The Orthodox Faith – The Sacraments (2a)

As we saw in the last article, the primary reasons for baptism are the forgiveness of sins and the participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Having said this, in reality, most people are not thinking of these things when they bring their child for baptism. For most people it’s a family affair. Baptism is seen as something private. Family and friends gather together in church to make the child a member of the church. Sometimes baptism is even done in private homes, which is not ideal.
However, this idea is somewhat mistaken. Baptism is a sacrament of the whole church community, and is not simply a family affair.
For the first centuries of the church most people were baptized as adults. At the beginning of Lent people desiring to be baptized presented themselves to the bishop. He enrolled them as catechumens, meaning students. During the course of Great Lent they would attend classes about the Christian faith. They would then be baptized either before the Holy Saturday morning Liturgy or before the midnight Paschal Liturgy. Members of the parish would be present and, in a sense they would participate in the Baptism, bearing witness that the person is part of the community.
Of course, this is not how most people experience baptism today. But, in recent decades some churches have Baptismal Liturgies. The baptism takes place in the Liturgy. These Baptismal Liturgies are not common, but they show the unity between baptism and liturgy, melding the two sacraments together.
Many people think that baptism is one sacrament but actually in the current practice another second sacrament follows immediately after . This is the sacrament of Chrismation or anointing with a special oil. In the Old Testament, anointing with oil was done when a person became a king, a priest or prophet. This was a way of setting them apart for a new role. For example, here is the Prophet Samuel anointing Saul to be king.
“Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies round about. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.” (1 Samuel 10:1)
And here David:
“So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” (2 Samuel 5:3)
Here we see a prophet being anointed:
“…and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Eli’sha the son of Shaphat of A’bel-meho’lah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” (I Kings 19:10)
In the Book of Exodus God tells Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons to be priests.
“And you shall put them upon Aaron your brother, and upon his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 28:41)
And
“…and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests: and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” (Exodus 40:15)
And in fact, the Messiah predicted and prophesied by the Old Testament meant the anointed one. It is quite clear that Jesus Christ knew the Old Testament prophesies about Himself and consciously fulfilled them. For example, compare the text in Isaiah in which the Prophet Isaiah tells about the future Messiah to that in the Gospel of Luke.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Is 61:1-3)

“And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,…” (Lk 4:16-18)
These verses come right after Jesus Christ’s 40 days in the desert. He is publicly announcing for the first time that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah. Christos is just the Greek version of the same word. So when we say Jesus Christ, we mean Jesus, the Anointed One.
It should be noted that Chrism is not simply oil. Before a person goes in to the font, that person is anointed with ordinary blessed oil. However, after the immersion in the font, the baptized person is anointed again, this time with Chrism. Chrism is a special oil, having many ingredients besides oil and is made in a ritual, as described below.
The baptism proper is from the beginning of the service until the actual baptism in the font. Shortly thereafter, the sacrament of Chrismation begins.
Here is a description of Metropolitan Tikhon making the Chrism:
“The Rite of Consecration of Holy Chrism will begin on Holy Monday morning, as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon sanctifies water to bless the ingredients used in making Holy Chrism. Chrism, unlike the oil of Holy Unction and other blessed oils used in Orthodox rites, contains a number of exotic ingredients, including olive oil, white wine, styrax, benzoin, aromatic incenses extracted in oil, rose oil, basil, balsam, Venetian turpentine, galangal, oils of bergamot, clove, marjoram, thyme and sandalwood, and extracts of ginger root, calamus root, nutmeg, and orris root. (Historically there has been some variability in this mixture based on the availability of ingredients.) Bishops, priests and deacons will gather in two-hour shifts throughout the day and night from Holy Monday to Holy Thursday to mix these ingredients together in a stainless-steel pot as they are boiled and stirred continuously while the Gospels are read.” https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-week-at-st.-tikhons-monastery-confecting-chrism
Only the primate (the head bishop, which is Metropolitan Tikhon in our case) can make and distribute the chrism to each parish. Again, from the link above:
When the new Chrism is ready, it will be poured into bottles for use throughout the 700 parishes of the Orthodox Church in America, from Canada, to the United States, to Mexico…. Every batch of new Chrism has drops from earlier chrism. In the Archives of the OCA we still have a lead container that held Chrism brought from Russia in 1900. The Russian Church originally received Chrism from its Mother Church, Constantinople. Thus, every anointing with Chrism is powerful testimony to unity in the Church. But it is also testimony to our conviction that the anointing with Holy Chrism is anointing with the Holy Spirit.”
Right after the immersion in water and the putting on of a white robe, the priest anoints the person. As the priest anoints each part of the body he says “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the people respond “Amen.”
However, as mentioned earlier, baptism and chrismation are not private events. They are sacraments of the whole church community. That being the case, when the priest says “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”, everybody should say “Amen”. Contrary to what many think, there are no private sacraments. All sacraments are sacraments of the whole church community, no matter how many people are actually present.

Fr. John

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The Orthodox Faith – The Sacraments (1C)

Finally, why are we baptized? One reason, as mentioned above, is forgiveness of sins. Another reason is to become a member of the church. But perhaps the greatest reason to be baptized is to become a partaker of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Christ was three days in the tomb, the person being baptized goes down into the water three times. And just as Christ rose from the tomb, the person being baptized rises from the water. In this way we become partakers of Christ’s victory over death. As St. Paul writes:

“… and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:12)

And in Romans:

”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…” (Rom 6:J-5)

The baptismal Service says:

“That He/she may be a member and partaker of the death and resurrection of Christ our God, let us pray to the Lord”

“…that being buried after the pattern of Thy death, in baptism, he/she may in like manner be a partaker of Thy Resurrection… “

Of course, we still die in the sense that our body will cease functioning and body and soul will be disunited. But this is only for a limited period, for when Christ comes at the end of time our bodies will rise and be reunited with our souls. In other words, we will rise to an eternal life.

“Because we are baptized into the Christ’s resurrection, what happened to Jesus Christ will happen to us. For this reason, Christ is called the first fruit of the resurrection: but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (I Cor 15:20-23)

Our coming resurrection is foreshadowed by the raising of Lazarus, the son of the widow of Naim and Jairus’ daughter. Of course, they were all raised to a normal, mortal life and eventually died a normal death, but these incidents point to the fact that Christ has the intention and ability to raise us all from the grave. This is what we are called to in baptism.

Christ has called the Church to go out into the world and baptize all nations. We see this at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

‘Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20)

And right from the beginning, the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests, have done so. But of course, there are hundreds of millions of people who never have been baptized, despite the efforts of the Church . However, this does not mean that God condemns them. Non-Christians will be saved by following their conscience, which is the voice of God in the human heart. As St. Paul writes:

“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek . For God shows no partiality . All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law; and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them…” (Rom 2:9-15)

Ultimately, God wants to save all humanity and God has given all of humanity, Christians and non-Christians, the way to salvation. Again, to quote St. Paul, God desires “…all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)

To say this does not denigrate baptism. As we see, Christ desires all of humanity to be baptized, but He left us the means of salvation to those that are not baptized.

Fr. John

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Cancellation of the Church Services

Church of Our Lady of Kazan 

Sea Cliff, NY

Dear Parishioners:

On the basis of yesterday’s statement and guidelines of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, and with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Michael, all scheduled church services in Our Lady of Kazan Church  in Sea Cliff are cancelled until the end of March.

It is with heavy hearts that we announce this decision.

Let us hold each other in prayer during this time of trial.

With love in Christ,

Fr. Leonid 

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The Orthodox Faith – The Sacraments (1B)

In earlier days it was thought, for example, that a funeral, monastic tonsure, the blessing of icons and the blessing of water at Theophany were sacraments. In this sense the church is a universe of symbols.

One aspect of baptism is repentance. In the Creed we say, “I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins.” The text of the service mentions repentance in several places:

“That he may prove himself a child of the Light, and an heir of eternal good things, let us pray to the Lord.”

“That this water may be to him a bath of regeneration, unto the forgiveness of sins, and a garment of incorruption, let us pray to the Lord.”

In fact, the church prays that the demons will be cast out from the person being baptized.

“Expel from him every evil and unclean spirit which hides and makes it’s lair in his heart.”

“Look upon thy servant; prove him and search him and root out of him every operation of the Devil. Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them…”

All of these expressions seem odd to us because usually people are baptized as babies or small children. However, our service of Baptism goes back to the time when people were baptized as adults. In those days, Baptism was considered a life-changing event. For adults it was a way of being cleansed from all the sins of one’s life. In addition, in those days it was often thought that there was no possibility of having sins committed after Baptism being forgiven. For this reason, many people put off baptism until very late in life. For example, the Emperor Constantine, the emperor who legalized Christianity, was baptized on his deathbed. However, as the sacrament of Confession became more widely used, the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins became possible.

As we have seen, repentance is one of the themes of Baptism. What is repentance? Some people think that to repent means to castigate oneself, to say I am a terrible sinner. I am unworthy and so on. This is not a helpful way to see oneself and to grow closer to God. The Greek word for sin is “harmatia” which means to ‘miss the mark’. It was originally taken from archery. In other words, the archer aims his arrow at the target and lets it fly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach the target. So, what does the archer do? He doesn’t go around saying to himself and to others that he is a bad person, that he is unworthy to be an archer. Rather, he picks up his bow and practices. This is the way it should be with us. We want to be good people. We want to love God and our neighbor. This is the target. To be honest, we will not always hit the target. Sometimes our arrows of love will fall short. If we fail in loving God and neighbor as we should, we should ask God to forgive us. Sometimes this includes Confession.

Looking at the original Greek word for repentance is also useful. This word is “metanoia”. This word has two parts, meta and nous. The word nous is sometimes translated as mind or intellect in English. And indeed, this captures part of the meaning of nous. When we think of intellect, to us it usually means the rational thinking part of the mind. But in this case, the word has a broader meaning, something like intuition or seeing wit the eyes of the heart. It is a knowing that encompasses heart, mind and intuition. So, metanoia means literally to change one’s mind, to redirect the nous away from ourselves and our passions, to God and neighbor. Once again, to repent (metanoia), means to change one’s focus because sin means falling short of our target.

Fr. John

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Great Lent 2020

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