Back to Basics Theology - Part 7
I chose a bright color for this spring season, for the presentation this morning, but it turned out that the winter came back! It is a (…) that used to be a few weeks ago, but, anyways, at least it is spring in here, that’s why we have bright colors in the presentation this morning. Our topic today is about the doctrine of The Sacraments. In the series that we started almost seven weeks ago, we started out by speaking about Theology, the doctrine about God, we spoke about The Holy Trinity, we spoke about Christ; Christology, who is He, and what did He do, which is Sutriology, we spoke about Salvation, we spoke about the nature of sin, the nature of human being sin and grace, we spoke also about Ecclesiology, our doctrine of the church, which was last week, and then today, God willing, we will speak about the doctrine of the Sacraments, and then we will conclude the series, God willing, next week, on palm Sunday, by speaking about Escathology or The End of Things or The End of Times, what is the doctrine of the church about the second coming of The Christ, and what will happen at the end of times, the end of days. Let’s set for ourselves a little agenda, a table of contents.Basically, we are going to have a little introduction about the subject. We are going to try to define what are the sacraments, and how to understand them in the church. We are to discuss why God uses matter in order to relay to us the means of His Grace. Why couldn’t He, you know, just offer salvation, or offer His Grace by the word of His mouth? It is an important question!Then we are going to briefly introduce The Seven Sacraments of the church, very briefly. Much more talk could be said about the subject, but we it is going to be sufficient for us to just give a very general introduction, and then finaly we will have a conclusion. It was said that in the beginning, or as soon as Father Pishoy Ka… who served in Alexandria, after his ordination, it was after coming back from the forty days at the monastery, it was almost at the beginning of the holy lent. When he passed by His Holiness Pope Kyrolos VI, Pope Kyrolos asked him to try and pray and define Liturgy every day, at least during the holy lent. He found that it was going to be a burden on him, especially at the beginning of his ministry; he needed time for visitation, and he needed time to resolve all the problems, but as soon as he went back to Alexandria, and he had a marital problem, and he spent on it hours and hours. It was at the beginning of the holy lent, and he said, “How about if we pray a Devine Liturgy tomorrow?” So, he went and prayed the Devine Liturgy, and then he came back, and he came back and he found that the problem was resolved between the couple! He said, “While we were wasting our time in discussion, and each one trying to come half way, etc…, God was at work in the Devine Liturgy, and it was through this amazing sacrament that the problem was resolved”.Even amongst us here from individuals who have been baptized, and experienced the true understanding of the holy mysteries and sacraments; upon coming out of the baptismal font, quite often I hear this expression: “I feel so much lighter! A burden has been taken away from my shoulders! God was at work when I was inside this baptismal font, and now I am coming out of it as a new person, all renewed, all clean, a brand new individual!” For many people looking at things like mountains, or lakes or nature in general, they see just the physical aspect that is in front of their eyes; a bunch of trees, or a bunch of water gathered in one place, but to a Christian, looking at them means much more! Looking at a mountain and raising our eyes from where our help comes from, as we raise our eyes to the mountain, as David the prophet said; looking at the water, and seeing Christ in it, as The Living Water who will quench our thirst; looking at nature and remembering Psalms 19 that says “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments speak of His handy work”, thus we have and understanding of the sacraments that it is something that is physical, yet it carries with it a deeper meaning, and it is a means of relaying Grace to us as human beings. The word that is used for Sacraments (the word sacrament itself is not used in The Holy Scriptures), is “Mysterio”, translated as “Mystery”. Basically, the Sacraments are “Outward signs of Inward Grace”, and have to be Divinely instituted for our sanctification. For a mystery to be a Sacrament, it needs these three qualifications:1. It has to have an Outward Sign, 2. It has to relay to us Inward Grace, 3. It has to be divinely instituted for our sanctification. Some other denominations look at the sacraments and they say that they are just mere signs, mere outwardly signs, and not relay unto us human beings any kind of Grace from God, but we believe that they cause Grace, and they are a very important part of our Salvation. In The Holy Scriptures, the word Sacrament or Mystery is used in two ways or means. · First of all, the Scriptures speak about the mysteries of knowledge, and then they speak about the mysteries of Grace. I will give you some examples from The Holy Scriptures that speak about the holy mysteries as knowledge; Mysteries of knowledge:“Surely, The Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secrets to His servants the prophets”, in Amos 3:7.“To you it has been given to know the mysteries (or the hidden truths) of The Kingdom of God”, in Luke 8:10.“We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery; the hidden truth which God ordained before the aged of our Glory”.As we can see here, Mysteries are used in the sense of knowledge, we do not know everything.“The mystery (which is a secret or hidden truth), which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” Colossians 1:26. · The word Mystery can also be used for the grace which is relayed or conveyed to us in the means of the sacraments. We speak for example about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony as a great mystery; “A man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…”, this is a great mystery, or a sacrament “…but I speak concerning Christ and The Church”, Ephesians 5:31,32. The question that often comes to us, or when certain individuals or some denominations attack the sacraments, they say that “God is in no need to relay His Grace through matter. God can just relay His Grace through His word, through verbal means, and not necessarily through matter”.But if we are going to take this concept to everything, if God just wanted to relay His Grace through verbal means, He would never have incarnated, and became a human being! Just the fact of incarnation is the greatest proof that God as he created us a body, a mind, a soul or spirit, He also wants to use matter, things that are physical, things that we can touch and feel, in order to relay this Grace to us. God chose to become a human being, and thus give us a true example of His love, a sacrificial love. God could have saved by a word of His mouth, when He was in heaven. But He chose to take flesh, and become human. Also, in the story of the Gospel that we red today, the healing, or the opening of the eyes of the man who was born blind, we find that Christ asked him to go the lake, and he spat and made some clay on his eyes and he went, and he asked him to go and wash it. Again, he could have healed him by the power of his mouth, his word, but he wanted to give him something physical; the clay, and the spit, and he asked him to go and wash, which is the part that he had to contribute, in order to receive this Grace. So, in the Holy Sacraments, and the Mysteries of the church, there is always something that is material or physical, that we can see and touch, and through it, God will work to reveal to us His plan, and to give us His Grace.In the sacrament of The Holy Eucharist, we have the bread and wine. In baptism, we have water and oil. In the Chrismation, we have the oil. In the holy matrimony, we have the garments, and the crown and the anointing with oil, etc, in the ordination of a priest; we have the laying of hands, and thus we see that every sacrament, as we have said a bit earlier, it has an outward physical or material sign, and it conveys to us an inward Grace, and it has to be divinely instituted as we will see from The Holy Scriptures in a minute. Let us have a quick look at The Seven Sacraments of the church, and how the Holy Scriptures have spoken about them as a mystery, as a sacrament, how they have been instituted, and how they have been used in the history of the church.Let’s start with:1. The Sacrament of Baptism, which is the door to all the other sacraments.Unless one is baptized, this individual can not enjoy all the other sacraments. This is the door, the entrance in to the life of the church.Our Lord Jesus said to his disciples, to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations and baptizing them in the name of The Father, and of The Son, and of The Holy Spirit”, Mathew 28:18,19, and He spoke to Nicodemus saying, “Unless a man is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven”. Baptism has to be through immersion. The word “Baptize” itself, in Greek means to be died, to be fully immersed, and as we see Christ coming out of the water, he was fully immersed in the water. Therefore The Orthodox church believes in immersion, during the holy baptism. Also, in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, we find that he also was brought right inside the water, and his body was covered with water, and then when he came out, he received the Holy Spirit.Therefore, our church is very literal, and important for us to observe the sacraments by the way they were instituted by Our Lord Jesus, and in The Holy Scriptures.Some people ask about “Pedobaptizm” or infant baptism, and they say that there isn’t much mention of children baptism, and that’s why they delay the baptism of children until they are older. But we find that the Scriptures say that certain families were baptized together upon the acceptance of the faith of the leader or the father of their family. In Acts 2:38,39 we read the following verse:“The Peter said to them:”Repent and let one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin and you shall receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, as many as our Lord Our God will call”. Therefore, the promise is open only for the others, but also for the children, and there are many more verses that we can mention, regarding this point, but as we said, this is going to be a very quick overview, because of our time.We need to understand that baptism is not just an outwardly ritual, but in it, we put on Christ. We become a part of the vine. Christ’s life is embedded is, and we are fixed in the true vine with Jesus Christ, we put on Christ, and this is basically what St Paul has said in his epistle to the Galatians. Galatians 3:27:“For as many of you, who were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. This is the beauty of Christianity; it is that it has no distinction whatsoever between race or socio-economic status or gender differences; once we are baptized into Christ we are all at the same level. God does not show any favoritism towards anyone. 2. Secondly, the sacrament of Confirmation is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It was mentioned several times in The Holy Scriptures that in the last days, God will pour out His Holy spirit upon all the people, including the simple people, and the humble ones, and the hand-made of God. This verse was quoted in the book of Acts chapter two, when St Luke said “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that God, says God, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophecy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams, and my on my male servants and maid servants I will pour out my spirit in those days.”That the sacrament of Confirmation is the sacrament of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and it is a seal and is anointed as mentioned in the Holy Scriptures that we have a seal from God and the anointing from The Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, only priests and Kings and Prophets were anointed by the Holy oil, and they received the Holy Spirit. But in The New Testament, the access is open to anyone, to any believer who is willing to receive the seal and the anointing of God.God is now making us together His people, and the seal He is giving us, the Confirmation of receiving the Holy Spirit is this Blessed Sacrament. It is an aid for growth and confirmation in the good works. Now we are aided by the Holy Spirit. We are not just baptized like a child who is born...so baptism represents the physical birth of a child from her mom, and then conformation represents the continuous aid and support of this mom to the child in feeding and providing clothes and shelter, and taking them to school… This Sacrament represents the aid of God and His support to us that we carry through our lives. 3. Thirdly, we look at the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession. Again, it is not just confession, but it has to have attached to it Repentance, because it is not just a matter of going and speaking to our spiritual father, confession father, “This is what I have done”, then we go back and do just the same thing again and again. It is a matter of having a true repentant heart to God, where we are asking Him to really change us from the inside, and make us renew the vows that we took at the day of our baptism. Some people say; “Shouldn’t we confess to God? Why should we have to go through a priest?”Well, confessing to God is definitely a part of the confession process and the repentance process.When we look at this sacrament holistically, we find that there are four types of confession mentioned in The Holy Scriptures. Confession could be just an outward admission of our faith, if we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth, this is just another kind of confession, where we just witness; it just means witness. But, confession of one’s sins has to have all these four areas in them.First of all, we should to confess to ourselves. I need to admit to myself that I have done wrong just like the father … I will go and raise, and go to my father, and tell him, “Father, I have sinned”. This is an inner means of repentance and cleansing and going back on track. Secondly, my confession has to be to God, just like David the Prophet said: “To You only I have Sinned, and done this even before you”. Thirdly, my confession has to a priest, as God’s representative, or into God in the presence of a priest. When we look in the epistle of St James, we find that he is speaking about praying for one another, and calling on the priest to anoint, and also confessing to one another. “, Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”. Finally I should confess to others whom I have wronged against. Here we return or we refer to Mathew 5:24 that speaks; if you go and offer, make your offering on the altar and then your remember that your brother or sister have something against you, leave your offering there, go reconcile with them first, and then come back and make your offering.4. We have spoken about the Sacrament of Eucharist in details a few weeks ago, and we can go back to this particular sermon, you can find it on the church’s website, but is sufficient for us to remember John 6:53 that says: “The Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless yuou eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you”’. So, this is not an option but a command by The Lord Jesus Christ who have instituted this sacrament for our salvation. Unless we partake of the Holly Sacrament, we are spiritually dead.5. The Sacrament of Priesthood has been instituted by Our Lord Jesus, and the gospel of St John towards its end, just before The Lord left His disciple, in John 20:22,23 where He said: “And we have said this to them; He breathes on them, and said to them “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””. So, this is a special commission to His disciples, to the apostles, where God is giving them the ability to forgive… God is The One who forgives, but He is passing on this responsibility to the priests in order to instruct the people in God’s way, just like; the law when it is set in a country, the judge will have the authority to implement this law according to the order of Melchisedech.We have to be clear that the Old Testament priesthood is different with the New Testament priesthood. The Old Testament priesthood, presented blood sacrifices on the altar, but the New Testament priesthood is according to the order of Melchisedech, meaning that our offering is bread and wine, as we have seen from The Old Testament, from Melchisedech, and if Christ Jesus is the High Priest, according to the order of Melchisedech, therefore any High Priest must have priests who follows him. Because some people say, “We are all priests. There are two ways: Either we are all priests, or there are no priests: Only Christ is The Priest”, but Christ has set order in His Church, and the lay priesthood is only a symbolic priesthood. As for the sacrament itself, there is coordination, and there are ranks in the church, and there is an order. Priesthood is a calling and an honor, as mentioned in Hebrews 5:4, and in I Timothy 5:17, and we see that those who are in priesthood…”No man takes this honor by himself, but he who is called by God”, Hebrews 5:4, and “Let the elders or the priests who rule well be counted worth of double honor”, in I Timothy 5:17.6. The Sacrament of Matrimony is important, as the Lord says, we should live and cleaved. It is unity and body and soul and spirit. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined (or cleaved) to his wife. They are no longer two, but one body”. This is a mystery in itself. When they are coming out of the church, they don’t all of a sudden become Siamese twins, like, stuck together, right? But this is the mystery, this is the Sacrament, it is that they have been joined in the spirit. They now have one goal and one aspiration, towards life and towards the future. This is an everlasting bond, as The Lord Jesus Christ was asked by the Pharisees at that time, “Should a man leave his wife for any reason”, and he said that the only separation that should happen or divorce was in terms of infidelity. But this bond that has come together between a man and a woman, it is everlasting. And in it, St Paul speaks in Ephesians 5; that they should have love and respect among themselves.7. The anointing of the sick, it is the sacrament in the church, which gives healing to the body and the soul and the spirit. It is a commandment that was given by The Lord Jesus to his disciples, in Mathew 10:8 as they go into the towns and the countries, and how they should heal the sick. This is the prayer that is performed by the clergy as commanded in James 5:14-16 that, “If anyone is sick among you, let him call for the priest or the elders of the church. They will pray for him; if he has sinned, he will be forgiven, and if he has committed any sin, it will be forgiven, and if he or she may have any ailments of the body or the soul, it will be healed. My favorite words: In Conclusion! When I visited South Africa, some years ago with a group of youth, His Grace Bishop Antonius Markus told us this amazing story. He said that, as you are aware of, many places in Africa, they live in tribes, and each tribe will have, like a head, or a leader. And he said that the man who was the leader of a very large tribe, he got an ailment; he was sick, and his leg was almost cut off because of (26:40). Many of the people there believe in, like evil spirits, and they do a lot of black magic, and things like that, so first of all, he tried all these things.; he had people who… you they tried to heal him in so many different ways, but nothing worked. Then someone said, “Well, the Coptic Church which is in South Africa, has this sacrament called the Sacrament of the Healing of the Sick. How about we try it?” He said, I don’t know if it is going to work, like, I have tried everything. Then they decided to call His Grace Bishop Antonius Markus to say, this man who is almost as High ranking as a minister for example; very well known in the country… so they called the Bishop, and said, this is the situation, so what can we do? The Bishop said all we can do is to pray, and we can do the sacrament of the healing of the sick. So, for seven days, the Bishop went to him, and he anointed him with the oil from this sacrament, and after the seven days were finished, the man was healed. The man was completely healed, and the doctors were amazed, and they wondered what happened. This is an amazing miracle! This was a means for God to spread the word about The Coptic Church in South Africa, because so many people looked up to him, and the man was himself baptized, and he started to preach, and to announce about the church in the entire region.After many years, this man passed away, and they had the most amazing funeral. Over there, when they have a funeral, especially for like a VIP, it doesn’t take a day or two, it takes three months. They have the funeral after three months; they make sure that everyone knows about the deceased man. Bishop Antonius Markus said that this funeral was attended by almost 10.000 people, and in it, his son started to speak about the miracle that God performed through The Coptic Church, and they witnessed to their faith about the church, and it was an amazing way that so many people accepted the faith, and were baptized thereafter. It is amazing really how we encounter the sacraments in our church! We sometimes feel that it is a matter of routine, or a matter of going and doing whatever whenever, and it doesn’t matter, but when we give the holly sacraments of the church its (29:11) for respect and understanding, we will gain so much blessings from God, and Grace which will be transferred over to us.To each one has received a gift, minister to one another as good stewards of the manful Grace of God. This is a meaning of receiving Grace, as God has given us these gifts, and we should benefit from it, and benefit towards one another.The church is the home base for dispensing the sacraments, and that’s why in the Orthodox understanding of the sacraments, we know that we must be part of the body. We cannot separate ourselves from the body of Christ, but our physical presence right here together, means a lot of blessings to ourselves, to our households, to our communities, as we receive the means of Grace through the Holy Sacraments. May The Lord grant us today Salvation of our souls, a special blessing, and a true understanding and practice of the holly sacraments, and Glory be to God forever and Ever.