THE HOLY MYSTERIES OF THE CHURCH

         Outside the Holy Orthodox Church, what most people refer to as Sacraments, especially those coming from the Roman Catholic or certain Protestant denominations, are officially referred to as the Holy Mysteries in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The term sacrament is derived from the Latin sacramentum, meaning "a consecrated thing or act," i.e., "something holy," "to consecrate;" which itself was a Church Latin translation of the Greek mysterion, meaning "mystery", hence the term Holy Mysteries.

 

The Holy Mysteries in the Orthodox Church are a means of sanctification for those who seek salvation through Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Holy Mysteries, like the Church, are both visible and invisible. In every Mystery there is a combination of an outward visible sign with an inward Spiritual Grace. They are the mystical participation in divine grace for mankind. In a general sense, the Orthodox Church considers everything which is in and of the Church as mystical. 

 

Through our sincere participation of the Holy Mysteries, we are set on a life long spiritual journey of purification and sanctification, which ultimately leads to our salvation as we strive to become that which our Creator intended for us, namely, to have His Image and Likeness. The Mysteries are personal, they are the means whereby God’s Grace is appropriated to each individual Christian. Most of the time, the priest or Bishop mentions the name given at Holy Baptism of each person as he performs each Mystery.
 

Generally speaking, although the Church counts Seven main Holy Mysteries, there are in fact more than seven. The Seven Mysteries some say, symbolise the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is even a tradition that most "Epitrahilions" (the priest and bishop vestment that hangs from the neck to the feet), have seven crosses printed or sown on them, because that vestment must be warn in order to perform any of the Seven Mysteries, as well as any of the other Mysteries. Even though there has never really been a universal declaration within the Orthodox Church that there are only Seven Mysteries, early Orthodox writers varied as to the number of sacraments: for example, St. John of Damascus lists only two; St. Dionysius the Areopagite lists six; Joasaph, Metropolitan of Ephesus (fifteenth century), ten; and some Byzantine theologians who list seven sacraments differ on the items in their list. Dositheus in who in the 15th decree of his Confession of the Synod of Jerusalem (A.D. 1672) most boldly says, "We believe that there are in the Church Evangelical Mysteries, and that they are seven. For a less or a greater number of the Mysteries we have not in the Church; since any number of the Mysteries other than seven is the product of heretical madness. And the seven of them were instituted in the Sacred Gospel, and are gathered from the same, like the other dogmas of the Catholic Faith."

 

To conclude, the question of how many Mysteries there are in the Orthodox has been debatable, however, what is important, is not how many are the number of the Holy Mysteries, but rather,  with how much fervour,  piety and fear of God they are performed and embraced by the clergy and the laity, this is what is important and essential.

 

The universal understanding today of the Seven Mysteries are the following:

  •  Holy Baptism.

  • Holy Chrismation.

  • Holy Eucharist.

  • Repentance & Confession.

  • Holy Unction.

  • Holy Matrimony.

  • Holy Ordination. 

Some of the other Holy Mysteries, only to mention a few, are:

  • the Burial service of the dead. 

  • the tonsure into the Monastic Ranks.

  • the Greater Blessing of waters at Holy Theophany.

  • the anointing of a monarch.

 

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