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 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.”
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

This entry was posted in Church Services, Lent Services, Paschal Services. Bookmark the permalink.