The Holy Mysteries - Overview. The Holy Mysteries of the Orthodox Church are nothing less than the way we partake mystically in the Divine Grace that God has given to His only Church; they are sometimes also referred to as Sacraments. This latter term is more common in the West, coming from the Latin, “sacramentum” - a consecrated/ sacred thing or act - this was the Latin translation of the Greek term “mysterion” which means Mystery - hence why we call them that. The Holy Mysteries, like the Church itself, each have an outward visible sign and an inward spiritual grace. They are public to some extent in that they are performed amongst the other members of the Body of Christ, but they are also personal, being the means by which we each receive the Grace of God - this is why the priest speaks aloud your baptismal name in the administration of each Mystery.
While the protestant traditions for the most part only recognize the so-called Scriptural Sacraments, i.e., Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Traditions of the Church have long held that there are at least 7, and in Orthodoxy, a few more beyond this, though the Church has never formally declared the count of them, nor their limitation at any fixed number. The traditional 7 are as follows: Baptism, Chrismation, Communion/ Eucharist, Confession, Unction, Marriage, and Ordination. Regarding the first three, we do these together, whereas the Romans tend to call Chrismation “Confirmation” (though they utilize their own variation of Chrism oil) and stage them several years apart, usually with first Communion somewhere between the two. The Orthodox way of thinking is that there is no reason to deprive even the youngest (40 days old) Orthodox Christian from full participation in the Mysteries of Christ.
Additional Mysteries (outside the “big” 7) are an Orthodox Christian burial for the dead, the rites/ vows for monasticism, blessing the water at Theophany, the anointing/ enthronement of a monarch (and/or hierarch), and so forth. For obvious reasons, some of these are only performed once in a lifetime (Baptism, Ordination into each rank), while others can be partaken daily if your schedule (and the priest’s) allows (Confession, Communion). As a caveat, the Church does have a rite for a second marriage, but the language in it is fairly penitential to remind us that it’s not really ideal. As a bit of a related aside, the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (himself a Danish Lutheran, but we won’t hold that against him) noted that the Mysteries carry with them a “character ideliblis” - an indelible character, sort of like striking a coin - it can’t be wiped or scraped away, but forever marks us for what we are - Orthodox Christians. As you prepare for your Baptism, I would ask that you please keep this in mind as it has great bearing on the life you’re entering into. In the following weeks, we’ll discuss each Mystery in greater detail.