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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.
For more information on the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church:
Infant Baptism: What the Church Believes, by Fr. John Hainsworth.
Holy Communion, often referred to as the Eucharist, is the “Sacrament of Sacraments” in the Orthodox Church. We celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday during the Divine Liturgy. In Holy Communion we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eternal Passover Lamb, Who makes us alive and holy with Himself.
The Eucharist brings us into communion with Christ (John 6:56), assures us eternal life in the Kingdom of God (John 6:51), provides us with a source of strength for life and raising the quality of our lives (John 6:51b, 6:58), and gives us forgiveness of our minor sins (Matthew 26:28). When received with proper preparation, repentance, and fasting, Holy Communion draws us together into the fellowship of God’s people, His church, separating us from the forces of evil in this world. That is why Saint Paul says, “You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21).
Is Holy Communion literally body and blood?
In its physical appearance, the Eucharist is bread and wine. But it is both the faith and the experience of the Church that in communion we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53-55). Jesus references the bread as His Body and the wine as His Blood (Mark 14:22-24). Thus, the Orthodox Church maintains that receiving the Eucharist means receiving the real Body and Blood of Christ.
The Orthodox Church does not offer an explanation as to how this “change” from bread and wine to Body and Blood occurs, but we believe the “change” takes place anywhere between the Proskomedia (the Liturgy of Preparation)—which is now a separate service prior to both Orthros/Matins and the Divine Liturgy on a typical Sunday, though traditionally it is done during Orthros—and the Epiklesis (“calling down”), or invocation of the Holy Spirit “upon us and upon these gifts here set forth” (as in Chrysostom’s liturgy).
As such, the gifts are treated with reverence throughout the entirety of the service. We don’t know the exact time in which the change takes place, and this is left to mystery. The key point of emphasis in the Eastern tradition, then, is not whether or not a change takes place (even if we can’t understand or describe it precisely), but that it does emphatically take place.
For more information about the Holy Eucharist:
The Church Fathers on the Holy Eucharist, by Fr. Joseph Bittle
The Holy Eucharist, by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald
The Holy Eucharist: A Live Coal, by Fr. Patrick Reardon
Theology and Eucharist, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
The Eucharist, on OrthodoxWiki
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 time when the young are not part of God’s people.
For more information on Holy Chrismation:
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. This practice goes back to the earliest period in the history of the Church. We know that some of the Apostles (the first “priests” of the Church) were married (1 Corinthians 5:5). Saint Paul also teaches that the clergy are to be “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2 [Bishops], 3:12 [Deacons], and Titus 1:6 [Presbyters]). In the tradition of the Church, the Apostolic canons permit only “lower clergy” (readers and cantors) to marry after their appointment (Canon 26); and the 5th and 6th Ecunmenical Councils state that “if anyone wants to contract a legal marriage with a woman before being admitted to the clergy as subdeacon, or a deacon, or a presbyter previous to ordination, let him do so” (6th Canon). The same canon also says, “…no subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter at all, after the ordination bestowed on him has permission to contract a matrimonial relation for himself; if he should dare to do this, let him be deposed from office.”
Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy. It is also crucial to note that the Orthodox Church does not have women priests, because the priest is an image of Christ, who was male.
For more information on the Holy Orders of the Orthodox Church:
A Mother’s Reflection on Her Son’s Ordination, by Cynthia Hogg
Of Marriage and Orthodox Priests, by Wesley J. Smith
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 of God. 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 have 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 symbolizes the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.
For more information about the Sacrament of Marriage:
Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, by John Meyendorff (book)
Good Marriage XIII: The Theology of Marriage and Sexuality, by Fr. George Morelli
The Mystery of Marriage, by Fr. Meletios Webber
The Orthodox Christian Marriage, by Hieromonk Ambrose Young
As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another and, of course, to God. When we sin, our relationship with God and with others is distorted. Sin ultimately alienates us from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God’s image and likeness.
Penance (or Confession) is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God and with 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 confesses 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.
For more information about the Sacrament of Penance/Confession:
Confession: The Healing Sacrament, by Jim Forest
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, remind us that when we are in pain, whether 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.
For more information on the Sacrament of Holy Unction:
The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of Sacraments. The practice of defining seven key Sacraments arose first in the Roman Catholic church. The ancient, more traditional practice held by many Orthodox is to consider everything that takes place in the Church a sacrament, since everything within the Church is of Christ and of the Holy Spirit.