THE SACRAMENTS


THE RIGHT REV. NICHOLAI, Bishop of Ochrida

FAITH AND ORDER: PROCEEDINGS OF THE WORLD CONFERENCE Lausanne, August 3-21, 1927 George H Dorin Company, New York, 1927 ed. H. N. Bate

THE SACRAMENTS / Saturday morning, August 13th

The Conference met in full session on Saturday morning to consider Subject VI, The Sacraments. The chair was taken by Sir Henry Lunn, and the session was opened at 9:30 with devotions led by General- Superintendent Dr Schian.

The following paper, prepared by the Rt. Rev. Nicholai, Bishop of Ochrida, was read in his absence by Archbishop Germanos.

There are seven Sacraments in the Church militant on earth: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Ordination (Cheirotonia), Marriage and Extreme Unction. In the East the Sacraments are still called Mysteries. Why? Because each one of them hides in itself a mysterious and miraculous action of God the Holy Spirit. The very kernel of each of them consists of this mysterious and miraculous divine action. In the Christian Mysteries we do not know HOW but we know THAT, i.e., we do not know how the Holy Spirit works in a Mystery but we know that He works in and through it.

In the Mystery of Baptism God the Holy Spirit cleanses the soul from sin, so that the soul receives God's sonship by grace and is recruited into the army of Christ the Saviour. Baptism effectuates such a tremendous change in a man that is called the new birth (John iii, 5). Baptism was ordered by the Lord (Matt xxviii, 19). "Whosoever is unbaptised cannot be saved, except the martyrs, who even without the water (but by the blood) receive the Kingdom of God" (Cyril of Alexandria).

In the Mystery of Confirmation, God the Holy Spirit fills the soul previously cleansed and emptied from sin by Baptism, with positive powers or gifts. And the gifts are different. Confirmation was ordained and instituted through the practice of the Apostles (Acts viii, 15-17; xix, 1-6; 2 Cor i, 20-22).

In the Mystery of the Eucharist and at the moment of the priest's invocation, God the Holy Spirit descends on the bread and wine which have been set forth and sanctified, and transubstantiates them into Christ's body and blood (not transforms them but transubstantiates them; for the substance is changed while the form of bread and wine remain to our eyes unchanged).

This Mystery of the perpetual love of God through sacrifice was ordered and instituted by the Lord (Matt xxvi, 26-28; John vi, 53-57; I Cor. x, 16-17; xi, 23-26). So Christ Himself is our real food; He communicates Himself to us, that He may make us true men, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, the very members of His immortal body. So great is the love of God that in this Mystery the Lord gives us not only His gifts, as in other Mysteries, but Himself. Greater love than this does not exist either in heaven or on earth.

In the Mystery of Penance, or rather of Absolution, God the Holy Spirit forgives man his new sins done after Baptism. Thereby the man becomes again clean before his God. A sinner travels away from his God into a foreign land and becomes a companion of swine, throwing his pearl - his soul - to the swine. Sin being repented of, confessed and forgiven, man gets the liberty to enter again the house of his Father. The parable of the Prodigal Son explains clearly the origin and nature of sin, of true repentance, of confession and absolution (Luke xv, 11ff). The Lord Jesus ordered and instituted this Mystery through His words and actions (Luke vii, 47; Matt xviii, 18). The Apostles understood their Master and followed faithfully His example and His commandment (I John i, 8-10; Acts iii, 19; xix, 18).

In the Mystery of the Ordination of priests, God the Holy Spirit gives the special grace of Orders to the priest, the minister of the mysteries in the Kingdom of God on earth, i.e. in the Church militant. This grace He gives through the act of the laying-on of the hands of the Apostles and their successors upon the head of those who have been found worthy. In the priestly performance of a Mystery man counts almost for nothing, but the grace of God the Holy Spirit is all-important. The priest, therefore, is not allowed to say, "I baptize thee," or "I forgive thee," or "I unite you" in marriage, etc.; for the real performer of a Mystery is the Lord the Holy Spirit. This Mystery was commanded and instituted by the Lord and His Apostles (John xv, 16; Acts vi, 2-6; xx, 28; 2 Timothy i, 6).

In the Mystery of Marriage, God the Holy Spirit by His grace unites two human beings, man and woman, for the special purpose of the growth of the Church of God according to God's commandment (Gen ix,1) and for the mutual help of husband and wife in the work of their salvation. This Mystery was ratified by the Lord Jesus (Matt xix, 5-6). He Himself sanctified the bond of marriage through His presence at the marriage in Cana of Galilee (John ii, 1). The Apostle Paul, seer of the highest Mysteries, declares to us that marriage is a great mystery (Eph v, 22 ff).

In the Mystery of Extreme Unction, God the Holy Spirit comes to man's life in its last emergency and heals the sick. The purpose of the Mystery thus performed is described by St James (v, 14-15) as the restoration of health and the remission of sins. This Mystery was practiced and ordered by the Apostles from the very beginning (Mark vi, 13).

And thus we have seven divine Mysteries as the seven different workings of God the Holy Spirit, who is the true Dispenser, the Lifegiver, the Mover and the Treasurer of all divine gifts in the Church of Christ on earth. Five of these Mysteries are related rather to the personal life and personal salvation of each member of the Church, namely, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, and Unction; and two of them are related to the good of the whole Church, namely, Orders and Marriage. The first five mean: emptying (Baptism), filling (Confirmation), feeding (Eucharist), freeing (Penance) and healing in the last emergency (Unction). The last two mean: the increase of the Church (Marriage) and the ministration of the Mysteries in the Church under the all-powerful God the Holy Spirit (Orders).

Now when the question is raised as to which of these seven Mysteries is more and which is less important, the question inflicts a wound upon the conscience of a believer. It seems almost an offense to the Holy Spirit. Throughout its whole past, down to our own times, the Church has gathered a rich experience of the effective workings of God the Holy Spirit in all these seven Mysteries. One chariot might look more sumptuous and another less sumptuous, but it is not the chariot that matters but the charioteer. Whenever the Holy Spirit descends upon men through His grace, is it not indifferent how He arrives, sumptuously or simply? It is He that matters. And since we know even from the present experience of the Church as well as from Holy Scripture that His grace descends and works in the Mystery of Extreme Unction, why then ask whether Confirmation, or Penance, or Marriage is something greater than Extreme Unction?

The greatness of all the Mysteries, their brilliancy, their beauty and their miraculous character come from Him --- God the Holy Spirit. Ask a doctor which is more important for a person in bodily sickness, that he should be cleansed from impurities, or that he should be filled with fresh vitality; that he should be fed or healed or helped in his last agony; what would he say? He would be bewildered. Or ask a householder which is more necessary for a house, that it should be cleaned or filled with fresh air and light; that it should be maintained or or kept in repair, or saved when in danger of falling; he, too, would be bewildered. We empty our soul from the impurity of sin through Baptism; we fill it with fresh powers in the form of God's gifts through Confirmation; we feed it by Christ the living Lord through the Eucharist; we free it from new impurities of sin through Penance; we heal it and save it in a great emergency through Unction; and since we are many and not one, we need the growth of our sacred society, i.e. of the Church, and we get this growth through Marriage; and again, since we are many and not one, we need a divinely ordered dispensation to prepare the soul for immortal life in the eternal Kingdom of God. Thus the seven Mysteries represent the sevenfold drama of the Christian soul's ascent from the dark pit of sin to the height and glory of the Kingdom of God.

And if anyone should think that perhaps Baptism and the Eucharist (or other two or three of the seven Mysteries) are the only Mysteries, the only Sacraments, well --- let him ask God about it; by fasting and praying tears let him ask God, and He will reveal to him the truth as He has always revealed it to the saints. As to us of the East, we are afraid to depreciate any of the seven marvellous Mysteries, we are afraid of God the Holy Spirit. For He whispered to the Apostles and to the saints the truth about everything necessary to man's salvation. Therefore all that we have said about the great Christian Mysteries is not an opinion of our own (if it were an opinion of our own, it would be worth nothing), but it is the repeated experience of the Apostles in the ancient days and of the saints up to our own days. For the Church of God lives not on opinion, but on the experience of the saints, as in the beginning so in our days. The opinions of intellectual persons may be wonderfully clever and yet be false, whereas the experience of the saints is always true. It is God the Lord who is true to Himself in His saints.

May the Lord God the Holy Spirit, with the Father and with the Son, give to all those who tearfully pray to Him the grace of wisdom and the power to see and recognize the whole truth, necessary for the salvation of all of us, the baptized and the never sufficiently penitent children of God.





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