Posts Tagged ‘sacraments’

In the Wayback Machine I just came across what purports to be a translation of what happens when an Orthodox wedding is held alongside a full Divine Liturgy, i.e., Eucharist, translated by just-glorified St. Justin Popovich (†1979) of Chelije, Serbia.  I can’t vouch for anything about the Archive link material, since I haven’t attended any Orthodox weddings yet, nor studied them, so if you need to follow the Two-Source Rule, you should follow it!

A little background: I’ve read that most Orthodox weddings these days are not served with Liturgy, similar in fact to the one depicted in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding as far as I could tell.  There’s even some controversy over whether we should do so more, or not get worked-up about it.  One thing a non-Liturgical wedding makes easier is the question of how to tell non-Orthodox attending a Liturgical wedding that only Orthodox may receive the Communion … especially if one of the spouses and/or their whole side of the building are non-Orthodox, as in MBFGW, where the groom had converted, but his (few) friends and family in attendance had not.

Just for comparison’s sake, if I remember my altar-boy days correctly, among Vatican-II-Rite Roman Catholics [we have to specify now] it wasn’t uncommon to have a Nuptial Mass, which would be the equivalent of a Byzantine Rite (and thus Orthodox) Liturgical wedding like we’re talking about here; IOW it includes Communion consecrated during that service.  However, these were Saturday afternoon Nuptial Masses I was serving at, not much longer than a non-nuptial Weekday Mass, little if any liturgical music, brief homily, short Communion, Ave Maria ceremony added, etc. (and five Bicentennial U.S. dollars in my 13-year-old, working class, pre-seminarian pocket! 🙂 ).  Point being, it’s hard to do that in Orthodoxy — for better or for worse — as you may see if you read through the linked material even at a normal, clearly-spoken pace, nevermind mostly-chanted.  OTOH IIUC it’s not rare for Catholics to just have a wedding without Mass, either; there are different reasons why they could, would want to, or would have to go this route, which I don’t need to go into here.

OrthodoxWiki discusses Orthodox Marriage approaches and services more briefly than St. Justin.  A decade ago (or more), my own jurisdiction, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, defined what denominations our faithful were allowed to marry “in the Church,” *  in terms expressed pretty clearly, though without denomination-specific treatment, by Metropolitan ISAIAH of Denver.  I once read somewhere else that what His Eminence says more or less reflects SCOBA practice generally … but again, Two-Source Rule … or if you’re already Orthodox or in process, follow the guidance of your priest.

And just to be clear, this post does not attempt to cover Orthodox weddings or marriage(s) comprehensively, just point to something interesting I stumbled across on the Web.  Much more would be way out of my depth!

(*–As well as who could be received in conversion by means of Chrismation without [re-]Baptism.)

Every time I made it to Divine Liturgy while he was with my parish, or just about,* the priest who Chrismated me, preceded Communion with a collective reminder about the o/Orthodox understanding of the Mysteries (sacraments) as special encounters with God’s Uncreated Energies.  I can’t remember it verbatim, but he said Communion is like a fire that risks consuming the unprepared, but purifies those who receive it with preparation, including prayer, fasting, repentance, Confession if necessary, reconciliation with others if necessary, reverence, etc.  I also remember either hearing or reading somewhere – not from him IIRC – a story about someone who once received Communion without preparation, and immediately fell down dead.  I’m reminded of St. Symeon Metaphrastes’ Prayer of Thanksgiving After Communion.  I’m also reminded of Fr. John Romanides’ words about how we will all see God’s Glory in the end, but for those who haven’t struggled for Purification, God’s Energies won’t be experienced as Uncreated Light, but purifying fire: IIUC this fire’s job of purifying is never completed because God is infinitely better than we are, whereas if you’ve at least tried to put yourself on the right trajectory in life, God may, as Orthodox constantly pray, “have mercy.”  And my own conclusion: Created light burns up close but lights at a distance, whereas Uncreated Light lights up close, but burns at a distance.

PS: Nobody’s “worthy” to receive.  The best we can do is prepare, and hope in God’s Mercy.

(*–My health usually prevents me, so I don’t know if he does this all the time.)

The main meaning of the Greek verb baptizo, from which the English word baptism is ultimately derived (as Mr. Portokalos advised us!), is to dip, as in water.

Christianity as such didn’t invent the practice of dipping converts in water.  The Old Testament Church sometimes baptized proselytes, and so did some other Near Eastern religions.  But dipping quickly became a hallmark of Christianity.  The Lord was baptized by the Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist, John, and very early, Christians commemorated this on a yearly basis, along with the Lord’s other “manifestations,” on the Great Feast of the Theophany, January 6.  The Gospel According to St. John the Theologian 3:22, 4:1-2 indicates that the Lord Himself and/or His disciples baptized followers very early.  Water imagery is frequent in the Gospels.  And of course, the Lord commanded his Apostles to ‘make students [disciples] of all nations, dipping them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ which they did, as the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles attest.

However, I haven’t made a study of it, but I have never seen a depiction, East or West, of the Lord’s Baptism by John, in which He seemed completely immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John.  (That might be hard to draw or paint.)  Usually what seems to be going on is that the Lord, or both He and John, are standing in the river, partially immersed, with John pouring water over the Lord’s head.  Today Orthodox Judaism requires total immersion for some mikvah bath-taking, including for conversion to the faith.  Something similar is reflected in Orthodox Christian theology, East and, originally, West, from very early on, including in the canonical Epistles.  The most profound o/Orthodox theology around Christian Baptism is actually uniting the convert to Christ’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection from the Dead, as the Holy Apostle Paul is well-known to point out (see Romans 6).  The early Fathers of the Church discuss how triple-immersion Baptism mimics burial in the ground and resurrection from the dead – done three times, once for each day the Lord spent in the tomb; or for His (1) Death, (2) Burial, and (3) Resurrection from the Dead; and of course for (1) the Father, (2) the Son, and (3) the Holy Spirit, as He commanded.  In fact some Christian sects baptized by single-immersion, and this was condemned by Ecumenical Councils as “baptism only into His Death,” as if not also into His Burial and Resurrection from the Dead.  Thus, even now, the unbaptized enter Orthodox Christianity by triple immersion.

Theologically, Orthodox Baptism unites you to the Lord’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection from the Dead – the Mystery of our Salvation.  In this way, you are united energetically – in His Energies, but not His imparticipable Essence – to Him, becoming a member of His Body, His Orthodox Church, just like His hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and nose, as St. Paul says repeatedly.  God’s All-Holy Spirit, of course, is “everywhere present, filling all things,” as Orthodox pray constantly in the prayer “O Heavenly King.”  But especially in Christ’s Body, whether during His three years on Earth, now in Heaven, or in His Body on Earth the Orthodox Church since Pentecost.  So it is as a member of Christ’s Body that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you too after Baptism and the sealing with the Holy Spirit, Chrismation (“confirmation”), immediately after Baptism.  Thus is Adam and Eve’s sin, the Ancestral Sin, removed from you – through your “death,” “resurrection from the dead,” union with Christ Himself “who knew no sin,” and filling with His Divine Spirit.

Somehow much of this has been lost in Western Christian tradition, where baptism became associated only formalistically with water, washing, joining the church, and salvation, as exemplified by the old Catholic Encyclopedia article.  By which I mean that they may sometimes still say the words in the homily or in spiritual journals or theological essays, but as someone who studied for both Latin and Protestant ministries, I can say they lack the resonance that they have in an Orthodox Church that baptizes by immersion.  As the CE points out, non-immersion Baptism was (and still is, in Orthodoxy) always considered permissible in unusual circumstances – unavailability of sufficient water, illness or decrepitude, disability, maybe even a perceived need for secrecy in situations of persecution.  But according to this source (scroll to bottom), baptism by pouring became the usual method in the West just on the eve of the Protestant Reformation.  I am unable to find out why it did so even in the case of infants – the most common candidates for baptism – who should be pretty easy to dip!  But I have a theory: In what might be called ‘standing immersion,’ as with depictions of the Lord, water was poured over the candidate’s head – in o/Orthodox Christianity, perhaps evoking His Burial at least by completely covering the body with some water, even after the fashion of throwing dirt on the grave.  Now if the association of Baptism with Christ’s Burial and Resurrection from the Dead was essentially lost in the West, you were left with pouring water over the head without standing in water, a theology mostly of (merely) washing (ie, “washing away Original Sin”), and from there, the degradation of the rite and its associations in faith and practice, until you reach a point where a slightly-revived Immersion practice (post-Vatican II) is feared by some Latins as threatening the theology of the sacrament!  You even have the obsession of some Western schools of theology – Latin and Protestant, for and against – with the question of ‘how little is required to have a “valid baptism”?’, leading to exhaustive, contrived discussions of sprinkling, smudging, use of sand, baptism by a nonbeliever, even baptizing in utero, and all the other s/Scholastic excesses that never had any significant place in actual Western Christian life.  I don’t have specific historical information regarding how the association with Christ’s Burial and Resurrection from the Dead were essentially lost, except to cite the general erosion of o/Orthodox t/Theology in the West, especially after the final real loss of Communion by the West with the rest of the Church dated at AD 1054.  (Celt that I am, I’m developing a renewed appreciation for just how “dark” the “Dark Ages,” a Western phenomenon,* really became – tragically.  Why would God allow that?)

Under Western influence, some Orthodox dioceses (and apparently most Byzantine-Rite Eastern Catholics) temporarily adopted Baptism by Pouring as their main method in the 16-1800s, but I believe most if not all Orthodox now normally use some form of Immersion again.  There is some discussion about how to receive converts to Orthodoxy who have been previously baptized by various methods in Heterodox Christianity, and it has varied somewhat historically from time to time, from place to place, and from Heterodox church to Heterodox church, but I believe the most common method, at least in the United States now, is by Chrismation – as I was received into the Greek Archdiocese of America in 2002 – not seeing an absolute need for a fresh Orthodox Baptism given the situation here.  (It’s actually more complex than that, and I don’t have a firm grip on it myself, but this is the decision of our Bishops and Synods, whose responsibility it is.  Greek Orthodox Metropolitan ISAIAH of Denver, who I am under the impression is quite the theologian, discusses this pastorally in a couple letters to his clergy in 2000 here and here.  The Archdiocese also advises me that it’s technically on a case-by-case basis.)

(*–Remember that only in the West did the true Empire of the Romans fall in the middle of the first Christian millennium.  It lived on in the East for another 1,000 years, with civilization, urbanity, literacy, science, etc.  Constantinople was the world’s largest city outside China!)

OK, OK, now that we’ve all had a laugh over a Vatican bureaucrat-archbishop’s politically-correct-sounding interview, first things first: what he was really about (Latin perspective).  For further background, from other sources on the WWW, I gather that what he was doing in the first place was providing advice to priest-confessors / spiritual directors in the Latin tradition, to broaden the traditional examination of conscience to cover things Sister Mary Rose may not have covered when His Excellency was in parochial school several generations ago.  Secondarily, to his faithful as they go to confession themselves – as he wishes they’d do more of (as should we all).

(More sober treatments are, for now at least, available from the Sydney Morning Herald and Reuters.)

The media didn’t have quite as much ‘fun’ when the Latins’ new Catechism of the Catholic Church did something similar over a decade ago, adding speeding and other such “modern” *  things to moral considerations.  As I recall they treated it as just a small, quirky highlight of a very long and detailed book about everything a Latin (or even an Eastern Catholic – with more Eastern Christian ‘flavor’ peppered-into it than we’d ever seen before) needs to believe in order to be saved (as they believe).

Someone with 6 years of graduate Western religious studies 😉 might like to say that this suggestion from Rome is indeed somewhat new, not altogether out of line with recent developments in Western moral theology regarding what it calls social sins or structural evil.  British United Reformed hymnwriter Dr. Brian Wren even penned one that conveys some of the idea:

1. Not only acts of evil will,
but bland routine and good intent,
can hurt and harass, starve and kill
the outcast and the innocent.
  In such a world, and in God’s name,
  we seek a gospel to proclaim.

2. Our normal, ordinary ways
of doing business, getting more,
entrap the poorest in a maze
of hunger, debt, disease and war.
  In Christ we would make good our claim,
  and find a gospel to proclaim.

(Speaking of which[!], you can look at the whole text at his copyright administrators Hope Publishing Company, but when they say you can agree to download one copy free and easy for personal use, they don’t mean you can save the HTML on your hard drive – it’ll hose your browser like it just did mine!  [All open tabs and windows!  Thank goodness WordPress auto-saves drafts.]  But they don’t bar highlighting and copying the text … for now.  BTW, I’m considering this truncated quotation an acceptable use under usual copyright laws; I even recommend his stuff for purchase by non-Orthodox choirs and congregations, so consider this a review.)

Not to mention someone with a background as an oppressed Irish Catholic [849 years, Your Majesty!], a Native American, a political and investigative reporter, a local labor union leader, and in Liberation Theology.

But I would be wrong to think this sort of thing is new, merely counter to stereotype, where we focus on personal failings in areas like sex, stealing, lying, cheating, killing, hurting, betraying – the stuff of the party game Scruples.  Important stuff, stuff that’s often hard not to do, a challenge!  But written Examinations of Conscience or Preparations for Confession have been ‘expanding upon’ or ‘contextualizing’ Commandments, Vices, and other violations for centuries.  ‘Ya haven’t killed anyone lately, but have you killed their reputation?’ etc.  And before that, you still had priests questioning penitents, especially if they seemed reluctant to come clean.

As pointed out, some of the specific things mentioned this week were technologically impossible not long ago, but variations on older temptations.  Other things, like contributing to social injustice, may have felt – rightly or wrongly – largely out of the reach of most laity in past eras, but most Christian Churches have frequently counseled rulers about this.  Today, with voting and rapid transit, not to mention the Internet(!), the average lay Christian in much of the world may sin against many times more people than in former times.

As the context of Confession points out, and as Orthodoxy emphasizes even more, it’s not just about resisting temptation, but repenting of sinfulness, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary (scroll down to last paragraph).  The perfect Latin is considered possible, as I recently implied, if highly doubtful; and some Protestant groups at least historically believed in some form of perfectibility in life.  But in Orthodoxy we have the frequently-told tales of the saintliest of monastics on their deathbeds worrying sincerely – though not unhealthily – that they haven’t even begun to repent, and the monastic Father who, when asked what they do all day, replied, “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up.”  “Orthodox aren’t perfect, just repentant.”  Seeming to successfully resist temptation can tempt to and induce pride, the deadliest sin of all; better to remember that we can never repent enough to divinize ourselves – repenting is merely the best preparation for God to do it.  And what happens then?  An even greater sense of our own sinfulness, of our responsibility for the sins of all humanity, even praying for the devil (they say) and seeking to refrain from killing bugs.  “New sins”?  We’ll probably never run out of sins!  But increased sensitizedness?  Even if it’s driven by news media like some of the archbishop’s seem to be – and as journalists say, “The news is usually bad” – is that a bad thing?  Is God unconcerned?  Brian Wren says no.

But consult your priest or spiritual parent.

(*–Who was the guy in the Old Testament who could be identified by watchmen while still several miles away from a fortress “because he drives like a maniac”?!!  I swear I read that exact phrase in a supposedly reputable translation a decade or two ago!)