The Biblical basis of the Sacraments
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen
I feel that we all are indebt to our biggest father in the church, a marvellous leader, Pope Shenouda III, he deserves a hand from you.
You enjoyed his visit here in Melbourne, New Zealand and Sydney and many other cities. For sure he is paying a great and tremendous effort to pastor all of you. He loves you from the bottom of his heart and I am extending his greetings. He returned back from Australia very, very happy because of the achievements that he noticed in Australia. For sure, one of the greatest achievements that he noticed is this place, the Centre that Bishop Suriel started with you and I think it is the Centre for the future of the Coptic church here in Melbourne and many extensions, God willing to come. For sure we are going to have a great blessing from this place.
Another hand is due to my beloved Bishop, His Grace Bishop Suriel. I actually admire his fatherhood, leadership, enthusiasm, creativity and I know he will be able to take care of you and to give a good push to the service inside the Coptic Orthodox Church in Melbourne, New Zealand and affiliated regions. Can we give another hand to our beloved fathers and priests? To tell the truth, we all came upon their labour; they laboured a lot here for your benefit, spiritually and from every side and aspect. The fathers have started many protects, built churches and now we are reaping the fruits of their efforts. Also you have good youth workers, males and females that deserve a hand from you also. Might be last, but not least, is for you the young people of Melbourne.
Tradition & Sacraments:
Let us start from the biblical base of the sacraments because in our Coptic church, Orthodoxy means biblical foundations plus traditional foundation. We do not like to reckon on the bible only because two or three centuries came without having the complete bible at hand.
In the first century, Christianity was prevailing all over and the bible was just to be written. St Paul started to write the epistles and the evangelists started to write the Gospels. St. John wrote his Gospel towards the end of the first century, also the three epistles and the book of revelation. Therefore, the first century set the formation of the bible through the Holy Spirit.
The second century was the collection of the bible. They started to gather the books together which took almost a century; one epistle came from Rome to the Romans, another came from Ephesus to the Ephesians, another to the Colossians from Corinthians and so on.
There were a lot of books in different parts of the world and they started the church, the church started to collect these books in the second century. In the third century, is the canonisation, so to speak, of the bible. They started to say ‘this book is right’ and ‘this book is not from the bible’ even if it is a very good book. But, it is not inspired by the Holy Spirit and started to define the bible to give the authorised bible we now have.
This occurred in the second half of the second century and then the third century we had a law, including the books of the bible in the year 150 after delivery. Therefore, the church was going on by evangelising and spreading of Christianity all over the world.
Therefore in Orthodoxy the bible comes first and secondly the church traditions because the church gives us the bible. That is why, we reckon upon the tradition of the church and the interoperations of our blessed fathers, the Fathers of Christianity in the ancient days. Anything Orthodox is derived from the bible. We cannot accept any doctrine without biblical route and biblical origin. Yes, we have rituals, traditions, teachings and interoperations. Our bible is our only reference because it is the word of God and we venerate the bible very much being the word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Now, if I just concentrate on the sacraments and the biblical origin of the sacraments, I can find all seven sacraments inside the bible. First of all, I want to ask a question, what is the difference between sacrament and mystery? Why do we not call them mysteries? A mystery is something hidden, that may not be religious. We have many mysteries, even in science until now. We do not know the mysteries of the cell; we do not know the mysteries of the genome. Therefore, mysteries are something or anything hidden but a sacrament is something holy. It has some hidden things inside but it is related to religion, the Holy Spirit and the work of God inside our hearts.
The sacrament in our church means, a holy action through which I derive an apparent blessing under the cover of some material things and actions. This means that I have some material things in front of me going on. There are also things that are hidden, mysterious things inside my heart that are blessings, spiritual blessings that I derive from this. For example, I take the child or the infant and I immerse him in water three times. This is the apparent thing, water, priest, the baby and some prayers. These are the things that are apparent but the thing which is hidden is the fact that the baby is born from the Holy Spirit and is renewed from the inside.
The water is cleansing him from the outside and the Holy Spirit is cleansing him from the inside and this can be the definition of the word sacrament. The sacrament means ‘A holy action’, ‘a religious action through which derives a hidden grace and blessing through a visible action’. For example, I come to the church to attend a wedding. I find the groom and the bride and everyone is ‘zarooting’ and everyone is joyful then I find a Bishop praying and anointing them with oil using the sign of the cross. These are the apparent things but the invisible things come after these prayers, such as the two became one and the one became two.
His Grace Gives An Explanation In Arabic.
He became two and she became two. What does this mean? She carried her partner inside her heart for she is no longer one but is two. For example we are sitting in a meeting and some people are married and others are not. Those that are single have fun and chat at 11:00 pm or even 12:00 pm but when one is married, what do you find? “One minute please, one minute please”. “What is the matter?” “I just have to tell my wife that I will be delayed”. He is carrying her in his mind and in his heart. Is this not so? He must take permission, otherwise, straight away 911! He is committed to somebody else and she is committed to somebody else. She is not one; she is two because she carries her husband inside her heart and mind and the same with the husband. Therefore they have something that has occurred inside them. Yes, we had visible actions. Despite this there is something hidden occurring through the Holy Spirit unifying the two together to become one in Christ. This is the meaning of the word sacrament, this holy action through which I derive an invisible grace and blessing while I see something visible occurring in front of me.
Now, I will ask you to give me some biblical verses for the seven sacraments, very quickly. Let us start with baptism. I do not want to read the verse literally. Who will open at John 3:5?
Reader: “Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”.
HG: Yes, water and what? Yes, water and the spirit. What is visible? Water and what is invisible? The Spirit. You know that in the bible we have a lot of occasions of baptism and in these occasions we can verify that baptism should be by immersion. How was Jesus baptised? Even in the old churches you find the baptistery is deep because we do not believe in just sprinkling water on the head of the baptised person, we want them to be immersed. This is why I immerse the baby, how many times? Three times. Why? Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Why? For the three days that the Lord spent in the tomb representing that his old nature now is dead and I created for him a new nature in Christ being born again. That is why the baptistery in the church, from the outside may be rectangular but from the inside it is oval, like the womb.
As I am now born from the womb of the church the church becomes my mother and our Lord Jesus Christ becomes my father. The word baptism originally means…What is the meaning of the word baptism literally? It means dye. When you dye a rope, you immerse it to get another color. Through baptism, I am getting another color and that is the Christian colour, tint, spirit and life. We are going to behave in another way and that is why I am baptised and took the ‘baptisma’, the dye, the colour of the Christians. It is not just a colour from the outside but actually a color from the inside. I am now a new person that is why I am reborn through baptism.
After baptism, we enter the second sacrament, which is? Anointment. I would like someone to open the First Epistle of St. John 2:20.
Reader: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One and you know all things”.
HG: Anointing! See how the Lord talks to St. John about something called ‘anointing’. So anointing means ‘mes-ha’ and derived from this word is what? ‘Mas-eeh’. Derived from this word is ‘charisma’, and from this we get Christ. You know that this oil is derived from the perfumes and the oils of the body of our Lord. These oils and perfumes were then mixed with nearly thirty other oils increasing the quantity while praying certain prayers during the Holy Pascha giving its name the “Mayroon’.
The holy mayroon gives us our baptism renewal, regeneration and recreation. I was created once more by the Holy Spirit. By being anointed by the Holy Mayroon, the Holy Spirit dwells inside a new baby being renewed.
You that the holy mayroon is received through many crosses. How many crosses? 36, the multiplication of 3 and 12. Three symbolising the Holy Trinity and twelve symbolising the Holy disciples. Therefore through the trinity I am becoming one of the disciples of Jesus. That is why they are 3 by 12.
His Grace, Bishop Moussa explains where and what the priest says as he distributes the crosses over the infants’ body.
Jesus Christ our Lord, savour of my soul. Let my thoughts be your thoughts. That is all in all.
Jesus Christ our Lord, savour of my soul. Let my senses be your senses. That is all in all.
Jesus Christ our Lord, saviour of my soul. Let my heart be your heart. That is all in all.
Jesus Christ our Lord, saviour of my soul. Let my will be your will. That is all in all.
Jesus Christ our Lord, saviour of my soul. Let my deeds be your deeds. That is all in all.
Jesus Christ our Lord, savour of my soul. Let me way be your way. That is all in all.
HG: After we anoint the baby with the holy Mayroon, he is dressed in which colour? White. Why? Because he is now pure and holy with a red robe. What does this symbolise? The blood of Christ, then he is committed to that redeemer, Jesus Christ.
The infant’s mother will then bring him from west to east and then left to right. What does it mean from the west to the east? From darkness to light. What about from left to right? From the place of this honour, to the place of honour. Is this not the way we make the symbol of the cross, from left to right? The same thing.
(3) The Eucharist:
Can somebody open the bible to John 6: 52?
Reader: “Verse 52: The Jews therefore quarrelled among themselves, saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Verse 53: Then Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
Verse 54: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Verse 55: For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed.
Verse 56: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
HG: This is the Eucharist. For this we believe that this bread became the body of Christ. Some might ask how it that bread can be the body of Christ is. When Christ was young, did he not eat bread? And did this bread not turn into his body, was he not growing? If the process is this easy, wouldn’t be much harder for our Lord to convert His body into bread? No, it is very easy.
Now the bread became the body of Christ and the wine became the blood of the Lord and when I eat his body and drink his blood I am going to have him inside me and I am going to have the everlasting life, I will be resurrected on the last day.
When Luther started to attack the traditional teachings of the church, they started to say to him, “How does the bread become to body?” He said “I do not know, he said Jesus said ‘this is my body, this is my blood’. What can I say? He said that!” But the followers of Luther afterwards said “It is a symbol”. Why is it a symbol? The bread becomes the body, what is difficult about this? It is very easy. Therefore we stick to the Orthodox teaching that the bread became the body and that the wine became the blood of Christ. Now, this baby is regenerated in baptism and confirmed in the Holy Spirit through the Mayroon with having Jesus Christ inside him. He is a very new person now that is recreated by water and the Holy Spirit.
(4) Repentance & Confession:
Once the body starts growing it begins to commit sin. What is the problem here? The Lord said “never mind, you committed sin, you may repent”. For this reason came the fourth sacrament, repentance and confession.
Repentance can be covered in four points.
1. I regret.
2. I insist.
3. I believe in Jesus Christ.
4. I confess.
This is the Orthodox repentance. I regret my sins saying ‘I am sorry God, I committed many wrong things, I am ashamed but just regretting sins is not enough. Judah regretted but he did not repent. Is this not so? Do you remember Judah, he said ‘I have sinned’ and he threw the money but he did not repent. We are weak and must believe in Jesus Christ, our redeemer who through His blood to cleanses us.
Confessing. Why do I confess? Because in confession I will receive absolution for my sins and a solutions to my problems. Both the absolution and solution is based on the bible too. Some may say ‘I repent to God, I confess to God, why should I go to a priest to confess, isn’t the priest a sinner like me?’ Nobody said that priest was sin-free, offcourse he repenting to somebody else, we all repent and this is in the bible.
Who will open John 20:23?
Reader: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
HG: What is meant by retaining the sin? For instance, I went to confess to a priest and told him, “Father, I have done so and so” and he replies “May God forgive your sins and make sure you do not do this again” and I’ll say to the priest “but there is another small problem, Father. There is someone that I am angry with and I will not reconcile with him, ever! Because he is very naughty”. To this the priest says, “This is incorrect, we must attempt to reconcile you again”. “Never!” I reply. “This is harsh; you must forgive your brother. The least you must do is to start the reconciliation process and if he refuses, then you are OK”. I reply “No! I will not reconcile”.
Offcourse after this, what must I do? I should tell this man not take the communion! Because he refused to be reconciled with his brother. In this case, the church is examining my repentance. If I am a good repentant, she gives me the absolution. If I am not a good repentant, she retains the absolution. Our church fathers say ‘repentance is the second baptism and the tears of repentance are another baptistery’. Such that, you are baptising yourself through tears. This means that you are renewing your repentance. Recite for me the four pillars of Orthodox repentance; One, I regret, two, I insist, three, I believe in Jesus Christ my savour and four, I confess.
(5) Unction of the Sick:
Say for example Bishoy, a very nice man who is always repenting, confessing, is a good servant in the church and serves Sunday school but on one occasion he felt sick. Immediately, he told the other servants, “Tell Abouna I am not able to come to my service today because of my sickness”. So Abouna then took with him the Holy oil and went to pray for Bishoy and gave him the 5th sacrament, which is? The unction of the sick. Someone open the bible at James 5:14-15.
Reader: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
HG: For this reason, we usually have what? Oil. The oil is biblically based where the church obeys the commandments of St. James who said ‘if you visit a sick person, anoint him with oil’. Be aware however, where someone is sick we anoint them with oil but after anointing if the person wishes to confess, he confesses. Why? Sometimes sins are the cause of the physical diseases. Is this not so? Therefore I confess and I become healed spiritually and after this through the oil I am going to be healed physically.
(6) Holy Matrimony:
After this, Bishoy continued to grow and grow, he finished college and started to work and became qualified and found himself a lovely servant in the church. He went and told “Abouna Abouna, I am thinking about marrying so and so”. Abouna replies to him, “Yes so and so is a marvellous girl, good! Go ahead!” and then comes holy matrimony. Someone open the bible to Ephesians 5:32.
Reader: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church”
HG: This is the sacrament of matrimony. The last sacrament is? Priesthood. Bishoy with his wife are happy and our Bishop could not believe that he was married. The Bishop told him, come with me, I will ordain you a priest. In the bible, you will find lots of verses regarding priesthood. In Timothy 1:3 it says “The Bishop should be … should be … should be …”, and in the same epistle it says ‘The deacon should be … should be … should be…”, and in Titus he says “Go and ordain priests in every place”. Therefore we have three, the Bishop, the priest and the deacons. So the Bishop went and brought Bishoy, who was not a deacon, made him a deacon and then a priest. After he is ordained a priest, his wife becomes pregnant and a baby is born. So after a while Abouna takes the baby into the baptistery and did what to him? Baptised him and the cycle continues again and this is life.
Thank you very much.
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