“How long have you been a catechumen?” Father asked.
“Six years, eight months, and two days.” I replied. I had crunched the numbers that morning.
He frowned. “Hm. That’s becoming a matter of pride. We have to do something about that. Come follow me.”
The unusual timeline wasn’t his doing. It was mine. If you would have asked me why before my Baptism, I would have given you an answer and I would have believed it to be truthful. But it wouldn’t have been. Prelest is insidious like that. The real reason—which is as obvious to me now as it probably is to you—is that I’d have to get serious combating some deeply rooted sinful habits. By hiding in limbo in an indefinite catechumenate I wasn’t avoiding the weekly shame of telling Father that I’d lost the fight; I was avoiding the weekly shame of telling Father that I hadn’t fought.
I followed Father up the steps into the Narthex. He opened a drawer. When I saw it my heart stopped. It was my baptismal robe. I wasn’t excited; I was terrified. I had only one thought: This is what I will be buried in. Not one like it, this particular one. For the first time I saw my mortality and saw the Dread Judgement. Momento Mori.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
The next two days I prepared for my Life Confession. The Evil One inspires us to be bold when we sin but ashamed to repent, while the Lord inspires us to be ashamed of sin and to be bold to repent. It was difficult. I didn’t have the words to say, nor the courage to say them. I had looked online and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find a sample script to tweak and tailor to my life. When it was over, I understood why there couldn’t be a script. Tears didn’t come, but my hand trembled like it was going to detach from my wrist. There’s no script for that.
A few days later was the big day. While we were waiting on my sponsor to arrive, Father teased me and the other catechumen getting baptized saying that in the Russian tradition the water is ice cold. He didn’t fool me—I had tested it already when no one was looking. You don’t drag your feet for six years and eight months and not test the water.
The liturgical rites done that day are a blur in my memory. The exorcism worked; I literally felt different but I’m speechless to describe it more. There is a lot of symbology in baptism (to say nothing of the mystical realities)—a giant bath from which one emerges clean being the obvious one.
But in the moment, all I saw was the grave—my grave and Christ’s tomb. On the third immersion, I went extra deep until I smacked my head on the floor, an accidental prostration. I opened my eyes underwater. And while not literally, and though dimly and at a great distance. I caught a glimpse of Hell—harrowed, plundered, and empty.
I went down into the water dead in my sins, putrid and rotten. I arose alive and resurrected, iniquity in remission, by the power of the Holy Cross of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.
My brother, if you are hesitant, please know that the time is short.
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.
He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
Look around. It’s later than you think. Put your hand to plow and do not look back. Receive the white robe of righteousness that one day will adorn your corpse. Do it, and know too that it will gird our flesh when we in Christ rise first on The Last Day.