Subject: The Seven Sacraments
Age: 8 to 18 years
Liturgical Time: Any
Direct Aim: This lesson intends to briefly introduce or review the sacraments with students. Further study on Baptism is available in two parts: Baptism I and Baptism II.
www.goarch.org – the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese contains a wealth of information about the Sacraments under "Our Faith." (items with asterisks can be found in St. Catherine's bookstore)
Carlton, Clark, The Faith: An Orthodox Catechism
Coniaris, Fr. Anthony M., How to Prepare for Communion
Coniaris, Fr. Anthony M., How to Prepare for Confession
Coniaris, Fr. Anthony M., How to Prepare to be a Godparent
Coniaris, Fr. Anthony M., Introducing The Orthodox Church
Coniaris, Fr. Anthony M., Making God Real in the Orthodox Home
Grube, Fr. George, The Orthodox Church A to Z: A Handbook for Orthodox Christians
Harakas, Stanley S., Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers St. Nektarios, Repentance and Confession and Return, Repentance and ConfessionSchmemann, Alexander, The Eucharist
Schmemann, Alexander, Of Water & The Spirit
Icons: Baptism of Christ, Wedding at Cana (2 types), The Last Supper (2 types)
candles, Stephana, cards, Baptismal photo album and other items for the Sacraments
Children's Books: Christina Learns the Sacraments
Aleksiev, Archimandrite Seraphim, The Forgotten Medicine
Chryssavgis, John, Love, Sexuality, and the Sacrament of Marriage
Coniaris, Fr. Anthony M., These Are the Sacraments"The chief purpose of the sacraments is to impart to the believer the life of Christ." When we participate in the sacraments (mysteries), we are encountering Christ in a personal and direct manner. Therefore, we are to approach the sacraments with faith, reverence, and surrender. (Coniaris, These Are the Sacraments)
Lesson 1: Baptism and Chrismation
"As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ forevermore, Alleluia" Orthodox hymns based on Galations 3:27.
"For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" Acts 1:5
Although He didn't need it, Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist because we need to be washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism. We are commanded by Jesus to be baptized. He said to the apostles, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 28:19)
Through Baptism, we become part of the Body of Christ and are united to God. In the Orthodox Church, people are baptized with total immersion in the baptismal water as they were in the early days of Christianity, and as St. John baptized in the River Jordan. We are immersed three times representing the Trinity and also the three days that Jesus was in the tomb. We are immersed in the water so that we die to sin. As Jesus rises from death in the Resurrection, we then rise up out of the water to a new life in Christ. For this reason, baptism is sometimes referred to as a "personal Pascha (Easter)." The two most important parts of Baptism are the triple immersion in water and calling on the Trinity, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In some Christian churches, people are not baptized until they reach an "age of reason." The Orthodox Church doesn't require intellectual ability to become baptized and, thus, a member of the Body of Christ. Instead, the Church sees Baptism as a gift of love from God. Therefore, babies are baptized even though they are too young to understand. Baptism bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit to the baby in the hope that the baby will choose Christ later in life. During the Sacrament of Baptism, the person goes from darkness to light which is represented by the baptismal candles. Because of this, baptism is also called "Illumination."
Chrismation is the anointment of the body with Holy Chrism Oil in the Name of the Holy Spirit in order to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is intended to strengthen a person in his or her spiritual life. As Baptism is thought of as a "personal Pascha," Chrismation is often referred to as a "personal Pentecost." Just as the apostles and followers of Christ received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the person being Chrismated is imbued with the Holy Spirit. The word Chrismation come from the Greek word "Chrism" (χρίσμα) which means "anointing." Chrismation immediately follows Baptism in the Orthodox Church just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove immediately after he was baptized. Baptism is done with water and Chrismation is a "Baptism" of the Holy Spirit. "…Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
If you have an Orthodox Study Bible, read the articles about John the Baptist (p. 84), Holy Baptism (p. 352), and Chrismation (p. 274).
Read Mark 1:1-15, Luke 1:5-25, John 1:6-34 Acts 19:1-6.
Lesson 2: The Eucharist and Confession
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body: for we all partake of that one bread." 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:5
The Eucharist, or Communion, is considered the most important of all the Sacraments. At the Last Supper, Jesus offered thanks to God for the bread and the wine. This is why Communion is called the "Eucharist" from the Greek word, "efharistia" (Ευχαριστία), meaning "thanks." We receive our first Eucharist immediately following Baptism and Chrismation. The Eucharist is the partaking of the actual Body and Blood of the Risen Christ. It is a gift of God's grace in which we take Christ into our bodies and souls. As in the first days of Christianity, the Orthodox Church believes the bread and wine of the Eucharist become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Consecration portion of the Divine Liturgy. We become part of the family of God when we take Communion. It unites us with other Orthodox Christians because we share in the same Christ, reminding us that the same Christ lives in us all. As with all of the Sacraments, the Eucharist is holy and requires us to prepare for it through "self-examination, fasting, prayer, repentance, and forgiveness" (Coniaris, Introducing the Orthodox Church, p.138). "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:53-54)
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) Sin is turning away from God. The Sacrament of Confession, or Repentance, is one of the means by which our sins are forgiven. We are cleansed from sin; hence Confession is called a "new Baptism." In the early church, Confession was made publicly, but it became private after the 4th century. Now, we confess to God and are forgiven by God in the presence of a priest who acts as a witness and represents Christ and the congregation. The priest is not the one who forgives us of our sins; only Christ forgives us through the priest. We are to confess to God everyday because we sin everyday. "A young monk complained to the great ascetic, Abba Sisoes: ‘Abba, what should I do? I fell.' The Elder answered: ‘Get up.' The monk said: ‘I got up and fell again!' The Elder replied: ‘Get up again!' But the young monk asked: ‘for how long should I get up when I fall?' ‘Until your death,' answered Abba Sisoes." (Aleksiev, p. 33-34). We confess every time we say the Lord's Prayer, but we are to make Confession with our priest a regular part of our spiritual journey and practice, also. "… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." (Is. 1:18)
Make an appointment for Confession with Fr. Lou or Fr. Paul before Pascha.
Read Matt. 26:17-30, Luke 22:1-23, 1 Cor. 11:28, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9.
Read the articles on the Eucharist (p. 392) and Confession (p. 571) in the Orthodox Study Bible.
Lesson 3: Holy Unction, Matrimony, and Ordination
"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. And the prayers of the faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. " (James 5:14-15)
"Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." (Gen.2:24) "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint…" (Acts 6:3)
Holy Unction is the Sacrament of anointing with Holy Oil when one is sick, spiritually, physically, or emotionally. It helps to remind us that Christ is with us through our pain and illness. Holy Unction is offered to all Orthodox Christians on Holy Wednesday and, as needed, at any time of the year. The Church is a hospital, and Christ is the Great Physician. The anointing with oil in the name of the Lord combined with having faith are the key ingredients for healing according to James (see key verse above). Olive oil was considered to have healing powers in ancient times. The Good Samaritan used oil along with wine on the victim's wounds (Luke 10:25-37). Holy Unction is not magic in that everyone will return to good physical health after receiving it, though it can happen. Bishop Ware quotes Sergius Bulgakov: "This sacrament has two faces: one turns towards healing, the other towards the liberation from illness by death." (Ware, p.297) As the passage above from James indicates, the anointing can also be a means for the forgiveness of sins.
Matrimony is the Sacrament in which a man and a woman are joined together before God and the world to become husband and wife. In Matrimony, a new relationship is formed between the couple, God, and the Church. The couple is to encourage one another in the Christian life and to grow closer to God. During the ceremony, they wear crowns signifying the grace received from the Holy Spirit. They are also crowns of martyrdom as self-sacrifice on both sides is a part of true marriage. Coniaris writes, "…we have invited the Lord Jesus to enter this all-important relationship to redeem it, to give us the grace and the power to be patient… to be loving…to be forgiving… to be kind… to be understanding. For all this we need his grace, His presence, His love and his power." (Introducing the Orthodox Church, p.138)
The Sacrament of Ordination is when a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop with the consent of the people. They are pastors, teachers, and representatives of the parish. The first bishops were ordained by the apostles. There has been a continuous line of bishops originating from the apostles called "Apostolic Succession." This is one of the reasons that we know that the Orthodox Church has been the true Church of Christ throughout history. Lay people are "ordained" into the Church through Chrismation and can perform Baptisms in cases of emergency. There were female deacons (‘deaconesses") in the early centuries of the Church. They performed pastoral duties, particularly for women.
Make plans to receive the Sacrament of Holy Unction at a Holy Wednesday service.
Read the articles about Healing (p. 547), Marriage (p. 449), and Ordination (p. 303) in the Orthodox Study Bible.
Click on the title below to obtain each lesson currently available within the series.