Category Archives: Sacraments

Gleanings from a Book: “A Child’s Guide to Confession” by Ancient Faith Publishing, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing’s editors have compiled and created a beautifully illustrated guide that will help children to prepare their hearts for confession. “A Child’s Guide to Confession” is full of helpful information and questions as well as beautiful illustrations. Here is a brief overview of the book, followed by a few gleanings from its pages.

Don’t let the child-friendly size fool you: it may be small, but this little book is gold. Its engaging illustrations paired with text which gently nudges readers towards repentance make each of its 104 pages invaluable. The book is divided into color-coded sections including a welcome; what confession is; preparing for confession; self-examination; prayers and scriptures to read while waiting for confession; a prayer after confession; a note for parents; and an extensive glossary explaining difficult terms found elsewhere in the book.

The book acknowledges that there are many ways to prepare for confession. The editors decided to focus on 1 Corinthians 13 for this book. God is Love, so it follows that Orthodox Christians prepare for confession by looking at their actions in light of love to see how they measure up, discover where they have fallen short, then repent and confess those shortfalls. Each phrase of the scripture is appropriately illustrated and is followed by a number of child-friendly questions related to the phrase.

Throughout the book, Nicholas Malara’s illustrations offer glimpses into the lives of Orthodox children who are interacting with the Church and their world. The illustrations make the book more accessible to young children, and more delightful for older children. They truly bring Orthodoxy to life for a child (and a few even include a subtle touch of humor that will make the reader smile!).

This book is a must-have for any Orthodox Christian family. It will help children to embrace confession, and walk them through the entire process, from beginning to prepare for confession all the way to the rejoicing that follows. Children of all ages (parents included!) will benefit from preparing their hearts for confession with this little gem.

Contributors to the project include Elissa Bjeletich, Fr. Noah Bushelli, Fr. Nicholas Speier, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.

 

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-confession/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few additional resources to help you help your children to prepare for confession :

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“When preparing for confession, find a peaceful place where you can sit and pray and think. If it helps, have a pencil and some paper handy to help you remember what you’d like to confess to your priest. Always start by asking the Holy Spirit to help you…” (p. 15, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“You will be speaking to God directly, reminding Him that you believe in Him, that you are one of His disciples, and you will be saying sorry for the things you have done that have created distance between you…” (p. 19, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Love is kind.
Have I hurt a person or an animal on purpose?

…Have I been caring when someone gets hurt?

Have I ignored someone who needed help?” (p. 25, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“A Prayer from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

O Jesus, the most-good goodness

I have done no good before You;

But grant that I may make a beginning because of Your goodness.” (p. 48, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Now you are at church, waiting your turn to speak with the priest and offer your confession. While you wait, read thoughtfully through a selection of these prayers or Bible verses to help soften your heart…” (p. 51, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Dear Child of God,

You did it! The distance that came between you and Christ is now erased. All of the beauty and light and goodness that is beaming out of Him is beaming out of you too! For He is filling you with His powerful light…” (p. 73, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Preparation for confession is best founded in daily watchfulness and open discussion at family gathering times of meals, prayer, and spiritual study…” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Let us not be helicopter parents. While we need to pray and arrange for our children’s best interests, we also need to honor their own freedom, relationship with God, and spiritual development… Praying for our children is the best way of keeping them in God’s will.” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Absolution – the removing of sins through the act of confession. When your sins are absolved, they are wiped clean, and the separation between you and God has been erased!” (from the Glossary of Terms, p. 89, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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Perhaps your child/children will benefit from using this printable as they prepare for confession. The printable provides space for them to draw or lines to write notes of what they are ready to confess. They can keep it with them as they read through “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, making notes as they go along, then take it along when they go for their next confession.

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To better help your child(ren) with repentance, you may want to have some of the information and ideas found here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/childrenandrepentance

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You may find this article helpful as you help your child(ren) to prepare for confession: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/helping-your-child-prepare-for-confession/

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Holy Unction

This post is the last in a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Holy Unction.

When we hear the words “Holy Unction,” we may immediately think of the special service during Holy Week in which the Holy Oil is set apart and blessed. That is an important time in the life of the Church, for all of Her members are invited to participate in the sacrament of Holy Unction for the healing of their souls and bodies during that service. But there is much more to Holy Unction than that service! The Orthodox Study Bible defines Unction as “anointing of the sick with blessed oil, for the healing of body and soul. The gift of healing is bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the anointing, together with the prayers of the Unction service.” (1, pp. 1789-1790)

Holy Unction is an important sacrament, for healing is really what the Church is about. Our Lord Himself came to earth in the first place to “bear our infirmities,” not just of body, but also of soul. He brought healing to many in his years on earth, and He continues to heal (body and soul) through the Church, especially in the sacrament of Holy Unction.

Father Thomas Hopko, in his writings about the sacraments, calls the sacrament of Unction “the Church’s specific prayer for healing.” He says, “If the faith of the believers is strong enough, and if it is the will of God, there is every reason to believe that the Lord can heal those who are diseased.” (2)

Fr. Thomas writes that the primary purpose of Holy Unction is healing of the physical body and of mental ills, but also healing of the spirit through forgiveness. “Holy unction is the sacrament of the spiritual, physical, and mental healing of a sick person whatever the nature or the gravity of the illness may be.” (2) He reminds us that “the proper context of the sacrament” is to pray “that God’s will be done always,” and reminds us that “it is not always the will of God that there should be physical healing.” (2) Sometimes the healing granted through Unction is a physical healing, but always – and more importantly – we pray for spiritual healing; that is, sanctification and union with Christ.

It is a fact that we will all die eventually. Because of this, the healing of the sick is not the final goal of Holy Unction: for even those who experience healing through this sacrament will at some point die. Instead, Fr. Thomas writes that Holy Unction is an instrument that God uses to show us his mercy and to extend the life of some people so that they can live to glorify Him.

When the time for death comes, the Orthodox Church has special prayers to aid the person experiencing the separation of their soul and body. But the Church does not reserve Holy Unction just for that point in one’s life, as some Christian churches practice. “Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit.” (3)

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of Holy Unction!

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

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Unction. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-unction
  2. 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 Holy Unction, 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 and share them with the community!

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“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church and pray over him and anoint him and with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15).

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“Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9: 1-6, NKJV)

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“The Lord chose the apostles, that they should be with Him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils. Every Christian is chosen—chosen for similar deeds, namely: to be with the Lord, through unceasing remembrance of Him and awareness of His omnipresence, through the preaching and fulfillment of His commandments, and through a readiness to confess one’s faith in Him. In those circles where such a confession is made, it is a loud sermon for all to hear. Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them. Do this and you will be an apostle, a fulfiller of what the Lord chose you for, an accomplisher of your calling as messenger. When at first you succeed in all this, then perhaps the Lord will appoint you as a special ambassador—to save others after you have saved yourself; and to help those who are tempted, after you yourself pass through all temptations, and through all experiences in good and evil. But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

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“You should take some oil on the tip of your finger, and make the sign of the Cross on the sick body part and say: ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…O Lord, heal my spiritual and bodily afflictions, and save me, in the manner that You know.’ Then, you should rub it into the sick body part. This you should do to every bodily member that is suffering. Regardless of whether you are healed or not, you should do this to be sanctified. I have experienced, however, a multitude of cases of astonishing healing. This holy oil [i.e. the Sacrament of Holy Unction] is especially sanctified. It is sanctified on Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week…” From the book: Letters from Russia, by Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov

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“In order to properly approach the mystery of Holy Unction and benefit most from it, we need, as with all the sacraments, to prepare ourselves. The following are listed as five important though not comprehensive means of preparation for Holy Unction for individuals and families.” Read the list here in order to be able to better prepare yourself and your family for Holy Unction: https://www.goarch.org/-/preparation-for-the-sacrament-of-holy-unction

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“This healing service explores many aspects of sin, suffering and healing; it is a profound and very exalted service of prayer and intercession. One very important point should be made here: During Holy Unction we beg God to remove the sickness—but, in place of illness, we ask Him to give ‘the joy of gladness’ (anointing itself is spoken of as the oil of gladness in the Psalms), so that the formerly sick person might now ‘glorify Thy divine might.’ Therefore, one of the purposes of healing is to enable the sufferer to resume his healthy and active service to God.” Read this article about what the Holy Fathers have to say about Illness, including how Holy Unction helps in our illness, and perhaps turn your view of illness upside down: http://orthochristian.com/106274.html

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Marriage

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  marriage.

In His teachings while He was on earth, our Lord told us that marriage is the best way for us to experience what God’s love for humankind is like; as well as for us to see how Christ loves the Church. Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the most perfect form of love between a man and woman is “unique, indestructible, unending, and divine. The Lord Himself has not only given this teaching, but he also gives the power to fulfill it in the sacrament of Christian marriage in the Church.” (1) Mere mutual love does not provide the depth of unity of spirit and body that the sacrament of marriage offers to a man and woman. The sacrament brings the Holy Spirit into the relationship in a way that binds them together most perfectly. And He continues His work in their marriage throughout their earthly life and on into the heavenly kingdom, as well.

In the early years of the Church, there was not an official ceremony for marriage. Christian couples wishing to be married expressed their love for each other in the church and then their union received a blessing from God which was sealed in their partaking of the Eucharist. When the Church recognized the unity of the couple and their union was incorporated into the Body of Christ through communion, their marriage became a Christian marriage.

Several hundred years into her existence, when the Church developed a ritual for the sacrament of marriage, that sacrament was modeled after baptism and chrismation. Fr. Thomas explains the parallels as follows: “the couple is addressed in a way similar to that of the individual in baptism. They confess their faith and their love of God. They are led into the Church in procession. They are prayed over and blessed. They listen to God’s Word. They are crowned with the crowns of God’s glory to be his children and witnesses (martyrs) in this world, and heirs of the everlasting life of his Kingdom. They fulfill their marriage, as all sacraments are fulfilled, by their reception together of holy communion in the Church.” (1)

Unlike other wedding ceremonies in current culture, the Orthodox sacrament of marriage is not a legal transaction: there aren’t even vows. Instead, Orthodox marriage is a “‘baptizing and confirming’ of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the deification of human love in the divine perfection and unity of the eternal Kingdom of God.” (1) Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald offers more insight into the sacrament in his article on all of the sacraments: “According to Orthodox teachings, marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be.” (2)

That type of shared Christian life extends beyond “death do us part.” The Church encourages married Christians whose partner departs this life before them to remain faithful to that partner even after their death, because “only one marriage can contain the perfect meaning and significance which Christ has given to this reality.” (1) (However, there is a service of second marriage for people who are not able to fulfill this ideal.)

A Christian couple who wants to be in complete union of spirit, body, and intellect, as well as social and economic union, will only find that depth of union in the sacrament of marriage. This sacrament places their union in the Kingdom of God, which is perfectly unified, right from the start. When centered  in God’s Kingdom, a couple’s human love can echo Divine love, and will spill out into the world around them through their interactions with each other, with their children, with their neighbors, and even with nature itself. This is how the sacrament of marriage can be the best blessing to the world: when it is lived out as it is intended to be lived.

However, this level of complete union is not guaranteed. “This does not mean that all those who are ‘married in church’ have an ideal marriage. The sacrament is not mechanical or magical. Its reality and gifts may be rejected and defiled, received unto condemnation and judgment, like Holy Communion and all of the sacramental mysteries of the faith. It does mean, however, that when a couple is married in the Church of Christ, the possibility for the perfection of their marriage is most fully given by God.” (3)

Marriage is a gift from God that offers blessings to those who partake. But the couple must enter into this sacrament completely, choosing daily to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, in order for those blessings to be fulfilled. God does not force Himself on a marriage, just as He does not force Himself into any other part of a Christian’s life. However, with humility and self-sacrifice, Christian couples have the opportunity to grow together towards godliness through the sacrament of marriage.
Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of marriage!

 

Sources:
1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/marriage

2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments 

3. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2016, March 18). Sexuality, Marriage, and Family: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/sexuality-marriage-and-family/marriage1

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

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“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Cor. 7:1-9 NKJV)

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“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph. 5:22-33 NJKV)

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“Comprising one flesh, [the couple] also has a single soul, and their mutual love awakens in them a zeal for piety. For the state of wedlock does not estrange us from God, but rather ties us more closely to Him, for it brings forth a greater impetus to turn to Him. Even under a light breeze, a small boat moves forward…., a light breeze will not move a great ship…. Thus, those not burdened with secular concerns have less need of help from Almighty God, but one who has responsibilities, who looks after his beloved spouse, his estate and his children, traverses a broader sea of life, and has greater need of God’s help. In return [for that help], he himself comes to love God even more.” ~ Holy Hierarch Gregory the Theologian

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marriage

“The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord?’ Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“…The husband and wife must lay virtue, and not passion, as the foundation of their love, that is, when the husband sees any fault in his wife, he must nudge her meekly, and the wife must submit to her husband in this. Likewise when a wife sees some fault in her husband, she must exhort him, and he is obliged to hear her. In this manner their love will be faithful and unbroken, and thereby having mutually composed their happiness, they shall take pleasure in the virtue.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“Dearly beloved, had marriage or the raising of children been likely to prove a stumbling block on the way to virtue, the Creator of all would not have introduced marriage into our life lest it prove our undoing in difficult times and through severe problems. Since, however, family life not only offers us no obstacle to wisdom in God’s eyes as long as we are prepared to be on our guard, but even brings us much encouragement and calms the tumult of our natural tendencies, not allowing the billows to surge but constantly ensuring that the barque dock safely in the harbor, consequently He granted the human race the consolation that comes from this source…” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“The Bible and human history begin and end with marriages. Adam and Eve come together in marital union in Paradise, before the Fall, revealing marriage as a part of God’s eternal purpose for humanity in the midst of creation (Gn 2:22-25). History closes with the marriage of the Bride to the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9), earthly marriage being fulfilled in the heavenly, showing the eternal nature of the sacrament.” Read more about the sacrament of marriage in the article titled “Marriage,” found in the midst of Ephesians 5 in the Orthodox Study Bible. (p. 1607 in the hardcover version)

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“If you fit the first button into the first hole of your suit, all the other buttons will fall in their proper place. But if the first button is placed in the second hole, nothing will come out right. It’s a matter of putting first things in first place, of keeping priorities straight. Likewise in marriage. Husbands, if you put your wives first—and wives, if you put your husbands first—everything else will fall into its proper place in the marriage relationship.”
Read about the Old and New Testament views of marriage, the sacrament itself, the responsibilites of each partner, how marriage can help both partners’ salvation, and more in this helpful article: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/orthodoxchristianmarriage.aspx

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Ordination

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 ordination, or Holy Orders.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines ordination as “The sacramental act setting a man apart for the ministry of the church by the laying on of hands of a bishop.” (1, p. 1784) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writings about the sacrament of the Holy Orders begin by reminding his readers, first and foremost, that the Holy Orthodox Church believes and teaches that “Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone guides and rules His people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father.” (2) These statements do not in any way downplay the importance of the “sacramental setting apart” mentioned above: rather, they help to clarify the role of the one set apart. Christ is continually active in the Church through the Holy Spirit, and He is manifested through these men who have been set apart for His service. “The sacramental ministry of the Church—the bishops, priests, and deacons—receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Spirit to men. Thus, through His chosen ministers, Christ exercises and realizes His unique and exclusive function as priest, perpetually offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father on behalf of His human brothers and sisters.” Through them, He also teaches, shepherds, oversees, and serves. (2)

Why is this sacrament of ordination also called the sacrament of Holy Orders? Fr. Thomas says it is because those who are ordained give order to the church. “They guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apostles until the establishment of God’s Kingdom in eternity.” (2) The Holy Spirit is given to them in a special way that helps them to do this work, and “manifest Christ’s presence and action in the churches.” (2)

Ordinations have been a part of the Church’s life from the start. Already in the book of Acts, we read, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23, OSB) The Orthodox Study Bible’s footnote on that verse offers this insight: “Elders are presbyters (priests) ordained by the apostles to nurture and lead the churches they established. The word translated ‘appointed’ (Gr. cheirotoneo) means ‘to ordain by the laying on of hands.’” (1, p. 1495) So, from the very beginning of the Church, per the book of Acts, priests have been ordained by the laying on of hands so that they can carry on the work they have been set apart to do.

“Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people…  the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.” (3)

Ordained leaders have numerous important tasks, and the work varies from order to order. “In the Orthodox Church to this day, the bishops and presbyters are called to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word, with the other ministries being accomplished by the deacons and the laity.” (1, footnotes on Acts 6:2-4, p.1478) The tasks to which those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are called are not easy. They cannot be taken lightly, but the Holy Spirit’s extra empowerment enables these men to undertake all that is set before them.

Let us thank God for those who have offered themselves through the sacrament of ordination. Let us support and help them in whatever way that we can. And let us keep them in our prayers, for we know that we are always in theirs.

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

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: Holy Orders. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-orders
  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 ordination, 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 and share them with the community!

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“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” (Acts 6:1-6 NKJV)

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“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” (1 Tim. 4:14 NKJV)

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“If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“How can one laugh at a clergyman? So what if he serves poorly? He still has grace. He is ordained. One must not, must not, laugh!” ~ St. Anatoly of Optina

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Our society pushes us to push our children to select good jobs. We need to consider what truly constitutes a “good” job, and pray that our children follow Christ’s leading as they seek their life’s work. What is it like, as a parent to watch your child experience the sacrament of ordination? One mother reflects on her son’s ordination to the priesthood here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/mothers-reflections-her-sons-ordination

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Learn much about the Holy Orders in this article: http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/Holy-Orders.aspx

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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“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/

 

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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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/

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