On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Confession

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Confession.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines confession in a way that acknowledges both aspects of the word as it is used in the Orthodox Church. Confession is “The sacrament of the forgiveness of sins, whereby the repentant sinner confesses his sins to Christ in the presence of the priest, who pronounces God’s absolution of those sins.” It is also “The avowal or verbal witness of faith in Christ, leading to salvation (Rom. 10:9).” (1, p. 1777) In this blog post, we will not be focusing on the second definition (“confession of faith”), but rather on the first; the sacramental aspect of the word, the sacrament which allows us sinners to be restored to right relationship with God.

The mystery or sacrament of confession, also called penance by the Church, is the means by which we are reconciled to God when we have sinned and thereby cut ourselves off from Him and His Church. We are created for communion with God and each other, that is, communion in the sense of life in harmonious community. When we sin, we sever that communion. But we have also been created to partake in the sacrament of communion (or eucharist). Sin severs us from the eucharist, as well. God has kindly made confession/penance available to us, so that we are able to be restored to both communions.

In Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article on penance, he writes that receiving the eucharist fulfills our act of penance, and restores us to communion with our fellow humans. He also offers steps for right living beyond that reconciliation.  “The fulfillment of penance consists in the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of the repentant sinner with God and all men according to the commandments of Christ. From this there obviously follows the necessity of a sincere attempt by the penitent to refrain from sin and to remain in faithful obedience to God and in uprightness of life before Him and all people.” (2)

“In His mercy, God provides the sacrament of confession (more properly called the sacrament of repentance) to give us deliverance from sin… Thus, we come before the holy icon of Christ, to whom we confess, and are guided by our spiritual father in a cleansing inventory of our lives. When we tell God all, naming our sins and failures, we hear those glorious words of freedom that announce Christ’s promise of forgiveness of all our sins. We resolve to ‘go and sin no more’ (Jn 8:11).” (1, p. 1698)

Fr. Hopko’s article details the three main elements of penance. “The first is a sincere sorrow for sins and for the breaking of communion with God. The second is an open and heartfelt confession of sins… The third element of penance is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentally bestowed upon the repentant sinner.” (2) So, we must begin with genuine sorrow for what we have done, followed by a thorough examination of our hearts, then an equally complete confession. At this point, it is the priest who steps in to complete the act by praying the prayer of absolution. As he does, he extends Christ’s forgiveness to us while covering our head with his epitrachelion as Christ covers our sins with His forgiveness.

“According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide.” (3) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article reaffirms that it is only God who forgives sins, and that He does it through Christ in the Church. God requires that our repentance be genuine and that we promise to change. Confession is the chance for us to acknowledge before God and other humans that we are a sinner.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of confession!

 

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Penance. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/penance
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on confession, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you prepare to participate in this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evils from your souls before My eyes. Cease from your evils. Learn to do good… ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘although your sins are like crimson, I shall make them white like snow, and although they are as scarlet, I shall make them white like wool.’” Isaiah 1:16-18 OSB

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“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9 OSB

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confession

“Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.” ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

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“Only if sinners cease to commit evil and learn to do good and turn to God with humility and repentance they will become ‘white as snow.’ The Lord is mighty and willing. No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and re-washed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

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“‘If you fall, rise and you shall be saved.’ You are a sinner, you continually fall, learn also how to rise; be careful to acquire this wisdom. This is what the wisdom consists in: learning by heart the psalm, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness,’ inspired by the Holy Spirit to the king and prophet David, and say it with sincere faith and trust, with a contrite and humble heart. After your sincere repentance, expressed in the words of King David, the forgiveness of your sins shall immediately shine upon you from the Lord, and your spiritual powers will be at peace.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“Notice the way in which Zacchaeus confessed his sin. He did not say: ‘Lord, I am a sinful man!’, or ‘Avarice is my sickness!’ No; but, showing the fruits of repentance, he thus confessed his sin and his sickness: ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.’ is not this a clear confession that riches are his passion? ‘And if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.’ Is not this a clear confession that his riches were acquired in a sinful manner? He did not, before this, say to the Lord: ‘I am a sinner, and I repent.’ He confessed this silently to the Lord in his heart, and the Lord silently received his confession and repentance. It is of more importance to the Lord that a man acknowledge and confess his sickness and cry for help in his heart than with this tongue, for the tongue is capable of deception, but the heart is not.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

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“Sin is an illness. Healing this illness is the work of the whole life. There is no case when it is impossible to repent. A soul can be tough, but there is a disciplinary system of fasts, home prayers and other church prescriptions, which help to awake the soul.” Read more in this article full of recommendations of how to prepare yourself for confession: https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2017/07/05/twelve-recommendations-on-how-to-prepare-yourself-for-confession/

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“To understand confession in its sacramental sense, one first has to grapple with a few basic questions: Why is the Church involved in forgiving sins? Is priest-witnessed confession really needed? Why confess at all to any human being? In fact, why bother confessing to God, even without a human witness? If God is really all-knowing, then He knows everything about me already. My sins are known before it even crosses my mind to confess them. Why bother telling God what God already knows?” Find answers to these questions in this exceptional article on confession: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/confession-healing-sacrament (This article is available as a booklet here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/confession-the-healing-sacrament/)

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Want to read more about the holy mystery of confession? Here are a few books available on the topic, as well as a handful of articles:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/if-we-confess-our-sins-preparation-and-prayers/

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-forgotten-medicine/
http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/23/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-holy-eucharist-part-iii

http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/28/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-repentanceconfession-part-ii

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Here are some activities you can do together as a family, in conjunction with a discussion on Confession: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/book/export/html/930

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Find ideas of ways to prepare for confession, using the 10 commandments as well as the beatitudes to help you evaluate the condition of your heart, here: https://www.goarch.org/-/preparation-for-holy-confession

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If you want a list of many questions, here are almost 100 questions that can help you prepare for confession: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/guide-to-confession.aspx

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Help your child(ren) prepare for confession. Here’s a helpful suggestion of how to do so: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/helping-your-child-prepare-for-confession/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson

Fans of “Shepherding Sam” will be delighted to find both Sam (the boy) and Saucer (the corgi) are back! They each play an important role in “The Barn and the Book,” a brand new book by Melinda Johnson. (Don’t worry, if you did not read “Shepherding Sam,” you can still jump right into “The Barn and the Book” seamlessly!)

“The Barn and the Book” takes place on the grounds of the monastery of St. Gerasim and features Sam’s 3rd and 4th grade Sunday Church School class; their teacher, Sister Anna, and a few of the other nuns; a handful of parents; and of course Saucer the corgi and his friends – the other animals on the monastery farm.

The story happens during a Church year. The students and their families attend the church on the monastery grounds, because it is the only Orthodox church in the area. Throughout the course of the year, everyone works together to prepare to celebrate the monastery’s special anniversary in March. At the beginning of the book, Sister Anna invites her class members to write a story that will be shared at the anniversary celebration. This book is the story of how they find and write their stories in the context of life together. It features humor, realistic characters, and many lessons for its readers.

The story contains many humorous parts. For example, the mere idea and corresponding mental image of a corgi going to Sunday school brings a chuckle to the reader’s smiling lips. Well, he sort of goes to Sunday school… Actually, the corgi (named Saucer) just looks longingly in the window during class because his best buddy Sam is there. Lucky for Saucer, class meets in the basement of the church, so the window is right at corgi level! That is how he is able to keep a good eye (and smashed-to-the-window-pane nose) on things. Saucer is so accurately described that the reader feels they must be able to reach into the book and give him a good scritch.

But Saucer is not the only realistic character! Throughout the book, the reader feels bound to the characters as they experience everything from moments of frustration to those of genuine joy. Readers come to realize how a Sunday Church School teacher feels when no one listens. They want to peacefully wander in the prayer garden with Sister Anna. They also make a mad dash for the door of the Sunday Church School room when the sheep get out of the farm enclosure. They inwardly cheer on the children who challenge themselves to write a story for the celebration, first wondering if the children will be able to pull it off, then rejoicing alongside the others in the book when everyone is pleased (albeit surprised) by the results! Because of its genuine characters, by the end of this book, the reader feels that they have been a part of preparing the monastery for the big celebration.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the characters in this book. Take for example, the nun, Sister Anna. She learns a lot over the course of this story, and the reader will do well to learn along with her. First of all, she finally learns to stop comparing herself to others. She comes to understand that she must completely trust her gerontissa, and not to test God, demonstrating with both of these learnings the humility that comes with truly trusting those in authority over us. With her choice of how she handles frustration, Sister Anna teaches us the value of having (and using!) a prayer garden, and demonstrates how the act of stepping out of our routine to pray helps us to calm ourselves as we entrust our frustrations to God. Other characters’ experiences in the story remind us of things like the fact that miracles can happen, while also leaving us wondering whether animals really can talk at midnight on Christmas. Perhaps most importantly of all, an ordinary boy named Sam learns that being present in the moment and choosing to be thankful while in that moment is the most magical thing one can experience. This lesson is an important one for readers of any age.

The story begins in the fall and continues into the spring. Though it covers much of a year, a fairly significant part of the story happens right at Christmastime. Because of the book’s humor, genuine characters, and important lessons, this book will surely be loved by any family adding it to their pile of treasured holiday books!

Purchase your own copy of “The Barn and the Book,” available as a book or an ebook, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-barn-and-the-book/

To listen to the book, purchase the audio copy of “The Barn and the Book.” Author Melinda Johnson reads the book, and listeners can enjoy both her unbridled enthusiasm and her special voices for each character! https://www.audible.com/author/Melinda-Johnson/B004RXKWF4

 

Here are a few gleanings from the book and suggested related activities that your family can do together as you read the book, to extend the learning.

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“Sister Anna was too short and pudgy to move quickly, but she did her best. She wanted to reach the prayer garden without being seen. It was too cold to sit there for long, but Sister Anna needed some quiet time.” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 19-20)

 

Where do you go when you are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry? In “The Barn and the Book,” Sister Anna headed to the prayer garden. Sam went to the barn with the animals. Do you have a place that is quiet and peace giving? Maybe it is your family prayer corner, or somewhere else. Talk together as a family about good places to go when you need a minute to regroup and talk with God about what is happening in your life. It will not always be the same place for everyone in the family. What sort of atmosphere do the members of your family need? Consider creating a place that will meet those needs, if you haven’t already. Grow a prayer garden; or set aside part of your property for an animal or two; or create a quiet room or corner. Whatever that space needs to look like for your family, be intentional about making it happen, and encourage its use.

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“‘Do the nuns like me?’ wondered Grace.

‘Sure they do,’ said Elias, grinning. ‘Nuns like everybody.’

‘Everybody?’

Elias nodded. ‘The nuns even like Macrina,’ he said impressively. (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, p. 47)

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience.  Make a family plan to visit one and see for yourself how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for your family to visit. (Look here for additional ones:http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)
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“‘I set the stick up yesterday, and then I came to see if it fell down.’ Sister Anna clasped her hands and reclasped them, squeeze squeeze. ‘If it fell down, or if it didn’t.’
…The abbess smiled, but Sister Anna did not see her smile. ‘You have made a test with your stick.’

‘Yes, Gerontissa.’

‘You set a trap for God. In the garden. With a stick… You want Him to tell you something now, and He has not told you something for you to hear, so you set a trap for Him, to make Him tell.’” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 96-97)
Sister Anna is not the first person who loved God and made a test (or, in the words of “The Barn and the Book,” “set a trap for God”) to try to get Him to answer a question. Have you ever done something like this? If so, you’re not alone! Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, we read a story about this. Gideon used the fleece of a sheep to ask for God’s guidance. Find the story in Judges 6:36-40. What did Gideon want to know (what was the reason he set out the fleece)? Did he get his answer? If you have the Orthodox Study Bible, be sure to read the footnotes on this passage. What was Gideon’s fleece the type of?

Find a lesson plan suggestion, complete with activity suggestions, on the story of Gideon, here: https://missionbibleclass.org/old-testament/part2/judges-and-ruth/gideon-and-the-fleece/

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“‘Do you think he will go in the barn?’ asked Grace, lowering her voice.

‘Go in the barn? What for?’

‘For the animals. You remember, like you told him.’

“Ohhhh. You mean to hear the animals talk at midnight on Christmas Ever?’

Grace nodded vigorously.

‘I don’t know. Won’t he be asleep?’

‘Maybe he could stay awake. Maybe I could stay awake. I want to go, too.’

Elias shrugged. ‘I don’t think your parents are going to let you go in the barn in the middle of the night.’” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 120-121)

Have you heard before about the idea that perhaps animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? What do you think about that idea? Here’s one legend that offers a possible reason: https://tarapollard.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/the-legend-of-the-talking-animals-2/

And here’s one family’s funny memory of a child who went to the barn on Christmas Eve to find out for herself if they really do: http://www.walkdownthelane.com/animals-talk-on-christmas-eve/

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“‘Hi, Macrina!’

Macrina turned sideways to see who was talking to her… ‘Hello, Grace… Thank you so much for the nice card. My mom gave it to me.’
Grace smiled happily. ‘You’re welcome!’

They walked a few steps more and had almost reached the refectory door when Macrina spoke again. ‘Do you want to sit with me at lunch?’

‘Sure!’ Grace gave a little skip. She was now even more certain that her card had brought Macrina back to health. Why else would Macrina want to sit with her?” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 106-107)

Have you, like Grace, ever done something small but kind for someone who was not so kind to you? Did it change your relationship in a positive way? Who in your life right now would benefit from a small kindness? What kind thing could you do for them? Of course, you can (and should!) pray for them, but what else? Write them a note? Secretly do a chore for them? Bake them cookies? If you need ideas of kind things to do for someone else, check out the ideas at the end of this blog (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/) or this one (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/on-being-a-bucket-filler/).

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“…Some people might want to know why the monastery is called the Monastery of Saint Gerasim and the Lion. Saint Gerasim was an abbot at a monastery in the Holy Land a long time ago… He helped a lion with a hurt paw, and the lion became his friend and lived at the monastery. The nuns chose this saint because they helped the animals who lived at the farm that used to be here, and the farm turned into a monastery, just like Saint Gerasim’s lion sort of turned into a monk.” (part of Macrina’s story, from “The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, p. 153)

 

To learn more about St. Gerasim (also called St. Gerasimos), check out this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/

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Gleanings from a Book: “I Pray Today” by Angela Isaacs

Parents desiring to raise their children in the Faith know that their children need to embrace the Faith for themselves. These parents must help their children begin to nurture their very own relationship with Christ and His Church. One of the most powerful ways a parent can do this is by leading their child(ren) into a life of prayer. Angela Isaacs’ new board book, “I Pray Today,” clearly models what it means to live a life of prayer. This book will help parents to help their children begin to live a life of prayer. It begins thus:

Good morning, God. The day is new.
I say my first small prayer to You.
Lord, have mercy.

“I Pray Today” takes its readers by the hand and guides them through a day in the life of a young girl. Throughout her day, she wakes, eats, misses a sick friend, plays, gets hurt, and eventually unwinds and goes to bed, just like we all do. But at every turn, she prays, “Lord, have mercy.” (Well, one time she forgets, oops! But Daddy helps her to remember!)

Angela Isaacs has beautifully worded this book. Throughout her day, the little girl’s activities are conveyed in rollicking verses that are fun to read and delightful to hear. The clever rhymes are likely to be memorized in a short time, after a few re-readings. And at each moment, there’s a “Lord, have mercy!” as she turns to Christ in prayer throughout her day. Children will be drawn to the verses, and want to read the book again and again.

The illustrations in this book are simple and charming. Amandine Wanert uses child-level perspective (with an occasional “birds eye” for variety) to help children feel that they are right there in the young girl’s day. Readers will be drawn into the girl’s world and will recognize there elements of their own life. There are just enough details in each illustration to make it believable, without overwhelming the eye. Orthodox children will also find details like crosses and icons in her world which they recognize from their own world. Children will absorb these details and be comforted by their simplicity.

“I Pray Today” gently teaches its readers the value of prayer while also modeling what it looks like to pray throughout the day. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book. Children will like the lyrical wording and lovely illustrations, and adults will treasure its message. This book is a must for a Christian family’s library.

 

You can find “I Pray Today” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/i-pray-today-board-book/

 

Here are a few related links and ideas that can help you as you share “I Pray Today” with the children in your life:
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“I Pray Today” author Angela Isaacs recently went on a blog tour, wherein she was a guest blogger on other blogs. On this tour, she wrote blogs related to her book. Find the first one here (and links to the others at the bottom of the page): https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/guest-post-from-angela-isaacs-what-parenting-taught-me-about-a-life-of-prayer/
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Even children older than toddlers will benefit from hearing/reading “I Pray Today.” Families with children of varied ages can read the book as part of a family discussion on prayer. After reading it, talk together about how to make God an important part of every part of each day. When is a good time to pray? Talk together about times in the day when your family prays. Invite ideas of additional times you could pray. If your children like to draw and/or write, you may wish to use this printable to help them commit to praying at one of those times.
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If “I Pray Today” strikes a chord with your family and you decide together to pursue a more fervent prayer life, you may find this blog helpful: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/
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Parents and older children may want to ponder this quote from St. Ambrose of Optina: “Pray for yourself and seek only the mercy and will of God; whether you are in church or outside of church walking, sitting or lying down, pray, ‘Lord have mercy, however you think best, however you will.’”

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Parents desiring to boost their own personal prayer times may want to read this blog (and the book which it features): https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/gleanings-from-a-book-when-you-pray-a-practical-guide-to-an-orthodox-life-of-prayer-by-l-joseph-letendre/

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of the Eucharist

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of the eucharist.

Of the many sacraments of the Church, the Holy Eucharist is central. “Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all the Church’s sacraments—the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.” (1) If one takes a moment to think about the sacraments of the church, it is evident that this is true! Baptism, chrismation, and confession make us eligible and prepared to receive the eucharist. Ordination provides the blessed hands (and heart) to prepare and serve it. Marriage and unction flow from the abundant grace of the eucharist, and both of these sacraments can/should go on to become healing elements for members of the Church and society in general. So all of the mysteries of the Church have the eucharist at their heart.

But what does the word mean? And how did this sacrament begin? The Orthodox Study Bible’s definition of eucharist explains that the word is “taken from a Greek word [Ευχαριστία] meaning ‘thanksgiving.’”(2, p. 1779) It goes on to remind the reader that during the Last Supper, our Lord gave thanks, then it reminds us that “embodied in the communion service is our own thanksgiving.” (ibid)

How beautiful it is that this thanksgiving that we find in our communion service was actually begun by our Lord Himself when He gave thanks in the midst of the Last Supper (which was a celebration of the Jewish Passover meal). When Christ told His disciples to eat and drink the bread and wine as His Body and Blood, that action “became the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of His people.” (1) They did just that, and we continue to do it today. The eucharist has been practiced in the Holy Orthodox Church since the first century, according to the Didache!

The sacrament of eucharist is available to all members of the Orthodox Church, and is “strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, His true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in His name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.” (1) Because of this, we take the eucharist very seriously, preparing our hearts and our bodies with prayer, confession, and fasting before communing, and reserving the act of communion for Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of the eucharist! May He make us worthy to partake of it, and as we do, may He cleanse and purify us that we may become ever more like Him!

Sources:

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Eucharist. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-eucharist .
  2. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )

 

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on the sacrament of the eucharist, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study the sacrament.

What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:56, NKJV)

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“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” (Matt. 26:26-28, NKJV)

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“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”  (1 Cor 11:23–26, NKJV)

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“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Whenever we enter the church and draw near to the heavenly mysteries, we ought to approach with all humility and fear, both because of the presence of the angelic powers and out of the reverence due to the sacred oblation; for as the Angels are said to have stood by the Lord’s body when it lay in the tomb, so we must believe that they are present in the celebration of the Mysteries of His most sacred Body at the time of consecration.” ~ St.  Bede the Venerable

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“Until a man’s earthly life finishes its course, up to the very departure of the soul from the body, the struggle between sin and righteousness continues within him. However, high a spiritual and moral state one might achieve, a gradual or even headlong and deep fall into the abyss of sin is always possible. Therefore, communion of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, which strengthens our contact with Him and refreshes us with the living streams of the grace of the Holy Spirit flowing through the Body of the Church, is necessary for everyone.” ~ St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco

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“For a man’s complete sanctification, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is accomplished in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The true Body and the true Blood of Christ which we receive become part of the great Body of Christ.

Of course, for union with Christ, the mere conjoining of our body with the Body of Christ does not suffice. The consumption of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial when in spirit we strive towards Him and unite ourselves with Him. Receiving the Body of Christ, while turning away from Him in spirit, is like the contact with Christ which they had who struck Him and mocked and crucified Him. Their contact with Him served not for their salvation and healing, but for their condemnation. But those who partake with piety, love and readiness to serve Him, closely unite themselves with Him and become instruments of His Divine will.” ~ St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco

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“When going to the Holy Mysteries, go with simplicity of heart, in full faith that you will receive the Lord within yourself, and with the proper reverence towards this. What your state of mind should be after this, leave it to the Lord Himself. Many desire ahead of time to receive this or that from Holy Communion, and then, not seeing what they wanted, they are troubled, and even their faith in the power of the Mystery is shaken. The fault lies not with the Mystery, but with superficial assumptions. Do not promise yourself anything. Leave everything to the Lord, asking a single mercy from Him — to strengthen you in every kind of good so that you will be acceptable to Him. The fruit of Communion most often has a taste of sweet peace in the heart; sometimes it brings enlightenment to thought and inspiration to one’s devotion to the Lord; sometimes almost nothing is apparent, but afterward in one’s affairs there is a noted a great strength and steadfastness in the diligence one has promised.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

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eucharist

Revel in the beauty of this multifaceted list of what the eucharist is, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann: http://ww1.antiochian.org/eucharist

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“The policy of closed communion does not imply that those outside the Orthodox Church are considered not to be Christians, or not to be saved. The Church explicitly refuses to pass judgment concerning the salvation of any individual, within or outside her walls. But having received the deposit of Faith from the Lord and His Apostles, and having faithfully kept it intact down to this day, the Church must protect that deposit by extending communion only to those who have united themselves to her.” ~ Fr. James Bernstein, http://store.ancientfaith.com/communion-a-family-affair/

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In what ways is the sacrament of the eucharist like the coal in Isaiah 6:7? Read this article to find out: http://ww1.antiochian.org/holy-eucharist-live-coal

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Chrismation

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian sacrament of  Chrismation.

The word “Chrismation” is from the Greek “Chrismatis,” which means anointing. The Orthodox Study Bible defines Chrismation as “The sacrament completing Baptism, whereby one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with the Chrism, a specially prepared oil which must be consecrated by a bishop. In Acts, a baptized Christian received the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the hands of an apostle (See Acts 8:14-17; 19:6.) Chrismation is a continuation of this ancient practice in the Church. (1, p. 1777)

In the Orthodox Church, Chrismation takes place immediately after the sacrament of Baptism. The newly-baptized person is anointed with a specially-blessed oil called Chrism, on many different parts of their body. During the anointing, the priest says, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” and congregants reply, “Seal!”

Fr. Michael Buben offers insights into the reasoning for anointing each part of the body during chrismation, in his article “What is Holy Communion?,” published in Word magazine in Feb. 1962. “The anointing of the forehead signifies the sanctification of the mind, or thoughts. The anointing of the chest signifies the sanctification of the heart, or desires. The anointing of the eyes, ears, lips signifies the sanctification of the senses. The anointing of the hands and feet signifies their sanctification to good works and the walk in the way of His commandments.” (2) In other words, every part of our life becomes sanctified and sealed through Chrismation! This mystery of the Church sets us apart while also strengthening us to live a holy Christian life.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of Chrismation!

Sources:
1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )

2. Buben, Fr. Michael J. (Feb. 1962 Word, p. 5) What Is Holy Chrismation?. Retrieved from http://ww1.antiochian.org/Orthodox_Church_Who_What_Where_Why/What_Is_Holy_Chrismation.htm.

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on Chrismation, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below to share them with the community!

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“Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 1: 21-22, NKJV)

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“Those baptized in the Church are sealed by the seal of the Lord after the example of the baptized Samaritans who were received by the Apostles Peter and John through laying on of hands and prayer (Acts 8:14-17). That which was lacking in them, Peter and John accomplished . . . Thus is it also with us . . . They are made perfect by the seal of the Lord.” ~ St. Cyprian

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“By the seal of the Holy Spirit are sealed all the entrances into your soul; by the seal of the anointing all your members are sealed.” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the body of Christ, so also this ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation. Further, it is the gracious gift of Christ, and it is made fit for the imparting of his Godhead by the coming of the Holy Spirit. This ointment is symbolically applied to your forehead and to your other senses; while your body is anointed with the visible ointment, your soul is sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit. Just as Christ, after his baptism, and the coming upon him of the Holy Spirit, went forth and defeated the adversary, so also with you after holy baptism and the mystical chrism, having put on the panoply of the Holy Spirit, you are to withstand the power of the adversary and defeat him, saying, ‘I am able to do all things in Christ, who strengthens me!'” ~ Cyril of Jerusalem

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“The roots of this sacrament are clear in both the Old and New Testaments and are especially brought to light on the Day of Pentecost.” Read this and more in a helpful article on Chrismation within the pages of the Orthodox Study Bible, in the midst of Acts chapter 2. The article shows how the Holy Spirit was promised from Old Testament times, then again by Christ, and explains how the Holy Spirit has been given to baptized Christians through Chrismation, ever since Pentecost! Find it on p. 1471 of the hardcover Orthodox Study Bible. http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover

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“In chrismation a person is given the “power from on high” (Acts 1–2), the gift of the Spirit of God, in order to live the new life received in baptism. He is anointed, just as Christ the Messiah is the Anointed One of God. He becomes—as the fathers of the Church dared to put it—a ‘christ’ together with Jesus. Thus, through chrismation we become a ‘christ,’ a son of God, a person upon whom the Holy Spirit dwells, a person in whom the Holy Spirit lives and acts—as long as we want him and cooperate with his powerful and holy inspiration.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko, https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/chrismation

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“…In the early tradition of the Church both means were used: the Laying on of hands and the anointing with oil. In both cases, it was bishops who performed the sacrament, not priests… The reason for the change in practice from the laying on of the hands to the blessing of oil, was the great increase in the number of new converts all over the Church and the inability of the bishop to be present at every baptism. The bishop blessed the oil, and the priests administered it. Present practice is for the oils, mixed with fragrant substances, to be consecrated on Holy Thursday in the Cathedrals of the Mother Churches, and subsequently, to be distributed to their dependent Churches…” Read this and more about Chrismation in The Orthodox Church: 455

Questions and Answers, by Stanley Harakas, available here http://gcdev4.com/hc/product/the-orthodox-church-455-questions-and-answers/

chrismation

On Philippians 4:13: “I Can Do All Things Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me”

Note: This week’s post features the theme for the 2019 Creative Arts Festival of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. Philippians 4:13 graces the archway to the Antiochian Village Camp, a place where children, adults, and clergy meet together to play, hang out, worship, and be transformed together. This verse is an excellent scripture for all of us to live by and to learn, whether or not we have been to the Antiochian Village!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

This verse shows up time and again in Christian circles, usually implying that whatever we do, Christ will give us the strength to do it. It is true: He does! But perhaps this verse is about more than us getting the power from Christ that we need to accomplish/succeed in the things that we want to do. Could it mean more than just that?

It is helpful to study Bible footnotes to get additional information about specific passages, so we went to our Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) and looked up Philippians 4:13. The OSB offers a footnote on the verse. To be more precise, the footnote is about this verse as well as the two before it. The footnote on p. 1616 reads, “Here is the secret of contentment.” And that’s all it says!

At first glance, this seems a diminished notation of what is, in some Christian circles at least, one of the most popular verses in the Bible. But this little footnote forces us to actually look at those preceding verses. When we read them, not only does the footnote make sense, but we also can begin to understand verse 13 in its intended context. When we do that, we see that the footnote is spot on.

Philippians 4:11-13 reads, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The passage speaks to success and accomplishment, yes, but it also is talking about emptiness and need. And St. Paul says, “I can do all things” (both success/accomplishment and emptiness/need) “through Christ who strengthens me.” In context, the verse is so much more than we thought it to be!

Now that we know the context, we can understand why Philippians 4:13 is such an appropriate verse to have on the arch at the gateway to the Antiochian Village Camp. It reminds all who enter the camp that our whole life is powered by Christ. Time at the Antiochian Village Camp offers the opportunity to connect with Christ and His Church in a special way, which “recharges” all who pass through that arch. At the same time, the verse reminds all who leave there that, regardless of what they face away from that place, Christ is with them to give them strength. And those who have studied the context of the verse know that it is also a nod to choosing contentment in whatever state we find ourselves.

Children participating in the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts festival this year will have their choice of subject matter, ranging from the Antiochian Village to how camp has changed them to how God strengthens us to asking God to help us. And of course, thanks to that little footnote, they can also focus their project on choosing contentment in all circumstances!

Here are some quotes from saints and excerpts from meditations on Philippians 4:13:

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“The enemy draws near to us in afflictions, and trials, and labors, using every endeavor to ruin us. But the man who is in Christ, combating those things that are contrary, and opposing wrath by long-suffering, contumely by meekness, and vice by virtue, obtains the victory, and exclaims, ‘I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me’ (Phil. 4:13); and, ‘In all these things we are conquerors through Christ Who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37).” ~ St. Athanasius

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“Throw your weaknesses before God, and the Lord will become your strength.” ~ St. Moses the Strong
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“You feel straitened upon earth from all sides. Everything betrays you; your relations, friends, acquaintances, riches, the pleasures of the senses, your own body; all the elements — earth, water, fire, air, light — play you false. Cling, therefore, to God alone… Be bold, resolute in every good work, be especially generous in words of kindness, tenderness, sympathy, and still more so in works of compassion and mutual help. Consider despondency, despair in any good work, as an illusion. Say: ‘I can do all things through Christ Which strengtheneth me,’ [Philippians 4:13] though indeed I am the greatest of sinners.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
Read the rest here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2014/07/dont-despair-cling-to-our-lord-and-savior-jesus-christ/

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis offers this short meditation on Philippians 4:13 by thoughtfully contemplating each word. http://myocn.net/daily-devotion-i-can-do-all-things-through-christ-who-strengthens-me/

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“There is such great power in merely invoking the name of the Lord and meditating on placing yourself in His care.  When all hope seems lost, Philippians 4:13 is a great place to start over again. So, wherever you are in your life today, whatever challenges life is going to throw at you today, go with Christ.  He is the strength behind our success.” Read the rest of this meditation by Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis on Philippians 4:13 here: http://myocn.net/i-can-do-all-things-through-christ-who-strengthens-me/

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If you have a creative bent and want to make a piece to remind you of this verse, consider this inexpensive and simple craft that features Philippians 4:13:

To see this larger, visit here.

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Baptism

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Baptism.

Baptism is the first sacrament or mystery that we encounter in our Orthodox Christian life. It is the door through which Orthodox Christians enter into the Church. Stepping into the life of the Church through baptism enables us to experience all of the other sacraments. Our baptism marks the beginning of our death to ourselves, and the glorious unification of our soul with Christ.

The “Orthodox Study Bible” defines baptism as “The sacrament whereby one is born again, buried with Christ, resurrected with Him and united to Him. In baptism, one becomes a Christian and is joined to the Church.” (p. 1776) It continues by discussing Christ’s baptism. His baptism was significant because of its effect on the physical world. Our Lord’s baptism made water become holy, and now water can be used as the means for the Holy Spirit to grant us new life!

We begin the sacrament of baptism with the exorcism, wherein the person to be baptized (or their godparents, on their behalf) rejects Satan and unites themself instead to Christ. Prayers for the consecration of the water happen next, then the anointing by oil of the person to be baptized. After that comes the triple immersion, where the person is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The newly-baptized person is then chrismated, given the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Chrism which is used to anoint them. After the newly-baptized person has been chrismated, they are tonsured. Tonsuring (cutting bits of hair and burning them as an offering to the Lord) shows that the newly baptized person is willing to be obedient to Christ and sacrifice to Him. Following the tonsuring, there is a procession wherein the newly baptized person and his/her Godparents process around the font and/or table. This procession is a sign of spiritual rejoicing, and it’s done in a circle because God is never ending, as is a circle. The baptismal service culminates in communion. The Eucharist is a physical way in which Christians can mystically be united with Christ, and the freshly-baptized person is now so thoroughly transformed that they are able to meet and receive Him through the Eucharist.

St. Gregory of Nyssa called the baptismal font “both tomb and mother,” a picture that helps us grasp the importance of the sacrament of baptism. At the moment of our baptism, we die to ourselves, and in the same instant we are born into life in Christ and His Church.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of baptism!

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on baptism, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study this important sacrament. What baptism resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5 NKJV)

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“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”(Rom 6:3-4 NKJV)

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“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27 NKJV)

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“Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water…we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit.” (The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 11, Roberts-Donaldson)

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“He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 18, Roberts-Donaldson)

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“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.” ~ St. Nektarius of Aegina

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“The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one’s public identification with Christ Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity…” Read more here: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

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Each of these hour-long podcasts takes a closer look at the sacrament of baptism:

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ourlife/the_sacrament_of_baptism_part_1

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ourlife/the_sacrament_of_baptism_part_2

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ourlife/the_sacrament_of_baptism_-_infant_baptism_part_3

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ourlife/the_sacrament_of_baptism_-_part_4