Sacraments

Baptism
Chrismation
Penance
Holy Communion
Holy Matrimony
Holy Orders
Anointing of the Sick

The word sacrament comes from the Latin sacrare which means "to dedicate." Thus a sacrament is a rite which not only signifies some specific grace, but which produces that grace in the souls of the person to whom it is administered.

What is grace? It is that which makes us fulfill our mission as children of God. It is not a state of being. It is a power that comes from God and regenerates and nourishes. It is the energy that feeds the growth of the believing spirit of people.

The Armenian word for sacrament is khorhoort or "mystery." This implies that the fruits of the sacraments (such as being born to a spiritual life in baptism) are received mysteriously. Each sacrament has an inward and outward expression. The outward, for example, in baptism, is the water. This symbolizes the rebirth and cleansing of the soul of the child, which is inward. Although everything which is in and of the Church is sacramental, there are seven formal sacraments of the Armenian Church which correspond to the different states and situations of a person's life.

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Baptism

Baptism is the Sacrament through which the believer is absolved of sins, is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, becomes a Christian and attains adoption by God. "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
The ceremony of the Baptism can be performed in two ways:

1. After having consecrated the water by the sign of the cross and with the holy chrism and emerging the body of baby into the water three times,

2. Pouring holy water three times upon the head of the person being baptized and washing the face and the senses of adults.

The ceremony is accompanied with the following words of the priest: "This servant of God, coming from the state of catechumen to baptism, is being baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and, being expiated by the blood of Christ from the captivity of sin, receives the adoption of Heavenly Father, becoming co-heir with Christ and a temple for the Holy Spirit".

The Creed acknowledges one Baptism. It is not repeated, because it is a spiritual birth: a man is born once, that is why he should be baptized only once.

The Armenian Church accepts as authentic the baptism of those Churches, who confess the Holy Trinity and baptize people in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. If a believer, who has been christened in an Orthodox, Catholic or other Church, wishes to become a member of the Armenian Church, he does not need to be baptized for a second time.

One needs a godfather for baptism; the latter should guarantee the faith of the person being christened before the Church and take him/her under his charge and educate the person according to the right faith.

Baptism should take place in the Church. But in those places, where there are no Churches or in the case where the person to be baptized is seriously sick, it is allowed to perform the baptism at home or in some other proper place.

Baptism is the first sacrament; a person who is not baptized cannot receive other sacraments. Immediately after the baptism the sacraments of confirmation and Holy Communion are administered.

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Chrismation

Confirmation is a sacrament, in which a baptized person receives the gifts of the Holy Sprit, when he is anointed with chrism (*).

In the Armenian Church the sacrament of the confirmation is called droshm or knounk, which means "seal". Confirmation takes place immediately after the baptism.

The grace of the Holy Spirit is granted by chrism for confirmation in Christian life; it strengthens our spirits, sanctifies our spiritual possibilities and equips us with courage to struggle against all trials.

Parts of the body are granted special graces while being anointed:

Forehead: "Sweet ointment in the name of Jesus Christ is poured upon you as a seal of incorruptible heavenly gifts".
Eyes: "This seal in the name of Jesus Christ may enlighten your eyes that you may never sleep unto death".
Ears: "This holy anointing be unto you for the hearing of the divine commandments".
Nostril: "This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to you a sweet smell from life unto life".
Lips: "This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be for you a guardian for your mouth and a strong door for your lips".
Hands: "This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to you a cause for charity and for all virtuous deeds and behavior".
Heart: "This divine seal may confirm in you a pure heart and renew within you an upright spirit".
Back: "This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to you a shield of strength thereby to quench all the fiery darts of the Evil".
Feet: "This divine seal of God may direct your steps unto life everlasting that you may not be shaken".

(*) Chrism, In Armenian "myron", is made of olive oil and other special oils of different fragrant substances and flowers. In the Armenian Apostolic Church the chrism is consecrated once every seven years. Only the Catholicos of All Armenians and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia have the right to consecrate the chrism.

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Penance

Penitence is a sacrament, in which a person, who confesses his sins, receives forgiveness from the priest being invisibly released from his sins by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

The penitent realizes his sins and repents for them, confessing them before God and the Church. The penitent is asked to have the intention to rectify his life, have faith in Christ and hope for His mercy.

During the confession the penitent reads a special supplication, in which all the possible sins are enumerated.

Those who want to receive this sacrament prepare themselves by fasting, abstinence and prayer.

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Holy Communion

The most important religious obligation of every Christian is the receiving of Holy Communion.  Holy Communion is a sacrament by which the believer receives Christ’s Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine for remission of sins and the reception of eternal life.  It is offered to the faithful during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

During the Lord’s supper Jesus Christ took bread, blessed it, broke it into pieces and gave it to His disciples, saying: "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19)  Giving the communion to His disciples, Our Lord, at the same time, gave them the commandment always to perform this sacrament.

Any member of the Church desiring to take Holy Communion must prepare for it.  The first step in the preparation process is to consider our intentions.  There must be a conscious will to be forgiven of our sins.  In this, we must reflect on the ways in which we have sinned, be repentant and reconcile with people that we are not on good terms with.  One should not have hate in his heart when accepting the body and blood of Jesus Christ. 

The next step is to purify ourselves through fasting.  It is common to fast for 6 hours, or from midnight prior to receiving Holy Communion.  If health reasons prohibit fasting, special permission can be granted from the priest to take medicine or light nourishment.

The final step is to confess our sins and receive absolution from the priest.  This is done by the faithful confessing their sins through the reading of a formal confession.  This is read aloud by clergy and the faithful prior to Holy Communion.  Private confession can also be declared before a priest.  The priest upon receiving the confession grants absolution in the name of Jesus Christ, and states the following:

"May God who loves mankind have mercy on you and forgive all of your sins, both those which you have confessed, as well as those which you have forgotten. Therefore, with the priestly authority committed to me and by the Lord’s command that “Whatever you forgive on earth shall be forgiven in heaven,” by his very word, I absolve you of all participation in sin, in thought, in word, and in deed, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And I reinstate you in the sacraments of the holyChurch, that whatever you may do may be accounted to you for good and for the glory of the life to come. Amen."

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Holy Matrimony

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or marriage is the consecration of the union between a man and a woman for life in lawful marriage.  By mutual accord of the man and the woman, they are united together with a spiritual bond to each other and to the Church.  

By His attendance at the wedding of Cana in Galilee, Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated to us His approval of the sanctity of marriage.  He gave us laws concerning marriage, which are recorded in Matthew 19:3-12.  The doctrine of the sacrament of marriage is based on Ephesians 5:22-33 which is read during the service as the main lesson.

The purpose of marriage is very sacred.  In Matrimony, a man and his wife are called to take part in the work of the Creator.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Ephesians 6:4

Marriage is also instituted for the mutual support of man and woman.  “Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."  Genesis 2:18

As the ceremony begins the Priest blesses the rings, and the right hands of the bride and groom are joined, symbolizing their spiritual union.  The rings are a symbol of their bond and perpetual faithfulness to each other.  The bride and groom are asked three times whether they will be united to one another until the end of their lives, and are instructed by the priest to be faithful to one another.

Passages from Saint Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:22-33) and the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Matthew 19:3-12) are read which tell of Jesus' teaching on marriage.  A short creed of the Church is recited which tells of the events in Christ's life.

Following the reading, the Priest places crowns on the bride and groom's foreheads.  The crowns are symbolic of the King and Queen of Armenia, Saints Trdat and Ashkhen, who, through Saint Gregory the Illuminator, proclaimed Christianity as the state religion in 301 A.D.  The couple's foreheads and right hands are joined together as a prayer is recited naming the Patriarchs of the Old Testament.  The Godfather holds a Cross over the crowns, symbolizing the Christian interpretation of the reflective processes in their decision to marry and their intellectual union.

The crowns are then lifted and a cup of wine is blessed and given to the bride and groom, as well as the Godfather and maid of honor.  The wine symbolizes the first miracle of Christ in Cana of Galilee where He transformed water into wine at a wedding so that it could be enjoyed by the guests.

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Holy Orders

The Church is an organized society. It is composed of all the baptized persons who are united in the same Faith, the same Holy Communion, the same Sacraments, and under the same Ecclesiastical authority. Those who exercise this ecclesiastical authority form the clergy of officers of the Church who serve God, teach and sanctify the faithful, and govern the Church. This authority to serve, to teach, to sanctify and to govern is not given by election or appointment, but by a sacred sacrament called ordination.

Ordination of the Holy Orders is one of the important sacraments of the Church. Through ordination, men receive the power and grace to perform the sacred duties of a clergyman of the Church. Ordination is a sacrament by which the Holy Spirit offers the elected person the right to perform the sacraments and to feed Christ’s flock.

It is true that by Baptism all Christians are endowed with the "priesthood" of laymen, who have thus the obligation to offer up to God the spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving, prayers and acts of faith, hope, and charity. But only those men who receive the sacrament of the Holy Orders are clergyman of God in the full sense of the word.

The Sacrament of Ordination is always administered by a Bishop. There are various ranks of clergy within the Church, and consequently, there are various services by which each one of these ranks is granted. However, the one act that is common to all the ranks is the "Laying of the hands" (Tzernatroutiun in Armenian) by the Bishop. By placing his anointed right hand on the ordinate, this continues the unbroken Apostolic succession of authority, granted by the apostles to the first Bishops of the Church, and carried on today through Ordination.

For the ordination of any cleric, except a bishop, one bishop is sufficient to administer the Sacrament. The consecration of a Bishop, according to the rules of the Armenian Church, is performed by His Holiness the Catholicos, having at least two other Bishops assisting him at the Ordination. The consent of the laity is expressed formally at the service of Ordination by the choir when they sing: "He is worthy".

Before entering the major ranks of ecclesiastical order of the Armenian Church, a person must have been ordained to the four minor ranks.

To read more about the ranks of the Holy Orders visit the website of the Holy See.

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Anointing of the Sick

The Orthodox and Catholic Churches acknowledge the unction of the sick as the seventh sacrament. In the Orthodox Church this sacrament is officiated upon people who are very ill and rely on God’s mercy and belief that the Holy Oil will quicken the recovery or in the case of inevitable death, the oil will alleviate any death related sufferings. It was established according to the message of the Apostle who founded it.  “Are any among you sick?  They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord”. (James 5:14).  According to the Church fathers, the aim is to grant perfect health through penance.  The service does not have any association with the preparation for death or “last anointment”.  It is strictly to be used as a sacrament for healing, and can be repeated.

From the 4th to the 15th centuries, the Armenian Church administered the sacrament of the Unction of the Sick.  This is recorded in the Church Canons and commentary works.  However, beginning in the 15th century, the Armenian Church did not refuse, but abstained from conducting the sacrament in order to resist the influence of the Catholic Church.  Over time, it was left out of our liturgical life.

Today, the Unction of the Sick, is not regularly practiced, but is still recognized as a Sacrament of the Church.  In the administration of the Sacrament, the clergyman prays and reads the Gospel of healing, blesses the individual, then offers communion.  Thus, both the body and the soul of the individual find peace and healing.

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