Who should be anointed with Holy Myron? Can a non-orthodox receive Orthodox Sacraments? Do the Orthodox have Eucharistic Communion with the non-orthodox?
It was in 1974. This writer was a very young priest in charge of a mission parish in Chicago, which he founded for the Indian Syrians. In one of the parish committee meetings, one member accused him for not conducting a marriage between an Orthodox young woman and a Protestant (Church of South India) young man, who had desired to have the wedding according to rite of the Orthodox Church to please his bride. Most of the members of the Committee did not understand the theological ramifications of the decision of this writer not to bless that marriage.
The bridegroom, who was a Protestant, requested this writer to bless his marriage in the Orthodox Church, and he had no objection to go through any Orthodox rites for that purpose. He told this writer to anoint him with Holy Myron, not because he had had any understanding of what Holy Myron was, or because he had desired to convert to Orthodoxy. He just wanted his marriage in the Orthodox Church to please his bride. This writer asked him if he had the intention to continue his life in the Orthodox Church; and he said emphatically that he would not be converted to Orthodoxy. And this writer told him that he could not anoint him with Holy Myron with insincere intentions. The marriage did not take place in the Orthodox Church; an Evangelical Pastor witnessed their marital vows. Within a year, it was reported this couple became members of a Pentecostal Assembly!
These are the questions arising from this incident: Who is anointed with Holy Myron? What should be the intention behind receiving the unction of Holy Myron? What is Holy Myron?
Let me answer the last question first without any sophisticated theological jargons. Holy Myron is a sacrament of Christian initiation received along with Baptism. The sacramental liturgy of Holy Myron says that it is the fragrance of Christ, sign and seal of true faith, and the PLENITUDE OF THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The entire Orthodox theology of Holy Myron is encapsuled in these words of anointing. Any convert from heretical groups is accepted into the Church with the unction of Holy Myron. The Orthodox Church accepts only the sacrament of baptism of Protestants or other groups, if they retain the right intention and form of baptism. (For example, baptisms performed by sects such as Baptists, Pentecostals, and the like are not accepted as valid, because their intentions are defective, and converts from such churches are to be baptized again before they are chrismated). Converts from any Christian sects that do not have a valid priesthood and do not have Holy Myron (Chrism) as a sacrament are to be chrismated before they are accepted into Holy Orthodoxy. It should be clearly understood that without a valid apostolic succession of the priesthood there is no imparting of sacramental grace beyond baptism, hence even if a heretical group talks about Holy Chrism, their rite of confirmation (as they call it) is null and void; it does not generate grace.
Any person, who is about to receive this plenitude of the gift of Holy Spirit through Holy Myron, should already have the genuine desire to convert to Orthodoxy. If Holy Myron is used to anoint anyone who does not have the proper spiritual preparation to be received into the Church, or who does not have the desire to convert, that rite is a desecration of the sacrament, and it is sacrilegious. In other words, any act of chrismation that does not have the genuine intention of bringing someone to the Holy Church is sacrilegious. If the celebrant is morally certain that a person who is about to receive Holy Myron is doing it with ulterior motives, the sacrament of Chrismation should not be administered (it is based on this principle that this writer denied the chrismation and marriage of the person mentioned earlier). Many priests are pressured into such situations in order to please people and to move smoothly without criticism; but they should always remind themselves that they are the custodians of faith and preservers of the mysteries of God, and their primary task is not to be politically correct.
We wrote rather extensively about it, because there are violations of this principle occasionally by some priests. We know priests who have chrismated persons of other faiths when it was morally certain that he/ she would never practice Orthodoxy. For example, one priest chrismated a woman, who was to be become the spouse of an Orthodox young man, when it was positively certain that the woman would never practice Orthodoxy; the woman was a Protestant minister, who is said to be still in the Protestant ministry. This incident was brought to the attention of his superiors; but no action was taken, because it was not politically correct.
A priest blessed another marriage in a Protestant church. In this case the bridegroom was a Protestant and the bride was Orthodox. The groom was never chrismated, because he did not want to go through any such rituals. The family of the bride asked the priest for an Orthodox wedding, and the priest went to the Protestant Church of the groom and solemnized that marriage! It is that easy. It was done, because it was also politically correct. Again, no action was taken!
Another example from this writer’s pastoral experience: An Orthodox young man was proposed to marry an Evangelical bride, who happened to be a physician. In order to get a physician as bride for their son, the parents bent all they could and consented for a wedding performed by a congregational pastor. This writer did not attend the marriage, but warned them that the boy would be automatically out of the Church if the couple had not come back to the Church and after chrismation of the bride marriage had not been sacramentalized within the Orthodox Church. The marriage took place at the Protestant Congregational Church as planned; but the couple did not show up for sacramental rectification. Another priest in the same town, after a year, accepted this couple into his parish without any sacramentalizing rites to bless their marriage and baptized their first baby! Priests do not have the scruple to do such things of blatant violations of Orthodox canons. Again, it was brought to the attention of his superiors. Either the priest or his superior should be scrupulous. None of them was. We think these superiors are either sleeping, or playing politically correct games.
It is in the canons of the Church that our priests should never distribute communion to heretics and schismatics. There are few exceptions to this rule, if the communicant is from an ancient Church that teaches the same or almost same doctrines regarding the Holy Eucharist (if the communicant is coming from a heretical group this is never applicable). For example, during the World War II, there was no Roman Catholic chaplains in the British Army in India. The Papal Nuncio in India requested the Orthodox Church to offer sacramental services to the Roman Catholic soldiers. The Catholicos of the East appointed Bishop Mar Thoma Dionysius, later Metropolitan, to be the military chaplain not only of the Orthodox Syrian soldiers in the army, but also of the Roman Catholics. Bishop Dionysius heard the confessions of the Roman Catholic soldiers, pronounced absolution over them and gave them communion. These are not normal circumstances. But what about a person who left the Church to become an Episcopalian, the American counterpart of the Church of South India, a Protest denomination? A novice from one of our convents did the same, and approached for communion from this writer, which he declined. But she found another Orthodox priest who was very willing to serve communion to this woman whenever she visited his church. This was brought to the attention of a Committee that sponsors faith-related activities of a region. There was no one to declare that this priest was doing something wrong. To spotlight him was not at all politically correct.
This same priest has a reputation for serving Holy Communion to non-Orthodox people in the past. He is still continuing that practice. Did any hierarch point his finger at him and say that he was doing wrong. No one had the courage to face him and tell: “Shape up or ship out”. Again, it was not politically correct.
During an ecumenical function, an Orthodox priest conducted an Orthodox Liturgy. In the middle of the liturgy, during the Diptychs, out of courtesy, this Orthodox priest asked the Protestant minister, who was standing by, to recite all the priestly prayers, and the latter indeed said those prayers. Why didn’t he ask the Protestant minister to offer the prayers of consecration and epiclesis also? He would have been more popular then! Did any superior take any action against him? No. It was not politically correct. It is said that this Orthodox priest is serving a congregation in the western United States with more ecumenical fervor.
An educated Orthodox priest invited Marthomite ministers to preach sermons in Orthodox retreats and conventions. His superior was informed about it. But there was no action of reprimand. The mother church in India does not permit any of her clergymen to be part of Ecumenical Evangelistic Conventions. Tragically, it is reported that Orthodox priests are active participants of such conventions in Chicago and Dallas.
Will the Orthodox Syrian Church of India remain faithful to her apostolic faith when Jesus comes back? This writer seriously doubts it. It is this writer’s opinion that we posses a lackadaisical priesthood within the episcopal and presbyteral orders.
Let us all pray for our hierarchal and presbyteral leadership so that they may understand what true Orthodoxy is, and they may understand what they re called for