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Catechumens and Exorcisms

b98ed-romanides1Because of the nature of baptism, as the undertaking of a life-long struggle against the dividing powers of the devil by dying to the ways of the world and uniting one’s own self to the corporate life of a definite local community living in Christ, the Church was never in any great hurry to baptize its Catechumens. It was only after careful examination that one was accepted as a Catechumen. If accepted he was made a Christian the first day (canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council) by having the “prayer for making a Christian” read over him by the bishop and having his name written in the books of the community. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis, 1.) The second day he was made a Catechumen and beginning with the third day exorcisms were periodically read over him until the time for baptism, Holy Saturday. (Canon 7 of 2nd Ec. Council, The Service of Baptism, Trembela, p. 18.) A person was considered a Christian before baptism because he had become a disciple of Christ. As a Catechumen he began to have faith. But this faith alone was not what made him a member of the body of Christ. The difference between a Catechumen and a baptized person was that the Catechumen had not yet died in the waters of baptism and was not yet ready to share in the inner corporate life of selfless love in the sacraments.

In making a Christian the first day the prayer was read…now the prayer for giving a name to a newly born child on the eighth day). * See note below.

The second day the “prayer for making a Catechumen” is read in the name of the Holy Trinity in order to liberate the new disciple of Christ from the power of the devil and to open to him in due time the doors of life and love in Christ by writing his name in the book of life and uniting him to the Church.

During the period of the Catechesis, beginning with the third day, the exorcisms were read periodically until the day of baptism (The Service of Baptism, Trembela, p. 20-21). The exorcisms were obviously intended to liberate the candidate for baptism from any machinations of Satan by cleansing his heart (the will) from selfishness and egocentricism which may darken his understanding and pervert his conception of true membership in the Church. The prayers of exorcisms clearly have as their object the avoidance of easy entrance into the Church of people who are not entirely liberated from wrong motives inspired by the devil. Thus anyone baptized in time of emergency because of severe sickness cannot enter the clergy because his baptism was motivated by necessity and not by free choice. (Canon 12 of the Council of Neocaesarea, 315, A.D.)

It is interesting to note that in the entire service of baptism there is not one statement made about the forgiveness of any kind of guilt that may have been inherited from Adam. In the entire set of prayers for making a Christian, for making a Catechumen, and in the exorcisms, there is no mentioning of forgiving the sins of the one being prepared for the day of Baptism. In the prayer of the baptismal service itself, forgiveness of sins is mentioned only three times and always in the plural and within the context of many other petitions. The idea of original sin in terms of inherited guilt, as is common to the West, is completely foreign to the baptismal texts under consideration. There is no juridical forgiveness of a sin. Man is going through a process of being liberated from being captive to the devil who is the power of sin and corruption.

Baptism and Chrismation

To try to apply to the sacrament of baptism an ex opera operato type of interpretation whereby a person becomes a member of the body of Christ in terms of being with the original sin of guilt one moment and then without it the next moment, because a magical formula was recited, would be doing violence to the text of the service itself. The process whereby an individual is liberated from the devil is very difficult and requires a long period of prayer, fasting, and instruction in the teachings of the prophets and Christ.   The heart must be turned from evil and converted to Christ.   It must be turned from self-concern and emptied out in the desire to die with Christ in baptism.  Before baptism there must take place a spiritual progress which in degrees prepares one for the death of baptism and acceptance of the seal of the spirit. Baptism,  therefore, is not  a moment  from which one emerges only forgiven for a sin and differing from his previous existence only in terms of having accepted Christ and some vague principles of good conduct. It is rather the reaching of that stage at which one can freely choose to die with Christ to the vanity of the ways of this world and live within the love of the corporate life in the body of Christ.

The biblical conception of the solidarity which exists between man and creation is clearly seen in the prayers for the blessing of the waters. Sin and the devil entered the world through one man (Rom. 5,12) and creation was made subject to death and corruption (Rom. 8,20-22).  Because man is inseparably a part of and in constant communion with creation and is linked through procreation to the whole historical process of humanity, the fall of creation through one man automatically involves the fall and corruption of all men. Thus the restoration of our communion in the life of God must also come through the purification of fallen creation which is also under the sway of death and corruption. Since man is part of nature his communion with the life of God can only be restored through nature. Both man and creation are being saved together. The waters of baptism, therefore, must also be exorcised and cleansed of all demonic powers before anyone makes his entrance into them for baptism. The former communion with death and corruption through nature must be transformed into a communion with the life of God. Upon passing through the death of baptism one is resurrected to the new life by the vivifying seal of the gift of the Spirit which is the positive adoption of man by God Whose indwelling through His Spirit enables man to participate in the corporate life of the Eucharist.

 3. Man after Baptism

According to the presuppositions found in the baptismal rite of the Euchologion, as well as in the New Testament writings, it is clear that man after baptism, although a member of the Body of Christ on both sides of death, is sMll subject to the possibility of falling into the hands of the devil and being cut off from the body of Christ. Thus after the newly baptized emerges from the baptismal waters, having by his spiritual death defeated the devil, the Church again prays to God to ‘ρϋσαι άπό τοϋ πονηροΰ και πάντων των επιτηδευμάτων αύτοΰ . . .(text, Trembela, p. 111,3,4). The re-establishment of communion with God and neighbor through baptismal death and the seal of the gift of the Spirit is no magical guarantee against the possibility that man can again become a slave to the devil and be cut off from the body of Christ. (I Cor. 5,1-13; Rom. 11,21; II Thes. 3,6; 3,14; II Tim. 3,5.) In baptism unconditional war is declared against the devil and his powers of division and corruption. This war is continued in the corporate life of the Eucharist. To give up this fight entails damnation.

The unity of selfless love with Christ in His body and the saints on both sides of death is an end in itself and not a means to any other end. To put any other motivations before this unity in selfless love is to be still living under the power of the devil. Therefore the life of love in the Eucharist cannot be considered as a means to something else. The Eucharist is an end in itself because it is here where the life of selfless love with each other in Christ and the saints is continued and it is at the Eucharistic gathering that the dividing and destructive powers of the devil are continuously being defeated.   “For when you assemble frequently επί τό αυτό the powers of Satan are destroyed and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.” (St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, ch. 13.) Anyone, therefore, who does not hear the Spirit within him calling him to the Eucharistic assembly for the corporate life of selfless love is obviously under the sway of the devil. “He, therefore, who does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride and condemned himself . . .”(Ibid. ch. 5.)

It is more than evident from the basic principles of the baptismal services, from the prayers of the liturgies, and from the canons of the Church, that to be a member of the body of Christ meant to take part not only in the corporate prayers of the Church, but also to share in the body and blood of Christ. Both prayer and communion could not be understood individualistically because it was the whole body of the local Church which prayed έν ένΐ στόματι καΐ μια καρδία, it was the whole Church which said αμήν to the Eucharistic prayer (I Cor. 14,16), and it is the whole body that is called to communion by Christ. (St. John Chrysostom, 3rd Homily on Ephesians, 2,4,5.)

Man does not have life of himself. He can have life only by dying to this world and living a life within the Eucharistic life of the community. His salvation, therefore, cannot come by an individualistic piety. It comes only by grace and the measure by which he fights the devil and struggles to empty himself of self-concern within the life of Christ whose body is made up of real people. The condition for taking communion is not to be perfect, for then salvation would come from one’s own worthiness and not as a free gift from God. The only condition possible for communion is a corporate realization of a continuous struggle against the dividing forces of the devil and a continuous attempt at a corporate and selfless love. In this twofold struggle communion is not taken as a crowning reward for a self-complacency that may come from a period of fast or from doing good works. Rather communion is a free gift from God given to the whole body of Christ gathered to receive it. It is not intended for individualistic consumption. The body and blood of Christ are offered as the common food of life in unity so that by this unity the dividing powers of the devil may be continuously destroyed (ημάς πάντας, τους έκ τοϋ ενός άρτου καί τοϋ ποτηρίου μετέχοντας, ένώσαι άλλήλοις εις ενός πνεύματος άγιου κοινωνίαν . . . communion prayer, Lit. of St. Basil). It is only by the uniting force of life and love in Christ that the destructive powers of death are kept outside the body of Christ.

The dominion of the body of Christ can be limited, therefore, to a local community living in full the sacramental life. Outside this life Satan and his powers are still ruling humanity. (Rom. 16,20; I Cor. 2,6; 2,12; 11,32; II Cor. 2,11; 4,3; 11,14; Gal. 1, 4; Eph. 2,1-3; 6,11-17; II Thes. 2,8.) These powers of division and destruction can be defeated only by those who are passing their lives united with each other in Christ and in the consummation of their unity in love.4 Because the body of Christ is in a continuous process of becoming, it cannot be identified with any kind of organization in terms of extra sacramental institutionalism. The Holy Spirit is not the possession of individuals, but is always being sent upon the Church at its Eucharistic Gatherings. (Epiklesis.) Although Christians are temples of the One Holy Spirit and members of the One Body of Christ, they are corporately and constantly becoming what they are through the unity of love in Christ. It is only within the life of this unity that the Seal of the Spirit can remain unbroken.

A proper appreciation of the meaning of being a member of the body of Christ in terms of becoming can be gained by considering the fact that even during times of intense persecution Christians of the first centuries risked their lives in order to be present at the Eucharist (Dix, Shape of the Lit. p. 141-155.) Although they were partaking by themselves at home daily of the reserved sacrament they still had to be at the corporate meeting of the Church because it is at this meeting that the body of Christ is continuously being formed by the Father Who sends the Spirit to form the body of Christ. To be absent from the invocation of God to send His Spirit and to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ is to break the seal of the Spirit and to be cut off from the body of Christ. To be absent from this gathering because of fear would be illogical because one had already died to the world in baptism. Hence the Church practice of excommunicating non-participants in Eucharistic worship and communion even during times of persecution. (Canons 9, 10 of the Holy Apostles; Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch; Canon 2 of Trullo.)

—Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, Man and His True Life: According to The Greek Orthodox Service Books

…to be continued.


***Eighth Day Prayer: Ο Lord our God, we pray unto thee, and we beseech thee, that the light of thy countenance may be shown upon this thy servant, N.; and that the cross of thine Only-begotten Son may be graven in his (her) heart, and in his (her) thoughts: that he (she) may flee from the vanity of the world and from every evil snare of the enemy, and may follow after thy commandments. And grant, Ο Lord, that thy holy Name may remain unrejected; by him (her); and that he (she) may be united, in due time, to thy holy Church; and that the dread Sacraments of thy Christ may be administered unto him (her): That, having lived according to thy commandments, and preserved without flaw the seal, he (she) may receive the bliss of the elect in thy kingdom; through the grace and love towards mankind of thine Only-begotten Son, with whom also thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy, and good, and life-giving Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.    Amen.