At the Intersection of East and West:
This morning we’re in Chapter 4, second half of it, and talking about Chrismation. What’s fascinating about this is that today we have a Chrismation in our Church, the Mulligans are going to be Chrismated, so we’ll all get to witness what we’re talking about today first hand, again.
And it’s one of my favorite, very favorite, services in the Orthodox Church. It is a sacrament, and in the Orthodox Church it always goes hand-in-hand with Baptism, and that’s not always so in the West.
But, let’s talk about it as the fulfillment of Baptism, first, today. Fr. Alexander makes the point in the book that Chrismation is inseparable from Baptism.
In the West, these two things got separated, so that there was Baptism, and then, years later usually, there’s Chrismation, or Confirmation, where the Bishop anoints young people generally, with the chrism, and they’re confirmed in the Church.
But in the East, it was never separated. They always went hand-in-glove together. And, of course, this is the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I was talking to somebody two weeks ago, having breakfast with them actually, and this was a charismatic Protestant who was asking me if we believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
And I said, “Absolutely, we believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in fact every Orthodox service begins with a prayer to the Holy Spirit.”
“O Heavenly King, O Comforter…”—that’s a prayer to the Holy Spirit, and I don’t believe there’s an Orthodox service that doesn’t begin with that specific prayer.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, and His ministry in our lives, so much so, that it always accompanies Baptism. We’re not under the illusion that you can live the Christian life by just being grafted into Christ through Holy Baptism, and then not powered by the Holy Spirit.
You know how you go to certain websites and it says, “Powered by this, powered by that,” well, you know, if we had that on our T-shirt, it would be “Powered by the Holy Spirit,” because we believe, as Orthodox Christians, that we cannot live our lives as Christians apart from the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we’re given that great gift in our Chrismation. It’s given to us at the inception of our journey because we’re going to need it. This is not, you know, we’re saved by grace and then we do everything by works thereafter. No. Everything in our theology points to synergy, you know it’s a divine cooperation between us and God at work in our lives.
That verse in Philippians 2 says work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and then it says: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So, it’s not “either/or.” It’s “both/and.” God is working in us and through us and He does so through the Holy Spirit
Fr. Alexander says that Chrismation is man’s restoration to the work of God. Baptism is our restoration to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
But Chrismation is something slightly different. It’s our restoration to the work of God. It’s our anointing as kings and priests to do the work that God has given us in the kingdom of God.
I was thinking about the word Chrismation this morning. It basically comes from a Greek word that means “gift.” And even in the Chrismation service that we’ll see this morning, as the priest anoints those who are being chrismated, he says, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Right? The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now in what sense is the Holy Spirit, or Chrismation, a seal? Well, if you think about the word “seal,” you know, like if you had a letter from a king, it had a seal on it, it was like a wax imprint or an emblem, that marked ownership, that was the proof that that person was who he said he would be, or that letter was authentic. It was the proof of authenticity.
And so it is in our lives, the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s stamp upon our lives that He owns us, that we belong to Him, and that we’re authentically related to Him and adopted into His family.
But a seal also has another meaning, and that is protection. You know we sing that hymn, we sang it last night in Vespers, “While the Stone was Sealed by the Jews,” you know, to seal up something, to protect it, to close it.
So, we’ve been baptized, we’ve been united with Christ in our baptism, and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit is we’re protected, we’re sealed, we’re perfected. The seal of the gift. And we’re given these gifts, the gift of the Holy Spirit, in our Chrismation.
Because these gifts are the empowering to do the work of God. That’s why we’re given the Holy Spirit, so that we can do the work of God, and all that’s given to us in Chrismation.
This same young man that I was having a breakfast with, we were talking about the charismatic movement, and there’s really not been such a thing really in the Orthodox Church. There’s been attempts at a charismatic movement, but it really doesn’t gain much traction because we already have so much emphasis upon the Holy Spirit.
There’s not been a separation like there was in the West between Baptism, and then Chrismation happening at a later time. It’s right there from the beginning. We acknowledge the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We confess that we can’t live apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Fr. Alexander makes the point, and I love this, this is my favorite thing about Chrismation, it’s man’s ordination to be truly and fully man. It’s not merely spiritual or religious, but it encompasses the totality of his being.
Now think about what happens at Chrismation. You know, it’s not this intellectual, or sort of gnostic transferal of knowledge or power or something, but it’s very physical. The priest anoints the newly baptized on his brow, his eyes, his nostrils, his lips, both ears, breast, hands, and feet. The whole man is made the temple of God.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16, is a passage that you are probably familiar with, but let me just read it. St. Paul says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Lots of things were anointed in the Old Testament. The high priest was anointed, all of the various elements of the temple were anointed, the temple itself was anointed. And we, in the New Testament, are the temple of God, both individually and collectively, and so that we are anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Alexander says, and I want to read this quote to you, he says,
It is here, at this moment, that the pseudo-Christian opposition of the “spiritual” and the “material,” the “sacred” and the “profane,” the “religious” and the “secular” is denounced, abolished, and revealed as a monstrous lie about God and man and the world. The only true temple of God is man and through man the world. Each ounce of matter belongs to God and is to find in God its fulfillment. Each instant of time is God"s time and is to fulfill itself in God"s eternity. Nothing is “neutral.”
There’s a physicality to our faith that is wonderful and I think really speaks to the cosmic dimension of Christ’s redemption. You know, it’s not just that it’s a spiritual redemption in which we’re delivered from this body and this world, but even our bodies are claimed in Christ, and through Chrismation and consecrated unto Him and are to serve Him.
Chrismation is the affirmation also of each man’s uniqueness to be who he was made to be; to do what he was made to do. It’s the gift of vocation, Fr. Alexander says. Well then he talks about in our Chrismation…
Let me actually back up and talk just a minute about ordination from another perspective.
In the Old Testament, who was ordained? Who got the flask of oil poured on their head? Well, the kings, right? Do you remember when Samuel went out and found David, and poured the oil on his head, and the priests in the Old Testament, in particular the high priest, was anointed with oil, so that literally it ran down off of the top of his head? And so, priests and kings.
It’s important for us realize, that as Orthodox Christians, while we do have a special priesthood, we also believe in the priesthood of all believers. So that, in your Chrismation, you’re ordained. You’re ordained to be a king and a priest. And so that your service in the liturgy (and liturgy means the work of the people), your participation in that liturgy is as important as what the priest is doing in front of the altar.
We don’t serve liturgies in the Eastern tradition when just the priest is present, because it requires the whole people of God to be present. May not be very many; but it requires the presence of the laity, the “Amen” of the people.
And so that we believe in the four orders of the priesthood. And it begins with the laity, consecrated, ordained in their Chrismation, and then the diaconate, and the priesthood, and then the episcopate. So those are the four orders of the priesthood according to Scripture and according to our tradition.
But Baptism doesn’t just end there. There’s an ongoing renewal of it. You know, I thought when I was baptized, oh, you know, if I could just maintain that pristine moment, you know, and be thoroughly cleansed and have my sins remitted, and you know, if I could just die then . . .
And in fact, you have in many points in church history where people wanted to be baptized at the end of their life, as close to their death as possible so that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to commit additional sins, which was frankly a misunderstanding of Baptism, and a misunderstanding of the sacrament of Penance, which I also want to talk about, because you can’t really understand the sacrament of Confession or Penance apart from its organic relationship to Baptism, because in many ways it’s a renewal of Baptism.
Let’s back up; I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. The newly baptized and chrismated believer was immediately given the Holy Eucharist. So these things all go together. You know, they’re a seamless whole.
And this morning, when we see our friends chrismated, they will be the first in line to receive the Holy Eucharist. It’ll be the first time they’ve taken the Holy Eucharist in our church.
But these do form a seamless whole. We’re united with Christ, restored in our relationship in Baptism. We’re empowered to do the work of God in Chrismation. And then through the Holy Eucharist we’re sustained in that life.
That’s how we live in Christ. That’s how the reality of John 15:1-8, where we’re grafted into the vine in an organic relationship with the vine, is established; meaning Christ Himself, or as St. Paul says in Acts 17:28, “...in Him we live and move and have our being…”
How does that practically happen? Well, it happens in the Holy Eucharist, where we eat of His Body and drink of His Blood and partake of Him, so that we are united with Him.
In that baptismal procession (that we won’t see this morning because we’re not doing a baptism, but we will see on the 19th when Joe is baptized, and the two Parson babies are baptized), there’ll be a procession, and in that procession we sing that hymn from Pascha, “As Many As Are Baptized Into Christ.”
And that’s a direct quote from Galatians 3:27. And it’s a reminder that Baptism does hearken back to Pascha, or Baptism is a little Easter, if you will.
Just like in Chrismation, that’s our personal Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. And in fact, in the ancient church for the first eight days following Pascha the newly baptized attended Church and took Communion. And that’s why it was called Bright Week. They took Communion every day for eight days with the chrism still applied to them, and then it was washed off on the eighth day.
Fr. Alexander makes the point that when the chrism is washed off, and as a practical matter we do it, like when it’s done today, it will be washed off at the end of the Chrismation, but its basically a sign to us that this symbol must now become a reality in the person’s life.
You know, it’s symbolized that it’s conferred through the oil, but it now must become a reality in the heart and the life of the person who has been newly chrismated. We are to internalize what has happened to us. Our life, our very life, is to become a sacramental sign of this gift that’s given to us.
And then the hair is tonsured. Joe, I’m not sure how they’re going to do this with you (chuckle). You may have to grow a little hair, there.
But it’s a reminder that the Christian life begins in offering and sacrifice. It’s our first offering unto the Lord, and our life is to be constantly formed into the liturgy, the work of Christ.
And then to go to Penance. And we have to understand this in light of Chrismation and in light of Baptism. In Confession, I fear that so often we have sort of a western notion of this, that we have to go to the priest to be absolved of our sins – that that’s what we’re doing primarily – that there’s this juridical action where, by the priest’s declaration, our sins are wiped away, and the slate’s made clean. And that’s all there is to it.
But in the Orthodox tradition, Confession is first and foremost a restorative action – not a juridical action – but a restorative action, so that we’re healed, we’re placed back in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Think of it this way: What happened when Adam fell?
You know, in the west, there’s all this discussion of imputation, and that Adam’s, you know, he became guilty of his sin, and his guilt was imputed to his descendents.
But first and foremost what happened was that there was a breach in his relationship with God—that’s what was destroyed in the fall, there was a break in this relationship. And that’s what’s healed, or restored, in Christ.
And it’s not as though this is restored once for all when we’re baptized and chrismated, and then we live happily ever after. No, we’re going to continue to fall into sin, and there needs to be some means by which that relationship can be restored to Christ again, and that happens through Confession.
So it’s not as though we’re accumulating these sins and when you get to a certain critical mass, you have to go to the priest and get the slate wiped clean and you can start over again, like getting new batteries for some device.
No. It’s not that. It’s the restoration of the relationship with Christ.
Fr. Alexander says that the original sin was not transgression of rules, but rather the breaking of a relationship, an alienation from God. Man preferred something else to God. He preferred, specifically, a forbidden fruit.
And this is the only real sin, preferring something else to God. Every other sin flows from that. That’s why, in a very real sense, the sin of idolatry, which is, you know, the first commandment is a prohibition of idolatry. Every other thing flows from that.
I mean, if you think about it ...adultery, what is that? It’s a preference of something that God has forbidden. Profaning of the Sabbath, stealing, you know, it’s preferring something else ahead of God, and not giving it its proper relationship, but making it a god.
The purpose of Penance is to restore this relationship. It means turning from the things that pretend to be God, and returning to God himself.
Now this is particularly important for us during this advent season where all the world tries to turn what should be a very holy season, into a commercial endeavor that makes the things of this season an end in themselves.
And we have to fight as Christians to preserve the spirit of the season; to remember that this is about the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
This is not about gifts, and lights, and trees, and parties, and all these others things that attempt to displace Christ. You know, all those can be fine and good in their proper place, but they really do become an end to themselves and become a religion in the worst sense of the word when they don’t lead us to a remembrance of Christ.
Fr. Alexander says that Christ is forgiveness itself. In Him, all sins are forgiven once and for all. There’s not any need for a new absolution any more than there’s a need for a new sacrifice at the Eucharist.
You know, some Protestants point out, more particularly to Roman Catholics than probably us, although we sometimes get painted with the same brush, that you don’t need to re-crucify Christ.
Well, Amen to that, that’s right. He was crucified once for all. And on Sunday morning, in the Eucharist, we’re not re-sacrificing Christ; we’re entering into that one sacrifice that was given for all.
So the same thing happens in Confession. It’s not that we’re getting a new absolution. We’re simply entering back into our baptism, back into our union with Christ, and it’s in Him that we have righteousness, in Him that we have forgiveness. It’s in him that we once again experience the gift of grace.
Penance is the power of Baptism as it lives in the Church and is made manifest again in our life. And that’s what Confession is all about.
So do you need to confess? Yeah.
When? Whenever you sense that there’s that breach.
You know, this is something to do in consultation with your priest in terms of frequency and all of that. In some parishes you can’t approach the chalice without having gone to Confession. In other churches you know, it’s different. And so you have to consult with your local parish priest.
But it should be a regular part of our lives, let me just say that much. It should be a regular part of our lives. It’s a way that we make baptism real in our lives, so that it’s not just a forgotten memory; it’s not just a certificate filed away in our important papers somewhere. It’s not photos in an album, but it’s a living reality, because we have to walk in the world as forgiven people, as people who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
And even when we pray these prayers, “O Heavenly King, O Comforter,” you know at the beginning of the prayers, it should remind us of our Chrismation, of our empowering and our ordination to do the work of God as the people of God.