Church and Sacraments
The Church is the mystical body of Christ. In other words, Christ is the head and the members of the body are those who have been baptized in accordance with the Orthodox faith in the name of the Holy Trinity; or those who, having been already baptized in another Christian confession and who live the Orthodox faith, have been accepted into the Orthodox faith through the sacrament of Chrismation. A hierarchy exists in the Church: Christ; the Bishop, who is the representative of Christ on earth; the Priest; the Deacon, and the people. All together they comprise the Church, the mystical body of Christ. “Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its saviour” (Ephesians, 5:23), says St. Paul. He also says that “you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it, (I Corinthians, 12:27) and that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans, 12:5).
However, let no one believe that the Church is comprised solely of Christ and those who live on earth. No. The Church includes those who now live on earth and who have been baptized in an orthodox way, and is called the militant church; but the Church also includes all of those who lived in an orthodox way and who are now in Heaven, known as the triumphant church.
This Church is the treasury of truth and divine grace. It is the ark of the salvation of man. It is the kingdom of God on earth. Christ Himself told us this: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew, 4:17), meaning the Church. Did you ever think that by our Baptism in the Orthodox faith we enter the kingdom of God and become members of the mystical body of Christ? The Church Fathers say that outside the Church there is no salvation, and rightly so, since whoever is not a member of the mystical body of Christ cannot have a spiritual life. Christ said this: “I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. . . .” (John, 15:5). When the branch of the vine is cut off at the trunk it withers. So it is when someone leaves the Church, cut off from the mystical body of Christ–he dries up spiritually.
Christ Himself established the Church. When? With His Incarnation and the calling of His disciples. To be sure, Pentecost is considered to be the founding day of the Church, because on that day the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire and taught the disciples all of the Truth, as Christ had promised. “The Comforter, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, Who proceeds from the Father. . .” (John, 15:26). “He will guide you into all the truth” (John, 16:13). The Church has Christ as its foundation. St. Paul says that it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians, 2:20). It is illumined and guided by the Holy Spirit, Who “grants all things . . . causes prophecies to abound, perfects the priests, sustains the whole institution of the Church.”This Church “the powers of death shall not prevail against” (Matthew, 16:18); It will be always invincible.
As we confess in the Creed, the Church has its characteristic marks. It is “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.”
The Church is One because one is her head–Christ. There are not many heads. Just one. Consequently, the true Church is only one. Everyone must become a member of this Church to be saved. Everyone, without exception. Whites, blacks, yellow-skinned and red-skinned, all are equal children of God and all have to be members of the One Church–the mystical body of Christ. Everyone must have the true faith. Whoever does not follow the true faith is a heretic and is cut off from the Church.
The Church is Holy because Christ, the head, is holy and without sin. Christ Himself sanctifies her. Here is what St. Paul says: “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians, 5:25-27). Although those who become members of the Church are sinners, within the Church, through divine grace, they are purified and sanctified–that is the purpose of the Church.
The Church is Catholic. This means two things: First, that it accepts all people (as many, of course, as want to become members) from all over the world without discrimination. The commandment of God to His Disciples was: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you. . . .” (Matthew 28:19-20). Second, “catholic” means that the Church has the “Catholic” faith, that is, the fullness of faith in Christ and in the Triune God, the true faith, the Orthodox faith.
The Church is Apostolic because the first representatives of Christ on earth were the Apostles. Their successors, that is, the Bishops, must have apostolic succession, but also apostolic faith and teachings, and they must govern the Church as did the Apostles. In the true Orthodox Church there exists canonical and uninterrupted apostolic succession. It is only by means of apostolic succession, which is given through the sacrament of ordination, that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, the true body of Christ, the treasury of divine grace and truth, the ark of man’s salvation.
Christ, You Who are the founder of the Church, the head of the body, and the vine of truth, we thank You because You accept us as members of Your mystical body. We glorify You because with Your great love You are willing to justify and glorify us as well. We ask that You make us, who were baptized as Orthodox Christians and who have become members of Your mystical body, never to go away from You; that our sin never become a cause of our separation from You. We also ask that You enlighten the heretics to return to Your Orthodox Church, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Lord, help everyone–all the people of the world–to hear Your Gospel and to become members of Your Church, Your mystical body. Lord, we thank You.
Our Church has seven sacraments, and they are the following:
3. Holy Eucharist
4. Repentance and Confession
7. Holy Unction
We have to say here that the great sacrament of our Church is the salvation of man through Christ. These things that we have called sacraments are holy ceremonies through which divine grace is transferred to man and which cleanses, sanctifies, and guides him to his salvation. Among the seven sacraments of the Church the first four are obligatory for everyone. They are necessary for the salvation of man. The next three are optional; in other words, they are received if the person wishes them for himself. An explanation is needed here. It is not necessary for someone to become a priest in order to be saved, but if someone is a priest, all the members of the Church are obliged to accept him as a priest. It is not necessary for someone to marry in order to be saved, but if Christians want to live with a partner they have to accept the sacrament of marriage or else they sin. And it is not necessary for the salvation of man to receive Holy Unction, but when all Christians are ready to die, they must accept it and respect it as a sacrament.
The sacraments are sent from God. Their beginning is found in the Holy Scriptures and in Tradition. When we write about each individual sacrament we will also refer to the Scriptural passages which established them.
When we speak about sacraments we have to know that the doctrines of the Church are also called sacraments. These are the supernatural and godly truths that remain incomprehensible and mysterious to the limited mind of man, and it is only with faith that man makes them a property of his soul.
We said that with the seven sacraments divine grace is imparted to man, cleansing, renewing, sanctifying him, and guiding his salvation. This does not mean that there are no other ways in which divine grace is imparted to man. There are prayer, sermons, study of Holy Scripture, blessing of water, venerating holy things and many other ways. Divine grace is imparted through all these ways, but these are not enough for the salvation of man. The seven sacraments, and especially the first four are absolutely necessary for his salvation.
We should also know that among the four compulsory sacraments, the first two, that is baptism and chrism, are never repeated. In other words, they are performed one time only for each person. Moreover, ordination is also never repeated. It is done only one time for the individual. Holy Communion, Repentance and Confession, and Holy Unction are repeated, and man should often partake of the Holy Eucharist, often repent and confess, and often approach Unction. Holy Matrimony is permitted to someone up to three times. This does not mean that a man can have simultaneously three wives. No. If he loses his first wife he may marry another, and if he loses the second he may marry a third. The same applies to the woman.
Lord Jesus Christ, You became man, were crucified, died as man on the cross, descended triumphantly into Hades, were resurrected and ascended, bringing human nature with You and You have made possible the mystery of our salvation. You also established the seven sacraments of our Church through which we especially receive the divine grace for our purification, cleansing, sanctification, and salvation. We thank You for all these. We give You as much praise and glory as our weak human powers permit. We fervently beg You, to open the eyes of our mind, heart, and soul to understand the great mystery of our salvation that comes from You and the seven sacraments. And not only to understand them, but to receive from them Your divine grace like the sap that nourishes the vine of our spiritual life, and through the sacraments to live united with You. Make us understand that this is the alpha and omega of our lives.