What are Sacraments?
The sacraments are to be regarded as outward signs through which God makes known His love to us and we pledge ourselves to be His people. Through the sacrament the grace of God is made available to the faithful. We can not dispense with the sacraments because they are commanded by God. They are the ways in which God makes known His salvation for us and we signify our acceptance of His salvation.
Sacraments are instituted by Christ and constituted by the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Church does not limit the number of sacraments but there are mainly 7 in number. Of them, Baptism is the first one. It is through Baptism that a person is initiated into the realm of religious life and Christian faith .But he/she continues acquiring the divine grace as sustenance for the up growing in the Christian life through other sacraments such as Holy Chrism, Holy Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Holy Anointing the Sick. And all these sacraments go hand in hand and are complete in relation to the Holy Qurbana-the Queen of Sacraments – which is popularly eulogized as the ‘medicine of immortality’.
The faith and life of the Orthodox Church is based on Bible but not limited by the written bible alone. Bible is also part of the tradition of the Holy church which has been guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13). There are both written and oral traditions prevailing in our Church. (Ref:-2 Thessalonians3:6; 1 Corinthians 11:23, 34; Philippians 4:9; 2Timothy 1:13, 2:2; Hebrews2:1, 3John13).
How important the sacraments are?
Every sacrament is attached to the body and blood of Christ which has been bequeathed to us as part of imparting His Life into our life since blood is the seat of life. The blood formed in the body of Christ Incarnate by way of metabolic process called sanguification (The formation of blood cells in the living body) was shed on the Cross at Calvary at the time of crucifixion. And this very natural blood in a mysterious way has been converted (made into) the wine – blood (dispensed one) by the spiritual process called sanctification and is given to us through the holy mass to enliven each one of us. (Ref:-St, Matt26:25-28, St.Mark14:22-24, St.Luke22:19-20). The verse 6:6 from the Book of Revelation reads thus: “Do not harm the oil and vine”. This verse implies that sacraments like Baptism, Holy Qurbana and Anointing the Sick will continue till the end, as the oil and vine are the essential objects for these sacraments. Here the consecrated Olive oil represents the whole church and is considered to be medium of transmission of the Holy Spirit.
The sacraments are administered through duly ordained clergy. It is the Holy Spirit who ordains a person enabling him to be the minister in the Church. It is not the merit or personal goodness of the clergy that works in the sacrament but the grace and Holy Spirit. However, this does not mean that the clergy is exempted from personal goodness or quality. We must also realize the fact that the spiritual persons are ordinary people endowed with extraordinary divine power just as St. James attests that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours (James 5:16). The priests along with the faithful (Church) earnestly pray for the sick and administer the sacraments for healing. God answers the prayers irrespective of our failures and weaknesses. The whole faithful community rejoices and praises God for answering their prayers and healing a fellow believer.
The bible says, “The blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a burnt calf are sprinkled on the people who are unclean, and this purifies them by taking away their ritual impurities. Since this is true, how much more is accomplished by the blood of Christ! Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will purify our conscience from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God”. (Hebrews 9:13-14). These verses from the epistle of St. Paul validate the relevance of sacraments of the holy church for the edification of faithful of the present time.