Lenten Lesson Four 2019

Wednesday Lenten Lessons
“The Liturgical Rituals of the Church and Their Meaning”
Lenten Lesson No. 4
by Archpriest Timothy Baclig

For the past three weeks my purpose has been to discuss with you
“the various rituals of our services and their meaning.” My objective has
been: to clarify the purpose and function of the rituals in our services and to
correct some misconceptions.
In the previous weeks I have explained the meaning of the
movements and processions in our prayer services. And last week I spoke
about the various rituals of the Holy Cross, especially the signing of the
cross and its blessings. Tonight I will be addressing the rituals of the
Sacraments. Next week we will conclude with the rituals of Holy Week.
Of the seven Sacraments of the Church, each have items that
accompany the prayers of the service:
Holy Baptism – water and oil; anointing with Chrism; tonsuring
(cutting) of hair; Holy Communion
Holy Confirmation – Chrism (blessed by the Bishop)
Holy Communion – Holy Bread and Wine, that becomes: the Body
and Blood of Christ and the antidoron [post communion bread]
Holy Confession – the priest’s stole (placed over the head of a
Holy Unction / Healing – oil, wheat and wine; seven candles; readings
of seven Epistles, Gospels and prayers
Holy Matrimony – candles, rings (of the “Betrothal”), crowns, and the
“common cup” of the Marriage Service
Ordination of a Deacon or Priest – vestments that begins with a
Deacon’s stikarion and orarion; then a priest’s epitrakeilion (stole),
epigonation, zone (belt), cuffs and pheloneon; pectoral cross (for an
Holy Communion is the “Sacrament of Sacraments;” that is to say, all
Sacraments of the church either lead to Holy Communion or are found
within the context of the Divine Liturgy. Today the only Sacrament that is
still fully within the context of the Divine Liturgy (and cannot be separated
from it) is the Sacrament of the Ordination of the Deacon or Priest because
their office includes the Eucharistic ministry, either as a priest or a deacon
in assisting the priest in the administration of Holy Communion.
Subdeacons and Readers are “tonsured” and vested for service in the
church, and prior to the start of the Liturgy. They are not ordained.
Holy Matrimony (“Marriage”) was at one time part of the Divine
Liturgy, however, mixed marriages, and second marriages, eventually
resulted in it being detached from the Eucharist with the “common cup”
used to symbolize the shared experience of a couple. Marriages were
originally performed by the state up until the 7th century when the ritual of
the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony was formed following the pattern of Holy
Baptism as a rite of initiation. Today, marriages of the church still require a
Marriage License from the State and our clergy are registered among the
“Officiants of the State.”
The Service of the Betrothal is done in the United States in
conjunction with the Sacrament of Marriage and not separate from it. That
is because it is the blessing of the bands (rings) of marriage. What we call
an “engagement” pertains to a “ring of promise” that is a Western concept
and not part of the Church’s Tradition. Today, the “blessing of the
engagement” is done with a short prayer at a reception for the couple
announcing their engagement. The Betrothal Service, on the other hand, in
Orthodox countries, is a formal service that publicly announced the couple
commitment to each other, prior to the wedding and formally brought the
families of the girl and boy together in preparation for the marriage.
As the church communities grew over the centuries, Sacraments
such as Holy Matrimony and Holy Baptism took on a characterization as a
“private family affair.” This was also true of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
(Confession) which eventually resulted in a private meeting with the priest;
also because the publicly confessed sins of some had a debilitating effect
on the faithful, who became discouraged with the knowledge of the
weaknesses of their leaders. Holy Unction, which began as a full service
within the context of the Great Church in the 7th century, is today annually
done in its fullness on the evening of Great and Holy Wednesday. It will be
included in my talk next week along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation
{known as “Confession”} since they bear a relationship to each other as
Sacraments that prepare one for Holy Communion.
The word “Sacrament” [mysterion in Greek] has been known to
include seven categorial “points of contact” that the Eastern Church
adopted for teaching purposes. The Orthodox never limited the
Sacraments to seven. Tertullian considered the Burial of the Dead a
Sacrament; others: the reading of the Gospel. In the East any prayer that
brings one to encountering Christ or invoking the All-Holy Trinity can be
considered Sacramental.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is also called the “Rite of Initiation.”
It is the first Sacrament for a child or an adult person being initiated into the
fullness of the Sacramental life of the church. In the Orthodox Church Holy
Baptism is not based upon the personal decision of a child; meaning: it is
not dependent upon a person reaching the “age of reason;” to make a
decision to be a Christian. The decision and responsibility rests with the
Sponsors and parents who are expected to raise the child nurtured in the
Faith. As a rule, Orthodox Baptism is by submersion, however, poured
running water is acceptable. There are two (2) oils used at Baptism: 1)
blessed oil for the first anointing of the child/adult and the blessed water,
and 2) the Sacrament of Chrism that is provided by the bishop. Additional
items used for Baptism include: a) candles, b) a cross, c) a new white
garment called “the robe of righteousness.”
The Service for the Blessing of the Water of Holy Theophany includes
prayers for the blessing of the water that are found in the Sacrament of
Holy Baptism. As with the event of Christ’s Baptism, the decent of the Holy
Spirit upon the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Water is blessed as the laver
of regeneration — for the washing of sanctification. Baptism therefore
becomes a re-presentation of one’s being buried with Christ and rising in
His Holy Resurrection. The Holy Chrism is a sealing with “the gift of the
Holy Spirit.” Then the newly illumined and baptized receives the Body and
Blood of Christ as the culmination of Baptism and Chrismation.
Next week, the final week of Great Lent, just prior to the start of Great
and Holy Week. We will examine the rituals and the historical formation of
Holy Week.