I must also describe how those who are to be baptized at Easter are instructed. Whoever gives his name does so the day before Lent … and this is before those eight weeks during which, as I have said, Lent is observed here … on the first day of Lent…a throne is set up for the bishop in the center of the major church, the Martyrium. The priests sit on stools on both sides, and all the clergy stand around. One by one the candidates are led forward in such a way that the men come with their godfathers and the women with their godmothers. Then the bishop questions individually the neighbors of the one who has come up, inquiring: ‘Does he lead a good life? Does he obey his parents? Is he a drunkard or a liar?’ And he seeks out in the man other vices which are more serious. If the person proves to be guiltless in all these matters … the bishop … notes down the man’s name with his own hand. If, however, he is accused of anything, the bishop orders him to go out and says: ‘Let him amend his life, and when he has done so let him then approach the baptismal font.’
This particular practice seems very wrong to me. I believe that the sacraments are means of grace — very important means of grace — and that the primary grace they bestow is that of empowerment to obedience. If I could “amend my life” without the grace of the sacraments, then what need would I have for them?
It is true that the Apostle warns against taking the sacrament unworthily. But it is also true that many passages in the New Testament warn against turning people away without good reason, and we are encouraged in the great parable of the Wedding Feast to go out into the streets and urge strangers to join the celebration.
I could never belong to a theologically liberal church because one of the most characteristic practices of such churches is to offer the Eucharist even to those who have not been baptized, which renders the sacrament of Baptism pointless, empties it of all significance. But by the same logic I could never belong to the Roman or Orthodox churches, because they deny the grace of the Eucharist to believing Christians who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The former practice seems to me frivolous; the latter I find cruel.