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The Sacraments
by Fr. Thomas Hopko

The sacraments in the Orthodox Church are officially called the "holy mysteries." Usually seven sacraments are counted: baptism, chrismation (or confirmation), holy eucharist, penance, matrimony, holy orders and the unction of the sick.

The practice of counting the sacraments was adopted in the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholics. It is not an ancient practice of the Church and, in many ways, it tends to be misleading since it appears that there are just seven specific rites which are "sacraments" and that all other aspects of the life of the Church are essentially different from these particular actions. The more ancient and traditional practice of the Orthodox Church is to consider everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical. more


The Eucharist is...
by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ. It is the mystery of cosmic remembrance. It is, indeed, a restoration of love as the very life of the world. Remembrance is an act of love. God remembers us, and his remembrance, his love, is the foundation of the world. In Christ, we remember. The church, and its separation from this world, on its journey to heaven, remembers the world, remembers all men, remembers the whole creation, and takes it, in love, to God. We remember his life, his death, his resurrection, one movement of sacrifice, of love, of dedication to his father, and to men. This is the inexhaustible content of our remembrance.

The Eucharist is the lifting up of our offering, and of ourselves. The Eucharist is the ascension of the Church to heaven. We have entered the Eschaton, and we are now standing beyond time and space. It is because all this has first happened to us, that something will happen to bread and wine. It is our ascension in Christ. more

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The Holy Eucharist, a Live Coal
by Fr. Patrick Reardon

It is through this purifying and sanctifying coal that we are deified in the Holy Eucharist. Thus, St. John of Damascus wrote, "Let us draw near to Him with burning desire and...let us take hold of the divine coal [tou theiou anthrakos], so that the fire of our longing, fed by the flame of the coal, may purge away our sins and enlighten our hearts. Let us be enkindled by touching this great divine fire, and so come forth as gods".

In addition to the symbolism of the fiery coal from the altar, the Eucharistic bread itself seems naturally to evoke the image of the oven. This image is amply justified in the Epiclesis, the prayer that asks the Father to send down the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Lord's Body and Blood. Rupert of Deutz perceived this truth, when he wrote, "The Virgin conceived Him of the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal fire; and through the same Holy Spirit He offered Himself as a living victim to the living God, as the Apostle says [Ephesians 5:2]. Accordingly, on the altar He is immolated by the same fire. For it is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that the bread becomes the body, and the wine the blood, of Christ". more


The Church Fathers on the Holy Eucharist
by Fr. Joseph Bittle

The Church has always believed that Our Lord Jesus, by the action of the Holy Spirit, is truly and wholly present when the bread and wine have been consecrated to be His Body and Blood. 

This is such that, after this change during the great prayer of offering called the Anaphora, we must be willing to say, without equivocation, that what we see and partake of is the Body and Blood of Christ.  Certainly, most of the Protestant denominations have attacked this as being "unbiblical," but witness of the Holy Scriptures is forthright in declaring it (see, for instance 1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:23–29; and, of course, John 6:32–71).

The early Church Fathers also witness to the Church’s unchanging tradition regarding this true, full, yet mysterious reality. As respected historian J. N. D. Kelly writes: "Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood." more

Infant Baptism: What the Church Teaches
by Fr. John Hainsworth

Infant baptism was not controversial in the Church during the first two centuries after Christ. St. Polycarp described himself as having been in devoted service to Christ for 86 years in a manner that would clearly indicate a childhood baptism. Pliny describes with amazement that children belong to the Christian cult in just the same way as do the adults. St. Justin Martyr tells of the “many men and women who have been disciples of Christ from childhood.” St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote about “all who are born again in God, the infants, and the small children . . . and the mature.” St. Hippolytus insisted that “first you should baptize the little ones . . . but for those who cannot speak, their parents should speak or another who belongs to their family.” more


Confession: The Healing Sacrament
by Jim Forest

Confession is painful, yet a Christian life without confession is impossible. Confession is a major theme of the Gospels. Even before Christ began His public ministry, we read in Matthew’s Gospel that John required confession of those who came to him for baptism in the River Jordan for a symbolic act of washing away their sins: “And [they] were baptized by [John] in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6).

Then there are those amazing words of Christ to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The keys of binding and loosing sins were given not only to one apostle but to all Christ’s disciples, and—in a sacramental sense—to any priest who has his bishop’s blessing to hear confessions. more

The Mystery Of Marriage
by Fr. Meletios Webber

It is perhaps no accident that holy matrimony is the one rite of the Church that is actually called a “mystery” in the Holy Scriptures. The presence of Jesus at the wedding in Cana is, in the tradition of the Church, indication enough that marriage is something wonderful and something to be treasured, a “great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32).

We need always to bear in mind that a large number of the most important commentators on the Orthodox life have been monastic men and women. It is hardly surprising that when monastics are writing for other monks and nuns, they tend to praise the virtues of chastity and celibacy and to be on guard against any possible infringement of those virtues. Nevertheless, the experience of the Church as a whole has never suggested that the monastic state is somehow spiritually superior to that of married people, and the theology of the Mysteries guarantees that the path to sanctity is open to the married person and the single person alike. more


Holy Chrismation
by a monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, in The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings, Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon Seminary Press

The Sacrament of Chrismation awakens in the soul that inner, spiritual thirst which does not let one grow satisfied solely with the earthly and material, but always summons us to the Heavenly, to the eternal and the perfect. It makes the baptized person the possessor of the Spirit bearing beauty and a partaker of sanctity, of the Unwaning Light and Divine Life. It is for this reason that in Chrismation the new member of the Church not only receives the Spirit within, but is outwardly encompassed by Him, being robed henceforth as if in special spiritual garments.

The Prayer at Anointing with the Holy Chrism contains an assertion that the one who has been graced to receive the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit receives aid to remain indomitable, unchanging, unharmed, untouched, unoppressed, safe from the designs of the Evil One, to abide in the Faith and to await the heavenly rewards of life and the eternal promises of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. more

Holy Unction
by a monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, in The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings, Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon Seminary Press

This Sacrament is described in Holy Scripture by St. James the Brother of the Lord: 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 (James 5:14–15). From the above text, we can see that this Sacrament has a twofold purpose bodily healing and the forgiveness of sins. The two are joined, for man is a unity of body and soul and there can be no sharp distinction between bodily and spiritual sicknesses. Of course, the Church does not believe that this anointing is automatically followed by recovery of health, for God’s will and not man’s prevails in all instances. Sometimes the sick person is healed and recovers after receiving the Sacrament, but in other cases he does not recover, but the Sacrament, nonetheless, gives him the spiritual strength to prepare for death. more


A Mother's Reflections on Her Son's Ordination
by Kh. Cynthia Hogg

I know this prayer will take on new meaning for my son in the days ahead. Many times he will not feel sinful so much as weak in performing the duties and meeting the needs God is calling him to handle. But my son will come to know – just as every Christian before him has come to know – that God will provide the strength he needs.

John is wearing his priestly vestments now. For the remainder of the liturgy, I watch as father and son do a holy dance, moving in and out around the altar, rubbing shoulders with the other concelebrants. It is time for the Eucharist. Watching my husband and son serve communion, side by side, I begin to tear up, gratitude welling up within me. A father. His son. And the Holy Spirit lovingly working in both of their lives. more


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