As Orthodox Christians, there are special experiences when the perception of God’s presence and actions is heightened and celebrated. These events are called the Church Sacraments. Traditionally, the Sacraments have been known as Mysteries.
The Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us and also make us receptive to God. The Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ who unites us with the Father.
The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God’s revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are few elements employed in Orthodox Worship. The frequent use of creation’s material reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.
1. The Eucharist (The Divine Liturgy)
The Holy Eucharist 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 Sacraments of the Church lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church.
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 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.
3. Chrismation (Confirmation)
The Sacrament of Chrismation 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.
Sin is the alienation from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God’s image and likeness. When we sin our relationship to God and to others is distorted.
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 heals those broken in spirit and restores the Father’s love to those who are lost.
According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and he/she is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed 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 the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.
God 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 to live together and also to share their Christian life together. With the aid of other, a husband and a wife grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be.
In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with “crowns of glory and honor” signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Close to the end of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup, meaning they will share all the burdens and all the joys of their new life.
6. 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 for special service to the Church. Each one is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor, teacher, and representative of the parish before the Altar.
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, who acts in the name of the universal Church, may ordain.He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.
The Orthodox Church allows Priests and Deacons to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy.
7. 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 remind us that when we are in pain, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, even the approach of death.
In this Sacrament oil is used 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.