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Sacraments and Services

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Feasts & Fasts   Prayer

Heaven on Earth


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There are seven sacraments in the Orthodox Church but in many ways this is misleading as there are a lot more rites where God is encountered through a physical medium.  For example, the Great Blessing of the Waters at Theophany (Epiphany) has the character of baptismal blessing yet there may not be a person present to be baptised.  Nonetheless, the seven primary sacraments do have a certain consistency about them in that they are all linked to the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist) and involve the whole community.  They form the basis for understanding Orthodox sacramental theology.  Here is a tabulated explanation.  Each sacrament (and the other services that follow) has been given a link on its title to another web site for further exploration.  Most of the links are to extracts from Fr. Thomas Hopko's work: "The Orthodox Faith" posted on the Orthodox Church in America's web site.

Sacrament Description
Baptism A new member of the Body of Christ is received after water immersion in the name of the Trinity.  Adults becoming Orthodox are instructed in the faith before making their commitment.  Children are taught the faith as they grow up.
Chrismation After baptism the believer is sealed in the gift of the Holy Spirit by the use of blessed holy oil.  Infants are baptised in the Orthodox Church as well as adults and both receive Holy Communion immediately after the completion of both Sacraments.
Divine Liturgy
(Holy Eucharist)
Bread (Prosphora) and Wine are offered to God who changes them to be the Body and Blood of Christ for all the faithful who, receiving the Holy Gifts are strengthened and made fit for heaven.  Christ is present in these Holy Mysteries and is truly received by them in Holy Communion.
Confession (Penance
or Reconciliation)
All the baptised should make their confession as often as advised by his or her spiritual father.  The priest will offer counsel and absolution where appropriate.  Some choose not to receive Holy Communion until they have made their confession.  In some other Orthodox traditions it is necessary, not optional, to make a confession before receiving Holy Communion.
Holy Unction
The faithful are anointed with holy oil for the healing of body, mind and spirit.  The full service has 7 gospel readings within a modified Matins format.
Marriage The couple are prepared and then betrothed in the first part of the service.  In this part they give and receive rings.  Vows are not used.  In the second part of the service they are married by crowning ... a blessing with metal crowns or wreaths of flowers.  The first and second parts may be served separately.
Holy Orders The bishop ordains a deacon who may later be ordained a priest.  A bishop must be ordained by at least two other bishops.  A deacon serves the people, leads the prayers and sings the Gospel.  A priest cares for the people, preaches and serves the sacraments with other services.  A bishop exercises the pastoring and teaching in his diocese with the authority of Christ.  He alone can ordain others.  If he teaches error or is negligent in his duties, he and any other clergyman can be suspended or deposed, usually by the authority of a synod.

Services Having a Sacramental Character

Service Description
Great Blessing of the Waters (Theophany) At the end of the Liturgy of the Holy Theophany there is a service with readings and prayers to bless the waters of the font (or any body of water in nature).  The waters thus blessed are sprinkled over the people, drunk and kept at home in the icon corner.  Such water blessings can take place also on pilgrimages at holy wells associated with saints.  Homes of the faithful are blessed annually in the period of the Theophany.
Funeral and Burial The Funeral service consists of readings, prayers and the Last Kiss when the faithful and mourners pay their respects to the reposed who usually lies in an open coffin.  Cremation is not permitted in the Orthodox Church as a mark of respect for the body.  The committal takes place at the grave side.  A Memorial Service (Panikhida) with kolyva will take place at significant times after the burial.
Monastic Profession There are different degrees of monastic profession and differing styles of monastic living but no monastic orders with differing characteristics as in some non-Orthodox Christian traditions.

Other Services - The Daily Cycles of Prayer and Services of Intercession and Praise

Service Description
Vespers The evening service, usually sung at about 6pm on the previous day ... the time when the Orthodox liturgical day begins.
Matins The morning service, originally assigned to a very early hour of the morning in monasteries but in parish use in the Greek tradition served before the Liturgy at about 8 am (9 am or even later in the west) and after Vespers in the Slav tradition as a Vigil service on Saturday night.
Hours, Compline and Nocturne The monastic offices of prayer, some but usually not all of which are used in parishes.
Molieben A short prayer service, usually in veneration of a saint
Typica A prayer and readings service used when a priest is not available or where the community needs to pray and a priest is not strictly necessary.  This might be in a mission or in times of persecution.
The Akathist Hymn A devotional poem or chant for the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary.
The Paraklesis A service of intercession to a particular saint.
Akathist & Canon Index A comprehensive library of links

Many Blessings!

There are many other shorter services of blessing used on occasions as varied as blessing a fire engine to offering prayer for a childless couple.  They are gathered together in special pastoral collections and they are still being written.  We must also mention services of consecration for churches and blessings of their contents and other pastoral services connected with birth, marriage, death and dying.  In short, there is probably nothing human that the Church hasn't got a prayer for!

Key Principle 

Worship is offered to the glory of God and for the sanctification of all Creation, human and non-human.

Key Question  ask

What do I value most in my life?

More Resources!    br

1.  Church Etiquette - don't worry, there won't be a test!  Useful information though.

2.  The Eucharist   (Al Green's Site Index - works best in Internet Explorer)

3.  Orthodox Church Service Texts  (Al Green's Site Index - works best in Internet Explorer)

4 Orthodox Liturgical Glossary

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