What Are the Sacraments?
The seven sacraments of the Church , instituted by Christ, His disciples and the early fathers of the Church, are fundamentally important to receive and know about. They are holy and mysterious. Holy, because they convey God’s grace; and mysterious, because we cannot actually see the continuous act of the Holy Spirit on them. It is only through faith and with God’s help that we are able to appraise and appreciate their deep spiritual meaning and significance.
Who Performs the Sacraments?
The Holy Sacraments can only be performed by ordained archbishops and priests who derive their authority from the Church.
What Are the Sources of Authority?
Our Syrian Orthodox Church derives her doctrine from Divine Revelation: Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Holy Scriptures consists of the Old and New Testaments. Holy Tradition, on the other hand, is handed down the Church from Christ to His disciples and finally the priests. And this chain of command and order is called “Apostolic Succession”.
Obligatory and Non-obligatory Sacraments
The Sacraments of the Church are divided into obligatory and non-obligatory. Four are obligatory and three are not. Baptism, Chrism and Confirmation, Communion and Confession and repentance are obligatory. Unction or anointing of the sick, Priesthood and Marriage are not obligatory.
The Sacraments – Definitions
In Baptism, we are “born again” in a spiritual sense and destined to inherit the Kingdom. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” John 3:5. Confession and repentance prepare us for unity with God, by renouncing our daily sins and trespasses. As a result, our sins are forgiven and absolved. We become pure and avoid perishing, “ I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” Luke 13:3. The Holy Communion transforms us into children of God, through His grace. As believers, in receiving His holy Body and Blood, we are enlivened and abide in Christ, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him” John 6:56. Death will overtake those who do not receive them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” John 6:53. Anointing the sick is used to heal physical as well as spiritual illnesses, “ is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins,, he will be forgiven”. James 5:14,15.
Priesthood reminds us of the ever presence of God among us. The priest is God’s servant and representative who administers the Sacraments. He receives the grace of God through the laying of hands, “do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying of the hands of the presbytery” Tim 4:14. In marriage, husband and wife join to form and forge a strong physical and spiritual bond, the fruits of which are ultimately children, Then God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on earth”
Genesis 1 :28. husband and wife form the holy family of God through His grace.
Why Seven Sacraments?
The number seven is a perfect and holy number. We must turn to the Scriptures to find out where seven is mentioned. In the book of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which he had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Gen. 2:1,2. and Solomon the King mentions the number seven, “ Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars” Proverbs 9:1. and the prophet Zachariah mentions the number seven, “ For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua. Upon the stone are seven eyes”. Zachariah 3:9.
The Sacrament of Baptism
Our Lord Jesus Christ clearly and categorically stresses the importance of receiving Baptism for salvation. He says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned”. Mark 16:16.
Jesus Christ- The First Example
Jesus Christ initiated this sacrament when He went to John the Baptist to be baptized by him. But John said that he was in “need to be baptized” by Jesus and not Jesus by him. Mat. 3:4. but Jesus persuaded John and prevailed by saying, “Permit it to be so now, for thus is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” Mat.3: 15. then John baptized Jesus, “then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. Mathew 3: 16,17.
The Difference Between John’s and Jesus’ Baptisms
Christ’s baptism differs from that of John the Baptist. John’s water baptism calls “for remission of sins” Mark 1 :4, while Christ’s baptism of water and the Holy Spirit results in a “new birth”. A “new creation” emerges as it is suggested by the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” John 3:3.
In Christian Baptism we are released from the bondage of our human
birth, blood and the wiil of the flesh and we become a new creation as St. Paul does state, “ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, all things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”. 2 Cor.5:17. In receiving Christian Baptism and Christ, we become His brothers and sisters. We rather become children of God through His grace, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God”. John1 :12,13.
What Is the Purpose of Christian Baptism?
Holy Christian baptism washes away the “original sin” caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Paradise. In baptism a new person is born. St. Paul compares the new man to a “New Lump”,
“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our passover, was sacrificed for us.” 1 Cor. 5:7; to a new living mold. St. Paul uses the metaphor of a rising dough implying a new life, leaving behind, “the old leaven”, the old man. This new Christian creation is enlightened through the light of faith, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” Mat. 13:43.
Christian Baptism – Definition
Christian Baptism defines our Christian identity. It is the door through which we are admitted to Christ’s fold. Baptism is mandatory and very necessary for us if we were to inherit God’s Kingdom. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” John 3:5. Philixenus of Mabbugh says that the Holy Spirit is united to each individual believer at baptism (1) And then the Holy Spirit remains with each baptized person as a permanent part of him as “The soul of his soul.” (Z) And that the Holy Spirit never leaves him/her unless he is blasphemed. John Chrisostom says that Christian Baptism is a “spiritual marriage” between the soul and Christ. (3)
Sts. Ephrem and Jacob of Serugh – On Baptism (4) According to our church Fathers and especially St. Ephrem, Christian Baptism is a “re-entry into Paradise”. Biblical imagistic expressions like, “new creation”, “born again”, “born anew’’ in the “spiritual womb” of the baptismal water remind us of the spiritual state of being in the life of Adam in Paradise before the fall. St. Ephrem compares the “ promised land” to “Paradise”. In Christian Baptism, he suggests, the baptized crosses the “Red Sea” and the “Jordan River” like the Israelites did thousands of years ago. And the escape from the bondage in Egypt evokes similarly the escape of a Christian in Baptism from “the domains of Satan and death.” Subsequently, through Christian Baptism we are re-admitted into Paradise.
However, for us living in a “created world” and because of our “misuse of it” we fall short of experiencing fully the potential of Paradise. It is through the Holy Eucharist by partaking the Body and Blood of Jesus that “baptismal rebirth” and the flight to Paradise are made possible. (S)
The newly born Christian, after baptism, puts on the “Robe of Glory” and the “Robe of Praise” with which Adam and Eve were clothed. He puts on the “Mantle of Praise”. Isaiah 61:3. St. Jacob of Serugh says: The Robe of Glory that was stolen (by Satan) among The Trees of Paradise, Have I put on in the water of baptism. (6)
And St. Ephrem also says:
Instead of fig leaves,God has clothed man with glory in the Baptismal water (7)
Other kinds of Baptism (8)
1 The baptism of the flood by which the earth was purified from sin, “who formerly were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being
prepared, in which a few, that is eight souls were saved through water” 1 Pet. 3:20.
2 Baptism of the sun and the cloud, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” 1 Cor. 10: 1 ,2.
3 Baptism of the Law· and is called “purification” according to Exodus. (9)
4 Baptism of John (baptism of repentance), “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” Mark 1 :4.
5 Baptism performed by the disciples: Philip baptized the Ethiopian (Acts. 8:38”); Ananias baptized Saul(Paul) Acts 9:18”; Peter baptized Gentiles (Acts 10:47’’) etc.
6 Baptism of the Blood and Martyrdom, “This is who came by water and blood- Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and these three agrees as one. 1 John 5:6-8”.
One Christian Baptism
In the Apostolic Creed, we believe that Christian believers must be baptized once. But, alas, some denominations repeat baptism for members of Christian and Apostolic tradition, Catholic and Orthodox. This is indeed a travesty and is tantamount to a heresy. A Christian believer must never consent to a second baptism, “ There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ephesians 4:4-6.
Circumcision in the Old Testament, was a symbol and a foreshadowing of Christian Baptism, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in Baptism in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead”. Collosians 2:11,12. Children were circumcised in the Jewish religion and tradition as early as the eighth day after birth, “and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between Me and you” Gen.1 7: 11.
The Apostolic Churches, Catholic and Orthodox received priesthood through what is known as “ Apostolic Succession”. These authentic and traditional Churches received their authority from the Apostles who, in turn, received it from Jesus Christ, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Mat 28:18,19.
Examples abound in the New Testament where infant baptism is either mentioned or implied, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Mat. 28: 19. “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 1 Cor. 1:16. Then Peter said to them, “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38,39.
1. Three Monophysites Christologists – Roberta C. Chestnut. Page 93
(Homilie IX. Page 299)
2.Ibid (Footnote) ed. A. Tanghe- Le Museon 73 (1960) 50-3
3.St. Jolm ofChrisostom, “On Baptism” (Arabic) Elias IV, Patriarch
of Antioch and all of the East (Rum) Page 73.
4.Sebastian Brock – “World and Sacrament in the writings of the
Syrian Fathers.” A Lecture.
5.Ibid. Page 689. (Hymns on Unleavened Bread. XVII. 9£)
6.Ibid. (Ed. P. Bedjan- IP 209) Page 690.
7.Ibid (Hymns on Epiphany, XII, 4)
8. The Seven Sacraments – Archbishop Severius Zakka I was and
Rev. Fr. Rabben Ishak Saka. Page 24.
9.Exodus 30: 19; Exodus 29: 4.
The Book of the Rites of Holy Baptism (1)
A Godparent stands for the child being baptized. A male Godparent stands for a baby boy and a female God-parent for a baby-girl. The Godparent and the parents are asked and required to look after the spiritual and moral development of the child. And the child must be instructed in the true “Christian doctrine and religion.” (2) The Godparent must be exemplary in his/her life as a Christian Orthodox role model.
The Book of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism consists of two parts.
1 The priest begins by saying. “Almighty God, make us worthy, that in purity and holiness, we may attain the glorious and divine mysteries of the incorruptible grace of your faithful children…etc. (3)
2 The priest breathes upon the face of the child. This action recalls “the breath of life” which God breathed into the nostrils of Adam. (4)
3 The child’s forehead is stamped, without oil, three times in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (5)
4 The child is exorcised by the priest, drawing the signs of the cross and uttering the name of the Holy Trinity. The priest orders the evil spirit to “depart and be uprooted and dispersed.” (6)
5 The Godparent then renounces and dismisses the devil, three times, facing West and accepts and believes in Jesus Christ, three times, while facing East. (7)
6 The Apostolic Creed is recited by the Godparent as a sign that the child, through the Godparent, accepts the Christian religion and faith. (8)
7 Then the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to dwell in the child and to “search all the parts of his/her body to cleanse and sanctify him/her so that he/she may be worthy of the Holy Anointing and
the perfect faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (9) This reminds us how Jesus breathed upon His disciples in the upper room and they received the Holy Spirit. (10)
1 The child’s clothes are removed.
2 The priest mixes hot and cold water together praying that it may “be mixed with the power and operation of the Holy Spirit.” (11)
3 The child’s forehead is anointed with holy oil three times. (12)
4 The priest breathes upon the water, three times making the signs of the cross, beseeching God to smash the head of the symbolic “Dragon” which is the devil. And to drive away all “evil spirits” so that the water may be purified. (13)
5 The deacon chants “How awful is this hour” during which the priest waves his hands over the water invoking the descent of the Holy Spirit in the baptismal water. 0 4l1
6 The priest pours holy Chrism (Myron) in water making the signs of the Holy Cross three times. (15)
7 After the water is blessed and sanctified, the child’s forehead is again stamped with Holy Oil three times together with his/he entire body. (16)
8 The priest, facing West and the child East “dips the child into the Baptismal Font” and pours water on his/her head, baptizing him/her in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (17)
9 The priest anoints the child, thereafter with Holy Chrism three times, recalling the laying of hands (Acts 8: 14-17) and confirms him/her in the name of the Holy Trinity, covering his/her entire body with Holy Chrism. (18)
10 Then the child is dressed in white as symbol that he has “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) and presented to the altar. Then the priest crowns him/her and gives him/her the Holy Communion. Here the priest touches the mouth of the baptized with a spoon and says three times: The fruit which Adam had never tasted in Paradise Is today placed in your mouth with rejoicing.
Then the prayer for the Virgin Mary is recited. (19)
l.The Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Published by Metropolitan Mar
Athanasius Y. Samuel and translated by Deacon Murad Saliba
2.Ibid (Canons and Instructions from the Hudoyo and other ecc]esiastical
canons. Page 8. Excerpt 7.
3.Ibid, page 14. 4.Ibid, page 32; Genesis 2:7.
5.Ibid, page 34. 6.Ibid, pp. 40-42.
7.Ibid, page 42. 8.Ibid, page 44.
9.Ibid. 10.John 20:22.
11 . The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, page 46.
12.Ibid, page 50. 13.Ibid, page 60.
14.Ibid, page 62. 15.Ibid, page 64.
16.Ibid, page 68. 17.Ibid, page 70.
18.Ibid, page 74. 19.Ibid, page 82.
Holy Baptism- Meanings and Significance (1)
1 Registration of the child is to count him as one of God’s children through grace and as one who has escaped the enslavement of the devil and sin.
2 Stamping the child’s forehead, first without oil, three times, signifies the Holy Trinity. Crossing refers to Christ’s death. And the child is baptized to death of Christ as St. Paul says. Through the Holy Cross, the mystery of the Holy Trinity of one essence in three persons was revealed.
3 Anointing with Holy Oil, three times, indicates that the child is ready to combat the devil. Ephesians 6: 12.
4 Undressing the child signifies that he/she has taken off the old man and abandoned the old life-style
5 Pouring of Holy Chrism indicates that God, the Word, descended from heaven, suffered and died so that we may be born anew from baptism like the Spirit of God was hovering on the face of water at the beginning of creation to give it the power of begetting and growth. Likewise the Holy Spirit Himself hovers over the water by pouring the (Myron) in it to give it the power to beget spiritual children to the Heavenly Father.
6 The baptismal font represents the Lord’s tomb. And the descent in it portrays Jesus’ descent into the tomb. The child’s immersion, three times in water, portrays His death. The immersion of the child, three times, represents Christ’s staying in the tomb three days.
7 Dressing the child in white garment also refers to the light of the knowledge of God and putting on the “new man.” He/she also puts on the dress of immortality after the Resurrection, the same dress he/she was clad in, in Paradise before trespassing God’s commandment.
8 Placing the crown on the. head of the child and presenting him/her to the altar and the T1;tble of Life is the symbol of being free, after baptism, from enslavement of the devil and sin.
9 The entry of the child to the Holy of Holies indicates his/her approach to the Tree of Life. The Holy Communion unites him/her with Christ. As we are physically in need of bodily sustenance likewise we are spiritually in need of the spiritual sustenance.
(1)The Seven Sacraments – Archbishop Severius Zakka Iwas and Rev. Fr. Rabban Ishek Saka (Arabic), pp. 51-58. Excerpts are selectively taken. Sources are Moses Bar Kepha (A.D. 903 +
lOth Century) and Dionysius Bar Salibi (A.D. 1171 + 12th Century).
l. The Holy Bible- The New King James Version.
2. The Seven Sacraments. Archbishop Severius Zakka Iwaz and Rev. Fr .Rabban Ishak Saka. Baghdad. 1970.
3. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Published by Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Y. Samuel and translated by Deacon Murad Saliba Barsom. 1974.
4. John of Chrisostom “On Baptism “ Translation (Arabic) Elias IV Patriarch of Antioch and all of the East (Rum).
5. Sebastian Brach, “St. Ephrem the Syrian” Hymns on Paradise. St. Vladimir Seminary Press. N.Y., N.Y.
6. The Book of Divine Liturgies. Published by Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Y. Samuel and translated by Deacon Murad Saliba Barsom. 1991.
7. The Book of Rituals.
8. The Order of Solemnization of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Published by Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Y. Samuel and translated by Deacon Murad Saliba Barsom. 1974.
9. Roberta C. Chestnut. Three Monophysite Christologists Oxford University Press. 1976.
10. Sebastian Brock, World and Sacrament in the Writings of the Syrian Fathers. A Lecture (Paper).
The Sacrament of Chrism (Myron)
After the child is baptized, the priest immediately anoints his/her forehead and covers his/her body with Holy Chrism, saying, “By the Holy Myron (Greek-Chrism), which is Christ’s sweet fragrance, the seal of the true faith and the perfection of the holy gifts (name) is sealed in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Ever Living Holy Spirit for life eternal.” (I) After the anointing with Holy Chrism, the child received the power and “the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” And thus the child is confirmed in the faith and grows to be strong spiritually and is accepted as a bona fide Christian member within the Church.
The Sacrament of Holy Chrism – Background
Dionysius Bar Salibi says, “That we see a reference to the Holy Chrism in the Old Testament.” (2) The Lord ordered Moses to prepare and mix “Myrrh,” “Cinnamon,” “Sweet-smelling Cane,” “Casia” and “Hin” of olive oil into a “holy anointing oil.” Exodus 30: 23-27;31-33.
Anointing with Holy Chrism is considered like receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Although it is a separate sacrament, Holy Chrism supplements and completes the Sacrament of Holy Baptism or the spiritual second birth, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” John 3:6. Jesus promises His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit “And I will pray to the Father and He will give you another helper that he may abide with you forever.” John 14:16; Acts 1:5.
The Holy Chrism – Laying of Hands
In the New Testament, Holy Chrism is referred to by laying of hands of the disciples on early Christian believers as it is documented on two occasions in the Book of Acts, “then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:17; “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.’’ Acts 19:6.
And since it was impossible for the disciples to lay their hands on every believer who received the Sacrament of Baptism, they prescribed anointing with Holy Chrism instead of laying of. hands, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth but because you know it and that no lie is of the truth.” 1 John 2:20-21; “Now he who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God. Who also has sealed us and given us the spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” 2 Corinthians 1: 21 ,22; “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” Ephesians 4:30.
Who Anoints with Holy Spirit?
The priests in the church received their spiritual mandate and mission from Jesus Christ, who himself was a priest. Hebrews 6:20. The priests also received their authority to anoint with Holy Chrism from the bishops of the church who in tum received it from the disciples. Acts 8:17.
The Usages of Holy Chrism
Holy Chrism is used to consecrate and sanctify churches, altars and wooden tablets placed on altars. The cup and paten are placed over the Tablet.
How Important is Holy Chrism? (3)
Holy Chrism is very important for salvation. And without it, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is incomplete and unlawful. The side effects of Holy Baptism are washing away of “original sin” and “new birth.” On the other hand, the side effects of Holy Chrism is to receive the seal of the Holy Spirit as is shown in the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River when the Holy Spirit hovered on Him in the shape of a dove, “Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.” Matthew 3: 16.
Another illustration is given in the Book of Acts concerning the baptism of the people of Samaria, “Now when the Apostles, who were in Jerusalem, heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy
Spirit.” Acts 8: 14-17.
Who Consecrates the Holy Chrism and When?
The Patriarch and the Catholicose (Mufryono) are the only two hierarchs who are authorized and can consecrate Holy Chrism in the manner Moses was instructed by the Lord, “And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of perfumer. It shall be holy anointing oil.” Exodus 30:25.
The Holy Chrism is given after Baptism. It is also consecrated once a year because Jesus Christ died and resurrected once. And Holy Baptism is also received once in one’s lifetime.
Holy Chrism is consecrated on Holy Thursday because it is also close to the day Jesus suffered and died; and so that it might be available on Resurrection Day for those believers who would be baptized after abstaining from receiving the sacrament during the holy period of Lent.
How many times is Holy Chrism received?
Holy Chrism is received only once, like Baptism and priesthood. It is equal in importance to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The Spiritual Significance of Holy Chrism
Holy Chrism is blessed with abundance of grace which overflows by the power and the mediation of the Holy Spirit. After Confirmation (Chrismation), the sweet aroma of virtues rise up from the believers. And so they are able to say with St. Paul, “For we are to God, the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15 (S)
The Composition of Holy Chrism and the Ritual of Consecration
Chrism is a mixture of pure olive oil, perfumes, spices and herbs. And it is, through certain ritual and prayers by the Patriarch, assisted by Archbishops, that the mixture is transformed into the Holy Oil of
l. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism – Published by Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Y. Samuel and translated by Deaco11 Murad Saliba Barsom. 1974. Page 74.
2. The Seven Sacraments- Archbishop Severius Zakka Iwaz and Reverend Rabban Ishaq Saka. Page 59
3. Ibid. Page 67.
4. Ibid. Page 69.
S. Ibid. Page 64.
The Priest’s Duties
Some of the duties of the priest include: Performing the Holy Sacraments of the church, administering, teaching, counseling and guiding the faithful to salvation. The priest is empowered by the Holy Spirit to “bind” and “loosen” and absolve sins. Matthew 18: 18. The Archbishop is delegated by our Lord to “lay his hand” and ordain priests and deacons. The Synod of Archbishops also elects and ordains the highest spiritual hierarch in our church, the Patriarch himself.
The Three Branches of Priesthood – Definitions
Originally priesthood consists of the bishopric, priesthood and deaconhood. Bishop in Greek means overseer in Syriac. He is called, which means “righteous one.” In the first century of Christianity, the bishop was the highest ranking spiritual leader of the church, who was in charge of its administration. There were ftve sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria. Later the Jerusalem See was added to Antioch. Thus, four were recognized and their spiritual leaders were called bishops.
Later on, the four sees of Christendom: Antioch, Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria adopted two distinct titles for their spiritual hierarchs. Antioch and Constantinople used the title “Patriarch” (Father), and Rome and Alexandria used the title “Pope,” which also means father. The title Archbishop (head of bishops) was later used for the spiritual leader who presided over larger and expanded Christian communities under his jurisdiction. It came to be called an “Arch-diocese.” Auxiliary bishops (Suffragan) helped Archbishops in administering an ever-growing Christian communities within the diocese. In the sixth century of Christianity, the offtce of “Mafryono” was established in the Eastern part of our Syrian Orthodox church. Mafryono means fruitful. In the year 1860 this title ceased to exist. But on May 15, 1964, the late Patriarch Mar Ignatius Jacob III reintroduced the title. And Bas eli us Awgin of India was the one who received this honorary title. The Mafryono headquarters, nowadays, is confined to the country of India where more than a million of our Syrian Orthodox faithful are found.
Who Can Become Priests? Division and Ranks.
Since the beginning of Christianity, and in accordance with church tradition, only male candidates are chosen and elected to be the spiritual leaders of the church. The role models of our hierarch are our Lord and His disciples. Although St. Paul advised his disciple Timothy that a candidate seeking priesthood must be married (1 Timothy 3: 2) he, St. Paul, was celibate. Even though he wished that all men were even as he himself was, a celibate, he however said to the unmarried and the widows among the Corinthians men and women, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to bum with passion.” 1 Corinthians 7:9.
Thus a clergyman in our church has an option. Before seeking the high office of priesthood, he must make his decision to marry or stay celibate. From a rich heritage and background our clergymen are chosen to shepherd the flock of Christ.
The Celibate Clergy have the following orders and hierarchy:
1. Celibate Deacon
2. Monk – a beginner
3. Priest – Monk
4. Bishop (A married priest who loses his wife becomes a candidate for ordination as bishop)
6. Mafryono (Vice-Patriarch)
The Married Clergy have the following orders:
l. Married Deacons
3. Chorepiscopus – Very Reverend Priest
Deacons have the following orders:
1. Archdeacon -the Book of Acts, Chapter 6, reports to us how the disciples elected seven men and called them deacons. St. Stephen was their chief and thus was called Archdeacon.
2. Deacon. Evangelical Deacon
3. Sub-Deacon – an order below the Deacon
4. The Reader
5. The Singer
In the first century of Christianity, deaconesses (female deacons) were selected to do various functions and chores like lighting candles, cleaning the church and helping the disciples in instructing
baptized convert women, etc.
l. From a Syrian Prayer for the memorial of Departed Priests.
2. Levi was the third son of Jacob.
The Sacrament of Marriage
Marriage is a mystery and a sacrament. A mystery because husband and wife become one, and a sacrament because God instituted it and it is holy. Marriage was instituted since the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1: 27. Eve was miraculously taken from one of Adam’s ribs. And miraculously also she was joined to him;. And they both became one flesh, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” 2 Genesis 2: 24. The Old Testament relates the marriage of Abraham to Sarah; Isaac to Rebecca; Jacob to Rachel and Joseph to Asnath.
The Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were blessed by God and they and others were allowed to have more than one woman. The unlawful women were called maids or concubines. However, from the very beginning, God made them “male and female,” meaning that man and woman must seek one partner only. Polygamy creates problems like envy, jealousy, quarrel, tension, etc. Case in point is Abraham’s maid Haggar who when she had conceived, despised her mistress Sarah who could not conceive at an old age. But later God miraculously bestowed upon her a child, Isaac. Sarah dealt with Haggar-harshly and sent her away. Genesis Chapter 16.
Marriage in New Testament Times
The Lord Jesus affirmed the validity and the strong union in marriage by saying, “Therefore what God has joined together let no man separate. Matthew 19:6. Departing from this biblical injunction and reaffirming the strong and holy union of marriage, St. Paul says, “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, and woman independent of man in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11: 11.
Marriage in the Christian context is a very holy bond. St. Paul calls it “a great mystery,” Ephesians 5: 32, and because of being called a mystery, Christian marriage is superior to Old Testament marriage. Since God instituted marriage for the good and happiness of mankind, there are other reasons for its establishment and consideration:
1. Procreation and furtherance of human species, “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1 :28).
2. Guarding against sexual immorality, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband,” Corinthians 7:2, and against sexual desires and burning, “but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to bum with passion.” 1 Corinthians 7: 9.
3. Help and assistance of one to another, And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2: 12.
Marriage Life – Organization and Duties
St. Paul pictures the union between husband and wife like the holy union between Christ and the church. And thus marriage turns into a great and holy bond and mystery. St. Paul talks about the mystery of marriage in the following manner: To the wives, he says, “wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the saviour of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” And to the husbands, he utters the following: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it . . . So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His Flesh and of His Bones.” For this reason 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, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let each one of you· in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5: 22-33.
The wife is ordered to submit, obey and respect her husband. The husband, in turn, is ordered to love his wife and in no way he is superior to her. In the Lord Jesus, there is no class or sex distinctions. We are all one and equal, “There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is either slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28. Likewise, “For as the woman was from the man, even so, the man also is through the woman; but all things are from God.” 1 Corinthians 11:12.
Christian marriage is a mutual covenant; it is an honorable contract. There has to be mutual understanding and agreement between husband and wife. They must be mindful of each other. They must also plan together to raise children worthy to be called “children of God.” A Syriac prayer articulates this point very well.
We remember our parents who have taught us, while alive, to become children of God in this transient world.
Husband and wife must keep themselves pure and chaste from sexual immorality because their bodies are members of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 6: 15.
They are forewarned not to “take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot.” 1 Corinthians 6: 15.
No wonder infidelity is the cause of a lot of problems between Christian couples. Purity and fidelity must be maintained between them as long as they live, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2. And above all, Christian couples must crown their life with faith because through faith only they come to realize that marriage is “a great mystery” and a sacrament. And through faith also, they recognize the holy and mysterious union: that they are merging into one, “they shall become one flesh.”
The priest or the archbishop is the legitimate officiant who performs the holy sacrament of marriage.
What makes Christian marriage superior to marriage in the Old Testament is that polygamy is forbidden in Christian marriage. Man is allowed to be married only to one woman, according to Holy Scriptures. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Have you not read that he who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Matthew. 19:4-7. Widows and widowers are allowed to remarry.
The Question of Divorce
In our present and modem time, divorce is rampant and on the rise. It is creating havoc and tremendous problems for Christian couples and children. The family values and ties are breaking loose and they are impacting the Christian society in very negative ways.
When Jesus, our Lord, was confronted by the Pharisees concerning the question of marriage and divorce, Jesus reminded them of the Holy Scriptures saying, “Have you noticed that He who made them at the beginning, made them male and female and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate (Matthew 19: 4-6). Then the Pharisees questioned him saying, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not sci, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except of sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery, and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 19: 8,9.
From the above argument and statements one must understand and conclude that Jesus means that divorce is a last resort and only in case the wife is adulterous. And that marriage is indissoluble by man because God has sanctified and joined together husband and wife. And because of the hardness of the hearts of people in the ancient times, Moses allowed Jews to divorce. Christ, on the other hand, made divorce impossible except in case of adultery.
Divorce, alas, is rampant nowadays because married couples take marriage very lightly. Husbands and wives lack faith, love and patience. As a result of these deficiencies, divorce takes place. Divorce is rather dealing a deadly blow to them, to their children and to the family as an institution.
The Crowning: Explanation
In the Sacrament of the Holy Matrimony, crowning the groom and the bride is very symbolic and significant. On many occasions, Jesus Christ is called “King” in the Old and the New Testaments. And “kingship” and “queenship” as honorary labels are bestowed generously upon those Christian believers who enter into the sacred bond of marriage.
In one of the Syriac hymns, we pray the following:
“In your mercies, 0 Lord, grant rejoicing to the bridegrooms in their crowns and felicity to the brides in their bridal chamber.”(1)
And, “The bridegroom’s crown is like that of the Son of Jesse (King David), and the bride’s crown is like that of the wise virgins. (2) The crowns which are placed on the heads of the groom and the bride recall “The Crown of Thorns” ‘which was placed on Jesus’ head. It is a crown of suffering and forbearance. Likewise, the groom and the bride are expected to share alike not only in the good things in life but also in the bad things, “in sickness and in health”: they should bear alike and each other.
The crowns symbolize the glory, the reward and the honor of God which are granted to the newly married couple. When the crown in placed upon the head of the bridegroom, the priest says the following:
“May God crown you with the crown of righteousness, glory and with good works, forever. (3)
And when the priest places the crown on the bride’s head, the followingis said:
“May God crown you with the crown of modesty, righteousness and
1. The order of solemnization of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Published by Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Y. Samuel and Translated by Deacon Murad Saliba Barsom. 1974, page 46.
2. Ibid, page 48.
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
According to the New Testament, serious sicknesses were due to the sickness of the souls. The souls that were stained with sin were riddled with sicknesses. And people who lacked faith the miracle of cure was not granted them whenever they were afflicted with incurable diseases.
In the gospel according to St. Mark (Mark 2: 3-12), a remarkable story is told about a paralytic in Capemaum in Galilee. When the crowds learned that Jesus was in a certain house, they rushed to meet him. A paralytic was carried by four men. But when they could not enter the house and bring the paralytic before Jesus because of the large crowd, they climbed the roof and made an opening in the roof and lowered down the paralytic in bed in the middle of the house. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”
On another occasion in Matthew 17: 14-20, an epileptic was healed by Jesus and not by his disciples because of their disbelief. The disciples said to Jesus, “Why could we not cast him out?” meaning the demon. Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20.
Afterward, Jesus gave authority to His disciples to”Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” Matthew 10:8. Mark also mentions that the disciples “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” Mark 6:13.
From these examples we realize that the sacrament of anointing of the sick was instituted in the church from the very beginning. Jesus healed many sick because they believed in Him. And the disciples, receiving the power of healing from Christ, in turn committed many cases of cure and healing in His Name and poured holy oil on the sick. The disciples authorized the priests of the church to do likewise, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church (Bishops and Priests) and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5: 14, 15.
Anointing of the sick is a holy sacrament. And cure is derived from it for body and soul. The oil used in the sacrament of anointing of the sick should not be confused with either Holy Chrism or Holy Oil used when a person is baptized. It is a special oil blessed and consecrated by the archbishop.
The Holy Oil for the sick gives the faithful the power to fight physically his ailment and spiritually the devil. A true believer, who is seriously sick may sometimes be cured and that depends on the will of God. Samuel 3:18.
Faith is very necessary for the sick as we have seen before. In Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, because of it inhabitants’ unbelief, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there because of the unbelief.” Matthew 13:58.
By Very Rev. Father John Khoury