Faith Basics: Sacraments: The Seven Spiritual Wonders of the World

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Sacrament of Holy Orders

Not the smallest niche of Creation escapes the possibility of divinization by the flow into it of sacramental Grace. This command initiates the most fundamental of all the Mysteries, as it is the prerequisite for all the others. The Sacraments are the vehicles of participation in the Kingdom of God, and Baptism is the path of entry into that Kingdom. There is no equivocation here, but simply a straightforward "except. If we had only these two statements of our Lord to rely upon, we would know clearly that Baptism is a necessity for salvation and that it is the duty of Christians to lead others to it.

But we would know nothing of why it is so important, or of the manner of doing it. It is apparent from the New Testament that there are four primary dimensions to the event of Baptism: 1. In Baptism, we are made partakers of the Divine nature. Therein, we are incorporated into the death and resurrection of Christ and made one with Him in these events: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life" Rom.

This is no mere symbolism but rather something which happens to the believer in Baptism, as is clear from the language St. Paul uses.

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In Baptism, we are cleansed of our sinfulness. We are brought into a new state of being with regard to God: "Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" 1 Cor. This cleansing applies not just to the individual believer but to the whole Church made up of those who have undergone it: "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" Eph.

The Sacraments | Peter Kreeft | From "Fundamentals of the Faith" | Ignatius Insight

Baptism is a new birth, making of us new men and women: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" 1 Pet. The new birth comes through "water and the Spirit. Baptism is an enlightenment, an illumination, a movement from the darkness of fallen mankind into union with "the true Light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world" John The early Fathers of the Church often referred to Baptism as "illumination.

All of these things happen to him in Baptism. Just as a baby has only begun when he is born, so a Christian has only begun when he is baptized. By these means, we are made members of the holy people of God, the Church. We are given in Baptism the ability to begin our struggle for salvation - and the Grace whereby we may so strive.

We enter thereby upon the "spiritual combat" clothed with the armor of salvation. We know something from this of what Baptism does, but little of how it is done. Clearly, four elements are necessary: one who does the baptizing, water, a verbal action, and the recipient.

It is apparent from the Acts of the Apostles and from later Church documents that it was usual for whole households to be baptized - men, women, slaves, children, and infants alike. Belief was not just an individual affair but rather that of a whole family. So the answer to the question "Who can be baptized? But soon the Church did answer the question: any bishop in succession from the Apostles or a priest or deacon empowered by him to do so or, in an emergency, any Christian.

At first it may seem that the New Testament is ambiguous as to what words are to be used in a Baptism, but the ambiguity disappears when we look at the universal practice of the Church in the early centuries, at a time in which even the specific contents of the New Testament were not yet generally agreed upon: Baptism is to be "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Two invaluable early documents the Didache, ca.

It is apparent from these and other early documents that Baptism was most often and later universally throughout Orthodox Christianity by triple total immersion. In keeping with the transformative character of the Sacrament, it was common if not universal practice for Baptism to take place with the candidate stripped of clothing, preparatory to ceremonial reclothing in a clean white tunic, which was then worn for a week. We have only just begun to enter into the character and manner of Holy Baptism, the wonders and depths and riches of which escape the scope of such a brief treatment.

Hopefully, the exploration is sufficient to lay to rest some questions and arouse new ones. As Baptism cannot be properly understood apart from its completion in Holy Chrismation, we turn our attention to that Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Mystery is also performed on those who are united to the Church from heretical communities as one of the means of their being united to the Church. The words by which this Mystery is performed, "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit," indicate its significance and effect. It is a culminating act of being united to the Church, the confirmation or seal of the union, and the seal of the Grace-given powers which are bestowed in it for strengthening and growth in spiritual life.

In this Sacrament, with the eightfold repetition of words "the seal of the gift. Only in this anointing is the rebirth of Holy Baptism made complete, for "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" John The Holy Chrism, also called Myrrh, used for this purpose is itself in continuity with the Apostles. When needed, additional Chrism, olive oil prepared with spices, is consecrated by the chief hierarchs of the Church for distribution to the parishes.

Those familiar with the Orthodox Christian liturgy are immediately struck by the extreme brevity of the Chrismation rite. To all intents and purposes, the brief repetitive formula above and the imposition of the Chrism is all there is to it - this in a liturgical tradition where nothing is done quickly or hurriedly.


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Cyprian writes, "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 of hands and prayer Acts 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. It is apparent from the evidence of Holy Scripture, as well as our own experience, that the relationship between Holy Chrismation and a truly Spirit-filled life is not one of simple cause and effect. Again, the workings of divine Grace cannot be reduced to mere technology.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles of instances in which the Holy Spirit was received even before Baptism, but we also read of others in which converts had been baptized but had never even heard of the Holy Spirit - a state of affairs the Apostles promptly corrected by teaching and the imposition of hands Acts , which was equivalent to Chrismation in later apostolic practice. The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him" 1 John The term "anointing" indicates that by the end of the first century, at least in Asia Minor, this Mystery was performed by using a specially blessed oil.

God gives but does not compel. In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred and sealed as an indelible mark upon the newly-baptized Christian.

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That gift must be received, accepted, and allowed to grow in its recipient, and it grows in him as a seed. Someone may be offered the seed of a very precious plant. He may or may not joyfully accept it and continue to value it. If he does, we may presume that he will plant it, water and nurture it with the best care and food he can give it, and finally live with it in loving care.

On the other hand, he may refuse the gift, or, having once accepted it, he may keep it hidden in a dark closet. Too often, perhaps, the seed of the Spirit suffers this last fate in those who receive it. Baptism and Chrismation together constitute the manner of entry into the Kingdom, of initiation into the Mystery of the Church.


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  • They put an end to the state of separation between God and the individual Christian, instituting a new reality in a human life. Sadly, for most of us this new state of sinless freedom does not last long. We have soon fallen into denial in our actions of the new state of being with which we have been gifted.

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    We are overcome by temptation and by the continuing sinful inclinations of our human nature - which, although cleansed and redeemed, is not altogether abolished. For this most dangerous of all human ailments, our Lord in His mercy provides a specific remedy - for He is the physician of our souls and bodies. We may safely assume that it is in that sense that our Lord uses them here.

    Jesus gave the authority of the Church to loose and to bind human consciences when He said to the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" John This authority is so general that it extends not only to the here-and-now life of the Church on earth but also is considered effective even in heaven.

    Why is such authority needed and given? While Baptism washes away the stain of prebaptismal sins, it is unfortunately obvious that we continue even after Baptism to fall into sin and separation from God and His Body "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. So then what do we do about sin after Baptism? The Church soon confronted this problem.

    Guided by the Holy Spirit, she found an answer in what is now known as the Mystery of Confession. This Sacrament is no late-date novelty; it is clearly intimated in the Epistle of James While the Father alone actually forgives sins, on condition of our acknowledgment and repentance, it is the function of the Church to declare that forgiveness to the sinner, to make it effective in his life, to recognize his repentance, to absolve loose him from the earthly bondage created by the separation from God.

    Such a state of separation may arise either from moral behavioral sin or from error or inadequacy of faith. Most often, the one is reflected in or even caused by the other: faith and life are intricately related. There are those who would have us believe that after Baptism no sin is possible. As we have seen, the Apostle John replies to this outright heresy with the affirmation that such thought is self-deception 1 John There are others who would say that sin is indeed possible but that if it occurs, all is lost and damnation is certain.

    Were this so, Jesus' words concerning binding and loosing would be meaningless, as would all His teaching concerning our loving, merciful and forgiving Father. There are others yet who say that sin is inevitable, that we all do it, and that since God is merciful it cannot be all that serious so long as we feel sorry for it. To all these falsehoods and to their disastrous consequences in guilt, separation, hopelessness, or perhaps worst of all, superficiality and complacency Orthodox Christianity replies with the Sacrament of Confession. It affirms that we can and do sin after Baptism, that this failure is serious, even unto death, that separation from God and His Church does occur both through ungodly behavior and inadequacy of faith - and that God in His mercy has provided a means of healing, of reconciliation, of restoration to cleanness and oneness.

    If we would be healed, reconciled, reunited to God and His Church, then we must first "confess our sins" 1 John - the first step toward absolution. We come before a priest, who is the designated representative of the Church, and openly acknowledge our sinfulness. It is not sufficient that we simply admit our sinfulness to ourselves and in prayer to our Lord - the Apostle James directs us to "confess your faults one to another" Jas.

    Human experience tells us that it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to become adequately aware of the deepest realms of our misdeeds and guilt unless we verbalize them to another.