Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

METROPOLIS OF DENVER
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Introduction
How many
“Sacraments”
(Mysteries)
are there in the
Orthodox
Church?
Canonical and
Administrative
Considerations
Baptism & Chrismation
Eucharist
Repentance
Unction
Marriage
Ecclesiastical Divorce
Orders
Funeral
The Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Orthodox Church

Introduction

«On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.» (John 2:1-11)

“This beginning of signs” is the quintessential Mystery, or Sacrament. In each of the Mysteries a natural element – water, bread, wine, olive oil, even man – is transformed into an enhanced and elevated state of its essence and used, in turn, to transform, transfigure, and elevate man unto the ever-increasing likeness of God.

Consider:

In Baptism water is consecrated and given the “blessing of Jordan.” Its properties of sustaining life and of washing are enhanced such that it may be unto life everlasting and the cleansing of sin. This “blessed and consecrated” water becomes the means by which we are joined to Christ, and in Him to God the Trinity. Since God is the Source of life and grants forgiveness and remission of sin, these are granted to us through the Baptismal waters.

In Chrismation a mixture of olive oil and aromatic essences is prepared following the pattern described in the Biblical Book of Exodus:

    Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also take for yourself quality spices, five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony; the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense; the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy. And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.’” (Exodus 30:22-33)

The properties of olive oil are to serve as a food that sustains the life of, and gives strength to, the body. The properties of aromatic essences are to travel “in the air” and to be pleasantly fragrant to the senses. Holy Chrism becomes the means by which we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, Who is an invisible “breath” perceived as “tongues of fire” on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the “Lord and Giver of life” Who strengthens us and fills us with the delightful presence of God within. (For an excellent description of the preparation of Holy Chrism at The Ecumenical Patriarchate, click here).

In the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) bread and wine are consecrated by the Holy Spirit and changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. As food and drink, bread and wine are distributed throughout our body to nourish us and become intrinsic and intimate parts, cells, within our Body. The Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, are real food and drink by which we remain in intimate communion with Christ, and thus with the Trinity. He becomes our Nourishment, and intrinsically part of us such that through Holy Communion we participate in His incarnation, His suffering and crucifixion, His death, and His resurrection.

In Holy Unction (Holy Anointing) olive oil is consecrated. Its properties of nourishing and strengthening the body as well as soothing and healing injuries are enhanced such that it becomes for us the healing and body and soul. The wounds and injuries of the body are obvious, the “wounds, injuries, and sicknesses” of the soul are our sins which may be less obvious.

When two people reconcile they typically embrace, or perhaps shake hands. In Holy Repentance (Holy Confession) the Priest places the edge of his epitrachelion (stole) on the head of the penitent and makes the sign of the Cross over him/her as he reads the Prayer of Absolution.

In marriage a man and a woman join themselves and their lives together, and usually hope to have children. The natural purpose of marriage is, of course companionship (“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” Genesis 2:18) and procreation (“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” Genesis 1:28). In Holy Matrimony (Holy Marriage) the Priest joins the couple’s hands together, and they are joined together by the Holy Spirit. Their sacramental relationship becomes the means through which their salvation is worked out, and it acquires an eternal dimension (not simply “until death do us part,” a concept which does not exist in Orthodox Christianity).

How many “Sacraments” (Mysteries) are there in the Orthodox Church?

“Sacraments” in the Orthodox Church are more properly referred to as the “Holy Mysteries.”

In the Orthodox Church these Mysteries are understood as the means through which mankind mystically participates in divine grace. In a general sense, the Orthodox Church considers everything which is in, and of, the Church – our prayers, blessings, good works, thoughts, actions, everything – as sacramental or mystical. More specifically, however, the Mysteries ontologically change a person by uniting them directly with God. A person uniquely and existentially experiences union with God in the Mysteries.

There has never been a universal declaration within the Orthodox Church that there are only seven sacraments. In fact, the custom of “counting,” or numbering, the Mysteries was adopted for convenience from the practice of the Roman Catholic Church.

As such, and only for discussion purposes, seven Mysteries are conventionally “counted:”

  1. Baptism, Chrismation (or Confirmation)
  2. Eucharist (Communion)
  3. Repenance (or Confession)
  4. Matrimony
  5. Holy Orders
  6. Unction (Anointing of the Sick).

This is not an ancient practice of the Church and, in many ways, it is misleading, to the extent that it infers there are just seven specific rites which are “sacraments” and that all other aspects of the life of the Church are essentially different from these particular actions.

The more ancient and authentic practice of the Orthodox Church is to consider everything which is in and of the Church as Sacramental or Mysterological (Mystical).

The traditional practice is thus not to isolate these seven from the many other actions in the Church which also possess a Mysteriological, or Sacramental character. Some of these activities are:

  1. The Service for the Burial of the Dead (sometimes rather misleadingly regarded as a “Funeral Service”)
  2. The Service for Monastic Profession
  3. The Service for the Blessing of Waters at Theophany
  4. The Service for Anointing an Orthodox Monarch (Emperor or King); obviously this is currently in disuse.
All of these combine an outward, visible expression together with the granting of an inward, spiritual grace. Thus the blessings of homes, fields, fruits, cars, etc. also have a Mysteriological nature and may be counted among the “Mysteries,” though as noted above, there is no formal definition of such.

In the Mysteries, as with the Church, there is a combination of an outward visible reality along with an inward spiritual grace. Saint John Chrysostom wrote that we call these action “Mysteries” because what we believe is more than what we see; instead, we see one thing while perceiving a greater reality.

The Mysteries are personal, since they are the means whereby God’s grace is granted to an individual Christian. Indeed, in each of the the Mysteries the priest mentions the Christian name of each person as he administers the Mystery to him/her.

For additional information, click on the following links:

  1. Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments.
  2. Worship: The Sacraments: oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/the-sacraments.

Canonical and Administrative Considerations: “Membership” in the Church

It is through Baptism and Chrismation that we become members of the Body of Christ, members of the of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and Orthodox Christian Church. In short, a person is a “member of the Church” through Baptism and Chrismation.

Baptism and Chrismation are regarded as “Mysteries of Entrance” into the Church. Thus one may not receive any other Mystery (Sacrament) unless they have previously been Baptized and Chrismated in the Orthodox Church.

A Orthodox Christian is a canonical “member in good standing” of the Orthodox Church if they:

  1. 1. Apply the tenets of the Orthodox Faith to his/her life.
  2. 2. Adhere to and live according to the tenets of the Orthodox faith.
  3. 3. Faithfully attend the Divine Liturgy and other worship services.
  4. 4. Participate regularly in the holy sacraments.
  5. 5. Respect all ecclesiastical authority and all governing bodies of the Church.
  6. 6. Are obedient in matters of the Faith, practice and ecclesiastical order.
  7. 7. Contribute towards the progress of the Church’s sacred mission.
  8. 8. Are an effective witness and example of the Orthodox Faith and Traditions to all people.
So long as an Orthodox Christian abides by these precepts he/she is free to participate in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) and in the life of the Orthodox Church.

A person is no longer a canonical “member in good standing” of the Church, however, if they:
  1. 1. Do not adhere to precepts cited above.
  2. 2. Have consecutively missed attending the Sunday Divine Liturgy for several Sundays; in all such cases a person must speak with the parish priest about this circumstance.
  3. 3. Have committed a grievous, mortal sin; e.g., murder, abortion, theft, etc.
  4. 4. Have committed fornication*; i.e., had sex with another person before marriage.
  5. 5. Have committed adultery*; i.e., had sex with a person other than their spouse, outside of marriage
  6. 6. Are cohabiting, or “living together,” without being married; this is the grievous sin of fornication*.
    1. a. Should a cohabiting couple wish to marry, this circumstance must be resolved so that they can return to good canonical standing and thus be able to participate in the Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage.
  7. *“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
  8. 7. Are married civilly but not ecclesiastically.
  9. 8. Are separated and/or divorced civilly but have not received an ecclesiastical divorce.
These impediments are resolved through Holy Repentance (Confession) and, in the case of divorce, through an Ecclesiastical Divorce adjudicated by a Spiritual Tribunal. The parish priest is always ready to help in these circumstances, and any matter can be resolved.

A person who is no longer a canonical “member in good standing” of the Church may not:

  1. 1. Receive Holy Communion.
  2. 2. Be married in the Church.
  3. 3. Be a sponsor (godparent) at a Baptism, Chrismation, or Marriage.
  4. 4. Be granted an Orthodox funeral.
  5. 5. Be a member of a parish cpouncil.
There is no dispensation possible for these conditions. They are resolved through Holy Repentance and, in the case of divorce, through an Ecclesiastical Divorce.

In parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America a person is administratively a “member in good standing” of the parish if they:

  1. 1. Are eighteen years of age or over.
  2. 2. Are current in his or her stewardship and other financial obligations to the Parish.
    1. a. Stewardship is recommended to be ten percent (10%) of one’s annual income as stated in Holy Scripture to help meet the financial obligations of the Parish, the Metropolis and the Archdiocese.)
  3. 3. Abide by all the regulations herein stated and the Parish Bylaws.
  4. 4. Cooperate in every way towards the welfare and well being of the Parish.

A person who is no longer administratively a “member in good standing” of the Church may not:

  1. 1. Participate and/or vote in a parish General Assembly.
  2. 2. Be a member of a parish council
  3. 3. Be a sponsor (godparent) at a Baptism, Chrismation, or Marriage.

Email: fr.luke@denver.goarch.org
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