Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Baptismal Renunciation of Satan: Alexander Schmemann

Alexander Schmemann, Of Water & The Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (SVS Press, 1974): 28-30.
When [the pre-baptismal] rite of renunciation came into existence, its meaning was self-evident to the catechumen as well as to the entire Christian community. They lived within a pagan world whose life was permeated with the pompa diaboli, i.e. the worship of idols, participation in the cult of the Emperor, adoration of matter, etc. He not only know what he was renouncing; he was also fully aware to what a “narrow way,” to what a difficult life—truly “non-conformist” and radically opposed to the “way of life” of the people around him—this renunciation obliged him.

It is when the world became “Christian” and identified itself with Christian faith and Christian cult that the meaning of this renunciation began to be progressively lost so as to be viewed today as an archaic and anachronistic rite, as a curiosity not to be taken seriously. Christians became so accustomed to Christianity as an integral part of the world, and to the Church as simply the religious expression of their worldly “values,” that the very idea of a tension or conflict between their Christian faith and the world faded from their life. And even today, after the miserable collapse of all these so-called “Christian” worlds, empires, nations, states, so many Christians are still convinced that there is nothing basically wrong with the world and that one can very happily accept its “way of life,” all its values and “priorities,” while fulfilling at the same time one’s “religious duties.” Moreover, the Church herself and Christianity itself are viewed mainly as aids for achieving a successful and peaceful worldly life, as spiritual therapy resolving all tensions, all conflicts, giving that “peace of mind” which assures success, stability, happiness. The very idea that a Christian has to renounce something and that this “something” is not a few obviously sinful and immoral acts, but above all a certain vision of life, a “set of priorities,” a fundamental attitude towards the world; the idea that Christian life is always a “narrow path” and a fight: all this has been virtually given up and is no longer at the heart of our Christian worldview.

The terrible truth is that the overwhelming majority of Christians simply do not see the presence and action of Satan in the world and, therefore, feel no need to renounce “his works and his service.” They do not discern the obvious idolatry that permeates the ideas and the values by which men live today and that shapes, determines and enslaves their lives much more than the overt idolatry of ancient paganism. They are blind to the fact that the “demonic” consists primarily in falsification and counterfeit, in deviating even positive values from their true meaning, in presenting black as white and vice verse, in a subtle and vicious lie and confusion. They do not understand that such seemingly positive and even Christian notions as “freedom” and “liberation,” “love,” “happiness,” “success,” “achievement,” “growth,” “self-fulfillment”—notions which truly shape modern man and modern society, their motivations and their ideologies—can in fact be deviated from their real significance and become vehicles of the “demonic.”



To renounce Satan thus is not to reject a mythological being in whose existence one does not even believe. It is to reject an entire “worldview” made up of pride and self-affirmation, of that pride which has truly taken human life from God and made it into darkness, death and hell. And one can be sure that Satan will not forget this renunciation, this rejection, this challenge. “Breath and spit upon him!” A war is declared! A fight begins whose real issue is either eternal life or eternal damnation. For this is what Christianity is about! This is what our choice ultimately means!

2 comments:

Matt said...

Now that is a terrific quote. Thanks for sharing it.

The Student said...

I imagine that, if we wanted to take this seriously, it is more of a daily renunciation than a once-for-all. The "overt paganism" is indeed easier to renounce because it is external and obvious. Every aspect of our society is competitive, self-centered, and downright Darwinian. Such a life of renunciation, in our society especially, requires a heavy reliance upon the grace and mercy we find only in Jesus.