The Holy Mysteries of the Church

The “Holy Mysteries” of the Church usually refer to the rites of Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, Confession, Marriage, Ordination and Unction (or Anointing) of the sick. The ancient and traditional practice of the Orthodox Church is to consider everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical.

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Sacramental Life

The holy mysteries or sacraments in the life of the Orthodox Church are vessels of mystical participation in Divine Grace by humanity, and indeed Creation itself. The Church itself is a Sacrament or Holy Mystery, just as God intended all of Creation to be a Sacrament. The life of every Christian is to be a mystery, a sacrament. Some have referred to this as the “sacrament of the ordinary”.

Within the life of the Church we are given rituals and prayers and various means by which to actively seek participation in more of God's grace. The sacraments of baptism and chrismation are mysteries of our initiation into this life. The sacrament of repentance (confession) is the mystery of our continuing renewal and recommitment to the life we have been initiated into. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) is the quintessential mystery and is often referred to alone as “The Holy Mysteries”, with a capital T. The Eucharist is the central sacrament of the Church by which we are literally fed and healed and strengthened to live out the life in Christ. The Church also recognizes God’s grace clearly at work in the sacraments of holy unction (anointing of the sick), marriage, and ordination. Within the Orthodox Christian Tradition we also see our participation in God’s grace within the Orthodox funeral rite, the Great Blessing of the Waters at the Theophany, the monastic tonsure, as well as icons, the consecration of Church buildings, cemeteries and other places, objects and people.

“Orthodox theology regards the sacraments as sacred actions through which the encounter between God and the human person takes place. In them our union with God, in so far as it is possible in this earthly life, is realized; the grace of God comes down upon us and sanctifies our entire nature, both soul and body.”

From The Mystery of Faith by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)