Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sacramental Validity

[The priest's prayer for himself] is important because it denounces and corrects the tendency to understand sacraments somewhat "magically," a tendency widespread among the Orthodox and whose spiritual danger and consequences in the life of the Church are often overlooked. Since, according to the Church's teaching, the validity of sacraments does not, in any way, depend on either the holiness or the deficiencies of those who perform them, one has come little by little to view and to define sacraments exclusively in terms of "validity," as if nothing else "mattered." The whole point, however, is that the Church does not separate validity from fullness and perfection. "Validity" is merely the condition for fulfillment, but it is this latter that truly "matters." The Baptism of a man like Stalin was probably a perfectly "valid" one. Why then was it not fulfilled in his life? Why did it not prevent Stalin from sinking into incredible abomination? The question is not a naive one. If millions of people, "validly" baptized, have left the Church and still leave it, if Baptism seems to have no impact on them whatsoever, is it not, first of all, because of us, because of our weakness, deficiencies, minimalism and nominalism, because of our own constant betrayal of Baptism? Is it not because of the incredibly low level of the Church's life, reduced to a few "obligations" and thus having ceased to reflect and to communicate the power of renewal and holiness? All this of course applies above all to the clergy, to the priest, the celebreant of the Church's mysteries. If he himself is not the image of Christ, "by word, by deed, by teaching" (I Tim. 4:12), where is man to see Christ and how is he to follow Him? Thus to reduce sacraments to the principle of "validity" only is to make a caricature of Christ's teaching. For Christ came into this world not that we may perform "valid" sacraments; He gave us valid sacraments so that we may fulfill ourselves as children of light and witnesses of His Kingdom.

From Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism, pp. 44-45.

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