In the twelfth century, theologian Peter Lombard listed seven sacraments, all of which have been accepted by the Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches of today. While Catholics only recognize these seven, the Orthodox Church - which refers to them as Mysteries - teaches that anything that is done through the church and brings people closer to God is sacramental.
Baptism and Confirmation
Both Catholics and the Orthodox use baptism to bring people into the church. Typically, Orthodox Christians baptize people by immersing them in water, while Catholics tend to just sprinkle them. Both groups baptize people of any age, including infants, and believe that baptism leads to people's sins being forgiven. Immediately after baptism, the Orthodox perform Chrismation - what Catholics call confirmation - by anointing the person with oil to complete their initiation into the church. Catholics typically wait several years before performing confirmation on children, until they are old enough to have some understanding of the event.
After baptism and confirmation, Catholic and Orthodox Christians can receive the Eucharist, or communion. This sacrament, which takes place at the end of the worship service, involves the believers eating bread and wine that both denominations teach has become Jesus' literal body and blood through consecration. Although both groups restrict the Eucharist to members of their own church, the Orthodox allow non-Orthodox Christians to eat bread that has been blessed, but not consecrated.
The ordination ceremony, sometimes called "holy orders," takes place when a person joins the priesthood. This has three levels: bishop, priest and deacon. Both the Orthodox and Catholics limit priesthood to men, although in 2004 the Greek Orthodox Church voted to allow women to become deaconesses. Although Roman Catholics forbid married priests, Orthodox Christians will ordain priests and deacons who are already married.
Both the Orthodox and Catholics treat penance, or confession, as a sacrament. Each group expects people to receive penance in order to participate in Eucharist after committing any serious sin. Typically, the person should examine his or her conscience and then confess any sins to a priest or bishop, who may then offer some spiritual guidance and urge the person to pray or fast as part of their penance.
Although both Catholics and Orthodox Christians consider marriage a sacrament, they have different perspectives about it. Catholics view matrimony as a binding, unbreakable contract and forbid divorce under any circumstances. However, they do sometimes allow annulment, in which they declare the marriage was never valid. The Orthodox, on the other hand, view marriage as a mystical union rather than a contract and allow divorce under rare circumstances as an acknowledgment of people's imperfections.
Catholics see anointing with holy oil, or "extreme unction," as the final sacrament to prepare people for death and judgment. The Orthodox perform the sacrament more frequently and offer it for healing. Within Orthodoxy, the anointing is preceded by confession and followed by communion. Both groups reference the Biblical passage James 5:14-15 regarding this sacrament, which says that church leaders should pray over and anoint anyone who is sick, and that person will be forgiven of any sins they've committed.
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