The Nestorians and their Rituals/Volume 2/Appendix B/Part 4




On the number of the Church Sacraments.

The Sacraments of the Church, according to the Divine Scriptures are seven in number; 1. The Priesthood, which is the ministry of all the other Sacraments. 2. Holy Baptism. 3. The Oil of Unction. 4. The Oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ. 5. Absolution. 6. The Holy Leaven. 7. The sign of the life-giving Cross. These are necessary because of the wants of man in this carnal world.

In order for a man to be, and to exist in the world, he must be born of a carnal mother through a carnal father, though the figure and perfection of man come from the Father of Lights. In like manner, in order to belong to a world of immortality, it is requisite to be born of the spiritual womb of baptism, through the spiritual father, the priest, notwithstanding that form and perfection are imparted by the Holy Ghost, and by the power of The Highest.

Further, it is requisite for every one belonging to this world to sustain his temporal life by temporal food, and earthly drink. So, in like manner, spiritual meat and divine drink are a means to him who is baptized for sustaining his eternal life in God.

Again, as every one who is in the body, through the changes of the times, and bad living, is subject to sickness and disease, and is in need of physicians who will restore him to his former health if he follow their injunctions; so the man of God, through the effects of sin, and immoral living, falls into the disorders of iniquity, and receives health from the priests of the Church, the spiritual physicians, if he orders himself after their directions.

The Oil of Unction is used in the birth which is by baptism, and the Holy Leaven is used in the spiritual food of the Body of Christ. The Sign of the life-giving Cross is that by which Christians are ever kept, and by it all the other Sacraments are sealed and perfected.

But some Christians who possess not the Leaven reckon Marriage, according to Christ's ordinance, (whereby in the place of a mortal deceased another is raised up,) the seventh Sacrament.

Should any from without inquire what constitutes the holiness and sacramental nature of each of these Seven Sacraments, we reply that these three things sanctify them: First, a true priest, who has attained the priesthood rightly, according to the requirements of the Church. Secondly, the word and command of the Lord of Sacraments, whereby He ordained each of them. Thirdly, right intention and confirmed faith on the part of those who partake of them, believing that the effect of the Sacraments takes place by a heavenly power.

We shall now treat briefly of each of the Sacraments separately.


Of the Priesthood.

The Priesthood is the ministry of mediation between God and man in those things which impart forgiveness of sins, convey blessings, and put away wrath. It is divided into imperfect, as was that of the law; and perfect, as is that of the Church.

The foundation of the Priesthood in the Church is laid on that declaration of the Lord of the Priesthood to S. Peter, in the town of Cæsarea Philippi: "To thee I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." Its superstructure comes from that other injunction: "Feed My lambs. Feed My sheep. Feed My sheep." Its ornament and perfection from Christ's breathing on the Apostles when He said: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remits they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained."

The old Priesthood was one of generation, was not irrespective of family, and did not depend upon the will of those who succeeded to it. But the new Priesthood handed down from the Apostles, and imparted in the Church through the laying on of hands, is committed to those who are deemed worthy of it after examination had of their life and conversation.—"Let these be first proved, and then let them minister being found blameless." Therefore the perfection of this and the imperfection of that Priesthood is evident, since we know that very many wicked children are begotten to righteous fathers, as Cain, Ham, and the children of Lot, of Moses, Eli, and others; and good children are begotten of wicked fathers, as Melchizedek, [?] Abraham, and others. Moreover, the former Priesthood was conferred by material oil; but this latter by the immaterial unction of the Spirit, through the laying on of hands.

As to the matter of the rules whereby he who desires the priesthood is to be tried, whether he be worthy or not, let him who wishes to know this attend to the words of S. Paul, the tongue of the Spirit: "If a man desire the presbyterate he desireth a good work. A Presbyter, then, must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach, and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these," that is, all the degrees of the priesthood, "be first proved, and then let them use the office of a minister being found blameless."


Of Baptism.

Baptism is the immersion in and the washing with water, and of this there are five kinds: 1. The washing off of the filth of the body, as is commonly done by all men. 2. The legal washings, whereby it was believed that purity towards God from all carnal uncleanness was attained. 3. Those of the traditions of the elders, such as "the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and tables," and as "when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not." 4. The baptism of John, whereby he preached only repentance and the forgiveness of sins. 5. The baptism of our Saviour, which is received, through the Holy Spirit, for the gift of adoption, for the resurrection from the dead, and for everlasting life; which is "the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." For as the circumcision of the flesh was given for a sign denoting those who were of the family of Israel of old according to the flesh; so the baptism of Christ is a sign of spiritual relationship to the new Israel, viz., those who are the called, and the children of God. "Those who received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God."

The matter of Baptism is pure water. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The form, baptism "in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," according to the words of the Saviour.

There is also a Sixth Baptism, that of blood, as our Lord has noticed: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it is accomplished." Also a Seventh Baptism, of tears, after the saying of the Fathers. These two are allied to the Fifth, which is an emblem of death and the resurrection.


Of the Oil of Unction.

The Oil of Unction is an apostolical tradition, and there is still kept up in the Church of God a succession of that which was consecrated by the Apostles. The end of its use we learn from its own physical properties, and from the sacred Scriptures, The Bible instructs us that, according to the Law, such as were set apart for the typical priesthood, or for earthly sovereignty, were anointed with the oil of unction. And in like manner with us: such as are separated to the kingdom of heaven and to the true priesthood, must be anointed with this same manifoldly symbolical unction, in order that they may be truly anointed ones and brethren of Christ, Who by His union with God is truly and supernaturally anointed. "Therefore hath the Lord Thy God anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows." He is the Anointer and the Anointed: the Anointer by His Divinity, and the Anointed by His humanity.

As to the natural properties of oil, we know that the most eminent artists, after having completed a picture with all its rich colouring, anoint it with oil, in order that it may not easily be injured, or receive damage when brought into contact with other objects. In like manner, those who are drawn after the Likeness of the Heavenly King are for the same reason anointed, lest they should receive damage from the chances of the world and from the opposition of the devil.

The matter of the Oil of Unction is pure olive oil. The form the apostolical benediction.


Of the Oblation.

The Oblation is a service offered up by those below to those above, through material elements, in hope of the forgiveness of sins and of an answer to prayer. The old oblations consisted of irrational animals and of the blood of bodies, but with us the Only-begotten of God, Who took upon Him the form of a servant. He offered His own body a sacrifice to His Father for the life of the world, and hence He is called by John, "The Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." And again it is said of Him, that "His blood is the new testament, shed for many for the remission of sins." And again: "So God loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son," Who was offered up to His Father a living, rational sacrifice for all mankind, thereby reconciling the world to Himself, and bringing salvation to angels and to men. Now, seeing that it was impossible that His identical sacrifice upon the cross for the salvation of all could be showed forth, in every place, throughout all ages, and to all men, just as it was, without any alteration. He beheld with an eye of mercy, and in wisdom and compassion thus ordained: "In that night in which He was betrayed for the life of the world. He took bread into His holy, pure, and immaculate hands, blessed, brake, and gave it to His disciples, saying: This is My body which is broken for the sins of the world. And also of the cup, He gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying: This is My Blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Take and eat all of you of this bread, and drink of this cup, and do this, whenever ye shall meet together, in remembrance of Me." Through this divine institution the bread is changed into His Holy Body, and the wine into His Precious Blood, and they impart, to all who receive them in faith and without doubting, the forgiveness of sins, purification, enlightenment, pardon, the great hope of the resurrection from the dead, the inheritance of heaven, and the new life. Whenever we approach these Sacraments we meet with Christ Himself, and His very Self we take into our hands and kiss, and thereby we are joined to and with Christ, His holy Body mixing with our bodies, and His pure Blood mingling with our blood, and by faith we know Him that is in heaven and Him that is in the Church, to be but one Body.

The matter of this Sacrament Christ ordained to be of wheat and wine, as being most fit to represent body and blood. The form He conveys through His life-giving word, and by the descent of the Holy Ghost.


Of the Holy Leaven.

The holy and blessed Apostles, Thomas and Bartholomew of the Twelve, and Adi and Mari of the Seventy, who discipled the East, committed to all the Eastern Churches a Holy Leaven, to be kept for the perfecting of the administration of the Sacrament of our Lord's Body until His coming again. And should any Christians dispute the fact of the above-mentioned Apostles having committed to those of the East this Leaven, on the ground that Peter, the head of the Apostles, and his companions did not commit it to the Westerns, and should object to us on this wise: "If it be as you say, then one of these two consequences must result: either the Apostles did not agree in their mode of discipling, which is impossible, or this tradition of yours is false." We reply: The Easterns from the day of their discipleship up to this day have kept their faith as a sacred deposit, and have observed, without change, the Apostolical Canons; and notwithstanding all the persecutions which they have suffered from many kings, and their subjection to the severe yoke of a foreign power, they have never altered their creed nor changed their canons. Such as are well versed in such matters know full well the labour and care required on the part of Christians to observe these canons, and more especially to preserve this Leaven, in a difficult country, where there is no Christian sovereign to support them, nor any commander to back them, and where they are continually persecuted, vexed, and troubled. Had this Leaven not been of apostolical transmission they would not, most assuredly, have endured all these afflictions and trials to keep it together with the orthodox faith.

Then, as to their argument drawn from Peter and the great Apostles who discipled the west, we have this to oppose to them,—that those Apostles did transmit the same to the Westerns, but that with their alteration of the faith, the canons also were corrupted, through the influence of heretical rulers. And, in proof of this statement, we urge that if they all held the traditions of the Apostles, the Franks would not offer an unleavened, and the Romans [Greeks] a leavened oblation; since the Apostles did not transmit it in two different ways. Therefore the Westerns have changed the faith and the canons, and not the Easterns.


Of Absolution and Repentance.

The human race is frail, and easily inclined to evil, and it is hardly possible that all should not be tried with spiritual diseases; and on this account the healing priesthood was given to heal freely.—"Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted." "The whole have no need of a physician; but such as are variously sick." And, again: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance." The parables of the Prodigal Son, of the Hundred Sheep, and of the Two Debtors, were moreover intended to raise the hope of sinners, and to open to them the gate of repentance which leads to heaven and imparts heavenly happiness. To the same end serve the case of Peter after his denial of Christ, and of Paul after his persecution, and the woman who was a sinner, the Publican, and the Thief upon the cross. Hence it behoves believers when, through the infirmity of their human nature, which all cannot keep upright, they are overcome of sin, to seek the Christian Dispensary, and to open their diseases to the spiritual Physicians, that by absolution and penance they may obtain the cure of their souls, and afterwards go and partake of the Lord's Feast in purity, agreeably with the injunction of the eminent doctor, who writes thus: "Our Lord has committed the medicine of repentance to learned physicians, the priests of the Church. Whomsoever, therefore, Satan has cast into the disease of sin, let him come and show his wounds to the disciples of the Wise Physician, who will heal him with spiritual medicine."[1] These things will most assuredly result if they are done in faith, and not after a worldly manner, for "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Just as some, for lucre's sake, have made of this sacred thing a merchandize, and a source of temporal profit.


Of Matrimony and of Virginity.

Marriage after the ordinance of Christ, and entered into for the sake of the care and labour of a wife about the house, and for the bringing up of children in the fear of God, without idleness or murmuring, and in order that the eye may not wander towards that which belongs to others,—this is called in Scripture a holy estate:—"Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled." Paul makes it the mystery of things far above this world:—"This is a great mystery, but I speak of Christ and His Church." Hence divorce is unlawful except for the cause of adultery. For adultery of the soul, which is divisible into three kinds: sorcery, denial of the faith, and murder. Or of the body:—"Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."

With regard to Virginity, the steward of God's house saith: "I have no commandment of the Lord;" for the commandment of the Lord enjoins matrimony. But should any one desire to keep his virginity, and to follow, in this respect, the example of the Baptist, of the Saviour, of Elijah, and of Paul, it is allowable for him so to do, agreeably with the permission, and not after the command of God. Not, moreover, because he counts marriage an unholy and contemptible thing, but on account of what it entails, such as the being obliged to mix with the multitude, to have and to hold converse with them, and to reside in towns and villages, from all of which difficulties arise, which ofttimes make the yoke of marriage heavy by increasing one's cares, and thus the soul's advancement is hindered through its manifold connection with the world. Notwithstanding this, however, he who makes a vow of virginity, and does not become like a spiritual angel in theory and in practice, is inferior to a lax married man; for "no man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life." Here endeth the Fourth Part.

  1. This is a quotation from the service appointed in the Khudhra, to be read on the first day of the commemoration of the Fast of the Ninevites.