When is a Sacrament a Sacrament?

I was listening in on the conversation of a couple of Charismatic preachers a few weeks ago. There was some discussion about how certain ministers seem to be conduits of the power of God (they have “the anointing”, to use the common parlance) despite a significant lack of personal character.

Those with a sacramental theology will recognise this as similar to the view that the validity of the sacrament is not afffected by the holiness of the person administering it. The difference is that “the anointing” is a personal thing, bestowed upon an individual, whereas the sacraments are entrusted to the Church.

However, this did bring my thoughts to something that is no doubt considered a long-settled matter regarding the sacraments. What makes a valid or real sacrament? Or more particularly, what are the implications of partaking in sacraments that aren’t valid.

The Roman Church generally recognises the sacraments of the Orthodox Church as valid and grace-filled. Opinion in the Orthodox Church ranges from a similar view about Roman sacraments (as ennunciated by Archbishop Hilarion [Alfeev]) to a not surprisingly very uncharitable view.

For those who deny the grace of Roman mysteries, when did they lose their efficacy? Though 1054 is a symbolic date, as a practical matter there was a lot of concelebration and cross-pollination for centuries after, even as there was open rivalry before. It is easy to look with the eyes of the present, see a clear divide with battle lines drawn and trenches dug, and declare that we are the Orthodox Church and you’re not. We know where the grace is. It seems to me, if we start parsing out the history very carefully, it becomes very difficult to declare when the other side became the other side and lost their grace.

I also find it interesting that for both sides, all that matters is what is decided at the highest hierarchical level. The epiclesis of a pederastic priest is unconditionally granted because his hierarch is on the right side of the Great Schism. On the other hand, God ignores the holy priest (ordained with the same intent and using an equally valid rite) who may be rather oblivious to the decision of medieval synods and not realise that his fate was decided somewhere between 500 and 1000 year ago (given the murkiness of the historical situation), thus leaving him to spend a lifetime in fruitless faux-sacerdotal prayer.

But setting aside the debate regarding Roman sacraments, I have been mulling over the matter of Protestant sacraments as they relate to Orthodox theology. After all, neither Rome nor Orthodoxy recognise the validity of Protestant sacraments. And futhermore, many Protestants don’t even recognise the validity of any sacraments.

So the first question is: if Protestants do not have real sacraments, can they participate in their act of Communion without fear of bringing judgement upon themselves for partaking unworthily? Or rather, are their fears unfounded even though they take it in faith? In other words, do the warnings of St Paul in I Corinthians not apply, even if the person receiving thinks they do? Is it all much ado about nothing?

Following on from this, if someone in Communion within the Orthodox Church receives an invalid communion, have they received communion outside the Church at all? It would seem that the Orthodox would have to recognise Roman sacraments as sacraments at least to the point of saying that someone is no longer in communion with the Orthodox Church because they have communed with Rome. However, if it be no sacrament whatsoever, not even putatively in the case of some Protestants, how is it possible to consider it communion for the purpose of excommunication from the real sacrament?

Anyhow, these are just a few thoughts I’ve been mulling around in my head.

I Believe in Time Travel

The Unnamed Woman and I just finished watching the entire six series of the British sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart that ran from 1993-99. It was being shown on ITV3 and the Woman decided she wanted the DVDs. We both enjoyed the show during its original run (though I had never seen the final series), as it was shown by the local PBS affiliate.

For those Stateside who may have never seen the show, it involves a Londoner from the 1990s who accidentally stumbles upon a time portal to the 1940s. It transports him back exactly 53 years. Thus on the 1940s side, the show starts with the Blitz and ends with VE-Day.  He travels back and forth and has a wife on either side of the portal. He’s also a nobody in the 90s and creates himself into a bit of a somebody in the 40s, pretending to be a member of the secret service and a songwriter (having composed various hits from the future).

Watching the show made me think about the nature of time. I believe that time travel is possible. Well, sort of. If Someone exists outside of time and space, then it is possible to exist anywhere in time and space. It would seem that it would even be possible to exist everywhere in time and space simutaneously, given that neither is a constraint.

I was thinking of this in terms of the Eucharist. Not only is there no problem with Christ being truly present in every Divine Liturgy being served at any one given time on Earth, nor with the Holy Spirit transforming the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood, but it need not be happening merely simultaneously in time or space. As far as the spiritual realm is concerned, when we are joining with the rest of the Church in prayer, we are with all of the Church throughout time at the same time.

Or at least it seems plausible in my fledgling study of theophysics.

It does give an interesting twist or amplification to the meaning of the words of Jesus at the end of the Great Commission, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Pope Beginning to Follow Church Tradition

When the Pope celebrated mass yesterday, he was the first leader of the Roman Church since Vatican II to turn away from the congregation and toward God. He used the ancient altar in the Sistine Chapel – the one set against the wall – and not a modern mobile altar that would allow him to face the people.

In the post-Vatican II era, the mass has been focused on communicating to the congregation, rather than in representing the congregation in the offering made to God. The priest faces away from the people because he is leading them to the presence of God. There are times when he turns around, but the focus is always to the altar. Orthodoxy has never lost this tradition in the Divine Liturgy.