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The Most Important Actions During the Serving of the Mysteries


Baptism and Chrismation

Before the Mystery of Baptism is celebrated one is given a name in honor of one of the saints of the Orthodox Church. In this rite the priest thrice makes the sign of the Cross over the candidate and prays to the Lord to be merciful to the person and, after joining him through Baptism to the Holy Church, to make him a partaker of eternal blessedness.

When the time arrives for Baptism the priest prays to the Lord to drive away from the person every evil and impure spirit which is concealed and rooted in his heart and to make him a member of the Church and an heir of eternal blessedness. The one being baptized renounces the Devil and gives a promise not to serve him, but rather Christ, and by reading the Creed confirms his faith in Christ, as King and God. In the case of the Baptism of an infant, the renunciation of the Devil and all his works, as well as the Symbol of Faith are said in his name by the sponsors, the godfather and/or the godmother, who thus become the guardians of the faith of the one being baptized and take upon themselves the duty to teach him the faith when he reaches maturity, and the responsibility to see to it that he lives in a Christian manner. Then the priest prays that the Lord sanctify the water in the font, drive out of it the Devil, and make it for the one being baptized a source of a new and holy life. He thrice makes the sign of the Cross in the water, first with his fingers, and then with consecrated oil with which he will likewise anoint the person being baptized, as a sign of the mercy of God towards him. Following this the priest three times immerses him in the water with the words, "The servant of God N. is baptized, in the name of the Father, Amen; And of the Son, Amen; And of the Holy Spirit, Amen." A white garment is put on the newly baptized, and he is given a cross to wear. The white garment serves as a sign of his purity of soul after Baptism and reminds him to henceforth preserve this purity, and the cross serves as a visible sign of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Immediately after this, the Mystery of Chrismation is performed. The priest anoints the one being baptized on various parts of the body with the words, "the seal (the sign) of the gift of the Holy Spirit." At that time the newly baptized is invisibly granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit, with the help of which he will grow and be strengthened in the spiritual life. The forehead is anointed with chrism for the sanctification of the mind; the eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears for the sanctification of the senses; the chest to sanctify the heart; the hands and feet for the sanctification of actions and the entire conduct. Circling around the font three times, the priest with the baptized and his sponsors symbolize the spiritual solemnity and joy of the occasion. The lit candles in their hands serve as a sign of spiritual enlightenment, and the cruciform tonsuring of the baptized symbolizes his dedication to the Lord.

Confession and Communion

Those approaching these Mysteries after a significant lapse of time should fast for several days in addition to the normal ecclesiastical fasts and attend the daily services in the church. For those who commune regularly and frequently and pray daily, additional fasting is not necessary. One should carefully recall one's sins, consider them with contrition, and pray that the Lord have mercy on one's soul. At a prearranged time one should come to the priest, who will serve the short service of Confession before an analogion on which are placed a Cross and Gospel, and repent before Christ Himself of one's sins. The priest, upon noting one's conscientious repentance, which consists of a full confession and the resolve not to repeat one's sins, will lay the end of his epitrachelion over the bowed head of the penitent and read the Prayer for the Remission of Sins, in which one's sins are forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ Himself, and will bless him with the sign of the Cross. Having kissed the Cross, the penitent departs with a peaceful conscience and prays that the Lord grant him to receive Holy Communion.

The evening before Communion, one should read at home the Prayers before Communion and whatever rule the priest has given. The Mystery of Holy Communion is celebrated during the Liturgy. All those who have confessed repeat quietly the prayer before Communion with the priest, and making a bow to the ground (except on Sundays) with reverence, go to the Holy Chalice and commune the Holy Gifts, receiving in the visible form of the bread and wine the true Body and Blood of Christ. After Communion and the Liturgy concludes, in addition to the thanksgiving offered up during the Liturgy, there are special Prayers of Thanksgiving, to be read. The ailing and elderly are communed by the priest at home privately after their confessions are heard.

Ordination

This Mystery is accomplished in the Altar before the Holy Table during the course of a Hierarchical Liturgy. A single bishop ordains one to the diaconate or the priesthood, but the consecration of a bishop is celebrated by a group of bishops, usually three. The ordination of a deacon occurs in the Liturgy following the consecration of the Gifts, to indicate that a deacon does not receive the power to accomplish this Mystery. A priest is ordained during the "Liturgy of the Faithful," just after the Great Entry, so that he who is consecrated, as one who has received the appropriate Grace, might take part in the sanctification of the Gifts. Bishops are consecrated during the "Liturgy of the Catechumens," following the Small Entry, which indicates that a bishop is given the right to consecrate others to the various ranks of holy orders. The most important action during an ordination is the hierarchical laying on of hands, together with the calling down upon the one being ordained, of the Grace of the Holy Spirit and therefore consecration is also termed the "Laying on of Hands" (in Greek, "Hierotonia").

The one to receive Ordination is first led through the Royal Gates into the Altar by either a deacon or priest. The candidate circles the Altar Table three times, stopping each time to kiss the four corners of the Table, and making a prostration before the bishop. He then kneels at the front right hand corner of the Altar, a deacon on one knee, a priest on both knees, and the bishop covers his head with the end of his ornophorion, three times making the sign of the Cross over his head, and placing his hand upon him says aloud, "By Divine Grace (N.) is raised, through the laying on of hands, to the diaconate (or priesthood); let us pray therefore for him that the Grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon him." The choir responds "Kyrie eleison" (Greek for "Lord have mercy") and as the bishop bestows each of the vestments proper to his rank to the newly-ordained he exclaims, "Axios!" (Greek for "Worthy!"). This is then repeated thrice by the clergy and then the choir. Following his vesting the newly-ordained is greeted by all those of his rank as a colleague and he participates in the remainder of the service with them.

The consecration of a bishop is nearly identical, except that the prospective bishop, before the beginning of the Liturgy, stands in the center of the church and pronounces aloud a confession of the Faith and vows to act in accordance with the canons of the Church during his service. After the Little Entry, during the chanting of the Trisagion, he is led into the Altar and remains kneeling before the Altar Table. When the presiding bishop reads the prayer of consecration, all the bishops lay their right hands upon his head and over them hold the open Gospel, with the printed pages downward.

Matrimony

The Mystery of Holy Matrimony is celebrated in the center of the church before an analogion on which are placed a Cross and Gospel. The ceremony begins with the betrothal and is followed by the "crowning," or actual wedding. The first is performed as follows. The groom stands on the right hand side and the bride on the left. The priest blesses them three times with lit candles and then gives them to the couple to hold as symbols of conjugal love, blessed by the Lord. After a litany asking God to grant them every good thing and mercy and that He bless their betrothal and unite them and preserve them in peace and unity of soul, the priest blesses and puts on their right hands rings, which earlier were placed on the Altar for sanctification. The groom and bride receive these rings as sacred pledges and as a sign of the indissolubility of the union into which they aspire to enter. The betrothal is followed by the wedding or crowning. Here the priest prays to the Lord to bless the marriage and to send down upon those entering into it His heavenly Grace. As a visible symbol of this Grace, he puts crowns on their heads and blesses them three times together with the words, "O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor." In the epistle from St. Paul which is read, the importance of the Mystery of Marriage and the mutual responsibilities of the husband and wife are discussed, while the Gospel recalls the presence of the Lord Himself at the wedding in Cana. Those united in marriage then drink wine from the same cup as a sign that from this moment they must live as one soul, sharing their joys and sorrows. They then walk behind the priest, circling the analogion three times, as a symbol of spiritual joy and solemnity.

Anointing of the Sick

This Mystery is also called Unction and is served to aid in healing from weaknesses of soul and body. Ideally it is served by seven priests, but in cases of need it can be served by only one. Into a vessel with wheat is put a smaller vessel with oil as a sign of the mercy of God. Some wine is added to the oil in imitation of the mercy shown by the Good Samaritan to the man attacked by thieves and in memory of the blood of Christ shed on the Cross. Seven lit candles are placed in the wheat and between them seven small sticks wound around one end with cotton which are used to anoint the ailing person seven times. All those present hold lit candles. Following a prayer for the sanctification of the oil and that it might serve the ailing person through the Grace of God unto the healing of soul and body, seven sections from the Epistles. and Gospels are read. After each reading the priest anoints the sick person with the sign of the Cross on the forehead, nostrils, cheeks, lips, chest and both sides of the hands while saying a prayer to the Lord that He, as Physician of soul and body might heal His ailing servant from the weaknesses of soul and body. After the seven-fold anointing the priest opens the Gospel and places it with the printed pages downward, as if it were the healing hand of the Saviour Himself, over the head of the sick person and then prays that the Lord forgive Him his sins. Then the sick person kisses the Gospel and Cross and, if possible, makes three prostrations before the priest(s) asking for his blessing and forgiveness. This concludes the Mystery of Unction.

Moleben

A Moleben is the term for a short service of prayers in which the faithful, according to their individual needs and circumstances, appeal in prayer to the Lord God, the Theotokos, or the saints.

The customary Moleben resembles Matins in its form, but in practice it is significantly shortened and consists of the beginning prayers; the singing of the troparion and refrains, "Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee," "Most holy Theotokos, save us "Holy Father, Nicholas, pray unto God for us..." and others; the reading of a passage from the Gospels; the Augmented and Short Litanies; and finally, a prayer to the Lord God, the Theotokos, or the saint petitioned, concerning the subject of the Moleben. Occasionally these Molebens are joined with an akathist or the Lesser Blessing of Water. An akathist is read after the Short Litany before the Gospel reading, while the blessing of waters is served after the Gospel reading.

In addition to the supplicatory Molebens there are also special Molebens which relate to a particular situation: a thanksgiving Moleben for a sign of God's mercy; a Moleben for the cure of the sick; a Moleben on the occasion of a common trouble: drought, bad weather, flood, war, and so forth. There are also special Molebens to be served on New Year's Day, before the school year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and so forth.

The Burial of the Dead

After his death a Christian's body is washed and clothed in clean, and if possible, new clothes and placed in a white shroud, preferably that garment in which he was baptized if he was an adult when this occurred, as a sign that the deceased, in his Baptism, gave a promise to lead a life in purity and holiness. He may be dressed in the uniform of his calling as a sign that he departs to the Lord God to give an account for the obligations of his calling in life. Across the forehead is placed a strip of paper representing a crown, imprinted with the images of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner, with the inscription "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us." It is a sign that the deceased, as a Christian, fought on this earth for the righteousness of God and died in the hope that by the mercy of God, and the intercessions of the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner, he will receive a crown in Heaven. A cross or an icon is placed in his hands as a sign of the faith of the deceased in Christ, the Theotokos, or one of the saints pleasing to God. The body is placed in a coffin, and is half covered with a church covering as a symbol that the deceased was under the protection of the Orthodox Church. If the body remains in the home then it is put before the domestic icons with the body facing the exit. Candles are placed around the coffin as a sign that the deceased has passed into the realm of light, into the better life beyond the grave. Near the coffin, the Psalter is read, along with prayers for the repose of the deceased, and Pannykhidas are served. Until burial special prayers for the departure of the soul, which are located in the back of the Psalter, are also read. The psalms are read to comfort those grieving for the deceased.

Before the burial the body is transferred to the church for the funeral, and prior to the departure for the church a short service for the repose, the Litia, is chanted and during the actual removal we sing, "Holy God"

The coffin is placed in the center of the church, with the body facing the Altar. The funeral service consists of hymns in which the entire destiny of a man is depicted. For his transgressions he is returned to the dust from which he was taken, yet despite the multitude of sins a human being does not cease to be "the image of the glory of God," created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore the holy Church prays to its Master and Lord that by His ineffable mercy He forgive the reposed his sins and deem him worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. After the readings of the Epistle and Gospel, in which the future resurrection of the dead is described, the priest reads the Prayer of Absolution. With this prayer the deceased is released from any bonds of oaths or curses, and his sins for which he repented, and which despite repentance he might have forgotten, are absolved, and he is released unto the life beyond the grave in peace. The written text of this prayer is then placed in the hand of the reposed. The relatives and friends then give the body a last kiss as a sign of mutual forgiveness, and the body is covered with a white sheet while the priest sprinkles the body with earth in the form of a cross saying, The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein. The coffin is closed and "Memory eternal" is sung for the reposed.

Following the funeral, the body and coffin are transferred to the cemetery and lowered into the grave with the feet towards the east, so that the person is facing east, and then a short Litia is said for the reposed.

Over the grave of a Christian a cross is placed as a symbol of Christ's victory over death and hell, like a large fruitful tree under whose shade the Christian finds rest as a traveler after a prolonged journey.

Since She has true faith in the immortality of the human soul, the future resurrection of the dead, the Dread judgement of Christ, and the final reward to be granted to each according to his deeds, the Holy Orthodox Church does not leave Her children who have reposed without prayer, especially during the first few days after death and on days of general remembrance of the dead. She prays for them on the third, ninth and fortieth day after death.

On the third day after death the Holy Church recalls the three day resurrection of Jesus Christ and prays to Him to resurrect the reposed unto a future, blessed life.

On the ninth day the Holy Church prays to the Lord that He might reckon the reposed among the choir of those pleasing to God who are, like the angels, distinguished by nine orders.

On the fortieth day a prayer is said that the Lord Jesus Christ, Who ascended into Heaven, might lift up the deceased into the heavenly dwellings.

Often the remembrance of the reposed, due to the love and faith of the relatives, is celebrated on every one of the forty days with the serving of Liturgy and a Pannykhida.

Finally, on the anniversary of the repose of the deceased, his close relatives and faithful friends pray for him as an expression of their faith that the day of a human death is not the day of annihilation, but a new rebirth unto eternal life. It is the day of the passing of the immortal human soul into different conditions of life, where there is no place for earthly pains, griefs, and woes.

Pannykhidas, or "Memorial Services," are short services which consist of prayers for the forgiveness of sins and the repose of the deceased in the Kingdom of Heaven. During the serving of a Pannykhida the relatives and friends of the deceased stand with lit candles as a sign that they also believe in the future, radiant life. Towards the end of the Pannykhida, during the reading of the Lord's Prayer, these candles are extinguished as a sign that our lives, like burning candles, must expire, more often than not without burning through to the expected end.

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