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Life of the Orthodox Church
The life and character of an Orthodox Christian
is in large measure shaped, nourished, and enriched by the liturgy or
worship of the Church. Replete with biblical readings, imagery, and
expressions, the texts of the liturgy set forth in doxological form the
Church's authentic and living tradition. In the liturgy, the Orthodox
Christian is in constant touch with the fundamental truths of the faith.
Worship becomes a theology of fervent prayer, a living sacrifice of
praise of a biblical people, a vision of the spiritual world, a
betrothal with the Holy Spirit, and foretaste of the things to come.
Paschal in character and essentially
eschatological in spirit, Orthodox worship while continuously rehearsing
the mighty works of God in history, joyously celebrates the kingdom of
God already come and already given to us as the pledge of our salvation
through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.
The Infusion of God's Life.
The powers of the Kingdom already experienced in
the Church are manifested through the divine mysteries or sacraments
offered in faith. It is through these, as through windows, that the
risen Christ enters this dark world to put sin and corruption to death
and introduce abiding and immortal life.
God's life is infused into the present age and
mingled with it, without change or confusion, through the mysteries. God
touches, purifies, illumines, sanctifies and deifies human life in his
uncreated divine energies through the mysteries. Christ becomes
everyone's contemporary in the mysteries. All that He did one and for
all for the salvation of the world has now passed over into the
mysteries. Thus, the mysteries become the various manifestations of our
Lord's saving power, and the means by which Christ is present and works
in his Church. "As the Church is the perpetual extension of Christ, so
the mysteries are the power by which the Church sanctifies people" (Ch.
A Preparation for the Future Life
The mysteries prepare the faithful for the future
life, but they also make that life real, here and now. We are given the
vision and have the foretaste of the things to come through them. They
introduce us continuously and in various ways to the transforming power
of God, which communicates salvation, i.e., the cure of our fallen
humanity and "the elimination of the germ of mortality." In them we
encounter Christ, in order to be Christ. We enter upon a decisively new
reality: in Christ we learn to become fully conscious of what it really
means to be human. Encountering God, we also see the power of evil,
whose force invades, pervades and distorts the image of God in us.
Allied with Christ, we share in his victory over sin and death; the
power of divine love overcomes evil in us and makes us a new into
children of God and heirs of his Kingdom.
The Meaning of the Word "Mystery".
Each mystery is directly rooted in Christ. Christ
himself is the primordial mystery (John 1:1-18), and the very celebrant
of all the mysteries. The Orthodox Church uses the Greek word mysterion,
instead of sacrament, to denote the divinely instituted rites which
manifest and communicate sanctifying divine grace. The word mysterion
essentially means anything hidden or incomprehensible. It has been
applied by the Church to the essential beliefs and doctrines of the
faith and appears several times in Holy Scripture; its chief meaning is
linked to the hidden and secret will of God related to the salvation of
the world, now manifest in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word (Logos).
"And since the Church is to proclaim that mystery and communicate it to
the people, the essential acts by which she is accomplishing this are
also called mysteries. Through all these acts we are made participants
and beneficiaries of the great mystery of salvation accomplished by
Jesus Christ" (Rev. Al. Schmemann).
Transmitting Grace by Visible Means.
The holy mysteries are at once inward and outward
in character. Redeeming and sanctifying grace is transmitted by visible
means. "The theanthropic nature of Christ is extended both to his Church
and Her means of grace" (D. Constantelos). This embodiment of spiritual
realities in material form is rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation
and the ultimate redemption of matter. It is consistent with the very
nature of the Church as the divine-human institution and the continuing
mystery of Christ's presence in history. It also affirms the basic
"goodness" of nature and recognizes the psychosomatic nature of
The material elements, signs and gestures used in
each mystery, are living symbols that relate to the realities of our
human experiences. Material things are made into vechicles of the
Spirit, and are adequate in each case to express deeply and amply the
mysterious power of divine grace (e.g., bread and wine, the uniquely
human food, once blessed and consecrated become the food of immortality,
the Body and Blood of Christ).
The mysteries, while physical in their outward
expression, are not mere symbolic rites. The outward signs of the
mysteries convey grace tangibly not of themselves but by the very
present of the Holy Spirit in them. And the grace given is not at all
ambiguous or symbolic but real and actual, in order to truly recreate
and perfect each person in the image and likeness of God.
Commenting on the real presence of the divine
energies in the holy mysteries St. John of Damascus notes the following:
"But if you inquire as to how this takes
place, it is enough for you to know that it is effected by the Holy
Spirit. The manner of the change can in no way be understood. But
one can put it well thus, that just as in nature, bread, by eating,
and wine and water, by drinking, are changed into the body and blood
of the eater and drinker, yet not becoming a different body from the
former one; so the bread of the Table, as also the wine and water,
are supernaturally changed by the incovation and presence of the
Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, and are not two, but
one and the same."
Divinely Ordered Institutions.
The effect of holy mysteries is not based upon
the personal faith and moral character of the clergy, not in their
"use," nor in the faith and good will of the recipients, but in the
power of the Holy Spirit. For the mysteries derive their power from God
and not from men; they are not mere human inventions. They are divinely
ordered institutions, by which God in his unsearchable wisdom and
ineffable glory and love is transfiguring the world in and through his
Spirit-led Church by restoring to all things and all relationships their
true meaning, purpose and destiny, and communicating divine life and
love to all persons who freely hear and respond to the call of his Son.
It is important now to emphasize the human factor
as well, since salvation is accomplished by God in cooperation (synergy)
with humanity. "The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with
God require cooperation of two unequal, but equally necessary forces:
divine grace and human will" (Lev Gillet). The holy mysteries are
neither magic nor mechanical operations. As the seed gives forth
according to the ground into which it was planted, so the full
effectiveness of the sacramental life is made manifest to a greater or
lesser degree by the spiritual awareness, the faith and the devoutness
of the partiapants. Yet no one, unless he has blasphemed against the
Holy Spirit, is left without some measure of grace, since the sun rises
and shines upon all.
The holy mysteries are continually embracing,
taking up and transforming the deepest and most fundamental human
experiences. Intensely personal and at the same time intensely communal,
the holy mysteries continuously and simultaneously renew the spirit of
persons "who have put on the new man, which was created according to
God, in righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24); they prepare the saints
for the work of the ministry, until all come to the unity of the faith
and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature manhood, and to the
measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:12-13).
As each holy mystery has its outward signs, which
manifest the work of the Spirit, so each Christian life, sharing in the
power of the holy mysteries, itself becomes a sacrament. As God permits
and to the extent the will is sensitized, the mind is illumined and the
heart is energized and made pure. Those who are Christ's, live and walk
in the Spirit and the Spirit bears fruit in them: love, joy, peace,
longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self
control (Gal. 5:22-25).
The Number of the Mysteries.
In recent centuries, the Orthodox Church has
recognized seven mysteries for sacraments: baptism; chrismation; the
eucharist; penance; the priesthood; marriage; and the annointing of the
While the New Testament does not specifically
enumerate the holy mysteries, it is clear that the Apostolic Church
received people through baptism and chrismation (confirmation);
celebrated the eucharist at least weekly on the Lord's day; readmitted
penitents through an act of penance; selected and ordained her
ministers; sanctified the union of husband and wife; and extended the
healing ministry of Christ to those in need of divine succour. It is
evident, therefore, that the Church gave special attention to these acts
from the beginning, despite the absence of explicit testimony from
Scripture, the early Fathers or the Ecumenical Councils.
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 Church's 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" (Kallistos Ware).
How the Mysteries Become Operative.
The Church, moved by the Holy Spirit, prescribes
the manner of the administration of the holy mysteries. The mysteries
are operative and effective when two basic conditions are observed.
First, the ministers of the mysteries, the bishop and/or priest, must be
canonically ordained and in canonical order with the Church. Second,
they must be "ordained" to conduct the prescribed rites of the Church,
not because they contain "magical" powers in themselves, but because the
rites express the faith and the mind of the Church concerning these
The rites contain prayers, petitions, Scripture
readings, hymns, gestures and liturgical actions. Rooted in the New
Testament and shaped by the historical process in the crucible of the
living and dynamic community of faith - the Church - the rites embody
the vision of the new life, confirm the real presence of divine grace,
and communicate salvation and sanctification to the believers prepared
to receive these divine gifts.
Sacraments Outside the Church.
In principle the Orthodox Church does not see the
same fullness in the 'sacraments' performed outside the Church. Yet, she
does not consider these actions of other Christians as lacking totally
in spiritual power and substance. Here, the Church applies the doctrine
of economy and sees these acts in the light of the Lord's words "no man
who performs a miracle using my name can speak ill of me" (Mk. 9:38).
The 'sacraments' of other Christians are disfigured to the measure that
Christ and his teaching have been kept or distorted. These Christians
may be considered, in a lesser or greater degree, as peripheral members
of the Orthodox Church. The center of the operation of the Holy Spirit
is the historical and visible One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
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, an image continuously
disfigured by the accumulated wrong-doing and wrong-thinking of Adam's
progeny and imitators.
The baptismal font becomes at once a tomb and a
womb: "at the self-same moment you die and are bom; the water of
salvation is at once your grave and your mother" (St. Cyril of
Jerusalem). 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.
The beginning of a process of becoming
Age is not a conditional factor in baptism. As in
Christian antiquity, the Church continues to baptize both adults and
infants. As a matter of fact, infant baptism is the norm in most
instances. However, such baptisms are not performed in a vacuum, but
upon the explicit profession of faith by parents and sponsors and
especially the very community itself, gathered to celebrate the mystery,
each time reaffirming its faith, pledging itself to provide an
environment of continued Christian witness for its members regardless of
age and circumstance. Baptism is the process of constant becoming. The
conversion of the heart or continual repentance is the daily experience
that makes life theocentric and oriented towards God's Kingdom.
Baptism unites the believer not only with Christ
but with his people, the Church. One is baptized into the community of
faith to share in life, its values, 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.
Prebaptismal Rites for Infants.
The Orthodox Church has three rites for infants
which are closely linked to baptism. The first rite is for the mother
and child on the first day of birth. In this rite the Church expresses
her thanksgiving for the safe delivery of the mother and her joy at the
appearance of a new life. Blessing the newborn infant the Church
anticipates its new and second birth through water and the Spirit (John
3:5). A second rite is conducted on the eighth day after birth, when the
new born child receives its name from its parents. The child is given a
Christian name as a sign of its new identity with the faith community.
The third rite is conducted on the fortieth day after birth. The
new-born child is to be brought to the Church in imitation of the New
Testament event, when Mary, the Theotokos, brought the infant Christ
into the Temple to fulfill the requirements of the Law. On this day the
mother is blessed and the infant "churches," or is accepted as a
peripheral member of the Church, until it is fully incorporated into her
life through baptism.
The Baptismal Rite.
The baptismal rite of the Orthodox Church
consists of three major parts. The present single rite is in fact a
coalescence of several separated but interdependent rites, which were
performed over the course of several days and weeks when the order of
the catechumenate was once in full force.
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 by the officiating bishop or priest with three
immersions and emersions using the liturgical formula "the servant of
God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father. Amen. And the Son.
Amen. And the Holy Spirit. Amen." The three fold immersion becomes the
adequate sign of pariticipation in Christ's three day burial and
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 neophyte is anointed with the consecrated oils by
the celebrant using the liturgical formula "the seal of the gift of the
Holy Spirit. Amen." Chrism is applied to the sense and other parts of
the body in the pattern of the Cross, signifying the indwelling presence
of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit takes the neophyte
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. He or she is
also given a cross to wear.
In the ancient Church baptism was immediately
followed by the celebration of the Eucharist. The newly-illumined
Christians, holding lighted candles proceeded from the baptistry with
the clergy to the nave of the Church to join the faithful for the
Eucharist. Vestiges of this ancient practice form the next sequence of
actions in the baptismal rite. A procession around the font, with the
singing of "As many as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.
Alleluia" (Gal. 3:27) is followed by the reading of two excerpts from
the New Testament: the Epistle to the Romans (6:3-11) explains the
meaning of baptism; and the Gospel of Matthew (28:16-20) recalling the
command of the Lord to the Church to instruct and baptize. The neophyte
then receives Holy Communion.
After a set of petitions called the "Fervent
Litany," the neophyte participates in three additional rites. These were
originally conducted on the eighth day after baptism; they now form the
last part of the baptismal rite. The celebrant washes the neophyte's
forehead as an indication that the visible signs of the mysteries (the
oils, et. al.) must now become inner realities and the very essence of
life. This is emphasized with the laying on of hands upon the candidate
and the tonsure. Through the laying on of hands, the neophyte and those
concerned for his growth in Christ, are reminded that the Christian is
armed with the Holy Spirit to war against all adverse powers. The
tonsure, or cutting of the hair, indicates both a sacrificial offering
that does not require the mutilation or humiliation of the human body
and a sign of servitude and obedience. The new Christian proclaims his
willingness and readiness to negate the world with its false values and
to serve God with faithful devotion.
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.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Chrismation causes a mysterious new and hidden
life to flow in us. It imparts to persons the energies and the gifts of
the Holy Spirit (Is. 11:23 and Gal. 5:22).
"To some the Holy Spirit is given that
they may be able to benefit others and edify the Church by speaking
of the future or by teaching mysteries or by freeing men from
disease with a single word. To others, however, He is given in order
that they themselves may become more virtuous and shine with
godliness or with an abundance of sobriety, love or humility"
(St. Nicholas Cabasilas).
Chrismation is called the seal (sphragis).
The neophyte receives the Holy Spirit as the source, the pledge and the
seal of unending life. Anointed with the oils of 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 perfomed in irregular circumstances - i.e., outside
the canonical boundaries of the Church" (John Meyendorff).
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 fulness 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 on Holy Thursday, is the antitype, the visible
tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.
By ancient custom the right to prepare and
consecrate the chrism belongs to the bishop and its administration to
the presbyters. Each autocephalous Orthodox Chruch has the right to
prepare and consecrate chrism. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, as
the senior jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church, prepares and distributes
the holy myron to other Orthodox jurisdictions.
The Eucharist or Divine Liturgy is the central
mystery of the Church. It is at once the source and the summit of her
life. 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, according to St. Nicholas Cabasilas, 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" (N.
A Continuous Pentecost.
Each Divine Liturgy is a continuation of the
mystery of Pentecost. It is the renewal and the confirmation of the
coming of the Holy Spirit who is ever present in the Church. In a prayer
of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the following is found:
"Make us worth to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may
be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with
us and with the gifts here presented and with all Your people." The
worshipping community prays earnestly that it may continue to be
Spirit-bearing ("send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts
here presented") and that the consecrated gifts may become a communion
of the Holy Spirit.
The Messianic Banquet.
In the present age, between the two comings of
Jesus Christ our Lord, the Divine Liturgy is always the Messianic
banquet, the meal of the kingdom, the time and place in which the
heavenly joins and mingles with the earthly. The Eucharist initiates
humankind, nature, and time into the mystery of the uncreated Trinity.
The Divine Liturgy is not simply a sacred drama or a mere representation
of past events. It constitutes the very presence of God's embracing
love, which purifies, enlightens, perfects, and deifies (2 Peter 1:4)
all "those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev.
19:9), i.e., all who through Baptism and Chrismation have been
incorporated into the Church and have become Christ-bearers and
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.
Partakers of Divine Nature.
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" (St. Ignatios of Antioch). In it
we are offered Christ's deified flesh, to which we are joined, in order
to partake of divine life without confusion or division. In the
Eucharist, Christ acts to make us His own Body:
"The Bread of Life Himself changes him
who feeds on Him and transforms and assimilates him into Himself"
(St. Nicholas Cabasilas).
Thus, eternity penetrates our finitude. Men,
women and children are invited to share in the trinitarian life of God:
"... by this flesh [of Christ in the
Eucharist] our community is raised to heaven; that is where this
Bread truly dwells; and we enter into the Holy of Holies by the pure
offering of the Body of Christ" (St. Gregory Palamas).
The life of the Trinity flows and dwells in us
through "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God the
Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor. 13:14). We become
The Local Church.
The mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ
is fully realized in the Divine Liturgy, for the Eucharist is Christ
crucified and risen, in his personal presence. Every local Church,
living in full the sacramental life, is the:
"... miracle of the new life in Christ
lived in community and is built upon and around the Table of the
Lord. Whenever and wherever the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, in the
context of doctinal unity and canonical norms, the local Church
possesses the marks of doctinal unity and canonical norms, the local
Church possesses the marks of the true Church of God: unity,
holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. These marks cannot belong
to any human gathering; they are the eschatological signs given to a
community through the Spirit of God" (John Meyendorff).
The Eucharist unites the members of the Church,
both Christ and to one another: "because there is one bread, we who are
many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread: (1 Cor. 10:17).
Sharing in the life of Christ and revivified by the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, the Church becomes an epiphany of divine love. "If union is in
truth with Christ and with one another, we are assuredly also united
voluntarily with all those who partake with us" (St. John of Damascus).
The Term "Divine Liturgy".
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." The word leitourgia
was used in Greek antiquity to describe those services and acts which
were performed for the benefit and common interest of all, including
acts of worship. It was in this latter religious sense that the word
found its way into the vocabulary of Scripture and the Church. In the
Septuagint translation of the Old Testament the word was applied to the
Temple services and the functions of the priests. In the New Testament,
where the word appears infrequently, it describes the saving work of
Christ (Heb. 8:6) and Christian worship (Acts 13:21). In the Apostolic
Fathers and later tradition the word was applied to worship. 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 Origins of the Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy is composed of two parts, the
first of which is referred to as the Synaxis or Proanaphora
(the Liturgy of the Word, or the Liturgy of the Catechumens), and the
second as the Eucharist (the offering, the Liturgy of the Mystery
(Sacrament) or the Liturgy of the Faithful). The synaxis or
Proanaphora, in its basic, classical shape, is a christianized
version of the synagogue service. The Eucharist is derived from the
words and actions of the Lord at the Last (Mystical) Supper.
The connection of the Divine Liturgy to the
prayer service of the synagogue and to a Jewish household or fraternal
ritual meal must be understood against the backdrop of the nascent
Christian community. The Lord and his apostles and the first christians
were Jews. It is clear that the Church will be characterized forever by
its Semetic origins. It is equally clear that the Church has close
ineradicable connections with Hellenism. The Church was born in
Jerusalem, but grew up in the Hellenistic world. Her liturgy, art and
theology are radiants with the imperishable traces of this double
"It is true that the Christian liturgy,
and the Eucharist especially, is one of the most original creations
of Christianity. But however original it is, it is not a sort of an
ex nihilo creation. To think so is to condemn ourselves to a minimal
understanding of it" (Louis Bouyer).
The Eucharist itself was instituted by Christ at
the supper on Holy Thursday to perpetuate the remembrance (anamnesis)
of his redemptive work and to establish a continuous intimate communion
(koinonia) 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.
At first the Eucharist was celebrated within the
context of an evening community meal, referred to as the agape or love
feast. By the end of the first or the beginning of the second century
the celebration of the Eucharist was separated from the community meal
and transposed to the early morning hours.
The Development of the Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy is a complex act of rhythmic
movement, sound and spectacle characterized by a deep sense of harmony,
beauty, dignity and mystery. It is structured around two solemn
entrances, which today are abbreviated forms of earlier more elaborate
ceremonies; the great eucharistic prayer (Anaphora); and the
distribution of Holy Communion. An elaborate enarxis (opening
rites), and a series of dismissal rites (apolysis) embrace the
The first or "Little Entrance," the entry of the
clergy and the people into the Church, once marked the beginning of the
Synaxis. The Little Entrance is a solemn procession with the
Gospel accompanied with entrance hymns. The second or "Great Entrance"
once marked the beginning of the Eucharist. It is a solemn procession
with the gifts of the bread and wine that are to be offered and
consecrated. The elements used for the offering are prepared by the
clergy. The service of preparation (Proskomide) is performed at
the Table of Preparation (Prothesis) before the enarxis.
It is here, after the preparation of the bread and the cup and the
commemoration of the saints, that the celebrant also commemorates the
faithful, both living and dead, by name.
The verbal and non-verbal elements of the Divine
Liturgy are fitted together harmoniously, so as to weave a pattern of
prayer that addresses and inspires the whole person, body and soul. The
principle behind the development of its ceremonial splendor rests upon
the notion that our earthly worship ought to reflect the joy and majesty
of heavenly worship. On the verbal side of the liturgy, we hear eloquent
prayers of praise, thanksgiving, intercession and confession; litanies,
petitions, acclamations, greetings and invocations; hymns, chants,
psalmody and creedal statements a well as intoned Scrpitural lessons and
a homily. On the side of the non-verbal, we are involved with solemn
processions and an assortment of liturgical gestures. The eyes are
filled with the graceful actions of the servers, as well as the sight of
the Lord and his saints gazing at us from the icons. The nostrils are
filled with the fragrance of incense, and the heart is grasped by the
profound silence of the divine presence. People touch each other gently,
saying "Christ is in our midst," when called upon to "love one another"
before the offering of the gifts. With one voice and heart they also
recite the Creed and recommit themselves to the Orthodox faith into
which they were baptized. And participating in Holy Communion the
faithful "taste and see that the Lord good" (Ps. 33).
The basic outline of the Divine Liturgy is
anchored in the New Testament. Ritual and text evolved gradually; the
several elements of the liturgy developed unevenly and at different
stages. Its structures were expanded, augmented and adorned with chants,
prayers and various ceremonials. By the tenth century the eucharistic
rites of Constantinople, the chief see of the Orthodox East, has become
more or less crystallized. The process of growth, modification, and
adaptation has been relatively slow ever since. By virtue of its
prestige the rites of Constantinople first influenced and finally
replaced all other rites in the Orthodox East. Since the end of the
twelveth century, with minor variations that reflect local customs, the
Liturgy of Constantinople has become the sole common rite of all
The Three Liturgies.
Constantinople was the magnificent crucible in
which several liturgical traditions mixed. Out of this synthesis came
three liturgies which were distinctly Constantinopolitan. Firmly rooted
in God's written word and strongly influenced by the patristic
experience, these liturgies take us to the heart of God's glory and
The Liturgy of St. Basil was, until the twelfth
century, the chief liturgy of Constantinople. Its anaphora is probably
the most eloquent of all Liturgies, east or west. Powerful in its unity
of thought, theological depth and rich biblical imagery, it was
celebrated every Sunday and great feast day. Now it is used only ten
times during the year: on the five Sundays of the Great Fast, on the
vigils of Pascha, Christmas and Epiphany, on Holy Thursday and on the
Feast of St. Basil, January 1.
The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is shorter and
less rhetorical than that of St. Basil. It is distinguished for its
simplicity and clarity. At first it was probably the weekday liturgy of
Constantinople. Gradually it superseded and replaced the Liturgy of St.
Basil. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is now celebrated at every
eucharist assembly unless the Liturgy of St. Basil or the Presanctified
is to be celebrated.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified is not a full
Divine Liturgy in that it does not contain the anaphora. This Liturgy is
now used on Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast and on the first
three days of Holy Week. It is comprised of Vespers, the solemn transfer
to the holy Table of the elements of Holy Communion consecrated at the
Divine Liturgy the previous Sunday (or Saturday), and the order of the
distribution of Holy Communion as in the other liturgies.
According to local custom three other ancient
Liturgies are also used by Orthodox Churches on the occasion of the
Feast day of the Saints to which their authorship is traditionally
attributed. These are the liturgies of St. James (Iakovos), the ancient
liturgy of Jerusalem; St. Mark, the ancient liturgy of Alexandria; and
St. Gregory the Theologian, an ancient liturgy of Cappadocia and
The Celebrants of the Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy is a corporate action of the
whole people of God. The eucharistic assembly presupposes the presence
and active participation of clergy and laity, each with their own
essential and distinctive ministry, role and function. The chief
celebrant of the Eucharist is the bishop or presbyter, without whom
there can be no Eucharist. The bishop or priest acts in the name of
Christ, who is the one true and unique High Priest.
Reception of Holy Communion.
Eucharist belongs to and is shared by those who
have been baptized into the Church and who hold a common faith in the
bond of love. Thus, only those Orthodox Christians in full communion
with the Church may partake of the Holy Gifts. It is expected that every
baptized and confirmed Orthodox adult, child and infant be a regular and
frequent recipient of the holy communion. It is presupposed that adult
and children communicants have fasted from the evening meal prior to
receiving Holy Communion at the morning Eucharist.
Care must be taken that one approaches the
chalice with spiritual understanding:
"Let not everyone come to receive it, but
only those who are worth, 'for the holy gifts are for the holy
people of God'. Those whom the priest calls holy are not only those
who have attained perfection, but also those who are striving for it
without having yet obtained it ... that is why Christians, if they
have not committed such sins as would cut them off from Christ and
bring death, are in no way prevented, when partaking of the holy
mysteries, from receiving sanctification ... for no one has holiness
of himself; it is not the consequence of human virtue, but comes for
all from him and through him" (St. Nicholas Cabasilas).
THE MYSTERY OF PENANCE
The mysteries of initiation introduce us to the
life-long process of grasping accepting and choosing to follow the
values of the Christian life. Christians, born anew in Baptism, are
expected to govern their lives by the power of God. They are to
undertake the noblest deeds and "holding fast to both faith and virtue.
. .formed by both into the blessed likeness of Christ" (St. Nicholas
Cabasilas). 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
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.
"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" (St.
Who Administers Penance?
A bishop or designated confessor-priest
administers the mystery of Repentance. Confessions are usually heard in
the Church or in some other convenient and suitable place. The penitent
and the confessor see each other face to face. The confessor identifies
with the sinner and bears with him the consequences of his sin as he
prays for him. Just as a perceptive physician seeks to heal wounds, he
heals sins: he offers counsel, and may prescribe remedies (penances)
that look to the preservation of the spiritual health of the pentitent.
Such "penances" are not punitive in nature, but remedial. They do not
constitute an essential part of the mystery. Penances may include such
things as spiritual reading, fasting, increased prayer, prostrations,
charitable works, and exclusion from Holy Communion for a specified
The confessor pronounces judgement upon the sin
and not over the sinner. As a caring spiritual father he prays for the
sinner and manifests to him the mercy and love of God. When the penitent
has completed his confession, the confessor beckons him to kneel and,
placing his hands upon his head, reads the prayer of absolution, by
which the forgiveness of God is pronounced and bestowed. For it is God
who is the forgiver and the healer of the penitent, not the human
Penitence 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.
Jesus Christ is the one, true priest of the
Church. Through his perfect self-offering, Christ continues to unite
fallen humanity to God and is the unique High Priest and Mediator of the
new covenant. Both the royal priesthood of all believers and the
ministerial priesthood have their sources in Christ the High Priest.
The priestly ministry of Christ is perpetuated in
the Church by the ministerial priesthood, existing in the three
essential ministries of bishop, presbyter 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.
Functions and Duties.
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 ministers 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 suffices. 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.
Presbyters (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 monastics to serve local
Deacons assist the bishops and presbyters
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.
Besides the three "major" orders, the pristhood
includes several "minor" orders: subdeacons, readers, chanters, and
acolytes. The ordination of such minor orders is conducted outside the
sanctuary and at any communal worship service, but never within Divine
Liturgy. The enthronement of a bishop or the bestowal of honors and the
appointment to an office are also conducted outside the framework of the
The ordination of the major orders is held during
the course of the Divine Liturgy. Bishops are 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 presbyter is ordained immediately after the Great
Entrance and 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.
The consent of the whole Church is a necessary
requirement for ordination. At every ordination rite both the candidate
and the assembled clergy and laity, and the celebrating bishop are asked
to give their assent with the antiphon (Keleuson).
After the ordination, the new cleric is clothed with the vestments of
his order and installed in his new position amidst the acclamation "he
is worthy" (axios) by the assembled faithful.
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 term cheirotonia (to
stretch out the hand) designates the rites of ordination for the major
orders, while the term cheirothesia (to place hands) is used to
designate an ordination to the minor orders.
The Character of the Priesthood.
Those called and ordained to serve the Church are
referred to as "clergy" (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
The male character of the ordained priesthood is
a basic tenet of Orthodoxy. The priesthood belongs to Christ and those
ordained to perpetuate his priesthood are his icons. The bishop (or
priest) is not simply a delegate or a vicar of an absent Christ, but the
one through whom Christ renders himself present to his Church.
The clergy do not posess an intrinsic personal
holiness because of their ordination. Rather, they strive to acquire it,
like all Christians, but with a greater urgency through ascetic effort.
The clergy ought to embody the love of Christ and manifest to the
community the essentials of the Christian life. Conversely, the clergy
need to discover in their flock the presence of Christ. In this mutual
witness each assists the other to become a living member of the body of
A Christian Marriage.
Orthodox theology has always presented Christian
marriage as something absolutely unique, and, indeed eternal. In
marriage, human love "is being projected into the Kingdom of God" (John
Meyendorff), reflecting the intimate union between Christ and the
faithful which St. Paul speaks of (Ephes. 5). Married life is a special
vocation which requires the grace of the Holy Spirit; and it is this
very grace which is conferred in the Marriage Service.
The contemporary Marriage Service of the Orthodox
Church is itself divided into two parts: the office of betrothal and the
office of crowning. In the first, the rite includes the exchange of
rings, demonstrating that both partners enter into marriage of their own
volition. At the second, "crowns" placed upon the heads of the partners
signify the grace of the Holy Spirit. These crowns are crowns of both
joy and martyrdom. Because the couple has been united for eternity,
there is joy; but because every marriage involves enormous
self-sacrifice on the part of each partner, both also become "martyrs"
in their own right.
The complete love each of the partners has for
the other, should be the motivating factor in Christian marriage. In
such a context, marriage exists not only for the procreation of
children, but also that a mutual love may be expressed, sustained and
extended to others. While it is not to be denied that God commanded Adam
and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, children must always be considered
a gift from God and not the sole reason for marriage. Certainly,
children do contribute to making marriages an authentic image of the
Trinity; and St. John Chrysostom spoke of the family as "a little
Because marriage implies a decision of free will
on the part of both partners, there will always be the possibility of
error. When a marriage fails, the Orthodox Church has generally declared
that a true marriage had in fact never existed, i.e., the bond did not
demonstrate its necessarily eternal character. It would not be totally
accurate, however, to say that the Orthodox Church grants divorces,
although such a practice has crept into the practice of some local
Churches. Divorce is actually a civil matter which recognizes the
breaking of a legal contract; the Church can merely recognize that an
attempt at building up a true marriage has failed.
Without going into an exhaustive analysis of the
historical and canonical developments, it should be mentioned that the
Orthodox Church today normally allows the laity three attempts at
establishing a true marriage. A fourth marriage is positively forbidden.
Clergy, however, are permitted to marry only once and this must be prior
to ordination. Finally, it remains only to comment upon the penitential
character assigned to a marriage rite in which both partners are being
married for the second or third time. A special service exists for these
situations in which the prayers are more somber and the entire service
far more subdued. In this way, the Church reminds both the partners and
the entire people of God that one lasting marriage is the Christian
"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
commited" (James 5:14-15).
So St. James describes the annointing of the
sick, providing the apostolic foundations for the sacrament of unction,
or more properly, "the oil of prayer" (euchelaion). 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 mortally 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 unction certainly do not assume that physical healing is assured
framework of repentance. The annointing symbolizes ultimate pardon in
the face of sickness and even death, physical results of the spiritual
desiease of sinfulness. Unction 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 many Orthodox celebrations of unction on Holy Wednesday in
many Orthodox churches might be interpreted as a substitute for actual
confessions of sins by individuals in prepearation for the pascal
Eucharist. Needles to say, annointing is meaningless without true
The Institution of Marriage.
"God is the author and celebrant of pure marriage. He
ordained and instituted it in paradise (Gen. 1:27-28)."
A Christian marriage is like any other marriage
in its external form, structure and organization; it is experienced,
however, in a radically different way. Relationships, authority and
personal identity are experienced on a wholly other plane: in the
context and spirit of the new life in Christ. In a Christian marriage
two persons share each other in a unique relationship with the risen and
Christ's death and resurrection constitute the
basis for this new and radical relationship between spouses and between
parents and children. In loving and being loved, Christians must be
willing to enter, daily, into the light of Christ. It is there that they
discover that "all great love is crucified love," as Paul Evdokimov once
noted. Sacrificial, self-giving love requires our willingness to die
daily to the dreadful condition of our fallen nature, to pride, envy,
anger, deceit, insensitivity, selfishness and every other kind of sinful
desire and self-delusion that distorts, reduces, and destroys the human
In the immense reality of Christ's love,
Christian spouses discover and experience the love of the Holy Trinity.
It is this love, wrote Olivier Clement, which precedes, founds and
renews our love. The couple's "self-gift" to each other is to love in a
divine way. Such love invests the couple's whole being with the
redeeming presence of the Incarnate Love. This Incarnate Love, Christ,
integrates and enriches their personal and sexual love, enabling them to
transcend the closed finitude of their fallenness, and thus allow them
to reach ever-new and ever-deeper levels of communion, friendship,
maturity, openness and holiness. This Christ-like experience of love
reflects and makes credible the reality of God's love for humankind. In
this way Christian spouses learn to become servants of redemption.
In marriage every person acquires a new identity:
the two become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). Thus, marriage is more than the
social and religious sanction of a biological fact. It is, according to
"... the personal relationship of
coinherence. Through a reciprocal relinquishment of the individual
will and acceptance of the other's will, the unity of husband and
wife comes not to be built on the natural premise of sexual impulse,
but on the premise of ecclesial communion, which is self
transcendence and self-offering. Marriage draws its identity not
from the natural relationship, but from the relationship in the
realm of the Kingdom."
Persons who marry in the Lord come to appreciate,
in the deepest possible levels of existence, God's commandment to "love
thy neighbor as thy self." A husband and wife become intimate lovers,
because they are, first of all, neighbor and friend to each other in the
most unique and conclusive way. By loving Christ, and through Him each
other, they come to know one another's distinct identity, complete one
another in a dynamic way, and discover God's image in each other (Gen.
1:26-27; 2:18-24). Drawn to each other, and together to Him, Who is the
source of all love, their eros is transfigured constantly into
unfailing love, into agape. Consumed by the face of the Lord, Who
is mystically present in their lives, they find joy in exploring the
hidden and unfathomable depths of the miracle and mystery of their own
A marriage in the Lord is sustained by the Holy
Spirit, Who grants to the spouses the necessary gifts to secure a godly
life in peace, truth, harmony and love. This is not to say, however,
that a church marriage is free from problems, temptations, tensions,
pains and suffering. Rather, it means only that in the obedience of
faith are spouses open to the influence and power of the Holy Spirit,
who allows the life of the Risen Christ to emerge in them, so that they
may be empowered to transcend the weariness, failures and difficulties
of daily, ordinary life. Marital bonds are strengthened and renewed by
the exercise of godly patience, humility, fortitude, kindness and mutual
trust. The bonds are nourished and sanctified by prayer, the sacraments
of the Church, and works of genuine piety and charity.
Conditions and Characteristics of Marriage.
The essential condition for marriage in the
Church is that the partners come to it out of their own free will. The
decision to marry in the Lord is a highly personal one. It is to be
arrived at prayerfully, in the counsel of one's own heart. The freedom
to choose one's own partner is restricted only by those canonical, legal
or moral impediments that would distort, damage or frustrate the purpose
A church marriage is indissoluble. It is
understood to be a life long event; a dynamic, unfolding, loving
relationship that unites two unique personalities into a single body,
without change and confusion. It becomes a covenant relationship between
two persons who willingly accept the challenge and opportunity to "be
subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephes. 5:21).
Marriage is established and constituted with
appropriate prayers and signs of the Church; since it is God Himself,
Who is the creator and the celebrant of marriage. Through her
canonically ordained bishops, and/or presbyters, the Church, as the
redeemed community, calls upon God to unite and sanctify the spouses and
to prosper them in life and faith.
Marriage and family are understood to be
patterned after the divine life of the Holy Trinity. With this model in
mind, we recognize and uphold the absolute equality of the spouses.
However, we are able to recognize differentiation in their nature and
also in their relationship to one another. In the words of Thomas Hopko:
"... the mode of being and action of the
male in creation is different from the mode of being and action of
the female within the same nature of created being. More
specifically ... the male and female are not the same and are not
interchangeable in the unique forms of their common humanity."
Spouses relate to each other according to an
order established by God; with the man as the head and the woman as the
partner. This is a model based on the relationship of Christ and the
Church. The man, as head, is called to love, cherish and respect his
wife. The wife, as partner, is called to honor and respect her husband
(Ephes. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19). A husband and wife complement each
other, and, in this very complementarity, are able to recognize and
experience their distinctiveness as well as their inherent equality.
A church marriage presupposes a monogamous
relationship. Monogamy is implied in the Book of Genesis, upheld by the
Prophets, confirmed by Christ, and sustained by the Church. Monogamy is
consistent with the Christian ideal of agape. A monogamous relationship,
based on the love of God, empowers the spouses with the will to overcome
the evil inclinations toward division, envy, conceit, lust, arrogance,
deception and manipulation. By preserving personal dignity and seeking
to ensure equality, stability and purity in marital relations, monogamy
fosters and promotes the aims of Christian marriage.
The Purpose of Marriage.
The essential and primary purpose of marriage is
to unite two free persons into a communion of love for their mutual
companionship, support, enjoyment, and personal fulfillment and
completion. Genuine companionship is founded on mutual trust, which in
turn is nourished by honesty, commitment, fidelity, tenderness,
steadfastness of faith and single mindedness.
The task of living and growing together in
holiness is aided by sexual fulfillment, since sexuality implicates the
person whose substance is imprinted on the body. For the Christian,
writes Olivier Clement:
"... sexuality must become a dimension of
the person, a language of the relation between persons. This unity
of the flesh denotes not only the union of the bodies, but the inter
wovenness of two lives."
Sexual fidelity and enjoyment nurture the
distinction between, and allow for the development of the maleness of
the husband and femaleness of the wife. But, like all human conditions
and relations, sexuality, also, has been tinged by ancestral sin. Like
all unhallowed things of the fallen world, human sexuality unbalanced
can remain opaque, closed and graceless. It can deteriorate into
narcissistic, abusive and predatory behavior, or sink into depravity and
perversion. It can become an addiction of the worse kind. The other in
the sexual relation becomes a body of desire; an object to be possessed,
used and abused.
Sexuality needs to be brought into the realm of
redemption through marital fidelity, modesty, tenderness, decency and
prudence. The sexual experience develops into a means of self
transcendence and becomes a window through which God's love and life
shine into marital love and life. The human body becomes a body of
communion and an opportunity for personal growth and transparency. The
physical relationship is transformed into a union of persons, and more.
"Through the natural relationship of
marriage," writes Christos Yiannaras, "the two are united
into one flesh, and through the eucharistic relationship of the
mystery of marriage, this one flesh, the shared life of two persons,
is made incorruptible and immortal."
Human sexuality is fundamentally good; a gift
from God. It exists to further the growth of mutual companionship in
marriage by drawing husband and wife into a loving, caring and intimate
communion of body and soul. Most importantly, it allows the spouses to
become co-creators with God. Creation of a new life from fleshly love is
a special privilege, joy and blessing. Through it, God grants the world
a share of His omnipotence. As responsible and loving human beings, a
husband and wife share in God's creative power and imitate His
self-giving love; His providential concern for creation.
The conception, birth and nurture of children
constitute another basic aim and characteristic of marriage. Children
are the very crown of the marital union and mysterious presence of God's
creative love in the lives of two people. However, a childless marriage,
due to biological infertility, is no less complete than a marriage with
Children are worthy of great love and careful
upbringing. St. Paul tells parents to bring up their children in the
discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephes. 6:4). While providing for
their physical well-being, parents must also protect their children
against sin, provide them with spiritual guidance, and create for them a
loving environment in which they can develop into mature, caring human
beings. The complex task of raising children requires patience,
openness, faith and immeasurable love and understanding. According to
Father Alexander Elchaninov, "the most important thing is that children
should see their parents leading an intense interior life."
Sexual relations are related to the mutual
fulfillment of the spouses and then to child-bearing. The decision,
therefore, to suspend fertility through the use of contraceptives is not
necessarily in violation of natural law. Regarding this matter,
Metropolitan Chrysostomos Zapheris notes the following:
"While the Orthodox Church fully
acknowledges the role of procreation in the marital sexual act, it
does not share the deterministic understanding of the act ... which
ignores love as a dimension of great value in sexual intercourse
between husband and wife."
Creation of new life requires serious, prayerful,
honest and sincere reflection. While some forms of contraception are
more admissible than others, it is clear that abortion is not an
acceptable form of birth control. The decision to regulate the size of
one's family is the personal responsibility of the spouses. A serious
commitment to the Gospel, however, precludes decisions that are based
solely on hedonistic, selfish and prideful reasons. We do well, at this
point, to remember the words of a noted Orthodox theologian:
"Since Christ's resurrection a realm of
non-death has opened up in the opacity of the world ... Contrary to
widespread opinion, my body is not myself. It is my self only when
it belongs to Christ, when it takes its place in the stream of life
of the communion of saints, in the fountainhead of living water of
the Body of Christ."
When a Marriage Fails
Unfortunately, marriages can fail and cause
painful and distressful conditions that lead to separation and divorce.
Divorce produces as much anguish as death because it is the withering
away of a living relationship into emotional and spiritual deadness;
often times after cruel and humiliating experiences.
The Church admits divorce and remarriage as a
concession to human frailty and imperfection. These concessions reflect
the Church's pastoral concern for wounded souls and her refusal to
abandon divorced persons in their sin, failure, weakness, distress,
dilemma and pain. Thus, choice here is between right and wrong marriages
in the context of a lifelong union and pilgrimage towards the Kingdom of
The Marriage Rite
The service of marriage currently in use by the
Church consists of two separate, independent and self contained rites,
that have been linked together for many centuries: Engagement
which is also called "The Service of the Betrothal"; which is also
referred to as "The Service of Crowning."
In the early Church marriages of Christians were
accomplished by agreement of the couple with the blessing of the bishop
or presbyter, usually given in the context of the Eucharist. By the
fourth century, the Rite of Crowning had developed and was performed
within the eucharistic celebration. A marriage rite separate from the
eucharist began to appear in the ninth century.
The formation of two separate rites, one for
betrothal and another for marriage, had begun early. The purpose of the
Betrothal Service was to confirm and hallow the pledge of the future
marriage. It was customary to conduct it at the conclusion of the Divine
Liturgy. The purpose of the Marriage Service was to consecrate the
marital union; it was conducted during the course of the Divine Liturgy.
In another stage of its development, the Rite of Crowning was celebrated
within the context of a Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. The
practice of drawing these two independent rites into a single liturgical
event, separate from the Eucharist, began in the tenth century. It soon
became common place, and finally, the norm.
The Service of Betrothal is relatively short. It
contains a set of petitions and three prayers. It is characterized by
the exchange and the putting on of rings. The rings constitute the sign
of the couples' voluntary pledge to enter into marriage and to live
together in faith, harmony, truth and love.
The Service of Crowning is longer and more
complex. Besides petitions, several prayers, and two scripture readings,
it contains a number of liturgical actions that include the joining of
hands, the partaking of blessed wine from a common cup and a solemn
joyous procession. The characteristic ritual, however, is the act of
crowning the couple, hence the name of the service. With eloquent words
and didactic symbolism this service emphasizes the rich blessings, the
special joys and the great responsibilities of Christian marriage.
A Note on Celibacy
Celibacy is another way of living the Gospel. A
person chooses to remain sexually unengaged in order to better obey the
Lord's commandments. Monastics also choose to reject pleasures and
relationships of the world, not because these are inherently bad, but
because they have a far greater desire, to discover the face of God
through ascesis.The monk does not suppress eros. He/she
transfigures it by grace. St. John of the Ladder says it in these words:
"blessed is he who has a passion for God no less violent than the lover
has for his beloved."
The celibate, who is detached from things of the
world and accepts virginity for the glory of God, imitates angelic life
and manifests the condition of the resurrectional life," when those
raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage" (Mk
THE MYSTERY OF HOLY UNCTION
The Dogmatic Background
It has been noted that we are born into a
situation, in which pain and sorrow are ever-present realities.
Sickness, suffering and death are the terrible proofs that humanity
groans under the heavy burden of ancestral sin (Rom. 5:12-14; 8:18-25).
In the words of Panagiotes Chrestou, "we bear by birth that nature,
which Adam and Eve corrupted." As if the burdens of our fallen, moribund
nature were not enough, some choose to exacerbate the dreadfulness of
our condition by abusing the soul and body with every manner of excess.
Sickness and the body's eventual death are
inescapable indignities which we suffer because of the fall. They are
not forms of divine retribution, but the result of our deep alienation
from God and our rejection of Him. God allows death, not as a
punishment, but to terminate graceless life, so that it may be restored
to its fullness in the resurrection.
"Since, through man, sin came into the
world, and through sin death, it pleased God to give us His Son, in
order to condemn sin in His flesh, so that those who died in Adam
may be brought to life in Him" (Liturgy of St. Basil).
Christ "took our infirmities and bore our
diseases" (Matt 8:17; Is 53:4). He overcame the world, by loosening the
bonds of death and opening, for all flesh, a path to the resurrection
from the dead. By participating in his deified human nature, humanity
has access to imperishable life.
The Constitution of the Holy Unction
The Mystery of Holy Unction is established upon
the words and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ. It embodies, extends and
continues his healing ministry. It is the sign of his transforming
presence in a bruised and hurting world, and the emblem of His promise
to deliver us from sin and corruption. It is the manifestation of the
Kingdom and the sign of what God has in store for the world when it
reaches its state of ultimate completion. While the reign of God has not
yet come in power, the mighty deeds of Christ disclose and proclaim the
mystery of humankind's renewal: "the blind receive their sight and the
lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are
raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matt 11:5-6).
The Mystery of Holy Unction places the sick into this eschatological
reality, where suffering, corruption and death are overcome, even in the
The healing ministry of the Church is patterned
after the healing ministry of Christ; it addresses humanity's need for
deliverance. A succinct description of the form and meaning of this
ministry, from apostolic times to the present age, is found in the
Epistle of James:
"Is any among you sick? Let him call the
presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him
with oil in the name of the Lord, and prayers of faith will save the
sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed
sins he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15).
Holy Unction is a sacrament of faith. It seeks to
raise up hope and impart courage and peace to the sick person by
alleviating anxieties, frustrations and feelings of alienation that
often afflict the sufferer. It communicates spiritual power so that the
trials of sickness are borne with fortitude and the temptations that
lead to despair are resisted and overcome.
Holy Unction does not serve as a substitute for
medical treatment, nor is the priest a replacement for the physician.
Medical science is, itself, a gift of God, and a sign of His
providential benevolence, wisdom and love. (Sirach 1:1, 38:1-15). In
time of illness we are guided by the words of Scripture:
"When you are sick do not be negligent,
but pray to the Lord, and He will heal you. Give up your faults and
direct your hands aright, and cleanse your heart from all sins
... And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him ...
There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians, for
they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in
diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life" (Sirach
38: 9-10, 12-14).
The gift of healing is, first of all, a
restoration of interior justice and holiness; an entrance into the peace
of God. While "healing is certainly a much desired effect... it is not
an indispensable condition for the existence of the sacrament," notes
Elie Melia. Holy Unction allows the sick person to share in Christ's
victory over sin and death by "conforming him or her in some degree to
the body of the risen Lord and by disposing the whole person - body,
soul and spirit - for eternal life." The essential purpose of Holy
Unction is to raise up the sick into the realm of God's Kingdom.
The Lord has commanded us to share one another's
burdens, to visit the sick, and to care for the hungry and the poor. The
sacrament of Holy Unction is the strong reminder to the Church community
that care for the afflicted, those suffering from illness, injustice,
exploitation, oppression, hunger, poverty and abuse, is a communal
concern and duty. The Church has a special responsibility to minister to
the ills of humanity.
Holy Unction as a Sacrament
The Church's sacrament of healing has several
names. It is known as Euchelaion or Prayer Oil; Holy Oil;
Eptapapadon (from a custom requiring seven priests to celebrate it);
and Holy Unction (from Latin, meaning anointing).
The outward sign or element of the sacrament is
(olive) oil. It is an appropriate symbol for the sacrament, since its
use as a therapeutic agent is known from antiquity.
As is the case in all the sacraments, Holy
Unction is celebrated by a canonically ordained bishop or presbyter.
The service developed over a long period of time.
It contains the following basic elements: a modified Orthros; a prayer
for the consecration of the oil; a set of seven Readings and priestly
prayers; and a prayer for the anointing of the sick person.
The sacrament is used for the sick and may be
celebrated at any time, in the Church, home or hospital. In earlier
times the sacrament was celebrated in the context of the Divine Liturgy.
The Church celebrates the sacrament, with special
solemnity, on Holy Wednesday for the whole community. The Church confers
the sacrament upon all the faithful, whether they are physically ill or
not, because we do not draw a sharp distinction between bodily and
It may be that the use of Holy Unction in the
middle of Holy Week is a vestige of the ancient practice of the
reconciliation of penitents before Pascha. In any case, the solemn
celebration serves to remind the faithful of Christ's power to forgive
and liberate the conscience from the blight of personal and collective
sin and to emphasize the glorious expectation of Pascha; the
resurrection, redemption and sanctification of all life.
Rev. Alciviadis C. Calivas, Th.D.
One of the best-known prayers of the Orthodox Church speaks of the
spirit of God being "present in all places and filling all things." This
profound affirmation is basic to Orthodoxy's understanding of God and
His relationship to the world. We believe that God is truly near to us.
Although He cannot be seen, God is not detached from His creation.
Through the persons of The Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is
present and active in our lives and in the creation about us. All our
life and the creation of which we are an important part, points, to and
There are special experiences in our corporate life as Orthodox
Christians when ;the perception of God's presence and actions is
heightened and celebrated. We call these events of the Church
Sacraments. Traditionally, the Sacraments have been known as Mysteries
in the Orthodox Church. This description emphasizes that in these
special events of the Church, God discloses Himself through the prayers
and actions of His people.
Not only do the Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us, but also they
serve to make us receptive to God. All the Sacraments affect our
personal relationship to God and to one another. The Holy Spirit works
through the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ who unites us with the
Father. By participating in the Sacraments, we grow closer to God and to
receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process of deification, or
theosis, as it is known by Orthodoxy, takes place not in isolation from
others, but within the context of a believing community. Although the
Sacraments are addressed to each of us by name, they are experiences
which involve the entire Church.
The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of prayers, hymns,
scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Many parts of the services
date back to the time of the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has avoided
reducing the Sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a
whole series of sacred acts make up a Sacrament. 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 but a few of the
many elements which the Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The
frequent use of the material of creation 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.
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.
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.
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.
As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another
and, of course, to God. When we sin, or relationship to God and to
others 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
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 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 the
discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however,
confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.
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 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 symbolized the sharing of
the burdens and joys of their new life together.
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, remind us that when we are
ion 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 relation 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.
Source: Department of
Religious Education, Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald