First of all, I believe that all sacraments, known and unknown, are sacred Mysteries; manifestation of the Holy among humankind. The Mysteries are means in which God, through the Holy Spirit, reminds humanity of the love and redemptive power of the Eternal God. Furthermore, I believe that we must also remind ourselves that God and the actions of God are ultimately beyond our human ability to comprehended, therefore we must never forget that God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit (John 4:24).
Today I am not held to the Lutheranism of my youth and have expanded my sacramental horizons, and expansion might be an understatement. Why? Because it was Byzantine Christianity that awaken me to the broader horizons of the sacred Mysteries.
This happened when I read a book from the church library at St. Nectarios, it was called “Common Ground” by Jordan Bajis, and these words from the book have stuck with me, “From the Eastern Christian point of view, the Mysteries of the faith (the sacraments) reflect the whole Mystery of what it means to be in Christ. Given this broader conception, Christians of Eastern attitudes refuse to limit the Mysteries to either two or seven. Anything which reveals God’s redemptive Mystery (words, acts, symbols, Christian relations, etc.) qualifies as a Mystery of the Church.” The Byzantines taught me to see sacraments beyond human explanation and logic, and see them in the context of the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit they are manifestations of the love and redemptive power of the Living God. Anthony M. Coniaris wrote a summary in his book, “These Are the Sacraments,” that confirms this broader idea of the sacraments, “To place a limitation on the number of sacraments is to view them from a very narrow perspective. If a sacred act happens whenever the grace of God is mediated to humanity through matter, then there is no limit to the number of sacred acts. Indeed the whole of creation becomes a sacred act, the presence of God, through which we are aware of God.”
I also enjoy what American Anglicans wrote in the 1979 edition of their Book of Common Prayer about sacred acts and it echoes what Anthony Coniaris wrote, “God does not limit himself to these [seven] rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us.” With this more open and wider understanding of the Holy, we can experience God reaching out to us through a warm spring breeze, fellowship with loved ones, and the beauty of nature. Within experiences like these the Spirit strengthens and blesses our individual lives. Through water, bread, wine, and oil the presence of the Spirit strengthens and blesses our communal lives when we occupy ourselves with Scripture and focus on spiritual exercises. Through the spiritual exercises of clergy and a gathered assembly the Spirit is invited to reside in these everyday items and through this Mystery they become sacred. Through these and many other means the loving and redemptive God becomes known to us.
Written by Dave Pflueger April 2009 © copyrighted by Pflueger