Sacramental Mysteries of the Church #
The Sacramental Mysteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
The Sacramental Theology, the Churches teachings on the Seven Mysteries (Sacraments) is that which she received from the righteous Apostles and Fathers of the Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, by God’s grace, holds this Faith unchanged, having preserved what she received almost two thousand years ago with no addition or subtraction.
An Introduction #
The Sacramental Theology (the word ‘Theology' comes from two Greek words that mean “the study of God”) of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, is in general the same as those the other Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The Holy Fathers of the Church contently speak of the spirit of God being “present in all places and filling all things.” This profound affirmation is basic to Ethiopian Orthodoxy’s understanding of Almighty God and His relationship to the world. We believe that God, the Holy Trinity, is truly near to us. Although He cannot be seen, the Triune God is not detached from His creation. Through the persons of The Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is present and active in our lives and in the world about us. All our life and the creation of which we are an important part, points to and reveals Almighty God.
There are special event in our shared life as Orthodox Tewahedo Christians when the perception of Almighty God’s presence and His actions in our lives is heightened and celebrated. We call these events of the Church Sacraments. Traditionally, the Sacraments have been known as “Mysteries” in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This description emphasizes that in these special rites of the Church, God discloses Himself through the prayers and actions of His people.
It also should be noted that not only do the Sacramental Mysteries disclose and reveal Almighty God to us, but also they serve to make us receptive to God. All the Sacraments - Mysteries affect our personal relationship to God and to one another. The Holy Spirit works through and in the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ Jesus who unites us with the Father. By participating in the Sacraments, we grow closer to God and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process of “Theosis” (Theosis is the spiritual pilgrimage in which each person becomes ever more perfect, ever more holy, ever more united with God. It is not a static relationship, nor does it take place only after death. On the contrary, Theosis is a movement of love toward God which begins for each Christian with the rites of Baptism and which continues throughout this life, as well as the life which is to come), as it is known by Orthodoxy, takes place not in isolation from others, but within the context of a believing community. Although the Sacraments are addressed to each of us by name, they are experiences which involve the entire Church.
The Sacraments of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church are composed of Prayers, Hymns, Scripture lessons, Gestures and Processions. Many parts of the Rites date back to the time of the Holy Apostles.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has avoided reducing the Sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a whole series of Sacred Rites make up a Sacrament. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of Almighty God’s revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are but a few of the many elements which the Ethiopian Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The frequent use of the material of creation reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.
One of the major stumbling blocks for those who attempt to make sense of revelation on their own is that the history of salvation, which, by Almighty God’s grace, we have inherited and in which we live, reveals eternal truths within the limitations of time and space. We creatures, used to assuming that everything real is necessarily bound by such limitations, must gradually grow, by time released doses of grace, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13).
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church have always taught that Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation or Confirmation, Penance or Confession, the Holy Eucharist-Qiddasie/Holy Communion-Qurban, Anointing of the Sick-Unction, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders - Ordination to be instituted by Jesus Christ Himself as a visible means of invisible grace, or as channels mediating grace to the faithful. According to the teaching of the Church, the Sacraments are holy ordinances or Rites through which believers receive invisible grace under the forms of outward signs. In every instance, the Divine Majesty of Almighty God Himself is present in the worshippers of those gathered as witnesses. It is Almighty God Who makes the Sacramental miracle happen.