We saw in the post on the importance of the Apostolic Tradition and its reflection in the writings of the ancient Fathers that the very first Christians truly believed that a miracle happened in the Eucharist, and that in a mystery, Christ became truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, so that they became His true flesh and blood. This is one illustration of the fact that the idea of the Holy Spirit working mysteriously in our lives goes all the way back to Apostolic times. When Christ ascended to heaven, He promised not to leave His followers orphaned. He sent to them His own Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Paraclete (or ‘Advocate’), the Comforter. In this way, God dwells constantly and powerfully amongst His people.
The Apostolic Churches (and a small minority of Protestant Churches) have maintained this faith in the continuous presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the Church through what is generally called in the west, the sacraments. However, the Orthodox prefer the word ‘Mystery’ (Greek / Coptic ‘mysterion’; Arabic ‘serr’) to the word ‘Sacrament’. The word ‘sacrament’ comes from the Latin ‘sacramentum’ which means an oath. It was apparently first applied to baptism, signifying that being baptised involved promising to be a true follower of Christ (until today in the Coptic Baptism rite, the baptised or their parents still make a public oath to reject the devil and all that is evil, and to follow Christ and all that is good). But in the East, the word ‘mystery’ was used, perhaps to indicate that the nature of what happened was hidden from non-Christians. But Eastern theology also emphasises the fact that what happens when the Holy Spirit works in us is something far, far beyond the comprehension of the human mind, something in the liturgical words of St Gregory the Theologian that is “more than we ask or understand”.
The historical evidence suggests that although the Mysteries were well known from the earliest Christian times, they were not limited to the seven Mysteries we now teach in the Coptic Church Continue reading “Being Orthodox 9: A Mysterious Faith”