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Hymns Of The Holy Eastern Church by John Brownlie


In common with the Roman Church, the Greek Church has seven Sacraments. These are -- the Eucharist, Baptism, the Holy Chrism, Penance, Matrimony, Unction of the Sick, and Ordination.

Holy Communion. -- In relation to this Sacrament, as indeed to all the Sacraments of the Eastern Church, it is necessary to say that, doctrine being in an altogether undefined state, an outsider has considerable difficulty in realising, in any degree of certainty, what the attitude of mind generally of the Church is, or more exactly ought to be. One cannot help feeling that without the mental subtleness of the East, and the atmosphere and environment of its worship, it is impossible to understand, so as to express it, how this Sacrament is viewed. Eastern theology has not been systematised, and could not be -- such subtleties and nice distinctions abound, as would defy systematising.

And nowhere as in this Sacrament do we feel this difficulty more. Transubstantiation as we understand it, and as it is held in the West, is nowhere a doctrine of belief in the Eastern Church, although the language of the service may seem emphatic, and quite unmistakable. Under the operation of the Holy Spirit -- not as in the West, after the formula of institution (and this is an important difference) the bread and wine become the precious Body and the precious Blood of our Lord; and when they are partaken of, are as fire and light in us, consuming the substance of sin, and burning the tares of our passions. That all seems plain enough. But what is the nature of this change? In the Western Church the material on the altar -- the bread and the wine -- are actually changed into the Body and the Blood: they are materially no longer bread and wine: the bread and wine have disappeared, and the Body and Blood of Christ have taken their place. They are, as the term expresses it, transubstantiated.

That is not the view of the Greek Church. The bread and the wine do not change their substance: they are bread and wine, nothing more, to the end, with this difference, it is a subtle one, doubtless, that the Body and Blood of Christ under the operation of the Holy Ghost are there IN that bread and wine. There is, if we might so express it, Insubstantiation. The materials are not changed, but the Body and Blood of Christ are there.

As a rule, persons go to Holy Communion once a year, shortly after confession. The laity communicate in both kinds, and in this particular the Eastern Church differs from the Western, which withholds the cup from the laity. In other particulars the two Churches differ. The wine is mixed twice, not once; the Sacrament is received standing, not kneeling; and the bread is ordinary leavened bread, not unleavened. As noticed in connection with baptism, infants after that Sacrament partake of the cup, and continue to do so till they reach their seventh year. At that age they are expected to go to Confession, and thereafter they communicate in both kinds.

There are three methods of communion practised in the Eastern Church, (1) Giving the bread first, and thereafter the cup, as is the uniform custom in the West. (2) The priest gives the bread, and the deacon gives the wine with a spoon. (3) The bread is broken into crumbs, and put into the wine, and both are given together in a spoon.

Before the people separate, the priest distributes the Antidoron. The bread of the Eucharist is called the Gift, and the portion which is afterwards distributed is for the use of those who have not communicated, and is given in place of the gift. It is carried home, and may be used by the person himself, or given to any who are sick, or who for other reasons were absent from the celebration, and is partaken of fasting. The services both before and after Communion are in many cases exceedingly beautiful.

Baptism. -- The Eastern Church observes infant baptism, but insists on trine immersion -- in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. A priest is the celebrant; but in cases of sudden and serious illness any orthodox person may perform the rite. In the event, however, of the sick person recovering, a priest must fill in and complete the office.

The form of the service is briefly as follows. The child having been brought to church, is anointed with oil, which has been blessed for the purpose by the priest, on the breast and back, and on the ears, hands, and feet. Then follows the profession of the faith in which the child is baptized. The water of baptism is thereafter blessed, and the child immersed three times.

The Holy Chrism is the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Eastern Church, and it differs considerably from the Western rite. This Sacrament is given immediately after baptism, not as in the West when the child has come to years of discernment, and in nearly every case by the ordinary priest. Oil is again used, the priest anointing the baptised person with it, making the sign of the Cross -- on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, breast, hands, and feet. Thereafter the child partakes of the wine of the Holy Communion.

Penance. -- In the Greek Church Confession has never assumed the objectionable features which so largely characterise that Sacrament in the Roman Church. It is, as far as it can be made such, a means of grace; and when used in a right and proper spirit, helpful to a degree. To quote from a catechism of the Russian Church, |Penance is a mystery, in which he who confesses his sins is, on the outward declaration of the priest, immediately loosed from his sins by Jesus Christ Himself.| Or in the language of a former Metropolitan of Moscow -- |Confession is a mystery in which sins are forgiven by God, through the means of the priest, to the faithful, when these confess them unreservedly, and believe unhesitatingly in the merits of Christ.| At the age of seven every child is expected to come to Confession and to continue coming four times a year ever thereafter.

When the priest has offered up prayer supplicating the mercy of God, the penitent confesses his sins, craving pardon from the just and merciful God, and grace to sin no more. The confessor addressing the penitent reminds him that he has come to God with his sins, and does not confess to man but to God. After he has been dealt with in all faithfulness, the priest tells him that he himself is also an unworthy sinner, and has no power to forgive sins, but relying on the Word of Christ, |Whosesoever sins ye remit,| says, |God forgive thee in the world that now is, and in that which is to come.|

Penance is prescribed only for mortal sins; for venial sins absolution alone is given, the penitent kneeling while being absolved, although during confession he sat.

Matrimony. -- The first duty of the priest towards persons contemplating marriage is to instruct them in the Ten commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed. Notice of intended marriage is announced in church some weeks prior to the event, and the ceremony is carried out in church before witnesses.

The Office for Matrimony has two parts, one dealing with betrothal, and the other with the marriage. These may be performed at the same time, or separately, as the case may demand.

Taking the betrothal first. After prayer for blessing upon the persons, the priest takes two rings, one of gold and one of silver, and giving the ring of gold to the man says, |A., the servant of God, is betrothed to B., the handmaid of God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, now and ever and to the ages of ages, Amen.| Afterwards taking the silver ring, and giving it to the woman, he says, |B., the handmaid of God,| etc. The godfather then changes the rings, giving the gold ring to the woman, and the silver ring to the man, an expressive act, proclaiming to the bridegroom that he must learn to accommodate himself to the weakness of the bride, and that she has now become sharer of his goods. Then follows the Coronation, or marriage proper. After words of instruction and prayer, the priest takes the crowns, and first of all crowns the bridegroom, saying, |A., the servant of God, is crowned for B., the handmaid of God, in the name of the Father,| etc. Then he crowns the bride, using the same formula. The words are repeated three times in each case, the sign of the Cross being made each time. The crowns are, as a rule, the property of the Church, and according to the wealth or poverty of the people are made of precious metal or of tin. The priest then takes the common cup and gives to the bridegroom first, and then to the bride, to drink. Later, the priest removes the crowns, and after prayer the friends come forward with their congratulations, the bridegroom and the bride kiss each other, and the priest pronounces the dismissal.

Second and third marriages, while allowed, are not looked upon with favour, and the Church shows its disapprobation in several ways. They are not crowned, and the words of the service for such marriages have subtle allusions to their unworthiness. The priest prays, |Give unto them the conversion of the publican, the tears of the harlot, and the confession of the thief, that through repentance they may be deemed worthy of Thy Heavenly Kingdom.| The priest does not present Himself at the wedding feast, nor are the parties allowed to partake of the Sacraments of the Church for the space of two years. Fourth marriages are unlawful.

Unction of the Sick. -- This Sacrament must not be confounded with the Sacrament of Extreme Unction of the Roman Church. It has its authority in the injunction of the Apostle James -- |Is any sick among you? 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.| The oil is consecrated for the purpose by seven priests, and the Sacrament is not administered unless several priests, usually three, are present. This rule is founded on the use of the plural number by St. James. If possible, the rite is observed in church, but where that is impossible, in the house. According to the Scriptural direction, the priest anoints the sick with oil, and prays God to forgive him, and to cure the body and the soul. In cases of extreme urgency the Communion is thereafter given to the sick.

Ordination. -- This Sacrament, giving as it does a place in the succession with apostolic authority, is most jealously guarded. But before speaking of Ordination, it may be useful in the first place to give some description of the vestments worn in the Greek Church, and with which the clergy are robed according to their rank. The origin of the vestments in use in the Greek Church certainly affords much difficulty. It is more than likely that they present fundamentally the dress of the early Greek of comparatively high social standing in apostolic times, with certain very important modifications and additions.

We can find no trace of vestments of any kind whatsoever in the Apostolic Church. The garments worn by the apostles and their companions in work would be the dress of the ordinary Greek of fairly high social standing. During the first three centuries, in which Christianity suffered so much at the hands of her enemies, we cannot think of much alteration on dress taking place in the case of the ministers of religion -- men had something else to think about. But quieter times came, and no doubt the alterations would then be made to which we have referred; and we can fancy that in making those alterations regard would be had to symbolism, and that garments to suggest certain facts and functions would be brought into use. In making those modifications and additions there can be little doubt that the vestments of the Jewish priesthood with their symbolism would be, as far as possible, approximated.

That those vestments in the early centuries were purely what they now are, ecclesiastical vestments, we very much doubt. It is more likely that for some time they constituted what we would term the ordinary everyday clerical dress.

The first vestment, and that which is common to every order, is the Stoicharion, which corresponds to the Alb in use in the West. It is a white tunicle, not now of linen as formerly, but of silk. The Epimanikia, or hand-pieces, were formerly made in the shape of the sleeves of a surplice, but are now considerably contracted. They hang down on each side of the arm, and are drawn close to it by cords which are fastened tightly round the wrist. The significance of the vestment is not apparent. They are said to represent the cords with which Christ was bound before being delivered to Pilate. Formerly, only bishops wore the Epimanikia, but now they are worn by all ranks.

The Orarion, or praying vestment, is peculiar to the deacon. It is identical with the Latin Stole, and is thrown over the left shoulder. Its significance is obscure, but it has been represented as symbolising wings, the ministry of the deacon being angelical. Those three vestments constitute the dress of the deacon. The priest has the Stoicharion and the Epimanikia, but instead of the Orarion the Epitrachelion. This vestment is not unlike the stole, but of a different shape. It is not thrown round the neck hanging down the front in two pieces. The head of the priest passes through a hole of sufficient size, and the vestment hangs in front in one piece. Whether it symbolises the easy yoke of Christ we cannot say. The Zone is the next article of vestment, and is worn to bind the Stoicharion and the Epitrachelion together round the waist.

The Phaenolion. -- This word is translated cloke in I. Tim., iv.13, and as a vestment represents the garment which Paul left at Troas with Carpus. It is the Latin Chasuble, but is now much reduced in dimensions. Those five vestments constitute the dress of a priest. The bishop, in addition to the five just mentioned, with the exception of the Phaenolion, for which is substituted the Saccos which represents the robe in which Christ was mocked, has two other vestments, making seven in all. They are the Omorphiona, or Pall. It is fastened round the neck, and is larger than the Latin Dalmatic; and the Epigonation, which is a small ornament made of brocade, or some such stiff material, and of a diamond shape. It is worn hanging at the right side, and may represent the towel with which Christ girded Himself, or if a sword, may be typical of the victory of the Church over sin. No doubt the latter is the correct interpretation, as the words spoken, when it is assumed, would indicate, |Gird Thy sword on Thy thigh, O Thou most Mighty.|

The office of Ordination is exceedingly simple and most expressive, and varies according to the rank of the candidate. The minor orders are those of Reader, Singer, Sub-Deacon, and Deacon. If the candidate be a Reader, he is brought to the bishop, who counsels him regarding his duties, and laying his hand upon his head prays over him, ordaining him to his order. He is then robed in the Stoicharion and a copy of the Epistles is put into his hand. If a Singer, he is robed in like manner, and a copy of the Psalter is put into his hand. The office for a Sub-Deacon is more elaborate, as his rank is higher than that of a Reader or a Singer. He is set apart for the exercise of his functions with prayer and counsel, and is robed with the Stoicharion and Zone. The Order of Deacon is a much more important one in the East than in the West. He has duties in connection with the celebration of the Eucharist, as we have already seen, which he alone can perform. He is vested, in addition to the Stoicharion and Zone, with the Orarion, or Stole, which he wears over his left shoulder.

The higher orders begin with the priest. In his case the Orarion is exchanged for the Epitrachelion, and the service is arranged to suit the peculiar functions of his order. The additional higher orders are -- Proto-presbyter, Abbot, Archimandrite, Bishop, and Metropolitan or Patriarch. It should be stated that the lower grades are necessary steps to the higher ones, and are, as a rule, permanent.

Unlike the Roman Church, which demands the celibacy of the clergy, the Eastern Church requires of all orders of her parochial clergy that they should be married prior to ordination. Bishops, who, as a rule, are chosen from the monasteries, and are consequently celibates, continue in that state, although a married bishop has not been unknown in the Eastern Church. The practice is founded on the words of St. Paul to Timothy, |A Bishop must be ... the husband of one wife,| which they take literally, in a sense which we do not attach to them. Before, therefore, orders can be conferred, the candidate must be married, and if during his incumbency his wife should die, he must give up his parochial duties and retire to a monastery. He cannot put himself right with this requirement of Church discipline by marrying again, for |A bishop must be ... the husband of one wife.| If, as we are bound to infer from that prohibition, he is deemed the husband of one wife even after his wife is dead, it is difficult to understand on what principle he is obliged to abandon his duties, seeing that he has fulfilled the apostolic requirement. Such is the practice of the Church: he must be married once, and his wife must be alive during the whole term of his incumbency. We must however bear in mind the objection which the Eastern Church has to second marriages generally, which, while not prohibited, are stigmatised; and perhaps in this objection is to be found the explanation of the general rule.

One other rank should be mentioned -- that of Deaconess or Abbess. It ranks above that of Deacon, and was instituted in order to bring conventual establishments, over which they are set, directly under Episcopal jurisdiction.

The minor rites, canons, and offices, and special prayers of the Eastern Church, are too numerous to be dealt with here. Suffice it to say, that there is no event of ecclesiastical importance which has not its appropriate rite, and scarcely an experience of life for which some provision has not been made in the magnificent services of the Church.

One office of universal interest, however, we must refer to shortly, viz., that for Burial. There are five Burial offices in the Euchologion -- for a monk, for a priest, for a child, and for laymen (two). It may serve our purpose to take the last as a specimen.

The office begins with the following instruction: -- |On the death of one of the orthodox, straightway the relatives send for the priest, who, when he is come to the house in which the remains lie, assumes the Epitrachelion, and burning incense gives the blessing, and the relatives, as is usual, say the Trisagion, the Most Holy Trinity, and the Lord's Prayer.| After certain troparia are sung, and prayer offered, the remains are carried to the church and placed in the narthex (page 52). The service, which is long and varied, and most impressive, is made up of scriptural lessons -- Psalm i.; The Beatitudes; John v.24; I. Thess. iv.13-17; prayers; The Canon of the Dead, which contains eight odes written by Theophanes (eighth century), and the idiomela of John the Monk -- presumably John of Damascus -- eight in number, the first of which is given in this volume. Towards the close of the service, the priest bows down and kisses the corpse, in which act he is followed by the relatives and friends present. Then the stichera of the last kiss, said to have been written by John of Damascus, are sung, followed by the idiomela. After the priest has given the prayer of absolution, the body is carried to the grave followed by the mourners, the clergy going before chanting the Trisagion. When the remains have been laid in the grave, the priest takes some earth on a shovel, and scatters it crosswise on the body, saying, |The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.| After the corpse oil has been poured upon the remains the grave is covered, while certain troparia are sung. This office in certain parts is very striking. The stichera of the last kiss, of which a rendering can be seen in Neale's Hymns of the Eastern Church, and the idiomela, which follow, being specially noteworthy.

It is deserving of note that the Eastern Church has a special office for the burial of little children -- an appreciation of the honour conferred upon them by Christ in His kingdom, and an acknowledgment of the importance of the child-like spirit, as constituting an essential qualification on the part of those who would enter that kingdom, very beautiful indeed. A rendering of certain stichera from this office is included in this volume.

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