Mysteries

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In recent centuries, the Orthodox Church has recognized seven mysteries for sacraments: baptism; chrismation; the Eucharist; confession; marriage; anointing of the sick and the priesthood.


The Apostolic Church received people through baptism and chrismation (confirmation); celebrated the Eucharist at least weekly on the Lords day; readmitted penitents through confession; sanctified the union of husband and wife; extended the healing ministry of Christ to those who were sick and selected and ordained her ministers. It is evident, therefore, that the Church gave special attention to these acts from the beginning. The mysteries are founded upon the words and actions of the Lord in Scripture and are, in a particular way, a continuation and an extension of his saving ministry. Among them, baptism and the Eucharist hold a preeminent position. While emphasizing the importance of the holy mysteries, Orthodox theology is careful not to separate or isolate them from the Churches many other rites of blessing, consecration and passage. "Between the wider and narrower sense of the term 'sacrament' (mystery) there is no rigid division: the whole Christian life must be seen as a unity, as a single mystery or one great sacrament, whose different aspects are expressed in a great variety of acts, some performed but once in a man's life, others perhaps daily."

Baptism

Baptism is the initial and essential mystery and an absolute, decisive action for the Christian. The benefits of Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection are mediated to the believer through Baptism. Baptism engraves upon and imparts to each person afresh the image of God distorted by the effects of sin.


The baptismal font becomes at once a tomb and a womb: "at the self-same moment you die and are born; the water of salvation is at once your grave and your mother." The triple immersion in and emersion from the baptismal waters is laden with meaning. Baptism is both a death and a new birth. The water destroys one life and it begets another. It drowns the old man and raises up the new. The liturgical act gives expression to two realities: the death of the old man, who in solidarity with Adam, is subject to sin and death, and the birth of the new man, who in his union with Christ, is provided with new members and faculties in preparation for the life to come.


Baptism unites the believer not only with Christ but also with his people, the Church. One is baptized into the community of faith to share in life, its values, and its vision. Baptism, by bringing us into the glorified life of Christ and making us part of his deified humanity, integrates us into the Church, his body, where the business of dying and rising is daily experienced in ascetic discipline in the life of prayer and in the Eucharist.


The Rite of Baptism

The first part is preparatory in nature. It is usually referred to as the catechesis. It contains the prayer for the making of a catechumen; prayers of exorcism; the renunciation and condemnation of the devil; the acceptance of Christ; the recitation of the Nicene Creed; and the call to baptism.


The second part is the Service of Baptism proper. It focuses almost entirely on the baptismal font. It includes a series of petitions; a prayer of invocation for the consecration of the baptismal waters, so that they may be given the power of spiritual fecundity; and an anointing of the candidate with the "oil of gladness." In the case of the candidate the anointing is both a sign of healing of his fallen nature and of his becoming an athlete for Christ. In the case of the font, the anointing is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the baptismal waters.

When these rites have been completed the candidate is baptized with three immersions and emersions in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The newly illumined Christian is then robed in a white garment, the symbol of regeneration, newness, kingship, and future immortality. The white garment, which is the color of royalty, symbolizes the gifts of baptism and reminds the neophyte of his responsibility to remain whole and be faithful to the baptismal pledge.


At this point the mystery of the holy Chrism (Myron) is administered. The candidate is anointed with the consecrated oil. Chrism is applied on the body in the pattern of the Cross, signifying the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit takes the candidate beyond the restoration of the fallen nature.


The continuous presence of the Holy Spirit makes possible the constant, progressive, personal growth of the Christian into the image and likeness of God.


In the ancient Church baptism was immediately followed by the celebration of the Eucharist. The newly baptized Christians, holding lighted candles proceeded from the baptistery with the clergy to the nave of the Church to join the faithful for the Eucharist. Newly baptized then receives Holy Communion.

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Chrismation

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There are three baptismal anointing:


  1. before sanctification of the water; forehead (consecrated Olive Oil, but not Chrism).
  2. between the sanctification of the water and the water baptism; the whole body…(Not practiced in the MOSC anymore).
  3. immediately after the water baptism; the organs of sense with Chrism - this anointing is referred to as Chrismation.

The mystery of Chrismation (Confirmation) is anchored in the events of Jesus' baptism and the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, yet, in the Lord's declaration "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God" (John 3:5). There is both an intrinsic unity and a distinction between the mysteries of baptism and chrismation. They are intimately related theologically and liturgically. Chrismation is not so much the second mystery as it is the very fulfillment of baptism. While baptism incorporates us into Christ's new risen existence, chrismation makes us partakers of his Spirit, the very source of this new life and of total illumination. Chrismation is called the seal (rushmo). The candidate receives the Holy Spirit as the source, the pledge and the seal of unending life. Anointed with Chrism, we are marked forever as the sheep and soldiers of Christ. We belong to him and to his holy Church. Thus chrismation, once canonically performed, cannot be repeated. Chrismation is also a sacrament of reconciliation. People who come to Orthodoxy out of certain heretical confessions and schismatic churches are received through the mystery of chrismation. The ritual anointing "validates" through "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" a Christian baptism performed in irregular circumstances - i.e., outside the canonical boundaries of the Church."

The rushmo is primarily understood as a mark of identity, indicating an entry into a new state or relationship; above all, it authorizes the newly baptized to call God 'Father' and to become sisters and brothers of Christ. Some early texts and prayers connect the pre-baptismal anointing with Ex.19:6 and I Pet. 2:9; in the latter the Syriac New Testament reads 'you are a chosen race that serves as priest to the Kingdom'. Frequent images used in connection with this new status include:

  • entry into the flock of Christ;
  • grafting on to the True Olive (Rom. 11:17);
  • imprinting with a mark of ownership;
  • providing a seal of ownership;
  • healing and cleansing (e.g. of the disfigured 'image of God');
  • protection against the powers of evil;
  • armor in the contest with Satan (or, in connection with the second pre-baptismal anointing, to make the body slippery in the wrestling match with Satan): the sequence baptism - contest is based on the Temptation of Christ following his Baptism.
  • the rushmo is sometimes seen as replacing circumcision under the Old Covenant (and so the oil can be described as 'cutting').

The Holy Chrism

The Chrism that is used for the ritual anointing is a mixture of olive oil, balsam, wine, and some forty aromatic substances, symbolizing the fullness of sacramental grace, the sweetness of the Christian life and manifold and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Chrism is also called the holy Myron. Chrism, prepared and consecrated periodically (usually once in ten years - has been the trend in the Malankara Orthodox church in recent years) during the Great Lent - ideally on Holy Thursday, is the antitype, the visible tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Confession

Saint John Chrysostom writes: "Did you commit sin? Enter the Church and repent for your sin; for here is the physician, not the judge; here one is not investigated, one receives remission of sins."


The sacrament of confession introduces us to the life-long process of grasping accepting and choosing to follow the values of the Christian life. Christians, are expected to govern their lives by the power of God. They are to undertake the noblest deeds and hold fast to both faith and virtue, and grow into the blessed likeness of Christ". The Church, however, has never considered Baptism to be an automatic guarantor of continuous salvation. It is only the beginning of the life in Christ. Its full effects are derived when the baptized are disposed to persevere and preserve the treasure to the end. The process of healing and restoring our damaged, wounded and fallen nature is on-going.


God is recognized to be continuously loving, merciful and long-suffering towards his creation. He accepts all repentant sinners tenderly and rejoices greatly in their conversion. There are no limits set to the exercise of his loving-kindness and forgiveness. All sins are forgivable, save one: 


blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Here we are confronted not with the powerlessness of God, but with an unrepentant and callous heart.

Through the mystery of repentance God embraces a repentant lapsed Christian with his love, in order to forgive him and reconcile him to the Church. But, for this to occur, the sinful Christian must first have a sense of his unfaithfulness to God, contrition of heart, and determination to amend. This must be followed by the confession of his sins before the authorized clergy of the Church. Both the interior repentance and the verbal acknowledgment of concrete sins are indispensable conditions for true forgiveness and reconciliation. Confession is the opening of one's conscience before God and the witness of the Church. Our Lord ordained this sacrament in the form of a law, giving power and authority to His ordained ministers to declare and pronounce absolution to the faithful who confess and repent of sins willingly committed after baptism. The faithful should consider the many sins he or she has committed and must truly and earnestly repent. One should then confess them to the priest without concealing them and, consequently, accept the canonical penalty.


Confession is essentially a healing ministry, since sin is viewed primarily as a disease that needs to be healed, rather than a crime that needs to be punished. And since everyone is susceptible to the wiles of the devil, a regular examination of the conscience deepens self-awareness and quickens the sensitivity of the heart. For this reason many persons as a matter of course have a father confessor who shares their concerns in the on-going process of spiritual development and growth.

Holy Eucharist

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The Eucharist or Divine Liturgy is the central mystery of the Church. It is at once the source and the summit of the life of the Church. In it, the Church is continuously changed from a human community into the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God. The Eucharist is the final and greatest of the mysteries "since it is not possible to go beyond it or add anything to it. After the Eucharist there is nowhere further to go. There all must stand, and try to examine the means by which we may preserve the treasure to the end. For in it we obtain God Himself, and God is united with us in the most perfect union."


Every sacred mystery makes its partakers into members of Christ. But the Eucharist effects this most perfectly:


"By dispensation of His grace, He [Christ] disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the Immortal, man too may be a sharer in incorruption."


In the Divine Liturgy we do not commemorate one or another isolated event of sacred history. We celebrate, in joy and thanksgiving, the whole mystery of the divine economy from creation to incarnation, especially "the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father and the second glorious coming." Thus, in experiencing the reigning Christ in the Divine Liturgy, the past, present, and future of the history of salvation are lived as one reality in the mystery of the Kingdom of God.


Ignatius of Antioch says, "the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His graciousness raised from the dead.


"The Term "Divine Liturgy" or "Qurbono"


The Divine Liturgy is the sacred rite by which the Orthodox Church celebrates the mystery of the Eucharist. This title for the Eucharist is derived from two Greek words, theia and leitourgia. The word theia means "pertaining to God," hence divine. The term leitourgia comes from two words; leitos (people) and ergon (work), hence "the work of the people" or "a public service, act or function." By the fourth century, the word leitourgia, together with adjective theia (i.e., Divine Liturgy) had become the technical term for the mystery of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist in turn means thanksgiving. It takes its name from the great prayer of consecration (Anaphora) pronounced by the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy. The usual Syriac word for the Eucharistic Liturgy is either qurobo, meaning "approach" or qurbono, "oblation" or "sacrifice." The Holy Fathers of the Syriac Tradition often refer to the Liturgy as the roze qadeeshe (the Holy Mysteries), signifying the profound mystery of the bread and wine.


Christ instituted the Eucharist at the supper on Holy Thursday in remembrance (anamnesis) of his redemptive work and to establish a continuous intimate communion between himself and those who believe in Him. The actions and words of the Lord concerning the bread and wine formed the basis for the Eucharist, the chief recurrent liturgical rite of the Church. The nucleus of every Eucharistic rite consists in four actions: the offering and the placing of bread and wine on the holy Table; the anaphora or great Eucharistic prayer, which includes the words of institution and the invocation of the Holy Spirit to change the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ; the breaking of the consecrated Bread (i.e., the fraction); and the communion of the consecrated elements by the people of God.

Anointing of the Sick

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"Is there any sick man among you? Let him send for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him. The prayer offered in faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him from his bed, and he will be forgiven any sins he has committed" (James 5:14-15).


St. James describes the anointing of the sick, providing the apostolic foundations for the sacrament of unction, or more properly, the anointing of the sick. In keeping with the biblical injunction, the Orthodox order for the celebration of this sacrament calls for a group of presbyters to be present at it but this requirement is only of secondary importance. Nor is it required that the person receiving the sacrament be seriously ill as some have supposed. Bodily healing as well as the forgiveness of sins are the primary purposes of this sacrament and only in cases of immanent death can it be considered a preparation for it.


Orthodox theology has always stressed the unity of body and soul and this means that there can be no sharp dichotomy between physical and spiritual; the readings and prayers used in the rite of anointing of the sick certainly do not assume that physical healing is assured framework of repentance. The anointing symbolizes ultimate pardon in the face of sickness and even death, physical results of the spiritual disease of sinfulness. Anointing of sick itself has frequently been associated with penance as a single action and in some instances it has even superseded penance. The popular public celebrations of unction on Holy Wednesday in the practice in many Orthodox churches. Anointing is meaningless without true contrition

Priesthood

The priestly ministry of Christ is perpetuated in the Church by the ministerial priesthood, existing in the three essential ministries of bishop, priest and deacon. These are set apart by the grace of ordination to serve the Church; to preach, teach and shepherd the people of God; to celebrate the sacred mysteries; to preserve correct doctrine; and to keep the body united in the love of Christ. The ministerial priesthood belongs to the very essence and structure of the Church, having been established by the Lord Himself. The gifts and functions once given to the Apostles are transmitted to the ordained ministers through the mystery of the priesthood in the rites of ordination.


The Bishops are the successors to the Apostles, the chief shepherds and administrators of the Church and the guardians and teachers of the true faith. They are the celebrants and ministers of the mystery of the priesthood. While the right to choose the ministers of the Church belongs to all the clergy and the people, the bishop alone has the authority to ordain and appoint priests and to consecrate churches. As a sign of the collegiality of the episcopacy, three bishops (or at least two with the consent of a third) ordain a bishop. In all other ordinations, one bishop will suffice. Since the sixth century bishops have been selected from the celibate clergy. Presbyters (priests) and deacons, however, are permitted to marry but only before ordination. 


Hence, married men may be ordained, but priests and deacons may not marry. A widower can be elected and ordained a bishop, but not practiced in the Indian Orthodox Church.


Priests share in the functions of the episcopacy. They shepherd and administer local parishes, they teach and celebrate the holy mysteries for the edification of the people of God, and take counsel with the bishop concerning the affairs of the diocese. Most parish priests are married, but it is not unusual for celibate clergy and monks to serve local churches.


Deacons assist the bishops and priests in the execution of their pastoral liturgical and teaching duties. In earlier times, women were also ordained as deaconesses. The order, however, fell into disuse by the twelfth century.


The Rite of Ordination

The ordination of the major orders is held during the course of the Divine Liturgy. In theory Bishops are supposed to be ordained before the scripture readings and Anaphora. This is to indicate that a bishop is the primary expounder of the faith and celebrant of the mysteries. A priest is ordained right before the Anaphora, because he too is a celebrant of the mysteries. A deacon is ordained after the consecration of the Gifts and before Holy Communions, because he assists at the liturgical services and administers Holy Communion. Nowadays all the ordinations in our Church are done right after the elevation of the mysteries, during the intercessions songs - after the second quqliyon The righteous shall flourish like palm trees. The primary signs of all ordination rites are the prayers and the laying on of the hands upon the heads of the candidate by the bishop. There is a distinction between the rites of ordination for the major and minor orders.


The stretching out of hands and laying on of hands together designates the rites of ordination for the major orders, while just placing on of hands is the practice for an ordination to the minor orders.


Those called and ordained to serve the Church are referred to as kleros, because they are chosen and set apart. The character of ordination is indelible. Therefore, ordination is never repeated, even in the case of clergy who have apostatized or have been defrocked, and are received again into the Church. The male character of the ordained priesthood is a basic tenet of Orthodoxy.

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Marriage

"Our entertainment-saturated society helps feed all sorts of illusions about reality. The fantasy of the perfect romantic and sexual relationship, the perfect lifestyle, and the perfect body all prove unattainable because the reality never lives up to the expectation. The worst fallout comes in the marriage relationship. When two people cannot live up to each other's expectations, they will look for their fantasized satisfaction in the next relationship, the next experience, the next excitement. But that path leads only to self-destruction and emptiness.


Marriage is the capstone of the family, the building block of human civilization. A society that does not honor and protect marriage undermines its very existence. Why? Because one of God's designs for marriage is to show the next generation how a husband and wife demonstrate reciprocal, sacrificial love toward each other. But when husbands and wives forsake that love, their marriage fails to be what God intended. When marriage fails, the whole family falls apart; when the family fails, the whole society suffers. And stories of societal suffering fill the headlines every day. Marriage as it was meant to be is implied in the creation of man as male and female in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Husbands and wives need to mirror their relationship the way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to each other in the Godhead - man is created in the image of the Holy Trinity. There has to be a perichoresis - a relationship of intimacy and pure reciprocity that does not result in abuse, confusion or loss of identity.


Divine Directives for Wives

St. Paul says "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21)


One of the most explicit passages of Scripture that outlines God's standard for marriage is Ephesians 5:22-33. The majority of the passage deals with the husband's attitude toward and responsibilities for his wife. Nonetheless, here's the wife's responsibility before the Lord: Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).


Submission in no way implies a difference in essence or worth; it does refer, however, to a willing submission of oneself. Wives, submission is to be your voluntary response to God's will—it's a willingness to give up your rights to other believers in general and ordained authority in particular, in this case your own husband.


Husbands aren't to treat their wives like slaves, barking commands at them; they are to treat their wives as equals, assuming their God-given responsibility of caring, protecting, and providing for them. Likewise wives fulfill their God-given responsibility when they submit willingly to their own husbands. That reflects not only the depth of intimacy and vitality in their relationship, but also the sense of ownership a wife has for her husband. Keep in mind that the wife's submission requires intelligent participation: "Mere listless, thoughtless subjection is not desirable if ever possible. The quick wit, the clear moral discernment, the fine instincts of a wife makes of her a counselor whose influence is invaluable and almost unbounded".


Elisabeth Elliot, writing on "The Essence of Femininity," offers a fitting summary of God's ideal for wives: Unlike Eve, whose response to God was calculating and self-serving, the virgin Mary's answer holds no hesitation about risks or losses or the interruption of her own plans. It is an utter and unconditional self-giving: "I am the Lord's servant May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). This is the essence of femininity. It means surrender.


Think of a bride. She surrenders her independence, her name, her destiny, her will, herself to the bridegroom in marriage . The gentle and quiet spirit of which Peter speaks, calling it "of great worth in God's sight" (1 Peter 3:4), is the true femininity, which found its epitome in Mary.


Divine Directives for Husbands

After giving the divine guidelines for the wife's submission, Paul devotes the next nine verses of Ephesians 5 to explain the husband's duty to submit to his wife through his love for her: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church" (5:25). The Lord's pattern of love for His church is the husband's pattern of love for his wife, and it is manifest in four ways.


Sacrificial Love

Christ loved the church by giving "Himself up for her." The husband who loves his wife as Christ loves His church will give up everything he has for his wife, including his life whenever it is necessary.

Most husbands would give verbal assent to that literally dying for one's wife is such a remote possibility for most. But it is much more difficult to make lesser, but actual sacrifices for her. Husbands, who put aside their own likes, desires, opinions, preferences, and welfare to please their wives and meet their needs, are truly dying to self to live for their wives. And that is what Christ's love demands.


Purifying Love

Christ loved the church sacrificially with this goal in mind: "That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless." (5:26-27).

Love wants only the best for the one it loves, and it cannot bear for a loved one to be corrupted or misled by anything evil or harmful. If a person really loves his wife, he will do everything in his power to maintain her holiness, virtue, and purity every day he lives.


That obviously means doing nothing to defile her. Don't expose her to or let her indulge in anything that would bring impurity into her life. Don't tempt her to sin by, say; inducing an argument out of her on a subject you know is sensitive to her. Love always seeks to purify.


Caring Love

Another aspect of divine love is this: "Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church" (Ephesians 5:28-29).

The word translated "cherishes" literally means "to warm with body heat it is used to describe a bird sitting on her nest (e.g., Deut. 22:6). Husbands are to provide a secure, warm, safe haven for their wife. When your wife needs strength, give her strength. When she needs encouragement, give it to her. Whatever she needs, you are obligated to supply as best you can. God chose you to provide for and protect her, to nourish and cherish her, and to do so "as Christ also does the church."


Unbreakable Love

For a husband to love his wife as Christ loves His church he must love her with an unbreakable love. In this direct quotation from Genesis 2:24, Paul emphasizes the permanence as well as the unity of marriage: "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh" (v. 31). And God's standard for marriage still hasn't changed.


Husbands, your union with your wife is permanent. When you got married, you had to leave, cleave, and become one with your wife ”never go back on that. Let your wife rest in the security of knowing that you belong to her, for life.


Just as the body of Christ is indivisible, God's ideal for marriage is that it be indivisible. As Christ is one with His church, husbands are one with their wives. Paul goes on to say, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church" (5:32). Why is submission as well as sacrificial, purifying, and caring love so strongly emphasized in Scripture? Because the sacredness of the church is wed to the sacredness of marriage.

Marriage for a Christian is a testimony to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. Marriage will either tell the truth about that relationship, or it will tell a lie. One has to ask the questions - What is my marriage saying to the watching world? If a man's/women's walk is in the power of the Spirit, yield to His Word, and be mutually submissive, they can know that God will bless them abundantly and glorify His Son through their marriage.

Written by,

Rev. Fr. Timothy (Tenny) Thomas