Sacraments

Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church Sioux Falls, SD
In the Church, those being called out of the world into communion with the living God experience God’s healing and life-giving presence in several different ways. Many of these are through what we refer to as the Mysteries (sometimes called Sacraments in western terminology) or other special services of blessing. What follows is a brief introduction to the Mysteries of the Church and also some guidance for our proper participation in them for our salvation. We invite you to approach our clergy to discuss any questions you may have or to find out how you can more fully participate in the life of the Church.

Eighth Day Prayers & Naming

In Old Testament Israel, male children were circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. While we no longer ritually circumcise for purposes of faith (baptism takes the place of circumcision) we do encourage the pious Orthodox Christian practice of the priest being invited to come to the home (or hospital) on the eighth day to offer prayers for the mother and child and to formally name the newborn in accordance with the parent’s wishes. If you would like Father to come pray with you and celebrate the naming our your child, please send him a message (see below).

 

Forty Day Blessings

Following the birth of a child, the mother and child enjoy a special time of intimate bonding before formally re-entering the daily life of the Body of Christ. This forty-day period is a sacred time for both of them, into which the Church dare not insert itself. Thus, for forty days, we respect their privacy as they prioritize their health and the establishment of a deep bond that will doubtless last a lifetime.

After completing these special forty days, the parents of the newborn bring the babe to the church (in deliberate imitation of Christ’s forty days blessing in Luke 2:22-38) to be dedicated to the Lord. This beautiful tradition of the church is practiced throughout the Orthodox world. In this special service, the parents come to symbolize the holy Theotokos and St. Joseph, while the priest symbolizes St. Symeon, who carried Christ in his arms at the time of the Lord’s presentation in the temple.

The parents should call the church office to schedule the Forty Day Prayers & Churching of their child. The churching may be done exactly on the fortieth day of the child’s birth or the Sunday nearest to the fortieth day. Both the father and the mother, along with the newborn, must normally be present for the forty-day blessing.

 

The Eucharist

The Holy Eucharist, which is known as the Divine Liturgy, is the central and most important worship experience of the Orthodox Church. Often referred to as the “Sacrament of Sacraments”, it is the Church’s celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ offered every Sunday and Holy day. All the other Sacraments of the Church lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church. The previous pamphlet in this series was devoted to the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church.

 

Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one’s public identification with Christ’s Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.

 

Chrismation

The Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) immediately follows baptism and is never delayed until a later age. As the ministry of Christ was enlivened by the Spirit, and the preaching of the Apostles strengthened by the Spirit so is the life of each Orthodox Christian sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Chrismation, which is often referred to as one’s personal Pentecost, is the Sacrament which imparts the Spirit in a special way.

In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly baptized with Holy Oil saying: “The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. The Sacrament emphasizes the truths that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation.

The Sacraments of initiation always are concluded with the distribution of Holy Communion to the newly-baptized. Ideally, this takes place within the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This practice reveals that Orthodoxy views children from their infancy as important members of the Church. There is never a time when the young are not part of God’s people.

 

Confession

As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another and, of course, to God. When we sin, our relationship to God and to others is distorted. Sin is ultimately alienation from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God’s image and likeness.

Confession is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. Through the Sacrament, Christ our Lord continues to heal those broken in spirit and restore the Father’s love to those who are lost. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide. It is an ancient Orthodox practice for every Christian to have a spiritual father to whom one turns for spiritual advice and counsel. Confession can take place on any number of occasions. The frequency is left to the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.

 

Marriage

God is active in our lives. It is He who joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. The Sacrament of Marriage bears witness to His action. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Since Marriage is not viewed as a legal contract, there are no vows in the Sacrament. According to Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple has been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with “crowns of glory and honor” signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Near the conclusion of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup which is reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and which symbolized the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.

 

Holy Orders

The Holy Spirit preserved the continuity of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people. According to Orthodox teaching, the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.

Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are three major orders each of which requires a special ordination. These are Bishop, who is viewed as a successor of the Apostles, Priest, and Deacon, who act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities. Only a Bishop may ordain. Often, other titles and offices are associated with the three orders. The Orthodox Church permits men to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy.

 

Anointing of the Sick (Holy Unction)

When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Unction as it is also known, reminds us that when we are in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life and even the approach of death.

As with Chrismation, oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven epistle lessons, seven gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil. Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. The Church celebrates the Sacrament for all its members during Holy week on Holy Wednesday.

 

Other Sacraments and Blessings

The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of Sacraments. In addition to the Eucharist, she accepts the above six Mysteries as major Sacraments because they involve the entire community and most important are closely related to the Eucharist. There are many other Blessings and Special Services which complete the major Sacraments, and which reflect the Church’s presence throughout the lives of her people. Some of these are discussed in the following pamphlet in this series.

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction – Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God – Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship – Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy – Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments – Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings – Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings – Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality – Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History – Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church – Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The original article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled “The Sacraments.”

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