Greek Orthodox Rituals
29 SEP 2017
People of the Greek Orthodox faith observe the same primary rituals as do Roman Catholics. These include but are not limited to baptism, chrismation (better known as confirmation in Western Christianity,) the Eucharist and confession. As with other Christian traditions, baptism and the Eucharist are considered the most significant rituals. While the rites of these sacraments are comparable to those in the Roman Catholic Church, the material aspects are somewhat different in the Greek Orthodox Church.
A Greek Orthodox baptism differs slightly from other Christian baptisms, but its objectives are the same: to cleanse away original sin and inaugurate the baptized person as a member of the Church. It is also a sacrament acknowledging the Holy Trinity and vowing the baptized to the service of God. Unlike that of Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox baptism involves complete immersion, using deep water blessed with holy oil. The person is submerged in the baptismal water three times, in a symbolic re-enactment of Christ’s baptism, death and resurrection. Most Eastern Orthodox Christians are baptized as young children. Godparents play a significant role in Greek Orthodox baptisms and are considered second parents to a baptized child.
Chrismation is the Greek Orthodox equivalent of the confirmation ceremony in the Roman Catholic Church, except that it is not separate from baptism. Whereas Catholic confirmation is given independently, to children aged 7 or older, an Orthodox priest performs the baptism followed by chrismation -- the child’s first Communion -- during the same service. The term chrismation refers to chrism, a consecrated oil with which the child is anointed. According to Eastern Orthodox belief, the Apostles introduced chrism for priests to use as a proxy for the laying on of hands by the Apostles. It consists of a blend of fragrant spices, aromatic resins and olive oil.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, the Eucharistic service is a three-part ritual called the Divine Liturgy. Essentially, it is a symbolic re-enactment of Christ’s Last Supper. The Eucharist sacrament is a communion offered with wine and leavened bread. Orthodox Christians believe that with the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer, bread and wine are actually transformed into Christ’s body and blood. Consequently, all the wine and bread, including the tiniest drops and crumbs, are handled with the utmost care. Every word and action of the liturgy is executed in meticulous detail, and every part of the service is symbolic. For instance, the Eucharist wine is always red because that is the color of blood.
Orthodox Christian priests hear confessions in the church or some other appropriate place. The penitent, or sinner, stands with the priest face-to-face, not behind a screen. The priest identifies with the penitent and shares the consequences of the confessed sins. He prays, offers advice and recommends penances meant to preserve the spiritual health of the penitent. These penances are not punitive in nature, but corrective and healing. Penances may include spiritual reading, fasting, intensified prayer, charitable acts or temporary exclusion from Holy Communion. The priest proclaims judgment on the sin, not the sinner. As a kind spiritual father, he prays for the sinner and demonstrates the merciful love of God. After the confession, the priest places his hands on the penitent’s head and reads the prayer of absolution, which bestows God’s forgiveness.