In a sense, the Church’s whole life is sacrament. The more traditional term for the sacraments in the Orthodox Church is the holy mysteries. In the mysteries, the Christian is united with God, becoming a partaker of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). With all the sacraments, God is present for us in His divine energies, using physical means to convey Himself to his people.
The word mystery means both something beyond our understanding but also the mystical, which is that which unites the divine with the human. Historically, the word mystery refers not so much to a “thing” as to an “action,” God acting upon us.
There are seven generally recognized sacraments, though we’ve never made that number official. Two are sacraments of initiation into the Church, baptism (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:21) and chrismation (also called confirmation; Acts 8:14-17, 19:6). Another one completes the initiation and then nourishes the whole life of the Christian, the Eucharist, which is regarded as the highest of the sacraments (John 6:47-58; Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46).
The remainder of the sacraments are occasional: holy unction for the sick, an anointing with holy oil (James 5:14); confession for repentance and reconciliation with the Church (I John 1:9; James 5:16); marriage for joining one man with one woman for life (John 2, etc.), and ordination for those called to serve the Church in holy orders (Acts 6:1-6, 13:3; Titus 1:5; I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6).
All of the mysteries require preparation in the Church’s life, and so are not administered to the non-Orthodox (Matt. 7:6). The one exception is baptism, the mystery that unites the Christian with Christ in the Church, bringing him from being a believer in Christ as someone preparing for baptism to being a full member of the Body of Christ. And depending on how it was done and what was believed at the time, those who have received baptism in a non-Orthodox setting may receive chrismation so that they become Orthodox.
So we mentioned ordination. Who are the clergy of the Orthodox Church? What do they do?
Next Article: Clergy
Adapted from St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.