not baptismal but Eucharistic. Countless baptisms have taken place in rivers, lakes, homes, hospitals, even water which had been frozen over. Every baptism, no matter how isolated or removed from Liturgy is ekklēsia because of the host in Heaven who rejoice the death and resurrection of a soul unto salvation.