The following were authored by Peter Gregory, former pastor of the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church.


Introduction to the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church


By looking at the Sacraments we get an insight into the teachings of our Church and also into the spiritual needs and well-being of ourselves and our families. Each one of us needs some power or a boost just to live our daily lives. A Spiritual power not only points our lives in the right direction, but gives us hope for life after this one. Jesus Christ brings God's love and power to us every day through the Sacraments. God touches our lives and makes them holy and hopefully Godlike.


Looking at it in a different way, the Sacraments are the way we come into personal contact with Christ. The Sacraments are our connection to a life with our Lord in this world and also a taste of His Kingdom. The word for sacrament in Greek (mysterion) means mystery. A Sacrament is a mystery because it is the secret will of God that saves us and our world from sin. We don't know exactly what God wants for us, but we do know that it is good. This we know by the coming of Jesus Christ- that we are saved from sin and protected from the evil of this world through the Sacraments and by the Holy Spirit.


All of the Sacraments use physical things, to bring the Holy Spirit to us. For example, the water in Baptism, and the oil in Holy Unction both all used to deliver the Holy Spirit and God's love. In this way God's power and grace is made real through our five senses. A definition of a Sacrament is - a service instituted by Jesus or His Apostles, which brings to us the invisible grace of God through visible signs. A sacrament makes the intangible experience of God a tangible experience. These signs are what make a Sacrament something solid we can experience and remember.


We have many services in our Church that could be Sacraments. However, there are Seven main services that we hold above all the others. St. Symeon of Thessaloniki was the first to recognize the Seven main Sacraments of our Church as a result of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church in the 15th Century. Up until that time we recognized the Sacramental quality of all of our services, but in affirming the seven main sacraments of the Catholic Church we seem to have limited our own definition. Some of the services that we have that are not considered one of the seven Sacraments are: Funerals, the Service of Agiasmos (Blessing of the Waters), making someone a monk or nun, and the Consecration of a Church. These Seven Sacraments keep us on the road as followers of Christ, each in its own way.


Here's a brief overview of the seven main Sacraments of our Church:


Baptism is the first Sacrament we participate in, and makes us a member of Christ's Church. As Orthodox Christians we baptize with water and immerse, or dunk the new Christian three times. The baptism of a new Christian is a community event. In ancient times the whole parish gathered together to celebrate the mystery of the making of a Christian - a new person.


Chrismation usually immediately follows Baptism. While Baptism brings us into the family of Christians, Chrismation brings us the power of the Holy Spirit. We say that it seals us as a Christian. In other words, we're marked with the Holy Spirit, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts help us be the best Followers of Christ we can, and help the Church.


Holy Communion and the Divine Liturgy is the main Sacrament of the Church. In the Divine Liturgy we are closer to Jesus than at any other times in our lives. This is where we actually come in contact with His Body and Blood, and worship with the rest of the parish the Body of Christ. We are expected to prepare for Holy Communion by prayer, fasting and Confession.


Confession is necessary for all Christians. Everyone in the Church is human and sometimes does things that miss the mark set for us by God and the Church. This is sin. Confession is the healing of the effect sin has on us, or the forgiveness of sins. This means that we realize that we sin and have a change of heart.


Marriage is a special way of life under the blessings of our Church. This blessing brings the love of the couple into the Church, and makes it a Christian relationship.


Holy Unction is the anointing of the sick with blessed oil for healing the soul and body. This Sacrament is celebrated on Holy Wednesday, but can also be performed any time for the sick.


Ordination sets apart certain people that want to give their lives to serve the Church and God's people. Ordination is the Sacrament that makes them able to bless, preach, teach and lead the people of God, just as the Apostles did.


The Mystery of Baptism

Baptism is the first Sacrament we participate in as Christians, it makes us a member of Christ's Church and is the beginning of a new Christian life. The Church takes new members of the Church (usually infants) and Baptizes them by the priest with water and the Spirit.


The Baptism of Jesus - Just as we began our lives as new Christians when we were Baptized, Jesus began his mission to the World by His Baptism. Almost all Jesus' great acts, as accounted to us through the Gospels, happened after His Baptism. The day of Jesus' Baptism is also called the Theophany, or the day God was shown to everyone, and is celebrated every year on January 6th. It's not that Jesus needed to be Baptized to be cleaned from sins. It was a revelation of His Divinity. In the same way, we're Baptized is to announce that we now belong to God and are ready to begin our Christian lives.


The New Creation - Baptism can be seen as death and birth simultaneously. It's at the same time a death to sin and the ways of a non-Christian, and also a birth into a new life in the Church. Because of this rebirth we can say that the newly Baptized person is newly created or created again. The person is no longer someone bound by sin, but a person dedicated to Christ. This is why the Orthodox Church insists upon total immersion as a symbol of the drowning, and death of sin. Coming out of the water symbolizes the Resurrection of Christ- a new life, like being born again.


Who can be Baptized? - As we say in the Nicene Creed every Sunday, "I believe in one Baptism for the Remission of sins." So, each Christian is Baptized only once. Even if they're Baptized in another Christian Church and then convert to Orthodoxy, they are not rebaptized. But in order to be recognized by the Church, their Baptism must have been in the name of the Holy Trinity- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as prescribed in the Gospel of Matthew. Christ sent out His Apostles instructing them- "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. " (Mt 28:18-20) Those who have been Baptized in another faith by this formula are given the Sacrament of Chrismation to bring them into the Church. As in the early Church, adults to be Baptized or Chrismated must go through a period Catechism.


The Baptism of Infants - In the Orthodox Church we Baptize new members at any age. The same was true in the early Church. All infants born into the faith are baptized as early as possible. And as a Baptized Orthodox Christian the new member is entitled to full membership in and access to the Sacraments of the Church. Some faiths choose to wait for the so-called "age of reason". However, just because a baby can't dress or feed itself doesn't mean this won't be decided for them. In the Orthodox Church, a baby is a full member of the Church from the beginning. In this way going to church and being a Christian will become as familiar to them as getting dressed in the morning. That's not to say that no one is responsible for the decision to Baptize the infant. It's the job of the parents, but especially the Godparents to make the decision for the baby. It is then the Godpar ents responsibility to make sure the child is brought up as a good Christian. It's the Godparents who make all the promises involved with Baptism for the child. There is a spiritual bond between Godparent and Godchild lived out in the spiritual upbringing of the child.


The Baptism Service - The Baptism Service is made up of two parts. The first part gets the per son ready, and is called the catechisis or the teaching. The part includes the making of a learner of the faith, the prayers of exorcism, reciting the Creed, the rejection of the devil, and the accep tance of Christ. Originally this was done over several weeks, but now is part of the same service.


The second part is the basic service of Baptism. This is the part that takes place around the Baptismal Font. First the Priest asks for the descent of the Holy Spirit to Bless the water, then the person is anointed with the "oil of gladness". Oil is a sign of healing from sin and God's mercy. The person is then Baptized with three immersions, while the priest says "The servant of God (name) is Baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen." The newly Baptized Christian is then Chrismated in the Orthodox Church (receiving the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit), Tonsured (giving their first offering to God) and dressed in new white clothes as a symbol of newness, and a clean soul free from sin. They are then given a cross and in the procession around the Baptismal font they take their first steps as a Christian, as we chant- "All those who have been Baptized into Christ have put on Christ". Then the New Orthodox Christian partakes of Communion (the Body and Blood of Christ) for the first time.


The Mystery of Chrismation

What is Chrismation? - Chrismation always follows the Sacrament of Baptism. While the Baptism brings us into the family of Christians, Chrismation brings us the power of the Holy Spirit. We may say that it seals us as a Christian, and brings us into the Church. In other words, we're marked with the Holy Spirit, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are set apart from those who have not been sealed by the Holy Spirit. These gifts help us be the best Followers of Christ we can, and help the Church do it's job in the world.


Old Testament Adaptation - In the Old Testament times, special oils were used for liturgical purposes such as anointing kings and priests. This annointing would mark these individuals for a special role within their people. This act of setting apart or appointing for an extraordinary mission was promptly adopted by the early Church. Even one of the names for Jesus or "Christ" means the anointed one. Christ himself was seen as annointed, or set apart from all other human beings, because He was God.


In the early Church, only the Bishops had the right to perform the sacrament of Chrismation or Confirmation. Later, when the Church grew it was impossible for a bishop to be present at all parishes when Baptisms took place. This is when the Sanctified Chrism (myron) was introduced to anoint the newly Baptized.


The making of Chrism - Chrism (myron) is a mixture of olive oil, wine, and some forty different perfumes. Only Bishops can make Chrism. In the Greek Orthodox Church Chrism is made only by our Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. It is made there and sent to the Churches all over the world. It is usually made during Divine Liturgy on Thursday of Holy Week. The sweet smelling Chrism made from some forty different aromatic substances that symbolize the sweetness of the Christian life. It also symbolizes the many different gifts of the Holy Spirit, as enumerated by St. Paul- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25) This is what is meant for us as Christians, to live by the Spirit and let it guide our lives.


When is someone Chrismated? - Chrismation traditionally takes place immediately after Baptism as part of the Baptismal Service. Like Baptism, each Christian participates in Chrismation only once. Chrismation is in many ways connected to Baptism. They are not really separate Sacraments, but Chrismation is a fulfillment of Baptism.


Chrismation is also used when someone Baptized in another Faith and wants to convert to Orthodoxy. When we say that Baptisms of other Faiths are recognized in the Orthodox Church, this is the case only after the Orthodox Sacrament of Chrismation. Chrism makes the Baptism in the other faith a Baptism recognized in our Church. Someone who has not been Baptized at all cannot be Chrismated. It is through the Sacrament of Holy Chrism that one becomes a member of the Orthodox Church living through the Holy Spirit.


The Mystery of Holy Communion

What is Holy Communion? - Holy Communion celebrated in the Divine Liturgy is the main Sacrament of the Orthodox Church. In the Divine Liturgy we are closer to Jesus than at any other times in our lives. Holy Communion is a personal meeting with Christ. This is where we meet him and invite Him into our hearts. When we take Holy Communion we actually come into contact with Jesus' Body and Blood. Joining together in Holy Communion is what makes us a Parish or Community in Christ.


Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Holy Communion - On Holy Thursday, at the Last Supper with His Disciples, Jesus broke bread gave it to His Apostles and said, "Take, eat, this is my body which for you is broken unto forgiveness of sins." Then He took a cup of wine and said, "Take, drink, this is my Blood, of the New Covenant, Which for you and for many is shed for forgiveness of sins." Jesus then asked them to do this in remembrance of Him. Every time we participate in Holy Communion we are actually taking Christ into us. It is as if we were there with the Disciples at the Last Supper.


Sacrifice on the Cross - Through Holy Communion we remember the Sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross. In many of the Prayers of the Liturgy we talk about the Crucifixion and thank Jesus for his victory over death in the Resurrection. By sacrificing Himself, Jesus made it possible for us to have eternal life, and he made it possible for us to be free from sin. In Holy Communion we are present once again at the Sacrifice of Jesus and we take part in the benefits. When we take Holy Communion we are living the life that Jesus died for us to live. And the life made possible by His Resurrection.


The Body of Christ and the Holy People of God - In the Divine Liturgy the Church is changed from just a group of people into the Body of Christ and the Holy People of God. In Holy Communion Jesus is placed in every believer that takes the Sacrament. He blends himself with the Body of the believers making the Church the Body of Christ. That's why we don't see the Church as some type of club or just a group of people. The Divine Liturgy makes it God's People, a people that can't be separated from Jesus and His acts. A Holy and Divine dimension is brought to the Church.


Preparation for Communion - A Christian should be properly prepared to receive Communion. We can't forget the sanctity and gravity of coming before Christ. It's important that we fast, not only by watching what goes into our mouths, but also what comes out. All Christians should fast on Wednesdays because of Jesus' betrayal and on Friday because of His death. Along with the seasonal Fasts, there is also a special fast for Holy Communion: no food following the evening meal, nothing to drink after midnight and nothing in the morning. If extenuating circumstances exist, they should be discussed with one's Spiritual Father. There are also prayers that should be recited prior to receiving. These can be found in most Orthodox Prayer Books and in the Liturgy Books found in our pews. Confession is also an integral part of preparing for Holy Communion. We can't embrace one Sacrament and ignore the others. All aspects of the Church work together to bring us closer to Christ.


Frequency of Communion - It has recently become the norm to receive Holy Communion only three or four times a year, if that often. Frequent Communion is the only means by which a believer can renew his inner life and remain oriented toward the experience of being with the Lord as our lives change every day. St. Basil and the Canons of our Church make it clear that a Christian should be prepared to receive every time Communion is offered, unless there are extenuating circumtances to be worked out with one's Spiritual Father. We must remember that we're never truly worthy to receive, it's a gift we must be ready to receive.


Holy Communion as Thanksgiving - The Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion are referred to in the Orthodox Church as the Holy Eucharist. The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving. We call it this for a few reasons: when Christ held His Last Supper, before breaking bread He offered thanks to God; on our part, we offer thanks to Christ for the salvation He offered us by His Cross and Resurrection. In this way we both commemorate the Last Supper and offer our own thanks in a supreme act of Thanksgiving. Some say it takes its name from the great prayer of consecration (Anaphora) recited by the celebrant of the Liturgy.


Eucharist as a Meal - In the early Church, the Eucharist was celebrated within the context of an evening community meal, called the agape or love feast. When the Eucharist is referred to by St. Paul in his Epistles it is in the context of the Eucharistic meal. By the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, the celebration of the Eucharist was separated from the community meal and celebrated in the morning hours. The Eucharist is also for us a Messianic Banquet or the meal of the Kingdom, the time and place in which the heavenly joins with the earthly. We are all called to be participants, guests at this holy celebration.


The Divine Liturgy - The Divine Liturgy or the title for the Eucharist, is derived from two Greek words- theia and Leitourgia. The word theia means "something that belongs to God" or something that is divine. The word leitourgia comes from two words- leitos which means people and ergon which means work. In this way we see the Eucharist as the Holy Work of the People. It is interesting to note that the concept of work is often overlooked when we participate in the Liturgy. It indicates that we are to be active participants in the Liturgy and not mere spectators. The Divine Liturgy is composed of two parts. The first is called the Liturgy of the Word. It focuses on the reading of a biblical passage and the sermon. The proper place for the sermon or homily in the Orthodox Church is following the Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word. The second part of the Liturgy is the Eucharist, which is also called the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Eucharist is based on the words and actions of our Lord at the Last Supper.


There are three main Orthodox Liturgies: St. John Chrysostom’s, St. Basil’s and the Presanctified. At one time, until the 12th century, the Liturgy of St. Basil was the chief Liturgy of the Church of Constantinople. Now it is celebrated only ten times during the year. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is shorter and less wordy than that of St. Basil. It is characterized as simple and clear in its meanings. The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts is not a full Divine Liturgy in that it does not contain the Anaphora (see explanation below). It is used on Wednesdays and Fridays of Great Lent and on the first three days of Holy Week. The gifts (bread and wine) are consecrated at a prior Liturgy and then used in the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts.


The Anaphora - The Anaphora, which is part of the Liturgy of the Faithful, is the great eucharist prayer, which includes the words of institution and the invocation of the Holy Spirit for the consecration of the gifts (the bread and wine) into the Body and Blood of Christ. It includes the Lord’s Prayer, the breaking of the consecrated Bread, and the communion of the consecrated gifts by the people of God. The Anaphora begins after the recitation of the Creed in the Liturgy.


Participating in the Eucharist - It is expected that every Orthodox Christian participates fully in the life of the Church. Holy Communion is our contact with Christ and our joining in God’s Kingdom. When the call "With fear of God with faith and with love, draw near" goes out in the Liturgy, it’s directed to each of us, whether we’re in Church or not. We’re guests invited to God’s Banquet. Let’s join the celebration as the Holy People of God.


The Mystery of Confession

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (I Jn 1:5-10)


Our Church holds Confession as one of the Seven Main Sacraments. It is amazing, and shame, how few of us practice it. Especially during the times of the year in which the Church calls us to repentance, when we should be looking at our lives and evaluating our relationship with God. We can turn our sins from something negative to something positive. Through self-examination and repentance (metanoia- a change of heart) our sins can become something that bring us closer to God. Our sins become not an end to our relationship with God, but a new beginning.


What is Sin? Who Sins? - An Orthodox definition of sin (amartia) is missing the mark set for us by Christ through His mission and teachings. It is not necessarily a legalistic notion where we break the commandments of God and the "rules" of the Church. Sins are things that build up between us and God and turn us away from Him. Some may say, "well I follow the Ten Commandments, and that's all I have to do". On a on a day to day basis, it becomes obvious that following the Ten Commandments isn't always based on black and white decisions. It's not enough to just try and do the right thing - what about when we don't? That's why each of us needs the Sacrament of Confession. When we sin we sin against our fellow man, but also against God, our sins turn us away from God, in a way they builds a wall between us and God, we feel alienated and ashamed.


Preparing for Confession - We must first inspect our souls and consciences before we're ready for the Sacrament of Confession. Our relationship with God can never be reduced to a list of mistakes. That's why Confession isn't simply a listing of our sins. We need to introspect and examine our deeds and imperfections. Many times our sins, the shortcomings in our spiritual life, are not necessarily something that we did wrong, but something that we failed to do right, or that we ignored all together.


Repentance - Hopefully our introspection will drive us to realize the need for action. By honestly looking at ourselves and our life we may not like what we see. Then it's time for the next step in a spiritual life -the Christian reaction to our sins and short comings - Repentance and Confession. Neither one can be seen apart from the other in the Orthodox Church. It's not enough to say "I'm sorry and I know God will forgive me". The word repentance means "a change of heart". We can’t just be sorry, we’ve got to change. If we think we can do it on our own, well that's a cop out, as we're trying to do the healing work of the Christ without the benefit of the Church. It's like saying "I realize I'm sick and I know the doctor will help me", without actually going to the doctor. We have a chance at cleansing and change. The sacrament of Confession is not a sacrament of judgement, but one of healing. It's not a means of punishment, but relief from our personal sins’ effect on our life.


The Spiritual Father - Our Confession must be given in the presence and with the prayers of His priest - our spiritual Father - who listens, gives advice, and then reads the prayer of forgiveness over us. All sincerely confessed sins are forgiven in the Sacrament by God. The ability to hear Confessions was instituted by Christ, as are all Sacraments. Jesus said to St. Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19)It is not enough to say, “I can confess my sins without the benefit of a priest.” This is absolutely not the practice of the Orthodox Church. It is a Tradition of our Church that every Christian have a Spiritual Father to whom they confess. The Priest stands witness to the Confession on behalf of God. He offers advice and assists the confessor in their spiritual life. The Priest does not have the power to forgive sins, but God alone. Your Spiritual Father does not necessarily have to be our Parish Priest, we can confess to any qualified Orthodox Priest you may feel comfortable with.


It is important that we confess to the same Spiritual Father regularly for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is important to cultivate a relationship with him. He begins to know us, our strengths and weaknesses, what we need to work on etc. It is easier to honestly confess to someone we know and trust. Another reason we should keep the same Spiritual Father is accountability. If we tend to be sinning in the same manner, a good Spiritual Father will pick up on this and can help us deal with it. It is impossible for us to examine ourselves as well a Spiritual Father can, due to the fact that he is empowered to hear Confessions from the Church and many times he can see a problem that we may be blind to.


Who Should go to Confession? - You should! If indeed we claim to be Orthodox Christians, our Orthodox Tradition tells us that we should go to Confession, no exceptions! We must be careful that we don’t ignore or avoid the aspects of our faith that make us uneasy or uncomfortable. The reason for our uneasiness might very well be our need for that spiritual grace provided by the Church. I might feel uncomfortable about Confession because I know I am a sinner. All the more reason why I should go.


We should go to Confession at least 4 times a year: during Great Lent, Christmas time, and the other various Fasts and Feasts. It’s also important we go to Confession whenever we feel the need. If we feel we have sinned, if we feel far from God, or if we have doubts or questions concerning our life or faith, these are proper times to go to Confession. It's important for our children to get into the habit of frequent Confession starting in the 3rd or 4th Grade. Don’t deprive yourselves or our children of the healing grace of God through Confession.


The Mystery of Marriage

Marriage is a Sacrament of the Orthodox Church in which a man and woman solemnly vow before Christ, the priest and the congregation to be true to each other for life. Their union is blessed by Christ through the Church. God's grace is imparted to them to live together in His love, mutually fulfilling and perfecting each other - two individuals becoming one. Fr. John Meyendorff wrote, "in marriage human love is being projected into the kingdom of God." St. Paul tells us that marriage reflects the intimate union between Christ and the Church. Married life receives the grace of the Holy Spirit through the Marriage Service. As are all Sacraments, marriage was instituted by Christ. Jesus’ first miracle was at the Wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11), where through His presence He declared marriage to be honorable and holy.


History of Marriage - In the early Church, the role of the Church in regards to marriage was to bless and affirm the legal bond of marriage by the State. The couples, after being legally married, would come to Church, receive Communion together, and come before the priest to receive a blessing to seal their union.


Later, the Marriage Service evolved into the Sacrament of Marriage. However, in the early Church, Marriage retained its place in the Divine Liturgy. Weddings were performed in the context of the Divine Liturgy. This later became problematic once Christianity became more popular due to the sheer numbers that wished to be married at the Divine Liturgy. It also was canonically a problem once the Church split and allowed marriages between individuals that were both Christian, but not necessarily in communion with the Orthodox Church.


Who May Marry - Today, Orthodox Christians who are Canonically in good standing with the Church are allowed to marry in our Church. There are also the following canonical guidelines that must be adhered to: the Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church is reserved for Orthodox Christians and an Orthodox or Christian spouse. The non-Orthodox member of an Orthodox marriage must be a practicing Christian baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity as is prescribed in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 28:19).


Marriages are not allowed for Orthodox Christians who have previously been married in the Orthodox Church and have procured a civil divorce without obtaining an Ecclesiastical Divorce. Parents are not allowed to marry their children, grandchildren, etc. Brothers are not allowed to marry sisters and vice-versa. A brother-in-law can't marry his sister-in-law and vice-versa. Uncles and aunts cannot marry their nieces or nephews. Canonically, up to and sometimes beyond first and or second cousins cannot marry each other. Foster parents cannot marry foster children nor can the foster children marry any natural children of foster parents. The same goes for adopted children and their parents and siblings. Godparents can't marry their godchildren; nor can godparents marry the parents of their godchildren.


The Marriage Service - The marriage ceremony of the Orthodox Church as we celebrate it today is steeped in ritual and symbolism. Each act has special meaning and significance. The ceremony used in the Orthodox Church has remained unchanged for more than 1,400 years. Contained therein are centuries of Christian traditions and symbolism, blended together with Holy Scripture and prayer.


The Betrothal - The service as it exists today is divided into two parts: the office of betrothal and the office of crowning. In the first, the rite includes the exchange of rings, demonstrating that both partners enter into marriage of their own volition. Technically this is the engagement of the couple. In the early Church, the betrothal and Crowning were two separate services celebrated at different times, as are most contemporary American engagements and weddings. However, due to the canonical implications of the sacramentality of the betrothal, it was placed by the Church in conjunction with the crowning. In other words, the betrothal was seen as a sacramental bond. The grace of God that joined the two in betrothal was seen as binding. Those who were betrothed by the Church, if they broke off the engagement, technically would also have to get their betrothal ecclesiastically dissolved. For this reason, the Church joined the two services into the present day rite of Marriage.


The Rings - The rings are blessed by the priest who takes them in his hand and, making the sign of the cross over their heads, says: "The servant of God... is betrothed to the servant of God... in the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit". The rings signify the mutual promise of the couple. However, they are not given to each other. Rather they are blessed by the priest in the name of the Trinity signifying the bond is concluded in the name of God and not any human agent. The rings are then placed on the couple’s fingers by the priest.


Married Life - Couples married in the Orthodox Church take on a great commission to share their life together in all aspects. Marriage is seen not only in a physical, romantic or legal sense but as a spiritual union where husband and wife become one person in Christ. Each shares in the Christian life and salvation of the other. This is a great blessing, but also a great responsibility as we look toward salvation. Husbands and wives should build each other up in Christ and, ideally, the spiritual faults and shortcomings in one can be made whole by the other.


Interfaith Marriages - The Orthodox Church allows marriages between Orthodox Christians and a spouse of another Christian denomination. However, Orthodox marriages between an Orthodox and non-Christian spouse is not allowed. This is due to the Theology of marriage in which we believe that husband and wife becomes one in Christ. Looking at the married couple as a single entity, how can part of me not be Christian?


Sex in Marriage - Sexuality in the context of a Christian marriage is seen as a gift from God. It is not viewed by the Church as something that is just for purpose of bearing children, but as something holy. The sexual aspect of marriage is where the husband and wife manifest their love for each other and physically live out their spiritual oneness. Children are seen as a fulfillment and fruit of their love for each other in Christ.


Birth Control - As the Theology of our Church teaches us- it is God who creates life. But by virtue of Gods love for us we become co-creators with God when we bear children. As God's creative agents, we take on the responsibility and echo God's free will in regards to creating life. God does not create indiscriminately, but logically and then takes responsibility for his creation by nurturing and providing. Because of this understanding of our responsibility and through the understanding of our use of our free will, we cannot conclude that artificial contraceptives are in violation of God's natural Law. The Church, however, does view the use of contraceptives as immoral when it is imposed by one partner on the other, when it is used to terminate a pregnancy (abortions, or post-conception contraceptives), or when it is done for the wrong reasons, such as the desire to never have children for selfish reasons.


The Patriarch Athenagoras, when asked concerning this matter stated, "Our Church has granted full authority to the Spiritual Father (through the sacrament of confession). It is for him, conscious of his responsibility and mission, to give the advice and direction that are appropriate".


Divorce - Since marriage is considered a lifelong spiritual commitment, the Orthodox church opposes the dissolution of marriage except in the case of adultery (Mark 2:27), since one spouse has become one flesh with another individual. Through the centuries, the Church has modified this practice, taking into consideration the spiritual and physical frailties and limitations of the faithful. Divorce is granted today on several other grounds including desertion, extreme cruelty or mental illness, among others. However, it is with great pain and regret that the Church grants and Ecclesiastical Divorce. An Ecclesiastical Divorce must be obtained through the Diocesan Bishop in order for a marriage to be dissolved and in order for the involved parties to be considered Canonically in good standing with the Church.


The Mystery of Holy Unction

As a result of humanity's turning away from God and our ancestral sin, sickness, pain and suffering are an every day part of life. As Orthodox Christians we don't see sickness and death as Divine retribution, or as God's punishment for our evil. We see sickness and death as a direct result of the absence of God in the world due to our alienation and rejection of Him. We see death not as a punishment, but especially in the Light of Christ's Resurrection, as the opportunity for salvation. This is where our life is restored to its fulness in our own resurrection. In God's divine plan for us we see that through His Son He means for us to live. The only death that is eternal is spiritual death. From which there is no hope of salvation.


Illness is not seen as a direct result of personal sins. In other words, God does not punish our earthly sinfullness through sickness, even though some come in fact as a direct result of sinful abuses. Sickness and death are inescapable events that we attribute to the state of humanity due to the Fall of man. However, we should realize that we are not alone. Our God "took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Mat. 8) and "He overcame the world" (Jn 16:33).


The Lord bade his followers to share one anothers burdens, to visit the sick, feed the hungry, etc. Through Holy Unction the Church ministers to the sick in direct response to Christ's command and continues Jesus' healing ministry on earth that He began when He walked among us preaching and healing. Holy Unction is a sign of God's healing and transforming power and of His promise to deliver us from decay. The healing power of the sacrament is seen as victory over Satan and restoring God's pesence to humanity.


In the Epistle of St. James we receive a scriptural discription of the Mystery of Holy Unction in apostolic times: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects."(James 5:14-16) Holy Unction is not a substitute for medical treatment, nor a priest for a physician. In the Orthodox Faith, we recognize medical science as a gift from God. Holy Unction is a sacrament of faith, through which the sufferer receives the spiritual strength to bear the trials of sickness and not to despair. Holy Unction imparts upon us God's grace and it's healing power distributed in harmony with God's will for our life.


The Church uses olive oil because of references to its use in scripture for healing purposes (i.e., the Good Samaritan). The oil is placed in a vigil lamp with a wick. In accordance with present practice, the vigil lamp is placed within a bowl of flour that is then used to bake a prosforo.


The service as it is practiced today has developed over a long period of time. In the early Church, and still in many parts of the Orthodox world, two or more priests celebrate the Sacrament. In the 13th century the tradition arose that seven priests were to celebrate the Mystery. Seven was seen as a sacred and symbolic number. Remnants of this practice are seen in the seven Gospel readings and seven prayers of consecration, along with the use of seven wicks in the oil or seven candles in the bowl of flour. The Mystery of Holy Unction can be celebrated whenever a seriously ill person requests it. It has also become common to celebrate it as a community on Holy Wednesday evening in preparation for Pascha, prior to other major feasts, and on the feast days of certain healer saints. The Sacrament can be celebrated either in the Church or in the home of the sick. Priests also can carry pre-sanctified Holy Unction with them when they visit the sick.


The holy oil is applied by the priest crosswise on the forehead, cheeks and hands. When discreet and appropriate, the injured part of the body may be anointed. The holy Oil is also made available to the faithful to take home to use whenever their family may require it. In this case, care and respect must be taken to preserve the sanctity of the consecrated Oil.


The Mystery of Ordination

Jesus is the unique and true priest of the Church. All priestly ministries of the Orthodox Church have Christ as their source. He perfectly offers himself to unite fallen humanity and God. God's priesthood is made up of the royal priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood.


Royal Priesthood - Through Chrismation, which we see as an extension of Pentecost, every member of the Church becomes a sharer in the royal priesthood of Christ; all Christians alike, are called to act as conscious witnesses to the Truth. In the First Epistle of Peter we read, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Christians are thus set apart as God's people, as part of God's Kingdom we are responsible to God. Members of God's royal priesthood must offer thanks and sacrifice from what God has given us on behalf of the world. We are all called to minister, make sacrifice, prophecy, and spread God's word.


Ministerial Priesthood - The priesthood is the divine establishment of creating, within the body of the Church, a specific class of believers who act for all in the name of the Church for the salvation of all. The three essential ministries of bishop, presbyter and deacon are set apart to serve the Church by preaching, teaching and shepherding the people of God; to celebrate the sacred mysteries; to preserve correct doctrine and to keep the Body of Christ united. The priesthood was established by Christ when the gifts and functions that were given to the Apostles are transmitted through the laying on of hands (ordination). The sacrament of ordination marks indelibly, even a clergyman who has been defrocked or strays from the faith is not re-ordained if once again received into the Church.


Major Orders of Clergy - Bishops are the successors to the Apostles as the chief shepherds and ministers of the Church, they are also the guardians and teachers of the true faith. The Orthodox title for a Bishop is Episcopos which literally translated means the one who oversees. It seems that at first the terms episcopos and presbyter were used interchangeably as in the book of Acts. However by the second century the three ranks of the priesthood were distinct. The bishop is also representative of the unity of the Church. Since the sixth century bishops have been selected from the celibate Clergy. The right to choose who is to be a bishop rests with all the clergy and the people. Three bishops ordain a bishop. In all other ordinations, one bishop ordains.


Presbyters (priests) share in the ministry of the bishop. In matters of faith and ecclesiastical administration, the priest is the representative in matters pertaining to salvation. The priest also performs the sacramental and pastoral duties for a particular parish on behalf of the bishop. His authority to celebrate sacraments is exercised only in absence of by through the permission of the bishop. The presbyter has the authority to administer and teach and all priestly functions of the bishop, save ordination and the consecration of churches. There are various offices within the priesthood that are not part of the mystery of ordination.


Deacons assist bishops and presbyters pastorally, liturgically and educationally. In the Acts we have the account of the first seven deacons chosen by the Church to help serve at the Eucharistic Assembly. The ministry of the deacon is distinct within the Church. A Deacon is not half a priest, but in the proper perspective of ministry the diaconate holds offers a unique and essential ministry for the salvation of God's people. Unfortunately in modern practice, the diaconate has become a stepping-stone for the priesthood. Priests and deacons can be either married or celibate, and are not allowed to marry following ordination.


In the early Church the institution of deaconess was established and even mentioned by St. Paul in Romans and 1 Timothy. Deaconesses had a unique and essential roll in the live of the Church for many centuries. It is not totally clear what the liturgical function of the deaconess was. There is no canonical reason why we could not ordain deaconesses today. However, in the true Tradition of the Church, a distinct and unique role must be identified and instituted for this role of women in the Church before it can be reintroduced as a continuation of an ancient and important practice.


The male character of the priesthood is a basic precept of Orthodoxy. Christ renders himself present through the bishop and priest. The priesthood is Christ's, as passed on to the Apostles, and those ordained to perpetuate this are his icons.


Minor Orders - There are minor orders of ordination including: subdeacon, reader, chanter and acolytes. These ordinations are held outside the sanctuary and the context of the Divine Liturgy. These minor ordinations are designated as heirothesia (the laying on of hands) rather than heirotonia (to stretch out the hand) for major orders.


Rites of Ordination - The ordination of all major orders are held during the course of the Liturgy. The consent of the whole Church is necessary for the ordination. At every ordination, the congregation and present clergy including the bishop give their consent with the antiphon- keleuson after which the candidate is ordained and then proclaimed worthy - Axios!


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