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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The Orthodox Faith – The Sacraments (1A)

In the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and in some other churches, it is said that there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Ordination and Anointing. The last named sacrament is sometimes called Extreme Unction or the Last Rites, implying that it should only be given to a person on the point of death. This is quite wrong. It is a sacrament of healing. This will be treated in another article.
In the Orthodox Church the sacraments are officially called mysteries. However, the number seven is somewhat misleading.
The limiting of the sacraments to seven began only in the Western Middle Ages and was adopted by the Orthodox much later. Theologians have described the sacraments as “visible signs of invisible grace” In other words, the church takes ordinary material such as water or bread and wine and blesses it. In this way they become grace-bearing. From this point of view everything in the church is sacramental. It is important to realize that, in contrast to many religions and philosophies that say that this material world is something to be escaped from so the soul can go to heaven to live with God, or that material world is an illusion, we need to know that Christianity has always insisted that the material world is something real and good, created by a loving God. The Bible tells us that when God created the world “…God saw that it was good” (Gen 12). Now of course, there is much evil in the world. In addition to the evil things that human beings do with their own free will, there is much evil not caused by humans. There are diseases, earthquakes, illnesses of various sorts, and so on. Atheists ask us why a good God would allow such evil and ultimately we don’t know why God allows these things. The Church has always believed that this world “fell” when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Obviously we cannot prove this, but the idea that human sin is somehow related to the evil in the world is not so hard to believe. Because of this, we believe that when Christ comes again to raise the dead, he will redeem the material world also .As the Book of Revelation says
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:1-5)
This world will not disappear but will be transformed just as our ordinary body will be transformed into a resurrection body. In this way we can say that the sacrament of the Church are foreshadowing of the coming transformation and resurrection. To quote from the Book of Isaiah which is read at the Great Blessing of Water on Theophany
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein. No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Is 35)

The use of bread, wine, oil, water, in the sacraments is a way of participating in and foreshadowing the coming transformation of the world.

Fr. John

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