Essential Rites of Grace
Within the Apostolic Western Orthodox Church, the sacraments hold a seminal role as avenues of divine grace and sanctification. Prior to the devastating schism of 1054, which led to the split between Eastern and Western Christianity, these sacraments were universally accepted as crucial for the spiritual nourishment and growth of every Christian. This essay aims to provide an in-depth look at the sacraments, their importance supported by Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. Additionally, it will contrast these ancient views with Reformation theology, which has largely reduced or altogether eliminated the significance of these sacred rites.
The Seven Sacraments: An Overview
Initiates the believer into the Christian faith, cleansing them of sin and regenerating their spirit.
- Scripture: Matthew 28:19
- Church Fathers: St. Gregory of Nazianzus considered baptism the most beautiful and magnificent gift from God.
2. Confirmation (Chrismation)
Bestows the gifts of the Holy Spirit onto the baptized Christian.
- Scripture: Acts 8:17
- Church Fathers: St. Cyril of Jerusalem spoke of Chrismation as the “seal of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
Consecrates and shares the Body and Blood of Christ among the faithful.
- Scripture: Luke 22:19-20
- Church Fathers: St. Ignatius of Antioch described it as the “medicine of immortality.”
4. Confession (Penance)
Offers forgiveness of sins via the clergy.
- Scripture: John 20:23
- Church Fathers: St. John Chrysostom recognized the power bestowed upon the clergy as greater than even that given to angels.
Unites a man and a woman in a sacred covenant.
- Scripture: Mark 10:7-8
- Church Fathers: St. John Chrysostom extolled marital love as the force that binds society.
6. Holy Orders
Ordains individuals into the clergy.
- Scripture: 1 Timothy 4:14
- Church Fathers: St. Gregory the Great referred to clergy as “servants of the servants of God.”
7. Anointing of the Sick (Unction)
Provides healing and spiritual comfort to the sick and dying.
- Scripture: James 5:14
- Church Fathers: St. Augustine defined the sacrament as a “visible form of an invisible grace.”
The Sacraments of Initiation: The Entryway to Divine Life
Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation), and Eucharist are commonly referred to as the Sacraments of Initiation. These rites are foundational, as they usher the believer into the fullness of Christian life.
Importance of Sacraments of Initiation
- Spiritual Regeneration: Baptism cleanses the original sin and grants spiritual birth.
- Spiritual Empowerment: Confirmation bestows the gifts of the Holy Spirit, empowering the individual for Christian living.
- Spiritual Nourishment: The Eucharist feeds the soul and fosters a deeper union with Christ.
Together, these sacraments of initiation provide a comprehensive path to divine life, marking significant milestones in one’s spiritual journey and offering the grace required for each stage.
Significance of the Sacraments in Apostolic Western Orthodoxy
Embodiments of Grace
Sacraments are not mere symbols; they are actual conduits of divine grace. They embody the unmerited favor of God, which facilitates righteous living.
The sacraments are inherently communal, drawing the body of believers together and strengthening the mystical Body of Christ.
The sacraments accompany a believer from cradle to grave, providing spiritual sustenance and marking significant life events.
A Comparative Look at Reformation Theology
Symbolism over Substance
The Reformation led to a shift from viewing sacraments as efficacious rites to seeing them as mere symbols, particularly under the influence of doctrines like “Sola Scriptura” and “Sola Fide.”
While the churches born from the Reformation do not deny grace altogether, their deviation from the sacramental understanding deprives believers of the manifold graces available through these sacred rites.
The sacraments in Apostolic Western Orthodoxy are far more than ritualistic practices. They are the spiritual lifeblood of the Church, imbued with divine grace and sanctifying power. Their significance, rooted in both Scripture and the teachings of the Church Fathers, provides a vivid contrast to Reformation theology, which has either marginalized or completely done away with these sacred rites. Therefore, the sacraments, particularly those of initiation, serve as indispensable means to receive the fullness of divine grace and partake in a rich spiritual life deeply connected to the ancient Faith.