Feast of St Agatha the Martyr
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