The Orthodox Faith – The Sacraments (2b)

It should be noted here that this sacrament exists also in the Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches. There it is called Confirmation. Confirmation is separate from Baptism and is understood somewhat differently in other churches than in the Orthodox church. As we have seen, the ancient (and contemporary) Orthodox Church, the order of the sacraments are Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion, coming one after the other. In baptism we become partakers of Christ’s death and resurrection, in Chrismation we experience our own personal Pentecost and in Holy Communion we partake of the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. But when the Christian West separated the sacraments with Chrismation (Confirmation) reserved to the bishop a different understanding of the sacrament developed. Often the Baptism is administered to an infant or small child, Holy Communion is given when the child is seven years old and Confirmation being administered to an older child or teenager. Confirmation is understood as the person’s affirmation of his baptismal vows. In other words, in infant baptism, the God parents renounce Satan and express their belief in the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Obviously the child does not know what is going on. Therefore, at Confirmation the adolescent affirms that he or she believes in what the Godparents said in Baptism. It is a conscious choice to follow the way of Christ and the church.
However, because it’s so difficult for the bishop to get to each parish and perform these sacraments, the Orthodox Church uses the Chrism distributed by the bishop. In this way the bishop is participating in each baptism in his diocese.
In the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, Confirmation is done only by the bishop. And indeed, in the early church, baptism and chrismation was performed by the bishop. In a diocese of many parishes, obviously the bishop cannot confirm everyone at the same time. The Bishop will visit each parish once a year to Confirm. This quite clearly separates Baptism, Communion and Confirmation (Chrismation) even further from one another, distorting the ancient tradition.
However, in recent years Protestant and Catholic theologians are beginning to understand that the Orthodox way of doing Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion better represents the nature of these sacraments. Therefore, some Western churches are returning to the ancient Orthodox way of administering these sacraments.
What is Chrismation though? We can say that it is a personal Pentecost. We remember the fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Of course, most Chrismations are not so dramatic, but we are filled with the Holy Spirit at Chrismation. Just as Easter and Pentecost, in a sense are one feast, for us there is no difference between the death and resurrection though Baptism, and this Baptism is fulfilled through Chrismation.

Fr. John

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