Differences in the Sacraments

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Roman Catholics defend the idea that it is sufficient for a lawfully ordained sacred minister to perform a certain sacrament according to the established rite in order for it to affect a man. In this understanding, the sacraments approximate almost magical actions, which produce one or another change in man's nature without any particular participation on his part.

As a counterweight to the Latin view, Protestants attribute the whole force and significance of the sacrament exclusively to the inner disposition and faith of the man receiving this sacrament. Here, faith is everything. The absence of faith turns the sacrament into an empty formality, deprived of any meaning. Therefore, they reject the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the true body and blood of Christ in the most important of the Christian sacraments - the sacrament of the Eucharist. The bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine; but "in the bread, with the bread and under the bread, Christ is invisibly present," and he who approaches the sacrament with faith - through communicating of the bread and wine - really takes into himself the body and blood of Christ, whereas he who does not have a corresponding disposition tastes ordinary bread and wine. Of the other sacraments, Protestants accept only baptism. They reject all the rest of the sacraments or equate them to simple ceremonies - on the grounds that there are allegedly no clear testimonies in Sacred Scripture touching their divine institution.

BAPTISM. Roman Catholics and Protestants (Baptists and Pentecostals constitute an exception) perform baptism not through immersion, but through pouring and sprinkling. The whole of Christian antiquity speaks in favor of the practice of the Orthodox Church - full, three-fold immersion in water. Through immersion, Christ Himself was baptized; through immersion, the first preachers of Christianity baptized (see Acts 8:37-38); special baptistries adapted for this purpose, which have been preserved till now at certain ancient churches in Rome and other places in the West, testify to immersion; immersion corresponds to the main idea of the sacrament: by being immersed thrice in the font, he who is being baptized is buried with Christ unto death and then rises together with Him unto life eternal (Romans 6:4). At an Orthodox baptism, these words are pronounced: "The servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit, Amen." In the fifteenth century, the Catholics changed this formula, and from that time Catholic priests, while pouring water on those being baptized, say: "I baptize thee..."

Sectarians consider the baptism of infants as an addition to the teaching of Jesus Christ that is in no way justified.

The Holy Spirit, Who directs the life of the Church, does not err in His actions. So then, the practice of baptizing infants was also instituted precisely by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The assertion of the Baptists that the original practice of the Christian Church consisted in the baptism only of adults that had consciously accepted the faith is an argument that holds little weight, not having confirmation in Church history. If the practice of bap-tizing children were an innovation, how then did it spread everywhere and become confirmed in both the Christian East and West, without having evoked any opposition on the part of Christians? After all, the believers of the first centuries were incomparably more zealous and strict as regards both religious questions and Church practice than present-day members of the Church. If the baptism of infants were a new matter, it could have been confirmed only after great disputes, as the result of struggle and, perhaps, even divisions. However, the history of the Church does not inform us of anything concerning disputes among Christians regarding the baptism of infants. The first objections to the baptism of infants appeared in Germany in the sixteenth century on the part of the Anabaptists. What then happened during all these fifteen centuries after the Nativity of Christ? Can one really think seriously that the whole Ecumenical Church tore itself away from Jesus Christ because of the baptism of children?

The baptism of children was known everywhere from apostolic times. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, it is recounted repeatedly that the Apostles baptized entire families, and consequently also children. In order to deny the baptism of children by the Apostles, it is necessary to assume that in all of these instances, in the given households of those baptized by the Apostles, there were no children, which would be a very strained interpretation, especially if one takes into consideration that childless families in those times were a rare occurrence. After all, Christianity was intended to be the soul not only of the life of the individual person, but also of the life common to the whole family. The baptism of children is also an expression of this. Christ Himself says that only they that are born of water and the Spirit will be able to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5), and by this He obliges us to bring children also into His Kingdom. This means that we can and must be fully assured of the expediency of the custom to baptize infants instituted by the Apostles, according to the testimony of Origen, the great scholar of Christian antiquity, who wrote: "The Church received from the Apostles the tradition to baptize children."

During the first centuries of Christianity, the Church was still in the stage of missionary activity. With her word, preaching and the sacrament of Baptism, she first of all addressed herself to adults. But, having secured the ground under her, she looks upon the children born in her bosom as upon her own children. Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann writes about this in his book on baptism, "By Water and the Spirit":

"The newborn child belongs to a family. It does not have any autonomous existence; its life is determined and formed in full - both in the present and in the near future - by this belonging. And the family - if it is a Christian family - belongs to the Church and finds in the Church the source, the content and the transcendental aim of its existence in its capacity as a family. Therefore, the child who belongs to the family and, in a more concrete, biological sense, to the mother, by this very means belongs to the Church and is truly her child, already brought and commended to God."

Some sectarians, objecting to the baptism of children, assert that infants, the children of Christians, are already washed and cleansed by the Blood of Christ; therefore, there is no need to cleanse them in baptism from the sin of Adam: their sins are forgiven them for the sake of the merits and the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the opponents of child baptism cite Christ's commandment, given to His disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19), considering that from these words it is allegedly clear that it was commanded the Apostles to baptize only those who are taught and who believe, but in nowise infants.

But, after all, Scripture clearly teaches, according to the word of the Apostle Paul, that in Adam all have sinned (Romans 5:12). Consequently, even children, not having personal sins, are all the same not free from original sin, from the legacy of Adam, and in order to be delivered from this legacy, they must be united with Christ; and this union, as we have already said, is accomplished in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. "For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me," exclaims King David with sorrow in the Fiftieth Psalm. In order to cleanse a child from original sin, in order to sanctify it and by this very means bring it into the Kingdom of Heaven, whither, as it says in the book of the Apocalypse (Revelation 21:27), "no unclean thing will enter," now already for two thousand years children have been brought through this cleansing in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. People that deny children the sacrament of Baptism subject them to danger, for if children die before baptism, not having been born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), how will they be able to inherit life eternal? Of course, we believe in God's mercy, and also in the fact that Christ said that what is impossible for men is possible for God; but why tempt the Lord?

The reference to the Saviour's words in the Evangelists Matthew and Mark in favor of the opinion that Christ supposedly commanded to baptize only adults who have a conscious faith is unfounded also because these words bear no relation to the question of the baptism of infants. Just as the Gospel paralytic received forgiveness of sins and healing according to the faith of those who brought him to Christ, just as the daughter of the Canaanite woman received healing according to the faith of her mother, so too children receive cleansing from original sin according to the faith of those who bring them to the baptismal font to unite the infant with Christ in the sacrament of Baptism. One should also not forget that the sacrament of Baptism instituted in the New Testament replaced the Old Testament rite of circumcision, which was a prototype of Holy Baptism, and that children underwent this rite. And to this day, the Jews perform this rite on their children. As by way of circumcision, he who underwent it became a member of the Old Testament chosen people and entered into the covenant with God, so too all the baptized become members of the New Testament people of God, members of the body of Christ - His Church. Why then should children remain outside the Body of Christ?

CHRISMATION. With Catholics, the sacrament of Chrisma-tion (Confirmation) can be performed only by a bishop, who lays his hand on the believer, impresses on his forehead the Cross with holy myron and says: "I sign thee with the sign of the Cross, and I confirm thee with the myron of salvation in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." In remov-ing priests from this sacrament, Catholics cite the fact that Philip, having baptized the Samaritans, could not impart the Holy Spirit to them, and for this the Apostles Peter and John were purposely sent from Jerusalem (Acts 8:14-17); but Philip was a deacon, and not a priest, and hence it is still not evident that priests are unable to perform Chrismation. Inasmuch as in antiquity, as now also in Orthodoxy, Chrismation was united with Holy Baptism, one may rather conclude that it was performed not only by bishops, but also by priests, because the number of bishops was too limited. One deviation in Catholicism inevitably led to another. Since a bishop did not have the possibility of being present physically at the baptism of each infant within the boundaries of his diocese, the sacrament of Chrismation was then performed separately from Baptism in adolescence (from seven to twelve years); a bishop, traveling around his diocese, usually stops at one or another settlement or town and there confirms all the baptized children at one time. And since many children can die without waiting for Confirmation, Catholic theologians, to soothe the faithful, resorted to a new teaching - that the sacrament of Chrismation was allegedly not unconditionally necessary for salvation.

REPENTANCE. In addition to absolution of sins in the sacrament of repentance, with Roman Catholics the so-called "indulgences" are allowed as well (on the origin of indulgences, see "Parish Life" for November 1996). Catholics teach that, for the satisfaction of God's justice, a man, even though forgiven in repentance, must bear temporal punishments for his sins - here on earth, in various misfortunes, while after death, in purgatory. But since man is weak and infirm, in condescension to him, it is possible to free him from these temporal punishments by virtue of the superabundant merits of the Saviour and the saints, which constitute the treasury of the Church. The right to give indulgences belongs to the pope as the vicar of Christ on earth. At confession, the priests diligently investigate the faults of the penitent and then impart to him such a quantity of supererogatory good works performed by the saints as is necessary in order to expiate the sins of the penitent.

In this way, the great sacrament of the spiritual cleansing and grace-filled curing of the sinful soul took on in Catholicism the character of a judicial interrogation and a mechanical reckoning of the actions of one man to another. Indulgences are not usually given out gratis, but are often sold for money - under the pretence, of course, of performing good works with this money. The mercenary distribution of indulgences served as the main occasion for the separation of the Lutherans and the reformers from the Roman Catholic confession.

Some confuse the Orthodox and Catholic approaches to epitimias [penances] (the Greek word "epitimia" means punishment), which are completely different from one another, and the Roman Church's practice of giving out indulgences with penances.

In the language of the Church canons, an epitimia signifies the voluntary performance of certain works of piety (prolonged prayer, alms, intensified fasting, pilgrimage, and such like) by the one who has confessed, as designated by the confessor. An epitimia does not have the significance of a punishment, a punitive measure, a deprivation of the rights of a member of the Church; it is only a "spiritual treatment". A canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council says: "They who have received from God authority to bind and loose sins must consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and thus make use of a treatment appropriate to the disease, lest, by not maintaining moderation in the one and the other, they lose the salvation of the diseased one. For the disease of sin is not always the same, but various and multiform, and produces many forms of harm, from which evil develops abundantly and spreads further, until it is checked by the power of the one treating it."

'From this is apparent the unacceptability of the Roman Catholic view of penances,' writes Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, 'which proceeds from juridical concepts according to which: a) every sin or sum of sins must have an ecclesiastical punishment (apart from the fact that often misfortunes, for example, illnesses [as Catholics think - V.P.], are natural retributions for sin, so that often even the sinner himself can see God's punishment for sins in his fate); b) this punishment can be removed by an "indulgence," given out even in advance, for example, on the occasion of jubilee solemnities; c) the Church, that is, its head, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), in giving indulgences, imparts to persons liable to penances the "merits of the saints," withdrawn from the so-called "treasury of good works."

'If by certain Western teachers of the ancient Church penances were called "satisfactions," they were called such only in a moral sense, as a means of deepening the consciousness of sinfulness in the sinner, being "satisfactory" for an educational purpose, and not juridical justification' (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology [in Russian], Jordanville, 1963, page 193 [pages 293-294 in the English edition, published by the Brotherhood of Saint Herman of Alaska, Platina, 1984]).

THE EUCHARIST. With Catholics, this sacrament is performed, in essence, by the priest alone, in accordance with the right belonging to him, at the time when he, all but becoming identified with the Lord Himself, pronounces the "words of institution". In the Orthodox understanding, these words also have a great significance, but the sacrament of the changing of the bread and wine into the Lord's Body and Blood is performed by the prayer of the whole Church, in the course of the whole Liturgy, and is only completed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

With the help of scholastic concepts, Catholic doctrine also attempts to explain the eucharistic miracle itself too rationalistically. According to this explanation, only the appearance of bread and wine remains unchanged, but their essence (substantia) is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Orthodox ecclesiastical consciousness reverently refrains from such a rationalistic penetration into the mystery. In it, the conviction prevails that the bread and wine, remaining themselves in appearance, at the same time become the Body and Blood of the Lord, just as red-hot iron becomes fire, and just as the Lord Jesus Christ is simultaneously God and man.

Concerning this, Father Michael Pomazansky, in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (page 183 [pages 279-280 in the English edition]) writes thus:

"...the consecrated Gifts 1) are not only signs or symbols, reminding the faithful of redemption, as the reformer Zwingli taught; and equally, 2) Jesus Christ is present in them not only by His "activity and power" ("dynamically"), as Calvin taught; finally, 3) He is present not in the sense only of "penetration", as the Lutherans teach (recognizing the co-presence of Christ "with the bread, under the bread, in the bread"); but the consecrated Gifts in the sacrament are changed or (a later term) transubstantiated into the true Body and true Blood of Christ, as the Saviour said: "For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55)."

Further, Father Michael Pomazansky cites words from the "Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs" (eighteenth century):

'We believe that in this sacred rite our Lord Jesus Christ is present not symbolically (typikos), not figuratively (eikonikos), not by a superabundance of grace, as in the other sacraments, not by a descent alone, as certain Fathers say about baptism, and not through a "penetration" of the bread, so that the divinity of the Word would "enter" into the bread offered for the Eucharist essentially, as the followers of Luther rather artlessly and unworthily explain: but truly and actually, so that after the consecration of the bread and wine, the bread is changed, transubstantiated, converted, transformed into the actual true Body of the Lord, which was born in Bethlehem of the Ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, resurrected, ascended, sits at the right hand of the God the Father, and is to appear on the clouds of heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the actual true Blood of the Lord, which, at the time of His suffering on the Cross was shed for the life of the world. Again we believe that after the consecration of the bread and wine, the very bread and wine no longer remain, but the very Body and Blood of the Lord, under the appearance and form of bread and wine' (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, page 183 [page 280 in the English edition]).

With Roman Catholics, the Mass, in which the bloodless sacrifice is offered, is performed in a two-fold manner: either it is served aloud, with singing and playing on an organ, or it is read through in a whisper, secretly. And since there can be several altars in Catholic churches at the same time, so-called "low" Masses are often performed simultaneously with that which is served aloud on the main altar. There were no "low" Liturgies in Christian antiquity whatsoever, and the simultaneous serving of several liturgies in one church was not allowed.

The very transubstantiation of the Holy Gifts, according to Catholic teaching, takes place not during the blessing of them and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, as the Orthodox Church teaches and as the ancient copies of the liturgies testify (in the Catholic Mass, in general, there is no priest's prayer concerning the invocation of the Holy Spirit), but during the pronunciation of the words: "take, eat", "drink ye all of it."

At the Mystical Supper, as the evangelists recount, the Lord at first rendered thanks, then blessed the offered bread and wine and only afterwards pronounced the words, "take, eatŠ" From this, it becomes clear that the transubstantiation was performed by prayer and blessing, while the words "take, eatŠ" signify a simple invitation to the apostles to approach and receive the Holy Gifts and indicates the mystical significance of the Eucharist.

A substantial deviation from Orthodoxy lies also in the fact that the laity are deprived of the holy Chalice, that is, they are deprived of communion of the immaculate Blood of Christ, contrary to the Lord's direct words: "drink ye ALL of it". This innovation was first allowed in the West in the twelfth century, with the aim of showing the superiority of the clergy over the laity in the very communion; later it was confirmed at the Council of Trent. In justification of their deviation, Roman Catholic theologians thought up some pretexts, such as, "there is no necessity for the laity to commune of the Holy Blood separately because where the Body is given, there the Blood is given", or "when there is a multitude of communicants, it is easy to jostle and spill the Chalice."

The Lord's words,"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:53), confirm the correctness of the Orthodox method of performing the sacrament - under both species. The teaching on the necessity for everyone to commune under two species is also clearly expressed in the apostolic epistles (see, for example, I Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:26-30). And the patristic works testify against the Roman practice. Saint John Chrysostom (fourth century) says, "we are all equally counted worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ - not as happened in the Old Testament: the priest would eat some parts of the sacrifice and the people would eat other parts. Now it is not so, but one Body and one Cup is offered to everyone.."

Since little children cannot receive solid food, Catholics, hav-ing taken the Chalice away from the laity, by this very thing have altogether deprived infants of holy communion. This deviation appeared no earlier than the twelfth century. Roman theologians adduce the following grounds: One ought to approach communion with a consciousness of the importance and significance of this sacrament and after proper preparation; in Sacred Scripture there is no command to commune infants; for the salvation of children, baptism alone is sufficient. But communion of the Body and Blood of Christ serves for us as a means to union with Christ, the Source of our spiritual life, received in the sacrament of Baptism. Catholics bar the way for infants to the closest intercourse with Him, Who once said "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not" (Mark 10:14).

With Catholics, the Eucharist is performed not on leavened bread, as with us, but on unleavened, despite the fact that the very word "artos", which is used in the Greek text of the Gospel in the narration on the institution of the sacrament, signifies precisely leavened, fermented, risen bread. Catholics cite the fact that the Saviour allegedly performed the Mystical Supper on the first day of unleavened bread, and consequently on the unleavened bread (wafers) used by virtue of the prescriptions of Judaic law. However, from the Evangelist John's narration, it follows that Christ performed the Mystical Supper a day before the onset of the Judaic feast of Pascha (John, Chapter 13); otherwise, how then on the next day could the Sanhedrin have judged Him, Joseph of Arimathæa have bought the winding sheet and the myrrh-bearers have bought the aromatics? Since unleavened bread had a ritual significance with the Jews, Christ, having performed the Mystical Supper on leavened bread, underscores by this that He is abro-gating the Judaic ritual law.

The use of unleavened bread, which was confirmed in the West in the eleventh century, led it as well to certain other deviations from the tradition of the ancient Church. Since unleavened bread does not require special preparation at the Liturgy, its whole first part - the proskomedia - was lost. In this way, Western Christians are deprived of the ancient church custom of commemorating before Christ's Sacrifice all the members of the Church, living and dead, and of praying that their sins would also be washed away by the true Blood of Christ, just as the particles of the prosphoras taken out for them are washed in the holy eucharistic Chalice. And when the communion of the laity takes place at the Catholic Mass, the priest, besides the main unleavened bread, from which he himself communes, consecrates others as well, little ones, one for each communicant. This custom contradicts the very concept of the unity of the eucharistic Sacrifice; communion from one bread has, according to the teaching of the Word of God, a profound dogmatic and moral significance: "For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (I Corinthians 10:17).

PRIESTHOOD. With Catholics, the bishop of Rome is honored not only as a bishop and as patriarch of the Western Church, but also as the visible head of the whole Christian Church.

Besides the well-known degrees of the priesthood, there exist with Catholics the so-called "cardinals" as well. Originally, the bishops of the churches nearest to Rome were so named, as friends and counsellors of the pope, but then this distinction began to be given to the most deserving persons in the Catholic clergy, and not only to bishops, but also to presbyters, and even to deacons. The rank of cardinal has been particularly elevated since the eleventh century, when the exclusive right was granted to the cardinals to elect the pope from their midst.

In the Roman Church, celibacy has been instituted for all persons of priestly rank; it was introduced in the eleventh century under Pope Gregory VII. The main reason for the institution of obligatory celibacy by this pope lay in the following thesis - "the Church cannot become free of subordination to laymen if clerics do not become free of their wives."

With the elevation of papal authority, a striving to break those ties whereby the clergy is united with the family, and through it with the state, naturally had to be born; only a priest completely free of all familial and civil bonds and obligations could serve as a reliable instrument in the hands of the Roman pontiffs for the achievement of their ambitious political plans.

The institution of a celibate clergy, which at least had as its apparent aim the raising of the whole clergy to the height of the Christian ideal of virginity, in reality had to lead to concubinage. To a significant extent, one should seek in this unnatural demand of the Roman throne the beginning of that terrible dissoluteness and decline of morals, into which the Catholic clergy fell in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Desiring to put an end to such dissoluteness, representatives of some Western churches proposed openly to institute concubinage for priests deprived of the possibility of entering into lawful marriage. Rome could not agree with these proposals and silently endured that which it did not have the power to impede, all the more so because some of the popes of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries not infrequently surpassed in immorality the bishops and priests subordinate to them, which gave occasion to Savonarola to preach the correction of the whole Church's morals, both of its head and of all its members.

In our time, Catholics are losing a multitude of priests who cannot sustain a celibate way of life.

As for Protestants, they do not have and cannot have a lawfully ordained priesthood, since the apostolic succession ceased with them already with the beginning of the Reformation - not one bishop followed either Luther or the other reformers. From the Orthodox Church's point of view, Protestant pastors are laymen.

MARRIAGE. With Catholics, the dissolution of marriage is not allowed under any conditions, even in the case of the violation of marital fidelity by either of the spouses, which contradicts the direct and clear teaching on this of Jesus Christ Himself, Who said: "Šwhosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery" (Matthew 5:32) and "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" (Matthew 19:9).

In those cases where the spouses do not desire to live together or cannot, the Catholic Church tries to replace divorce either with the separation of the spouses or - if by all means the spouses want to enter into a new marriage - by recognizing the first marriage as invalid.

UNCTION.With Catholics, Unction is performed only on the dying and is, therefore, called "extreme unction". Moreover, according to the teaching of Catholics, the oil for the sacrament can be consecrated only by a bishop. The one and the other teaching contradict the teaching of the Apostle James - "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders [presbyters] of the church: and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him" (James 5:14-15) - so too was the practice of the ancient Church. Recently, Catholics have changed their attitude somewhat toward "extreme unction" and under the influence of Orthodox theology have drawn nearer to our understanding of this great sacrament.

© V. Potapov, 1996-98

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