My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE HOLY MYSTERIES (SACRAMENTS) AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN BELIEVER
The spiritual life of the Orthodox Church is given to men in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments). The Sacraments are called the Holy Mysteries, and the entire life of the Church is believed to be mystical and sacramental.
The new life in Christ, the genuine life of God, is given to man in baptism, the New Birth and New Creation of man in Christ by the Spirit of God. In baptism the person who rejects Satan and all of his evil works and accepts Christ and the gift of eternal life, dies and rises again with Jesus Christ to "newness of life."
The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church are no mere signs of symbols; they are not just external indications of the presence of some invisible reality. A Mystery (Sacrament) is the Divine presence, just as the man Jesus Who walked among men 2,000 years ago was God Himself incarnate. When some portion of this created world (a cup of wine, a piece of bread, a vial of oil, a touch upon the head, etc.) becomes a Mystery, it becomes thereby "of God"; it is divinized; it becomes the real and present location of that continuing presence - of Christ, and in some sense it is Him.
Mysteries (Sacraments) are indefinite in number, not restricted to an easily identified, categorizable few. Neither are they of uniform intensity, there are varying degrees of universality and sharpness of focus of His presence. Fundamentally, the whole of Creation is in some degree a Mystery (Sacrament), for "He is everywhere present and fills all things." But we must not fall into the trap of assuming a bland universality of that presence which recedes into a pointless vagueness. The eternal Christ came and dwelt among us in quite specific and identifiable ways, radiating His presence throughout the world in specific and orderly forms. This is not to say that He may not also manifest His presence in other, less predictable manners...indeed He does!
Even though the term is not often used in this context, the most fundamental form of this real presence of Christ is in the Church and the Scripture: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (St. Matthew 18:20). Saint Paul instructs us: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). The measure of the Divine presence is both Church and Scripture is that of universality; Christ is fully present in the whole of Scripture, not some selected portion and likewise in the whole Church.
We speak here, and throughout, of the Church as the living body of Christ, constituted by all those in this world and the next who have truly united themselves to Christ by obedience to Him and by a pious life. The Church is no mere human association, nor is it a vaguely defined community of believers. It is that body constituted of individual members, living and departed, who do and have united themselves to Christ through obedience to His commands, most conspicuously in Holy Baptism and partaking of His Body and Blood, in adherence to the faith delivered to us through the Holy Apostles and through love.
Beyond this universal presence of our Lord in the Church and in Scripture, Christ has provided through the Church certain specific and regular forms of His presence. These "channels of grace," are what we specifically refer to as the Mysteries (Sacraments). Above all else, the term refers to the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Unction, Holy Orders (Priesthood), Marriage, and Repentance/Confession, it is, however, by no means limited to these seven. Let us now consider in some greater detail the nature of 'Mystery' or 'Sacrament.'
A Mystery (Sacrament) is something real--it does something. Through it, in it, and by it, a substantial change is made in some person or thing of the created order: bread is no longer just bread. The Mystery does not merely indicate some change which has occurred for some unrelated reason, but rather is the effective cause of the alteration. Mysteries (Sacraments) are, however, above all else mysteries, and thus effective causality is not reducible to the level of ordinary technological causality. A Mystery (Sacrament) is not some form of magic or technique; it always operates only by and through Divine Grace and can in no way be manipulated by men for their own self-centered purposes.
In any attempt to define "Grace," (Gk. Χάρις) we enter upon dangerous theological waters. Perhaps the less said the better. But we must at least understand that in using this term, we refer to the specific and effective action of God upon man's life and being, whereby man is enabled to approach the oneness with God for which he was created and to which he is called. Only in virtue of God's Grace is this possible - we cannot make our way to the Kingdom of Heaven by our own resources.
This Grace is most evident in our lives in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), which are the continuing operative form of the act of Redemption. They are the means by which the restoration of communion made possible in the Incarnation is made effective and present in the lives of Christians for this and every age. In the Fall, it was the whole of man that fell (body and soul alike), entering into a state of alienation and separation from God, in the continuing sacramental life (mysteriaki zoe) of the Body of Christ, it is the whole man who is brought back into communion with God--not just some spiritual part of him, in its fulfillment, this restoration to divine communion is life in the Kingdom of God. The Mysteries (Sacraments), by which we approach restoration, provide the means by which we even now to some degree experience that Kingdom.
As it is not just our thinking or our willing, but out whole being, that is to be redeemed. It is in the nature of a Mystery (Sacrament) always to have visible form. There is no such thing as a "purely spiritual" Mystery; there is always a concrete, visible manifestation of sacramental Grace. Further, just as there were specific agents of the Fall (Adam) and the Redemption (the Lord Jesus), so also for any Mysteries (Sacrament) there is a proper agent or minister. This minister is not just any person, but rather one appointed by Christ through the Church) as His agent for the purpose.
It is further necessary that both minister and recipient approach the Mysteries (Sacraments) with a proper intent: God does not impose His Grace upon us willy-nilly, in spite of ourselves. Rather, He grants us ordinary and reliable means in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) whereby we may turn to Him for the Grace and energy needed for leading the life to which He calls us.
The application of these characteristics of the Holy Mysteries will become more apparent as we turn to specific manifestations of sacramental grace. Not the smallest niche of Creation escapes the possibility of divinization by the flow into it of sacramental Grace.
We are called to live in such a way as to make holy ourselves and the whole of Creation. This is the true meaning of sacramental living--and of the world itself. Our whole life and experience is to be given up to become one with and a part of the Mystery by which God became man. This reduction of our concept of "Sacrament" to an enumerable list of Sacraments--whether two, seven, or fifty--makes of it a mere technology. Rather, a Sacrament is the means and form for the total transformation of our lives: the creation and living of a Christ-like style of life…
In His Divine humility, our Lord Jesus by His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection restored Creation to its state of original Paradise--even in some sense transcending that of the first days of Creation. But since this is a world of process and change, even though that restoration and transcendence was accomplished in the Incarnation of our Lord, it must yet be worked out and completed in the living history of the human race and of the Church--in the order of "becoming." It is the function of the continuing living sacramental Body of Christ to carry out this mission.
(Source: Bishop Alexander Mileant)
Please note: Mysteriaki Zoe (Sacramental life) for the Orthodox Christian must be understood and experienced personally. The Mysteries (Sacraments) were instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so as to cleanse, sanctify, and restore man through them, and re-establish his communion with Him. The principle aim of the Orthodox Christian believer is the attainment of Theosis (deification).
Many of our Orthodox Christians, unfortunately, view the Mysteries of the Church as simply "a religious custom or tradition". Others are totally oblivious and indifferent to what is happening during the Sacrament, and what it means for them, their children or relatives, spiritually. It makes no difference to them, whether it is the Sacrament of Marriage, Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Unction, Confession, or Priesthood. For some, it is just a blur. Others, especially the younger generation, see the Sacraments as unnecessary, or, in some cases, optional i.e., it is not necessary to have a Christian marriage, or to even baptize their child, etc.
The Almighty God does not impose His will on us. He wants us, however, to invite Him to come into our hearts, and to permit Him, to help us, and save us. The final decision is up to the individual Christian.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God