Sacraments are a religious ceremonies or acts of the Christian Church that is regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace. The Seven Sacraments are special occasions for experiencing God’s saving presence. Theologians refer to sacraments as signs and instruments of God’s grace. Church Sacraments are viewed special experiences by Orthodox Christians. This is a time when the perception of God’s presence and actions is heightened and celebrated. In these special events of the Church, God discloses Himself through the prayers and actions of His people.
Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us, but also they serve to make us receptive to God by affecting our personal relationship with God and to one another. Orthodox Christians, by participating in Sacraments, will grow closer to God and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process of praise takes place within the context of a believing community, not in isolation from others.
In summary, a sacrament is one of the means God has chosen to influence our life in the direction of his purpose for giving us life. The Seven Sacraments as a whole are considered as manifestations of the faith and tenets of the religion of the Church. A whole series of sacred acts make up a Sacrament. The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of different services that date back to the time of Apostles and include; prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures, and processions. The Seven Sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Each of the Seven Sacraments has its own book of prayer and system of application.
Baptism is a ceremony of initiation into Christianity. The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. 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 the basis of the whole Orthodox Christian life, as we are born of the water and the Spirit. Baptism is necessary for salvation (John 3:5), and conveys a permanent sign that the new Christian is a child of God. Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-11) and heaven was opened, and the mystery revealed (John 3:3) (Mathews 3:16). By accepting this truth, our Church baptizes people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holly Spirit in order to make them Children of Jesus Christ. In the book of Mathew, Jesus Christ told his disciples to go and baptize all the people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holly Spirit and make them disciples (Mathew 28:19). For this reason, the Church baptizes everyone and makes him or her true Child of God. In Orthodox Church, baby boys will be baptized on their 40th day of birth while girls have to be baptized on their 80th day of birth (Leviticus 12).
It is the holy ointment that one is anointed with after Baptism. Confirmation, like Baptism, is performed once and cannot be repeated or delayed until a later age. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil saying: “The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. Through the sacrament of confirmation, the believer is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Apostolic times the baptized person was granted the Holy Spirit by laying of the hands (Acts 20:14-17).When the church expanded, however, the bishops who continued the works of the Apostles permitted the replacement of the laying of hands by the anointing of the Holy Oil. The sacrament emphasizes the truth that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation.
3. The Eucharist/ Holy Communion
The Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, is the central and most important worship experience of the Orthodox Church. Often referred to as the “Sacrament of Sacraments,” it is the Church’s celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The essential signs of the sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked during the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body…This is the cup of my blood…” (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The bread and wine, through Transubstantiation, become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and we receive the Real Presence of Jesus when we receive Holy Communion. Our soul is nourished, helping us to become like Christ. The Eucharist is the heart and source of community within the Church. Receiving Holy Communion with others during the Mass brings unity of the Church, the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 10:16-17).
This is the sacrament through which the clergy are entitled to perform the various spiritual services of the Church, and it has Biblical basis (Mt. 28:19, 20; Eph. 4:11; Acts 26:20). 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. According to Orthodox teaching, 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.
Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are three major orders each of which requires a special ordination. These are Bishop, who is viewed as a successor of the Apostles, Priest, and Deacon, who act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities.
5. Holy Matrimony/Marriage
Marriage is a public sign that one gives oneself totally to this other person. It is also a public statement about God: the loving union of husband and wife speaks of family values and also God’s values. God is active in our lives and joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. In Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and 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. In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with “crowns of glory and honor” signifying the establishment of a new family under God.
6. Confession/Reconciliation/Mystery of Penance
Confession is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. It is an ancient Orthodox practice for every Christian to have a spiritual father (Neseha Abat) to whom one turns for spiritual advice and counsel. 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. Through the Sacrament, Christ our Lord continues to heal those broken in spirit and restore the Father’s love for those who are lost. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitents confess to God and are forgiven by God. Confession can take place on any number of occasions. The frequency is left the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.
In sacrament of reconciliation, we find God’s unconditional forgiveness; as a result we are called to forgive others.
7.Unction of The Sick/Anointing of the Sick
Unction of the sick is the Sacrament through which the priest anoints the body of the sick asking for divine grace to cure both body and soul. When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Unction as it is also known, remind us that when we are in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death. It is not an ordinary means of healing diseases, and the healing power is not attributed to the oil but to the prayer. As with Chrismation (confirmation), oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven epistle lessons, seven gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil.