"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 30 January 2016


Keynote Address By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew To the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches
AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov

Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Greece this June

Your Beatitudes and beloved Brothers in the Lord, Primates of the local most holy Orthodox Churches and venerable representatives of brother Primates precluded from participating in this Synaxis, together with Your honorable entourages.

Welcome to this sacred place of our most holy Church of Constantinople, this Center dedicated to the service of Pan-Orthodox unity, which has for decades hosted and continues to host numerous Inter-Orthodox and Pan-Orthodox encounters hammering out and advancing the unity of the most holy Orthodox Church. We wholeheartedly pray that Your sojourn here may prove for each of You satisfactory and pleasing in every way, while our work may be guided by the breath of the Paraclete in order to bear abundant fruit for the love and edification of the body of the Church to the glory of God.

As we know, this Synaxis of ours was to be held at our see, but extraordinary objective circumstances that prevented some of our brothers from traveling there imposed the relocation of our meeting here. We thank all of You for understanding the necessity of this change and for agreeing to come here in order to realize the sacred purpose of the present Synaxis.

Indeed, every Synaxis that gathers us together, as entrusted with by God’s grace and mercy with the leadership of His most holy Church, is sacred. However, this particular Synaxis has a very special character because it is bound to the fundamental ecclesiological principle of the Church’s conciliarity inasmuch as it its primary objective is to prepare the forthcoming convocation, God willing, of the Holy and Great Council of our most holy Orthodox Church. Therefore, we have assembled here to perform a truly sacred obligation, which is precisely why we have an entirely particular need for the support and illumination of the Paraclete as well as of the favorable goodwill of each of us, beyond any other kind of interests, in order that our decisions may contribute to the realization of the Holy and Great Council, which we have already announced. For it is unto us that Divine Providence has assigned the great duty and privilege to give flesh and bones to the visions of our blessed predecessors, who more than fifty years ago conceived the notion of convening this Council. To us, then, belongs the great responsibility to reduce the time, which is already much detained, in order without further delay to transform the vision into reality. After all, this is expected of us not only by our late predecessors, but also by the faithful people of God, as well as even by Christians outside the canonical barriers of our Church. This is why every further postponement in realizing the Council will only satisfy the enemies of our Church and the Enemy that rejoices in evil.

Our Synaxis has a particularly special significance because it is called to settle matters and aspects that remain from the preparation and relate to the overall operation of the Holy and Great Council. In this regard, we wish to remind Your love of certain basic principles, which we have already accepted and established through formal decisions, and which we are naturally obliged to respect and maintain to the end.

1. On the Agenda

As known, the agenda of the Council was determined by Pan-Orthodox decision of the First Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation (1976) and includes the following ten items according to the order in the Acts of the Consultation:

a)Orthodox Diaspora

b)Autocephaly and its manner of proclamation

c)Autonomy and its manner of proclamation

d)The Diptychs

e)The matter of a common calendar

f)Impediments of marriage

g)Adaptation of church regulations on fasting

h)Relations of the Orthodox Churches with the rest of the Christian world

i)Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement

j)Contribution of the local Orthodox Churches to the prevalence of the Christian ideals of peace, liberty, brotherhood and love among peoples, and the lifting of racial and other discrimination.

According the prevailing By-Laws, each of the above items should pass through the stage of preparation in order to be examined by an Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Committee, which would repeatedly convene until it achieves unanimous formulation of the text in question, which should consequently be approved by a Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation in order finally to be referred without further ado to the Holy and Great Council.

Of the above items, eight have already passed through the stage of preparation and approval by Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultations, while two of them – pertaining to Autocephaly and the Diptychs – have not received unanimous acceptance in the recurrent meetings of the Preconciliar Committee in order to receive final approval by a Preconciliar Consultation and comprise items for discussion at the Holy and Great Council.

In light of the situation that has developed in this way, we were faced with the dilemma of either postponing the realization of the Holy and Great Council until agreement is also reached on these two items or else proceeding with its convocation contented with the eight items.

On this question, there was a Pan-Orthodox decision to proceed with the convocation of the Council contented with the eight items, which received unanimous approval by Preconciliar Consultations.

Subsequently, our Synaxis in March 2014 unanimously decided to convene the Holy and Great Council in 2016 after a Special Inter-Orthodox Committee has previously undertaken the following actions by Pascha 2015:

a) the revision of the texts agreed by the Third Preconciliar Consultation on the items:Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement; Relations of the Orthodox Churches with the rest of the Christian world; and, Contribution of the Orthodox Churches to the prevalence of peace, etc.

b) the editing of texts from the Second Preconciliar Consultation regarding: Adaptation of church regulations on fasting; Impediments of marriage; and, A common calendar.

c) If possible (“it is desirable”), the discussion of the items of Autocephaly and the Diptychs by the Preparatory Committee in order to achieve unanimity.

This Special Committee completed its task within the prescribed timeframe with regard to points (a) and (b), working until the eve of Holy and Great Week 2015, but was unable due to lack of time to fulfill the expressed wish of the Synaxis on point (c).

Accordingly, the items that remained for the Holy and Great Council were the eight originally agreed, which received the approval of a Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation as foreseen by the By-Laws.

In the meantime and despite what was unanimously agreed, certain Churches expressed their desire and even demand that the Holy and Great Council be postponed until there is discussion and unanimous acceptance both on the items of Autocephaly and the Diptychs as well as on the texts of the Second Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation (1982) on Impediments of marriage and A common calendar, which were not unanimously edited by the above-mentioned Special Committee. As far as the last two items, we cannot but express our surprise from such a demand, given that the decision of our Synaxis in 2014 did not at all foresee any radical revision of these texts, but simply their editing by the Special Committee; which is why the presiding chairman correctly forbade any radical revision since this would constitute transgression or transcendence of the mandate given to the Committee by our Synaxis. The demand on the part of certain Churches to revise these texts would clearly require a new unanimous decision of the Synaxis of Primates, different to the one taken in 2014 about a simple editing of the texts, which editing by its very nature could not affect the core contents of the same texts.

Therefore, brethren, we find ourselves before the dilemma, presented to us by certain Churches, either to persist with the decision taken jointly in 2014 to convene the Holy and Great Council with the eight agenda items, which have already acquired unanimous Pan-Orthodox approval, or to delay the convocation of the Council until we achieve Pan-Orthodox agreement also on the items of Autocephaly and the Diptychs as well as the texts on Marriage and the Calendar. If we choose the latter, we shall require a whole series of meetings by the Preparatory Committee, which in accordance with the prevailing By-Laws for preparation of the council must conclude with unanimous approval of the relevant texts that must then be submitted for final approval by a new Preconciliar Consultation. Given these procedures, whether and when the Holy and Great Council is to convene would remain unknown and its ultimate cancellation would not be excluded. Our responsibility is indeed immense for whatever might transpire and we are obliged to take this into consideration before preferring what is better over what is good and what is greater over what is necessary if we go back on our original joint decision. Our most holy Church declares that it cannot assume the historical responsibility of delaying the convocation of the Holy and Great Council or the danger resulting from its cancellation.

2. Remaining Matters

a) The Draft of By-Laws for the operation of the Holy and Great Council:

As known, the Special Committee that recently met in Athens to compose a draft for the procedural By-Laws of the Holy and Great Council did not manage to complete its task, finally approving only four of the sixteen proposed articles, which means that we must discover a way to conclude this work, if possible during the present Synaxis, by means of a special committee composed from our very own members, with the clear directive to complete its task during these days in order to submit it here to our plenary for approval so that there is no need of another Synaxis of Primates for the approval of the by-Laws.

b) The matter of inviting observers to the Holy and Great Council:

This matter is before us for purposes of deciding at this Synaxis in two forms: namely, regarding the invitation of observers (clergy, monastics and laity) both from within the Orthodox Church as well as from other Christian Churches and Confessions, especially from those with whom we are in theological dialogue. In our opinion, both of these categories should be invited to attend the sessions of the Council, without of course the right to speak or vote, given that the Holy and Great Council is of immediate and vital interest both to Orthodox laity, clergy and monastics, but also to the rest of the Christian world. It should be noted that, during the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, our Church was invited to and did send observers.

If there is agreement on the principle of inviting such observers, then we must proceed to the determination of the manner in which they are represented, their number as well as their seating on the Council floor and every other question related to this matter.

c) The matter of the Council’s authenticity must also concern this Synaxis. The Holy and Great Council will take place at a time when institutions are generally undergoing a crisis of authenticity, being disputed by contemporary people, something that unfortunately also tends to influence the domain of the Church.  Conciliar decisions, which at other times enjoyed the respect of the clergy and the people as the voice of God (“it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” [Acts 15.28]), are today challenged by a group of our faithful, sometimes even before they are formally taken and announced. We know that even the Holy and Great Council that we have decided to convene is questioned by some “defenders of Orthodoxy,” who label it as a “robber council” before it has actually convened. What canonical validity will the decisions of the Holy and Great Council have, and what canonical repercussions will any disobedience toward these involve? We believe that this matter must be clarified by us in order to avoid confusion among the people of God and other unfortunate ramifications in the body of the Church.

d) Finally, it is necessary that we clarify a matter that emerged – unexpectedly, in our opinion – namely, the question of the precise meaning of the term consensus, which we accepted as a way of reaching decisions both during the preparation as well as during the proceedings of the Holy and Great Council. On this matter, we should clarify the following issues:

First, the concept of consensus, and not unanimity, internationally signifies that if one or more delegations disagree with a specific proposal and choose to formulate their own, an effort must be made to accept the opinion or proposal of these delegations; however, in the case where consensus is not achieved on the counter-proposal, then this disagreement – should those disagreeing persist – is recorded but does not invalidate the original position that resulted in the disagreement, while those disagreeing sign the original text and, should they so wish, record their disagreement. If someone declines to sign the text, this would imply veto, which would lead to an impasse.

A second matter that requires clarification is whether consensus refers to those present during the deliberations “of a body or requires the physical presence of all members of the body.” If we accept the latter, then any absence or else voluntary and deliberate absenteeism of some members would lead to dissolution of the body on the premise of lack of consensus.

The first of these matters emerged during the sessions of the Fifth Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation, where two delegations declined to sign the joint text for the reason that the position of their Churches were not accepted by all members of the Consultation; thus, we find ourselves before an impasse with regard to preparations for the Council because one of its basic texts remains unsigned by certain delegations.

The second matter emerged during the recent meeting of the Special Committee for preparing the draft of the Council’s procedural By-Laws in Athens. At that meeting, certain delegations persistently sought to include a provision in the By-Laws, according to which if one Church for any reason withdraws from the sessions of the Council, then the Chairman is obliged to secure that Church’s presence, otherwise the Council cannot continue its deliberations (i.e., is dissolved) since there is no consensus. That is our predicament if we regard consensus as applying not only to those present but also to those absent.

We wish to state forthrightly that our most holy Church and we personally cannot conceive or accept the realization of a Council that would operate under the Damocleian sword of dissolution should one or more Churches decide to withdraw. It would be preferable for such a Council, operating under the threat of dissolution, not to be held at all.

The tradition of the Church knows numerous examples where conciliarity is applied in Councils, indeed even Ecumenical Councils, when certain Churches were absent – sometimes voluntarily, at other times involuntarily – from the sessions of the Council, without this at all preventing their operation. Many Council decisions were recognized retroactively by those who did not participate in them. So far as we know, dependence of consensus on physical attendance has no historical precedent.

We are, therefore, also called to deliberate on this matter fraternally and with love.

We propose these issues to Your love, brethren, as outstanding for our deliberation and decision so that we might arrive at the Holy and Great Council in unanimity. Apart from these issues, there are some other matters ofr a practical nature, which we are called to resolve in light of the Council. By way of example, we mention some of these here:

a) The duration of the Council. We do not know what you think about this, but in our opinion the number, scope and importance of the items for discussion will necessitate the duration of the Council to be at least two weeks, if we also bear in mind the liturgical and other events, which would be added to the sessions.

b) The procedure and placement of the Chairman and Primates decided at our last Synaxis will create aspacial distance betwen them an the members of their delegations, which will complicate the communication between the Primates and their delegations. This practical matter needs to be resolved.

c) We must promptly create a common Inter-Orthodox Secretariat of the Council, which will work alongside the existing Secretariat for the Preparation of the Council, assuming the difficult, albeit extremely important task of promoting the Council to the plenitude of the Orthodox Church but also to the world beyond, publishing and circulating the agreed texts, so that the Council may discern the reactions of the faithful and the world in order to bear these in mind in its work as far as this is possible.

d) Finally, it will soon be necessary to confront the practical matter of the financial cost of the Council, which due to its magnitude exceeds the capacity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As you already know, throughout the preparation over decades for the Holy and Great Council, the Ecumenical Patriarchate bore the burden of the financial expense for many and repeated meetings of the Preparatory Committees and Preconciliar Consultations, as well as the Synaxis gatherings of the Primates. It did so and continues to do so gladly, from its deficiency. Nevertheless, we now require the contribution of each Church, according to its ability, toward a common fund controlled on an Inter-Orthodox level in order to respond to the large expenses demanded by such an undertaking as the forthcoming, with God’s grace, Holy and Great Council. We are certain that all of the sister Churches appreciate this and will contribute, each according to their ability.

Dearly beloved and most esteemed brothers in Christ,

We have briefly outlined the issues that, in our opinion, remain outstanding and await our resolution as Primates of the sister Churches. You will deem whether and which of these require immediate priority or if there are also other issues that should concern our present Synaxis. We look forward to Your observations in this regard.

Behind our proposals lies the conviction that all of us yearn with the same zeal for the convocation of the Holy and Great Council of our most holy Church without further delay, as we have stated, given that “the appointed time is short” (1 Cor. 7.29) since over fifty years of deferment and postponement have seriously exposed our Church in the eyes of adversaries and friends, not to speak also of God and History. Let us, therefore, advance swiftly with the task that lies before us, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12.2), who through the intercessions of His All-Pure Mother and all the Saints “will not leave us as orphans” (cf. John 14.18), but through the Paraclete will unite us in the same place at the Council, just as He unites us in His body and blood. “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (Luke 18.27)

“Therefore, brethren, rejoice in the Lord, and may the God of love and peace be with you.” (Cf. 2 Cor. 13.11) Amen!

Patriarch Kirill addresses the Synaxis of Primates of local Orthodox Churches

On January 22, 2016, the Primates of Local Orthodox Churches met at the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Orthodox center in Chambesy.
Patriarch Kirill addresses the Synaxis of Primates of local Orthodox Churches
Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Greece this June

Addressing the Synaxis, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia noted that each meeting of the Primates of Orthodox Churches is an event of special importance. ‘It is an opportunity for us to exchange opinions, to discuss problems of concern for us and to make agreed decisions on matters of pan-Orthodox significance. But above all, it is an opportunity to feel again our unity, especially when we together partake of one Cup in the awareness that we all are one Body in Christ (Rom. 12:5)’, His Holiness said. He also expressed gratitude to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople who initiated and organized the meeting.

In his address, Patriarch Kirill spoke on various aspects of the preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council.

‘Gathering together, we are clearly aware that our Church is One and Catholic, that our priority concern is to preserve and consolidate her unity, which is the basis of our entire ministry, including our joint efforts for strengthening the conciliar principle in the Church. The Holy and Great Council is called to become a visible, clear and convincing testimony to the unity of the Orthodox Church. And we all realize that the Council can become such only if it reflects the true unanimity of the Local Orthodox Churches. It is for the sake of this unanimity that we all are to work hard together in the pre-council period’, His Holiness stressed.

In this context, Patriarch Kirill stated with satisfaction that ‘the concern for the absence of pan-Orthodox recognition of His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav, Primate of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, which has been repeatedly voiced both by the Moscow Patriarchate and other Churches, has been heard. His Beatitude is with us today, duly recognized now by all the Local Churches.’

Speaking about problems impeding the full-fledged unanimity among the Local Orthodox Churches, Patriarch Kirill expressed regret over the breach in communion between the Patriarchate of Antioch and Jerusalem. To restore it, His Holiness believes, is an urgent task in our days when the whole world is following with anxiety the developments in the Middle East since, indeed, ‘it is from religious communities in this region that people expect an example of solidarity and readiness to overcome differences’.

His Holiness highlighted in detail the church situation in Ukraine, saying, ‘In Ukraine today over 30 churches have been captured by force and 10 more are under threat. Schismatics and nationalists who support them claim it as ‘voluntary moves’ of the faithful to the so-called ‘Kiev Patriarchate’. Actually, these are real gangster raids in which they hold an assembly of persons who have nothing to do with the community and then, with the help of local authorities, forge the deeds and capture the church through the efforts of local militant nationalists, driving out into the street the community of the church together with its priest!’

The Primate of the Russian Church expressed deep concern for the actions of some hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, who, on their visits to Ukraine, expressed their support for the schismatics allegedly on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch of Constantinople, thus sowing temptation among the Ukrainian faithful and clergy. It is impossible to imagine, he continued, that in Switzerland or in Greece or in any other country in Europe representatives of a different confession could come to an Orthodox church and ‘make the decision’ that they will use this church from now on. ‘But in Ukraine it is a reality. The canonical Church’s communities driven away from their churches have won all their legal cases, but schismatics and their semi-gangster armed units ignore court rulings’.

Patriarch Kirill cited as a glaring example of nationalists’ hatred towards the faithful of the canonical Church in Ukraine the situation in the Ptichya village near Rovno, stressing that the proponents of the schism ‘are sowing evil by consciously creating an inter-confessional conflict and splitting the Ukrainian society’.

‘Quite recently, one of their supporters said in public that if His Beatitude Onufry, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, still belonged to the canonical Church, it was only because no suitable tool of torture, such as an electric or soldering iron, was found. It is terrible to imagine what would have happened if these bandits had been granted canonical legalization and had joined us!’ His Holiness stated.

Patriarch Kirill thanked sister Local Churches, especially those of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Serbia, Bulgaria and Poland, for their prayer and support for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. ‘His Holiness Irenaeus, Patriarch of Serbia, was quite right when he wrote to me about Ukrainian schismatics: these people belong to Orthodoxy only by name and ‘their disdain for Christian moral norms and willingness to hate and spill blood is a living testimony to this’. The only path for these people to come back to the Church lies through repentance. We are asked why we do not want to unite with them and are called to begin dialogue almost on an equality with them, but what harmony is there between Christ and Belial?

‘The Orthodox people of Ukraine continue to support the canonical Church. Now the schismatics are frantically fabricating public opinion polls to prove their popularity in the country. However, many Ukrainian archpastors say that the number of people in churches of the canonical Church has grown. The recent procession with the cross held by our faithful in Kiev on the St. Vladimir Day brought together tens of thousands of people, whereas the similar event conducted by schismatics ended in a shameful fiasco. Few churches, which they have managed to grab from Orthodox communities, have become deserted while real Orthodox communities have not disintegrated but continue to worship in the most unfavourable conditions. I trust in the future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; her faithful are united in their condemnation of the schism and violence, and this evil only strengthens them in their feat of love and faith’.

His Holiness continued by noting that the process of preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Council has noticeably intensified of late. He dwelt on the reasons for the failure to implement a number of instructions given by the previous meeting of the Primates to the Special Inter-Orthodox Commission and the 5th Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference. He pointed in particular to the importance of taking into account the positions of all the Orthodox Churches which carry out their mission in various situations. In this connection, he mentioned still unconsidered proposals made concerning the Pan-Orthodox Council agenda items in the last two years by a number of Local Churches including the Churches of Antioch, Russia, Georgia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

Patriarch Kirill also spoke of the need to review the draft document on Calendar, noting that the topic of ‘a more accurate determination of the date of Pascha’ is not at all relevant for the Orthodox Church and can only sow discord among many believers’.

No less concern, His Holiness said, is caused by the draft document on Impediments to Marriage, which only contains a bare list of canonical impediments and fails to reflect the Church’s position on the institution of family in the modern world.

As one of the very important areas of work Patriarch Kirill singled out the topic of Autocephaly and the Manner of Granting it, proposing that the Council approve the fundamental agreement already reached by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission that the establishment of new autocephalous Churches should be a pan-Orthodox action requiring consensus of all the Local Orthodox Churches in each particular case.

His Holiness also stressed the need for a preliminary examination of the Council’s draft document on the Orthodox Diaspora.

Among the points of detailed consideration in Patriarch Kirill’s address was the issue of the venue of the Council, which had already been raised in the address of His Holiness Patriarch Irenaeus of Serbia.

‘As we can see, many problems are to be solved together in order to make possible the convocation of a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. I am sure that the real reason for which many documents are still lacking agreement does not lie at all in the existence of opposite opinions of Churches but in the ineffective methodology of preparing the Council’, Patriarch Kirill stressed. In this connection, he shared the experience of the work of the Inter-Council Present of the Russian Orthodox Church in the form of open discussions enabling any church member concerned to express his or her position.

‘I believe, it is in this way, openly, the preparation of the Council should proceed if we really care for its success’, the Primate of the Orthodox Church said, stressing the importance of having the Council’s draft documents published and overcoming a lack of reliable information that provokes suspicion among many believers.

‘It is my conviction that the long ripened publication of the Council’s draft documents and an opportunity for discussion on them will not at all prevent the holding of the Council but will show us and the whole world the truly conciliar nature of our Church, thus helping consolidate the pan-Orthodox unity’, His Holiness said calling the gathering to pray together to the Lord for His help in the joint efforts for the benefit of the Church and in overcoming all the difficulties standing in the way towards her Great and Holy Council.

Five Best Practices for the Great Council of the Orthodox Church

Five Best Practices for the Great Council of the Orthodox Church

Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Greece this June

Pentecost 2016 will mark the opening of the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church. It has been over 1,000 years since the Eastern Orthodox Church has held a Great and Holy Council. The world has certainly changed in the past millennium. Electricity, flight and the Western Hemisphere are all examples of things that were unknown to the participants in the last Council. Needless to say there is some catching up to do! Despite all of these changes, the question today is a simple one.

Is the Church truly what it says it is or is all the talk of Orthodox conciliarity for naught? One wonders how a Church that cannot agree on a date for Christmas can work together and face the future.

The first millennium always looks perfect from afar and after over 1,000 years of waiting it is easy for leaders focus on nostalgia for times gone by. The greater challenge is to turn outward and show an increasing secular world the truth and beauty of the Orthodox Christian Faith. The vocation of the Council is not to serve itself but to serve the world. This is the essence of Apostolic witness.

Here are five best practices the Great and Holy Council must embrace to meet the challenge of the future.

1)TAKE THE TIME: One of the temptations in the organization of the Council is to conduct it in haste. It would be a tragedy if the Council was held over a two or three day period and followed a tightly prepared script. Previous Councils lasted for months and there is no reason for the 2016 Council not to take its time and allow the Holy Spirit to work. Modern technology makes it easy for leaders to govern their dioceses from afar and to communicate with one another. It has never been easier than it is today to conduct a Great and Holy Council.

2)BE TRANSPARENT: Technology has been a challenge for the Orthodox Church but it also has offered many blessings. It is important to harness the blessing of technology to share the work of the Council with the world. There is no need for secrecy in the Orthodox Church. Leaders can demonstrate this by broadcasting the Council’s proceedings. In the age of the internet this is quite easy and there are many Orthodox media outlets who are capable of providing these services. Every person should have the opportunity witness the work of the Council by being able to listen as it unfolds in real time. Transparency is the foundation of authentic conciliarity and never hurts the Church. It helps strengthen the Body of Christ.

3)EMBRACE DEBATE: History shows that the Councils that have promoted healthy debate have born the most fruit. There is no reason this cannot be true today. The Church must show it welcomes robust debate in the defense of the Faith. The greatness of Orthodox Christianity has always been made manifest when it has taken the time to address the great questions posed by society. This is a Tradition that should continue in 2016.

4)EVANGELIZE FIRST: The Orthodox Church rejects clericalism at all times. Questions of power and control have no place in the Body of Christ. Instead of falling for the trap of debating the order of Churches and who is subject to whom, Council leaders should focus on first growing the Church through mission and evangelism. The Council must answer the question: How can the Orthodox Church reach those who are unchurched or fallen away? Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is correct when he writes.

“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged. A static Church which lacks vision and a constant endeavor to proclaim the Gospel to the oikoumene [“whole inhabited world”] could hardly be recognized as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to whom the Lord entrusted the continuation of His work.”

5)INVITE WOMEN: Orthodoxy has always held women in the highest regard. Church history is full of amazing women such St. Olha of Kyiv and St. Maria of Paris. One can only imagine what these women would say if they could address the Council in 2016. There is simply no sensible reason not to invite women monastics and other faithful Orthodox women to participate in this important event. Not to do so undermines the voice of the Church and its ability to witness to the world. It also denies the great role women have played in the history of the Church.

There is no question the Great and Holy Council will measure the health of the Church as it exists today and for decades to come.

Will the world see a Church that is simply a museum from a time long gone or will the world see the Apostolic Faith that turned the world upside down ultimately changing it for the better?

Only time will tell for certain.

Andrew Estocin is a lifelong Orthodox Christian. He received his B.A. with a double major in Philosophy and Theology from Fordham University. His writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Albuquerque Journal, Touchstone, Beliefnet.com and The Orthodox Observer. Andrew’s work is featured on the The Orthodox Christian Network where he writes on a variety of contemporary issues.

If I were running the Eastern Orthodox Council
(A Catholic Comment)
Pokrov church at sunset in Sevastopol
(us.fotolia.com | M.V
The Orthodox Council, if it takes place, must ask itself: Why should people care about this Council and about Orthodox Christianity itself? Why is it relevant?January 26, 2016 

by Dr Adam A. J. DeVille 

The Orthodox Church has, for the better part of a century, been talking about holding a global council, often labelled the ‘great and holy synod.’ As we are repeatedly told, this will be the first such synodal gathering in the Christian East since the last ecumenical council of Nicaea met in 787 to deal with iconoclasm.

Catholics watching the lead-up to this council will be only too aware—as I have discussed here and here—of the promises and the perils of synodal gatherings in the life of the Church, whether East or West. Synods or councils, ancient or modern, are always a gamble, always a source of surprises one did not expect at the time, and almost always a source of confusion—or at the very least considerable hermeneutical debate, after the fact. Sometimes, it is hard to resist the thought that it would have been better never to have held a council if one’s goal is a neat, over-tidy faith with no messy questions or problems—if, that is, one wants to live in a morgue rather than the Church of the living God.

But one can have no idea, when calling for a council, what those surprises will be, or whether and how they will manifest themselves, so one proceeds in the blithe hope that the risks will not outweigh the benefits. What benefits might we hope to see from an Orthodox synod this Pentecost if it happens? Picking up where I left off nearly two years ago now (“Some Thoughts and [Unsought] Advice on Holding Church Councils”, March 18, 2014), let me offer some wild-eyed hopes for this Orthodox synod.

The Orthodox themselves generated a lengthy list of things a future council should attend to. This list has been in circulation for over sixty years, and includes items such as updating fasting requirements, dealing with divisions over the Julian vs. Gregorian calendar, ecumenical dialogue, liturgical reform, and internal jurisdictional divisions, including the question of primacy both within Orthodoxy itself and in its once and future relationship with the bishop of Rome.

All of these questions are weighty, and I have myself given no little reflection to a few of them on CWR and elsewhere, especially the questions of primacy and jurisdiction, and of fasting. But let me not get into those questions again. Let me, instead, attempt here something of an imaginative-speculative exercise which, as a university professor, I force myself to undergo several times each semester. It is not an easy exercise, and I have no reassurance that I ever complete it with anything like thorough-going success, but it is, I submit, a worthwhile exercise.

When I started teaching here at the University of Saint Francis nearly a decade ago now, I read James Lang’s helpful book Life on the Tenure Track: Lessons from the First Year, in which he counsels professors in each class to offer, at least once a semester, the “Who Gives a Damn” lecture: who gives a damn about the Byzantine iconoclast crisis? or the debate over the two natures of Christ? or the rise of nominalist philosophy? He also encourages faculty to allow students to pose that question at any point in the semester about any matter under consideration.

Doing so often makes for vigorous and bracing classroom discussions in which students are allowed to ask: why is today’s chapter about events 800 years ago relevant to me in 2016? Why do I need to know about this arcane political debate, or tortured bits of mathematical formula, or complex set of causes of World War I? Why should I care? Though challenging, and sometimes a little disconcerting because you never know where the conversation will go, our “Who Gives a Damn” sessions are ones I have come greatly to love as my students and I both open up windows to try to see better or at least a little differently.

These questions are precisely the ones that Orthodox Christians should be asking whether or not the council happens.  Why does a council matter? Who gives a damn whether it meets or not? What relevance will this have not just to Orthodox Christians around the world, but to other Christians and, perforce, to the world itself?

For it is obvious—I hope!—to the Orthodox themselves that in today’s hyper-connected world, no council can take place in secret, and no council can be seen as an exclusively Orthodox preserve, having nothing to do with, and nothing to offer to, other Christians in particular and the world in general.

Instead the council must be prepared to interrogate itself: who gives a damn not just about this meeting, but about Orthodox Christianity itself? Why is it relevant? Why should I care about these people in their strange hats, with their long beards, longer liturgies, and exotic looking icons and churches bearing off-putting ethnic designations?

That is not a flippant question, and the answer to it is not difficult to surmise: millions of people around the world care about Orthodox Christianity, and millions more could potentially care if Orthodoxy did a better job of explaining itself and showing the world what it has to offer. With the press attention focused on a council, Orthodoxy has a privileged moment unlike any other in over a thousand years to reach myriads.

But to what end? What will all that attention be directed towards? Old men in debates over the diptychs, or trying to decide whether fish with/without backbones may be eaten during Lent? Patriarchs debating who has jurisdiction over tiny parishes in far-away countries (e.g., Qatar) of which we know nothing (to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain’s infamous dismissal of Czechoslovakia in 1938)? If that is what comes of it, the media will quickly lose interest, and most people, Christians included, will yawningly ignore the rest of the gathering.

Here, with complete seriousness and sincerity, let me make the most ardent of pleas to the fathers of any upcoming council. I offer this not only as a scholar but especially as a lover of the Christian East in all her maddening messiness: deal with “housekeeping” questions if you must—fasting, calendars, primacy—but before and above all else answer the world’s “Who gives a damn?” in clear, compelling ways that showcase the beauty and splendor of the East. Give people real, repeated, and unforgettable insights into Christianity in its Eastern forms. Show people, seriously but not sanctimoniously, why it was an Orthodox writer, Dostoevsky, who said that “beauty will save the world.” Show the world the beauty not just of liturgy and iconography, but also the beauty that comes “when the brethren dwell together in unity,” as the psalmist puts it.

Let the council, in other words, be a theophany, a place for the world to glimpse the beauty of God and to gain insights into the God of beauty. Let the council be a place where everyone points not to their own narrow or nationalistic agenda, but instead points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Let the council be a place of evangelism before all else and in all else.

I know many who, of course, will say “That’s not what councils are for.” But anyone who reads anything about Vatican II knows that councils are complex gatherings that do many things in addition to their officially stated purposes. And anyone who reads, or recalls, the massive media attention that Vatican II garnered will be able to tell Orthodoxy that its council will be a unique opportunity, unlikely to come again for centuries, and it should squeeze every last drop out of it for the glory of Christ and the spread of His life-giving message. The world today needs Christ more than ever, and Orthodoxy has unique and often under-utilized resources to make him known to the world in singular and saving ways.

Evangelism—no matter how many Orthodox like to froth at the mouth when I say this—goes hand-in-hand with ecumenism. But I have never, ever entertained notions from the swinging Sixties that “ecumenism” means we gut doctrine, junk creeds and liturgy, and sit around holding hands while singing guitar-driven songs about peace and brotherhood. No sane Catholic or Orthodox ecumenist or hierarch has ever advocated any of that rot.

Ecumenism must lead us to unity in the truth who is Christ, which is the same point as evangelism: Christ, and him alone. If done right, the upcoming Orthodox synod can be both evangelical and ecumenical, showing the world, including the Catholic Church, the face of Christ in unique and compelling ways that can be beneficial to all of us.

My hope and prayer is that any Orthodox gathering will realize it has much to offer not just to the world, but also to the Catholic Church. Orthodoxy has much that Catholics desperately need. In saying this, I am not for a moment granting a hearing to the triumphalistic and sanctimonious Orthodox apologetics one so often encounters on the internet. In saying this, I have in mind a passage from a book written by one of the foremost Roman Catholic theologians of our time, the English Dominican Aidan Nichols. In his 1999 book Christendom Awake: On Reenergizing the Church in Culture, Nichols wrote this:

At the present time, the Catholic Church, in many parts of the world, is undergoing one of the most serious crises in its history, a crisis resulting from a disorienting encounter with secular culture and compounded by a failure of Christian discernment on the part of many people over the last quarter century from the highest office-holders to the ordinary faithful. This crisis touches many aspects of Church life but notably theology and catechesis, liturgy and spirituality, religious life and Christian ethics at large. Orthodoxy is well placed to stabilize Catholicism in most if not all these areas (p.186; my emphasis).

It is, of course, too much to expect any one Orthodox synod to deal both with Orthodoxy’s own internal issues and also to offer assistance to the much larger challenges besetting the Catholic Church. But a council could at least begin this process. And having met once, that very experience of meeting could relieve much of the anxiety about such an unknown entity as a council. We all have the experience of realizing that, having surmounted a hurdle once, it is often progressively easier to do so again each subsequent time. Having had a council in 2016, it could be easier to do so again in 2017, 2018, 2019, much as Vatican II met in multiple sessions over several years. The work could be spread out and accomplished more carefully and at greater length. There is no need to rush. Indeed, rushing would lead to disaster.

So let the work begin in serene patience and prayerful petition of the holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity. Let the work end with the good news that the world so desperately needs to hear: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs giving life! No other message will make such a long-expected, long-delayed council worth the effort.

About the Author
author image
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille  

Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).

Tuesday 26 January 2016


In "The Meaning of Confirmation" we criticized some of the common ways of explaining what Confirmation is because they are too vague and need something else to make them clear; and we said that that "something" is the liturgy.   Liturgy is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church and the proper context in which to understand the sacraments.   We then looked at how the Catholic West celebrates Confirmation and then how the Orthodox East celebrates it; and we asked what the two have in common.   We found this to be the strong connection with the bishop: the bishop is the ordinary minister in the West, and the priest who administers Confirmation as part of Baptism in the East has to use oil blessed by the bishop or patriarch.   If a priest gives Confirmation in the West without being delegated to do so, then the confirmation is not only illicit, it is invalid; and the same is true in the East if the priest does not use chrism blessed by the bishop.   We concluded that the principal effect of Confirmation is to bind the Christian to the bishop and the hierarchical Church by the power of the Holy Spirit who manifests his presence in ecclesial love.  We noted that the chrism is blessed on the one day of the year, Maundy Thursday or thereabouts, when a diocese comes together with its bishop as a single eucharistic unity.   We also noted that from earliest times Confirmation was used to integrate a person baptised outside the Church into the Catholic communion.

We shall now take a closer look at the celebration of Confirmation according to the Roman version and see if we can learn any more about the sacrament,.

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The bishop welcomes the baptised person into the Eucharistic Community by sealing him with “the Gift of the Holy Spirit”.   Let us now unwrap this Gift.  What is given us is a Christian vocation in the Church; and it has three levels or dimensions; though the third is really the perfection of the other two.   The first task of the Holy Spirit is to transform us in such a way that Christ lives in us, so that we can be his instruments.  The second is to give to each of us a particular function or role in the Church and to impart to each of us those charisms we need to fulfil that role, so that, what we do for the building up of the body of Christ is really Christ’s work in the power of the Spirit, and not just something that entirely belongs to us and done entirely on our own.   When we talk of the Charismatic Renewal, we normally mean a deepening of the Spirit’s activity in us at the level of our transformation into Christ and a widening in our use of his charisms to embrace all those mentioned in the New Testament and more.   This is due to a renewal of our experience of what is given to us in the sacraments of initiation.   It can be said that our transformation into Christ belongs to baptism as the sacrament of conversion and is renewed again in confirmation as a pre-requisite for exercising a Christian vocation; that the gift of charisms to fulfil a Christian ministry in the Church belongs to confirmation as the sacrament of vocation.   There is a third level of renewal in the Spirit for those who have travelled on the straight and narrow path of the Beatitudes, through purity of heart to contemplation, through constant prayer to what the fathers of the desert called spiritual fatherhood and motherhood.    Because they have found harmony between the Spirit and their own will, they become the source of harmony for others, Christ can use them in all sorts of ways, and the Spirit endows them with many charisms that are normally shared among the community.    This level of renewal corresponds to communion, in which each of us, being only one, small, limited member of Christ’s body, nevertheless, receives the whole body of Christ in the Eucharist.   Good examples of these fathers and mothers in the Spirit are the founders of many religious orders and congregations, St John Mary Vianney and St Seraphim of Sarov in the 19th century, Marthe Robin and Padre Pio in the 20th.   We shall be looking at each of these three levels of the “gift of the Spirit” as they present themselves.

  However, our first task is to find out as much as we can from the liturgy, the principal source for our understanding of the sacraments.  We shall examine the Blessing of Chrism on Maundy Thursday with its epiclesis; then we shall look at the epiclesis over the people who are about to be confirmed; and then we will examine the sacramental formula itself.



i.    Introduction

 The Chrism Mass usually takes place on Maundy Thursday; but if the clergy and people have difficulty in attending the Mass on that day, then another day near Easter can be chosen.   The very first rubric sets the scene:

The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of the flock.   The life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent upon the bishop.

The chrism Mass is one of the principle expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the close unity of the priests with him.   During the Mass, which he concelebrates with priests from various sections of his diocese, the bishop consecrates the chrism and blesses the other oils.   The newly baptized are anointed and confirmed with the chrism consecrated by the bishop.   Catechumens are prepared and disposed for baptism with the second oil.   And the sick are anointed in their illness with the third oil.

The second rubric gives an over-all reason for the use of chrism and a preliminary statement on confirmation.   Other uses for chrism, such as anointing in the sacrament of orders, the consecration of an altar and the blessing of an icon in the Byzantine Rite, are not mentioned.   This rubric is important for our purpose, as forming the context:

The Christian liturgy has assimilated this Old Testament usage of anointing kings, priests and prophets with consecratory oil because the name of Christ, whom they prefigured, means ‘the anointed of the Lord’.  Chrism is a sign: by baptism Christians are plunged into the Paschal Mystery of Christ; they die with him, are buried with him, and rise with him.  By confirmation Christians receive the spiritual anointing of the Spirit who is given to them.

Flesh is added to these bare bones of a definition as we proceed with the rite of blessing of the Chrism which normally takes place after Communion, but can take place after the homily.

ii.  The Invitation.

The Bishop sings or says the invitation:

Let us pray that God our almighty Father will bless this oil so that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation.

We may well ask what the bishop is praying for that has not been already granted to the newly baptized.   I believe this will become clearer as we continue with our investigation.   For the moment we will simply quote from The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon OP about the inward transformation that takes place in those who allow themselves to become subject to the Holy Spirit’s action, and to point out that this transformation is an essential pre-requisite in those who intend to bear witness to Christ in the world:

Through baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit we have become “sharers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). In the liturgy of the heart, the wellspring of this divinization streams out as the Holy Spirit, and our individual persons converge in a single origin. But how is this mysterious synergy to infuse our entire nature from its smallest recesses to its most obvious behaviors? This process is the drama of divinization in which the mystery of the lived liturgy is brought to completion in each Christian.
  For the liturgy of the Church to be really effective in us, our participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity as members of Christ’s body must seep deep down into the very depths of our being, into what we call the “heart” of our soul, where our Eucharistic Lord takes up his abode at communion.               His flesh that we receive in communion is the veil of the Holy of Holies in heaven  through which we enter into the presence of God the Father and become participants in that very divine Life that the Father has given to his Son from all eternity       At this level, all that we receive in baptism and confirmation becomes included in Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist, and Christ’s Spirit transforms us, little by little, into living victims in Christ, and we receive with him God’s own life from the Father in the joy of Christ’s resurrection - ascension.

“Man becomes God as much as God becomes a man”, says Saint Maximus the Confessor. [1] Christian holiness is divinization because in our concrete humanity we share in the divinity of the Word who married our flesh. The “divine nature” of which Saint Peter speaks (2 Pet 1:4) is not an abstraction or a model, but the very life of the Father, which he eternally communicates to his Son and his Holy Spirit. The Father is its source, and the Son extends it to us by becoming a man. We become God by being more and more united to the humanity of Jesus. The only question left, then since this humanity is the way by which our humanity will put on his divinity–is this: How did the Son of God live as a man in our mortal condition? The Gospel has been written precisely in order to show us “the mind of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5); [2] it is this mind with which the Holy Spirit seeks to fill our hearts.

We learn from this prayer that confirmation is about our inward transformation by the Holy Spirit into Christ, even as it is about our communion with the bishop and our integration into the local Church and its mission.   This is because we can only take part in the life of the local church and bear testimony to the Gospel in the world in an authentic manner to the degree that we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into Christ.  The problem is that this transformation does not take place automatically or all at once.  It can only happen in so far as our wills are acting in unison with the energy of the Holy Spirit so that, together, they freely form a divine –human unity rooted in Christ’s Incarnation, because Christ is the true source of our new divine-human life as sons of God.   Hence our outward participation in the life and mission of the Church must be interiorized and rooted in Christ’s presence in the heart.

Here the effects of baptism and confirmation cannot be separated from the Eucharist that crowns the initiation process, in which, every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the invocation (epiclesis) which the bishop makes over those to be confirmed is renewed in the epiclesis of the Mass, and our baptism and confirmation are activated, deepened and matured to the extent that we participate in the Mass.   Likewise, they cannot be separated from participation in the life and mission of the local Church which has the Eucharist as its centre and the bishop as its head.   This maturing, deepening process can continue only by the experience of living the Christian, ecclesial life in harmony with the Holy Spirit.  Hence, it is only in living the Christian life within the local Christian community with the bishop at its head that all the virtues that are promised to those to be confirmed will become an experienced reality, and cease to be a simple abstraction in the writings of theologians.. Confirmation is essentially the integration of the baptized person into the communal, ecclesial experience of the Holy Spirit which the Church enjoys in union with its bishop.  It does not ‘work’ in a context abstracted from the life of the Church.
   HH Pope Benedict XVI breathing on the Chrism
 at the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass

iii. The Consecratory Prayer (Epiclesis).

There are two consecratory prayers, each with its own emphasis.   Before we look at what they contain, let us look at what the bishop is doing when he consecrates chrism.   In the consecration of this chrism, Christ’s anointing by the Holy Spirit is remembered; the oil itself becomes a gift of Christ, a means by which he anoints us with the same Spirit in confirmation that he received at his baptism, giving us a share in the messianic role that was inaugurated on that day. Hence, St Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:

After you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given chrism, the antitype of that with which Christ was anointed, and this is the Holy Spirit. But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the body of Christ, so also this ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation. Further, it is the gracious gift of Christ, and it is made fit for the imparting of his Godhead by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The first consecratory prayer is about the joy which this oil will bring to the Church in the sacraments of the Father’s love.   It draws a parallel between Noah’s time and the present time of baptism.   After the avenging waters of Noah’s flood, God sent a dove as a sign of peace.   After the waters of baptism which wash away sins, God makes us radiant with joy by the anointing with olive oil.   At God’s command, Aaron was washed with water, after which Moses anointed him priest: this is a pale reflection of what happened at Christ’s baptism and an inferior blessing to that which we receive after our baptism in confirmation.  Here I shall quote the text:

After your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of Jordan, you sent the Spirit upon him in the form of a dove and by the witness of your own voice you declared him to be your only, well-beloved Son.   In this you clearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ would be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his fellow men.

All the celebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism, without saying anything, until the end of the prayer:

And so, Father, we ask you to bless + this oil you have created.   Fill it with the power of your Holy Spirit through Christ your Son.   It is from him that chrism takes its name and with chrism you have anointed for yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism.   Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam, and when they are anointed with this oil make them temples of your glory, radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in you.Through this sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly and prophetic honour, and clothe them with incorruption.   Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.   May they come to share eternal life in the glory of your kingdom.   We ask this through Christ our Lord.   R/ Amen.
 In this epiclesis over the chrism, it is asked that every person, place or thing that is blessed with the oil should shine with the splendour of holiness on the world.  Every confirmed person, every church or shrine, every icon should become a place where people are put in touch with God.   The purpose of these manifestations is that the Church should increase “until it reaches eternal glory”.

  Confirmation is about so living the Christian life that we not only talk about Christ but, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we shall be transformed into the new creation and thus we shall manifest Christ to the world.

 Here is a passage from the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann:

It is the Holy Spirit, whose coming is the inauguration of the ultimate, of the “last things”; who transforms the Church into the “sacrament” of the kingdom, makes her life the presence, in this world, of the world to come.….It is his (the person being confirmed) ordination as truly and fully man, for to be fully man is precisely to belong to the kingdom of God.   And again, it is not his “soul” alone, his “spiritual” or “religious” life that are thus confirmed, but the totality of his human being.   His whole body is anointed, sealed, sanctified, dedicated to the new life: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” says the priest as he anoints the newly baptized, “on the brow, on the eyes, and the nostrils, and the lips, and on both ears, and the breast and on the hands, and on the feet.”  The whole man is now made the temple of God, and his whole life from now on is a liturgy.   It is here, at this moment, that the pseudo-Christian opposition between the “spiritual” and the “material”, the “sacred” and the “profane”, the “religious” and the “secular” is denounced, abolished, revealed as a monstrous lie about God and man and the world.   The only true temple of God is man and through him the world.   Each ounce of matter belongs to God and is to find in God its fulfilment.   Each instant of time is God’s time and is to fulfil itself as God’s eternity.   Nothing is “neutral”.   For the Holy Spirit, as a ray of light, as a smile of joy, has “touched” all things, all time – revealed all of them as precious stones of a precious temple.
To be truly man means to be truly oneself.   The confirmation is the confirmation of man in his own unique “personality”.   It is, to use again the same image, my ordination to be myself, to become what God wants me to be, what he has loved in me from all eternity.   It is the gift of vocation… Confirmation is the opening of man to the wholeness of divine creation, to the true catholicity of life.   This is the “wind”, the ruah of God entering our life, embracing it with fire and love, making us available for divine action, filling everything with joy and hope Although the Father sent the Spirit into the womb of the Blessed Virgin to bring about the incarnation and, from the very beginning, all the human activity of Jesus was in harmony with the activity of the Spirit; yet, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at his baptism and was initiated in his role as Messiah, and thus began his public life.    In a parallel way, the Father sends his Spirit on the person being baptised, who thus becomes a son or daughter of God and member of the Church.  Yet, at a time determined by the Church, the bishop or his representative confirms the person’s baptism and his communion membership of the institutional Church by sealing him or her with the gift of the Holy Spirit which is his or her share in the Messianic anointing.   This involves a mandate to live the Christian life in such a way as to bear witness to Christ.   He or she should be a temple of the Holy Spirit who is “radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in” God the Father and thus the confirmed person becomes an icon of Christ.

The alternative consecratory prayer is even clearer about this two-fold gift:

By his (Jesus’) suffering, dying, and rising to life he saved the human race.   He sent his Spirit to fill the Church with every gift to complete your saving work.   From that time forward, through the sign of holy chrism, you dispense your life and love to men.   By anointing them with the Spirit, you strengthen all who have been reborn in baptism.   Through that anointing you transform them into the likeness of Christ your Son and give them a share in his royal, priestly, and prophetic work.
All the concelebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism without saying anything, until the end of the prayer.
And so, Father, by the power of your love, make this mixture of oil and perfume a sign and source + of your blessing.   Pour out the gifts of your Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters who will be anointed with it.   Let the splendour of holiness shine on the world from every place and thing signed with this oil.Above all, Father, we pray that through this sign of your anointing, you will grant increase to your Church until it reaches the eternal glory where you, Father, will be the all in all, together with Christ your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  R/. Amen.

This second prayer asks that those who are anointed with chrism will be transformed into the likeness of Christ and thus be able to share in his royal, priestly and prophetic work.    Inward transformation makes possible an outward sharing in Christ’s messianic role.   Here we are not talking about those  charismata that do not depend on the holiness of the person who exercises them.   We are talking about the basic role of the disciple which all of us are called to exercise, whether we are pope, priest or layperson, simply because we are Christians.   Not all of us are called to preach, to celebrate Mass, to administer in the Church, but all of us are called to manifest Christ in our lives, whatever particular vocation we may have; and we cannot do that without being transformed by the Holy Spirit; and this is the immediate concern of the sacrament of confirmation.

We are now able to define more clearly what happens at Confirmation, using what we have learnt so far.   Firstly, something really happens to the chrism when it is blessed.  It becomes an instrument of God the Father  – “a sign and source of your blessing - who acts through the Holy Spirit and the Church working in harmony to make the confirmed person a sharer in the vocation and holiness of Christ.   With this chrism the Holy Spirit and the bishop anoint the person being confirmed, giving the Christian a royal, priestly and prophetic role, which is a reflection of Christ’s own role of Messiah.  Whether we are married or single, pope or pauper, priest or layman, male or female, each one of us has the vocation to be a disciple, like the disciple whom Jesus loved in St John’s Gospel, and our varied ministries, as parents, parish priests, pope or bishop, have more in common with each other than differences.  Every Christian vocation is the fruit of the Spirit’s activity; every vocation is a share in Christ’s own vocation and a means by which he can act in and through us by the power of the Spirit.   This teaching is continued in the rite of Confirmation itself.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1106)   states that, at the heart of every sacramental rite, there is an invocation (epiclesis) in which the Church asks the Father in Jesus’ name to send the Spirit to achieve something or to transform something or someone or those taking part.   This epiclesis may or may not be the moment when the transformation takes place, but it is absolutely crucial for our understanding of the meaning of the rite, because it makes clear in the petition both the nature of the sacrament and what good effects are expected in those who take part in it.  We have already looked at the consecratory prayers used to bless the chrism and have seen the bishop pray “Through that anointing you transform them into the likeness of Christ your Son and give them a share in his royal, priestly, and prophetic work.” .   If we want to know what this means in more detail, we can go straight to the invocation made by the bishop over the people he is about to confirm,   Before confirming them, he stretches his hands over them, as do the priests who are participating with him.   He says:

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.   Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.   Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.   We ask this through Christ our Lord.

This epiclesis reflects the prophecy of Isaiah, 11,1ff:

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.   The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.   His delight will be in the fear of the Lord.

If you meditate at any length on what this chapter says about the anointing of the Messiah and then go to the New Testament to meditate on the way Christ manifested the effects of this messianic anointing in his own ministry, how he showed wisdom, understanding, right judgement, knowledge and sensitivity to obey his Father’s will during his public life, then you will grasp something of the awesome immensity of the gift that the bishop asks for the people who are to be confirmed.  He is asking the Father to send the Holy Spirit on them so that they can share in the same anointing that Jesus had at his Baptism, and that their lives and ministries should reflect the likeness and the presence of Christ in what they do by means of these gifts which show the activity within them of the same Holy Spirit that was in him during his ministry.   These gifts, when they are truly gifts of the Holy Spirit and not natural ones described in religious language, are exactly those necessary for people who practise the gift of prophecy.   Although the “gift of the Holy Spirit” enables us to share in the priestly and royal functions of Christ as well, it is the prophetic gift that is especially stressed in Confirmation.   That it is given at the invocation of the bishop shows that each person does not receive it as an individual, but only in so far as each person is a member of the Eucharistic community over which the bishop presides.   There is an intimate connection between the functioning and maturing of this gift in each member of the Church and the epiclesis (invocation) over the gifts and over the people in the anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer in the Eucharist.   We shall be examining later in another article the connection between the prophetic gifts of understanding and knowledge given to each confirmed person as a member of the Church and the infallibility of the Church, even in the form defined by the First Vatican Council in 1870.

The Orthodox theologian Fr Boris Bobrinskoy quotes Fr Sergius Bulgakov:
Pentecost is the universal consecration to prophecy for which each one receives a special gift (in the sacrament of chrismation: "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit") ... In this sense, there are no persons in the church who do not have their gift. They may be different, but the prophetic spirit remains immutably in them, for prophecy is not a special gift nor a confession, but the designation of all possible gifts.(10)
Fr Boris goes on to say:

Alongside the priestly church (the institutional church with sacraments and hierarchy), Father Sergius thus sets a royal and prophetic church, so taking up the classical division of the three ministries of Christ. The first is organized and defined, the latter cannot be so because it is the result of the breath of the Spirit seeking to restore one church to humanity, over and beyond our institutions and ecclesiological exclusiveness. In Father Sergius's thinking, both the doctrinal charism of the hierarchy and the instinct for Orthodoxy of the whole people of God, as the Guardian of the faith, derive from this pentecostal and ecclesial gift of prophecy.

In Western Catholic language, the doctrinal charism of the magisterium must be recognised and accepted by the faithful; but the same bishops have to also recognize that they do not have the monopoly on the Holy Spirit, that the sensus fidei of the whole Christian community must be respected as having its authority from the same Holy Spirit with which the confirmed person is anointed.   This has been the case from generation to generation since the time of the apostles. Tradition comes about when the biblical revelation is interpreted by means of the gift of prophecy which is given to the faithful by the sacrament of confirmation.   This gift cannot  be exercised individualistically by itself, because it only becomes functional within the context of the Eucharistic community, and it remains dependent on the Holy Spirit who descends on the community as God’s response to the Eucharistic epiclesis.  Hence, the bishops and faithful acknowledge that they are bound to each other by the same Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives them a share in Christ’s messianic anointing in confirmation and joins those who are baptized, not only to the bishop and faithful of their local church, but also to the bishops and faithful across space and time; and not only to the bishops and faithful, but also to Christ, the high priest of the new covenant who transcends time and place, because he in the presence of the Father in heaven, together with the angels and saints..   This too is accomplished every time we celebrate the Eucharist.    Through living the life of the Spirit in the Church and in obedience to the bishop, each person’s ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’ takes shape and matures, and each Christian receives his or her charisms and special vocation in the Body and, through the Eucharist, is transformed into Christ.    Thus Sergei Bulgakov wrote of the Church:

  • Finally, the church is entirely oriented towards the Holy Spirit, "the treasury of blessings and giver of life". The entire life of the church is a thirst for acquisition of the Holy Spirit and for participation in him, and in the fullness of grace. Just as the life and spiritual struggle of each believer consists, in the words of St Seraphim of Sarov, in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so also the life of the church is that same acquisition, the same eternally satisfied but never completely quenched thirst for the Holy Spirit. "Come to us, O Holy Spirit, and make us partakers of your holiness, and of the light that knows no evening, and of the divine life, and of the most fragrant dispensation ..." (compline canon of the feast of the Holy Spirit).
Confirmation teaches us that the Church is essentially the work of the “two hands of God the Father”  (St Irenaeus), of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Trouble comes when we forget the important role of the Holy Spirit.   Fr Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1969 about past times when the role of the Holy Spirit was forgotten:
The church ceased to be understood in its pneumatological and charismatic reality, it came to be considered exclusively under the aspect of the incarnation, in much too earthly a fashion, and ended by being explained entirely in the categories of power applying in secular thought. But this meant there was no longer room for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; except where this continued to subsist humbly in pure devotion, it was absorbed into abstract trinitarian speculation and so practically, ceased to have any function in Christian conscience.(2)
                    Joseph Ratzinger, "Foi chretienne hier et aujourd'hui", Pads, 1969, pp.238-39

To describe the unity of the Church and of the bishops with the Pope entirely in terms of jurisdiction, a term taken from the secular discipline of Roman Law, leaves us with an inadequate understanding of the Church and of the papacy.   However true it may be in itself, it is only a part truth.   The concepts of secular law are as incapable of describing the nature of the Church and the relations between its members as any humanist philosophy is incapable of explaining the concept of the kingdom of God, and for exactly the same reason: it cannot cope with the divine dimension.   The definition of universal jurisdiction of the Pope in Vatican I was incapable of fully describing the nature of Papal authority because the definition was expressed in secular terms.    It fails to explain what the council fathers of the First Vatican Council certainly held, that the universal and immediate jurisdiction of the Pope does not turn the local bishops into mere representatives of papal power, or the Catholic Church into one vast diocese with the Pope at its head.   Indeed, the council stated that the authority of local bishops is actually strengthened by the Pope’s function.   Nevertheless, the internal logic of this claim is not clear in the definition because there are dimensions of papal authority and the authority of the local bishop which an exclusively legal vocabulary cannot put into words.   The truth lies elsewhere, in the fundamentally sacramental nature of the Church, and in the corresponding activity of the Holy Spirit as the true source of unity, both at a local and universal level.  From confirmation we learn that the unity between a bishop and his flock is forged by the Holy Spirit.   Though his jurisdiction decides where and how he exercises his authority, it does not provide the content of the authority as representative of Christ which is given by the Holy Spirit.   As representative of Christ in his Church, the bishop has very strong and binding moral imperatives which arise directly from his vocation; and these cannot always be put in legal terms, but they are no less binding for all that, because they spring from the very nature of the Church as body of Christ.

The same can be said for the pope.   His universal authority springs from his universal ministry as successor of St Peter; but the power of the Holy Spirit which binds the Church together and which both makes each local church both a part of a greater whole and a manifestation of that whole in a particular place, is the power of the love of Christ for the Father and the love of the Father for Christ: it is a power based on self-giving, on kenosis or self-emptying so that others may live, rather than on self-assertion and force,  It is the weakness of God working through the humble obedience of man.  It is the most essential dimension of Christian authority at every level, because it is only through the Holy Spirit that the Church is the Body of Christ.   It leaves papal jurisdiction, as defined in Vatican I, intact, but, by its very nature, transforms the way this jurisdiction must be understood and exercised.   Just as Jesus was fully human, and his human will was completely free, nevertheless, the free harmony between the Divine Will and the human will was an essential requisite for the Incarnation; so, however complete, direct, personal and universal, papal jurisdiction may be, it has to obey and respect the structures created and the relationships underwritten by the Holy Spirit, and is only a truly ecclesial reality when it is humble enough to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit.   Only such a jurisdiction, transformed by the Holy Spirit, can make such big claims, as does the Pope, while making him Servant of the Servants of God, a strengthener and guardian of episcopal authority rather its obliterator...   In the celebration of confirmation, we have seen a spiritual relationship between bishop and the baptized is established in confirmation, and that this links the baptised Christian with the Catholic hierarchy and the Pope;.     All dimensions of this Christian authority cannot be expressed in categories of Roman Law which was never designed to formulate something that is essentially a mystery,  a synergy between the divine and the human, a sharing in the Divine Life.   In a Christmas sermon, Pope Leo the Great says that the birth of Jesus is the birth of our peace, because the human nature of Christ is the source of our ecclesial peace.   He says:
Peace gives birth to sons of God, it feeds love, is the origin of unity and the rest offered by the Beatitudes.    The proper purpose of this peace and its most specific fruit is that it unites to God those whom teh Lord has separated from the world.   Those who are born, not of blood or carnal love,nor from human love, but from God, offer to the Father that concord that is proper to peaceful sons, and all members by adoption converge on the Only Begotten of the new creation, who came to fulfil the will of him who sent him and not his own: it follows that the grace of the Father as inheritors those who indulge in discord and incompatibility, but those who loved and felt the same.   Those who have been re-formed  to become one Image ought to be in agreement in their spirit.   The birth of the Lord is the birth of peace, as the Apostle said, "He is our peace; he has turned two peoples into one single thing, so that all, whether we are Jews or Greeks, we can approach the Father by means of the same Spirit.

So the origin of the Church's unity is the human nature of Christ as Source for us of the Holy Spirit.   The Pope is, at the very least, a servant of the Holy Spirit.  The first function of the Pope as successor of St Peter is to remove any obstacle to the free flow of that love which is the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit who flows from Christ's human nature into the Church to make it one.   The Orthodox theologian, Archbishop John Zizioulas writes about this love:
A characteristic of the ecclesial hypostesis  is the capacity of the person to love without exclusiveness, and to do this not out of conformity with a moral commandment (“Love thy neighbour”), but out of his  “hypostatic constitution,” out of the fact that his new birth has made him part of a network of relationships which transcends every exclusiveness.   This means that only in the Church has man the power to express himself as a catholic person.It follows from the very catholicity of the Church that no jurisdiction, local, regional or national, should be so closed in on itself as to block the free flow of self-giving love.   Universal papal jurisdiction paradoxically relativizes all jurisdiction, because it takes for granted that the true unity of the Church at all levels is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that jurisdiction at every level is the servant of Divine Love, and must never be allowed to be its master.   Universal papal jurisdiction is designed to ensure that Love may reign in the Church without impediments and restrictions imposed by the egoistic loyalties and power structures of a fallen world pre-occupied with itself.    Such a world has no place in the Church. 

Tragedy happens when the universal authority itself becomes contaminated by the world, as has happened too often in history. . The Catholic Church is not a Roman Empire, and the pope is not the equivalent in religious matters to the Emperor. Emperor and pope may have parallel functions, and the laws and decrees of Church and Empire may be expressed in the language of Roman Law; but the Empire was held together by force, and the Church by love, a love that is the visible effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit.. When the Emperor cannot enforce his rule, the Empire becomes divided: when love does not flow freely throughout the Church, the Church becomes divided. The Empire is maintained by pride in its abilities and achievements: the Church by its humility and joy in its inability, knowing, as it does, that the Holy Spirit is acting in and through it. Fr Jean Corbon writes:
It is through the combination of the power of the Holy Spirit and the virginity            (of Mary), that is to say the total incapacity of Mary (who is completely open to the power of the Holy Spirit) that “the Son of God was made Son of the Virgin”….The virginal mystery of her (Mary’s) being prepared her to become capable of receiving the power of the love of the Holy Spirit.   In the profoundest humility of the humble servant, her incapacity that was nevertheless consenting and open made it possible for God to do what is impossible for human beings to achieve.   In the same way, the Church, of which we are all members, is essentially virgin by vocation.   As St Clement of Alexandria wrote, “There is only one virgin mother, and I like to call her ‘Church’.”   The fecundity of the Church’s mission depends on this condition.    Only because it is virgin, like Mary, it is Spouse and Mother.  Every time that the Church puts its trust in the powers of this world, in power, wealth and appearances, it prostitutes itself and becomes sterile.   This gift of ecclesial virginity ceaselessly calls us to the fight, to conversion, to the fervour of the first Christians.Jean Corbon OP :   Liturgia y Oracion, Ediciones Cristiandad, 2004, pg 99, 114

 Both bishops and laity are servants, not the masters of Tradition, which is the constant effect of these gifts of the Holy Spirit on the life of the Church from one generation to the next  This Tradition is expressed primarily in the liturgy which is the product of the Holy Spirit and the Church acting together.

 Note the liturgical context in which the bishop asks that the newly baptized should receive these gifts.   He makes this invocation just before the baptized person goes before him to be confirmed as a baptized member of the Church by being sealed with the Gift of the Spirit.   They are not gifts given to an individual separated from others by sin, but to a Christian person in so far as he is participating in Christian communion (koinonía) in which the bishop is the centre of unity.   As the rubrics for the blessing of chrism point out: “The   life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent upon the bishop.”   Once it is realized that all the spiritual gifts given at confirmation belong, firstly, to the community assembled for Mass and for a communal Christian life, and that they become properties of the individual Christian when he or she is confirmed by the bishop as a member of that community, then all the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about confirmation has a context in which it can be understood.

   This epiclesis does not specify the ministry that the confirmed person will exercise in the Church, but rather those gifts we all need if we are to exercise a prophetic Christian ministry of whatever kind, as a priest, religious or lay person.   In asking for these gifts rather than for those that each of us needs for our special vocation, the rite is saying something very important.   It is saying that, whatever our vocation, every vocation is a variation on a central theme, and that theme is Christ.   A person may be called to be pope or to be a teacher or a housewife or a begger; but every single Christian vocation calls us to be an image and revelation of Jesus, in whatever God wants us to do.   By these gifts, the Holy Spirit will gradually form us in Christ’s image.  In St John’s Gospel, the most important person in the Church is the ‘disciple whom Jesus lived’.  In this way the author gives secondary importance to rank: there is nothing as important as an intimate relationship with Christ.   In the appointment of St Peter as head of the Church, Jesus in the fourth Gospel puts first things first, “Do you love me?” (Jn   ).      In God’s good time, Christians discover the will of God for them, and then is the time for the particular gifts or charismata; and these too are part of what is given in confirmation, however implicit they may be at the time when the sacrament is celebrated.  Hence the person who needs them should remember the sacrament of confirmation and know that, whatever gifts he or she may receive from the Holy Spirit, they are to be always used in communion with the bishop and the local Church, and that the common factor in all vocations is more important than the  factors that distinguish them: every vocation manifests the same Christ.  .

Indeed, it is the same Holy Spirit who unites them by a specific sacramental character and by love to the Christian community and its bishop as gives his gifts, to each one for the building up of the same community.   As St Paul says:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.   To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12, 4 – 7)
It is important always to bear in mind that, although the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and communion are distinct and may even be given at different times, they are not separate: they belong to each other.    Confirmation presumes that the person is baptised and will only bear fruit itself to the extent that the person is living his or her baptism; and both baptism and confirmation become fully operational when the person is united to Christ and to the Church in eucharistic communion.   Hence, the gifts that the bishop asks for in the confirmation epiclesis are not formed in the soul in isolation, but in communion with the local Christian community.   In fact, there is an intimate connection between what is asked for in the confirmation epiclesis and what is asked for in the double epiclesis of the Eucharist, and each presumes the other.   This we shall examine when we come to the article on the Eucharist.

After asking the Father to send his Spirit onto those who are about to be confirmed, the bishop dips his right thumb in the chrism and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the one to be confirmed, as he says:

N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.          The newly confirmed responds: Amen.
          The bishop says:  Peace be with you.
          The newly confirmed responds:   And with your spirit.

The “Gift of the Holy Spirit” is a share in the anointing of Jesus as Messiah.   St John’s Gospel says of the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (Jn 3, 34).   The saving force which makes Christ’s words the words of God is the Holy Spirit.   This gift of the Spirit is called a seal in John 6, 27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”  (Jn 6, 27).    In our turn, God puts his seal on us.   We have already quoted this passage; but it is important for our understanding of confirmation:
As surely as God is faithful our word to you has not been “Yes and No”; but in him has always been “Yes”.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes”.      For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes”.   For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen” to the glory of God {the peoples’ response to the Eucharistic Prayer}.   But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving his Spirit in our hearts as a first instalment.   (2 Cor. 1, 18 – 22)   Again, in Ephesians 2,13, St Paul tells us, “: … when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people to the praise of his glory.”
The Eschatalogical Dimension
This introduces another dimension to what is meant by being “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”.   We have seen earlier that the whole of Christ’s life, from conception to death on the cross, is called the fullness of time because, while remaining an historical process that took place two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit, who is eternal and, hence, outside time, has bridged the distance between that process and all times and places.   We also see how the death of Christ, seen as a total gift of self to the Father, and his resurrection from the dead, have been made eternal by the ascension into heaven and have become the means through which the human race and, indeed the whole universe, come to share in the new relationship with the Father brought about in the resurrection.   For this reason it is called the last time (eschaton).   This too is the work of the Holy Spirit.   Hence, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and its members is necessarily eschatological, bringing us into relationship with the fullness of time and the last time.    He has become the pledge (or first instalment) of inheritance towards redemption.   Thus, we are warned, a little later on the epistle, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”  (Eph. 4, 30)

This also a theme in the Apocalypse;
I saw another angel ascending from the rising sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Apoc. 7, 2-3)
After giving a list of those among the Jews who were sealed, the text goes on to speak of a multitude of people of every race with palm branches whose white robes had been washed in the blood of the Lamb.   If, as Skott Hahn claims in The Lamb’s Supper, we are talking in the Apocalypse of our participation in the heavenly liturgy, if the early Christians, who have been excluded from the synagogue and had been blamed for the burning of Rome and were despised  by the gentiles, were actually transcending this world and were, even in the present,  approaching the presence of God the Father in the heavenly sanctuary through their participation in Christ’s death and resurrection by means of the Eucharist, then this passage is talking about baptism and confirmation.  Of course, at another level of meaning, the passage is talking about the eventual end of the world at the end of history and how those whose garments have been washed in the blood and who have the seal of the living God on their foreheads will be protected from the bad effects of the world’s end.

Hence we can say that being sealed by the Gift of the Holy Spirit  has several levels of meaning:

1)       An explicit and permanent relationship with the visible, hierarchical Church which has been confirmed by the bishop and by the Holy Spirit working in harmony (synergy).  This is the permanent and unrepeatable effect of Confirmation, in which the bishop or his representative makes explicit, recognizes and confirms the recipient's membership of the Christian community which was true by the power of the Spirit in baptism and is now underlined by a fresh gift of the Spirit.

2)       The person is moulded by the presence of the Holy Spirit and inwardly transformed so that he can practise the virtue or gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Epiclesis invoked by the bishop and priests before administering the sacrament of confirmation.  The practise of these virtues is a divine-human activity: divine because they are a direct result of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who can only act with the cooperation of the free human being in whom he dwells, and human because the person’s human will is freely in harmony with the activity of the Holy Spirit.   However, the development of this inner transformation takes place as the person lives the Christian life in communion with the bishop and participates in Christ's sacrifice made present in the Mass celebrated by the bishop or by his representative, the priest.

3)        To the extent that the Holy Spirit and the person act in synergy, the confirmed person participates in the messianic role of Jesus in communion with the visible Church over which s bishop presides who, in his turn, is in communion with the Pope.   The Holy Spirit normally distributes his charisms in such a way that members of the Church are interdependent and form one single body, that of Christ.   However, some chosen souls are so transformed by the Spirit that they become so completely pure of heart that they manifest Christ’s presence as “peace makers”, spiritual fathers and mothers, being in Christ the source of spiritual life for others.

4)       Whatever is given in baptism and confirmation becomes intensely active, grows and matures in the celebration of the Eucharist to which both sacraments are ordered; and the Eucharist, through our participation in the Christian Mystery, ensures a continuous  flow of the life of the Spirit  to the extent that people are open to it, and this makes both sacraments a continual source of life.  Quite often, the Holy Spirit brings about a moment of conversion when the Christian experiences subjectively his baptism (made up of baptism, confirmation and communion) so that he can live his Christian life at a new level.   All this is possible because he is “sealed with the Gift of the Spirit”.

5) An effect of Confirmation?   Confirmation does not give maturity.   What brings what is given in Baptism and Confirmation to maturity is our experience of living the Christian life in our local Church which we implicitly joined in Baptism and were formally accepted in Confirmation.
     Confirmation brings about a mature participation in the life of the Christian community only in so far as it gives him a link with the bishop of his Eucharistic Assembly which is united in the Holy Spirit, and in which we become one with Christ in heaven in the presence of the Father, and thus one with the Church of all times and places.   Confirmation introduces the recipient into the context in which he can become mature.   Christian maturity is sanctity.  We can then return to this world to bear witness to the risen Christ and to look at this world and its problems in the light of the resurrection.  (I)

6)       It marks us as God’s property and citizens of the world to come. 

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