There is a river
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High” (Psalms 46:4). The City of God, “the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people,” who are “tabernacles of the most High,” is gladdened and made holy by the Sacraments of Christ. For “Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ Jesus himself is present in all the Sacraments in various forms and modes. As the Eastern Christian Church teaches, in essence there is one Sacrament: the imparting of the Divine Life to the disciples of the Lord Jesus through the various rites known as Sacraments and Sacramentals that comprise the Yoga of Christ who himself is the ultimate Minister of all Sacraments.
The Beloved Disciple was given a symbolic vision of Christ’s living body, “the blessed company,” in this manner: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.…And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.…The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:1-5, 17, 21). Through the exercise of the Apostolic Succession by its ministers Jesus becomes the Living Master of all his disciples.
What is the Apostolic Succession?
What is the Apostolic Succession? It is the living power of Christ which has been handed on from Jesus himself through the twelve apostles and their successors, the bishops, by the laying on of hands even until this day. The Apostolic Succession was established when “said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). Saint Paul wrote to Saint Timothy: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.…Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (I Timothy 4:14; II Timothy 1:6).
Divine Essence and Divine Energies
In the fourteenth century, because of attacks on the meditation practices of the Hesychasts (keepers of Silence), the spiritual authorities of the Eastern Orthodox Church led by Saint Gregory Palamas the Archbishop of Thessalonica formulated the mystical doctrine that the One God has practically speaking a dual nature–or rather, a dual mode of being. The Divine Unity is manifesting as Essence and Energies: Divine Consciousness and Divine Power. (This is identical to the yogic principle that Reality consists of Purusha and Prakriti–Spirit and Power.)
The meaning of this for us is the truth that the Apostolic Succession is the direct Working of God in the world, that the Power of the Sacraments is not a created power, a mere instrument of God’s will, but is God Himself. Every time we approach the Sacraments we are entering into contact with the Absolute Being who is acting through the Sacraments and therefore acting upon and within us. “As God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (II Corinthians 6:16). “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is exactly what is known in Eastern Christianity as theosis: deification, the fulfillment of the divine declaration: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6; John 10:34).
The handing on of the Apostolic Succession is known as “holy orders” or “ordination,” which is itself a Sacrament. Although in the Western Church it has become common to think of there being several “minor orders,” each of which possesses an ordination, in reality they are only blessings by a bishop to engage in certain minor ecclesiastical functions, which is why in monasteries they are often done by the abbot, even though he is not a bishop, and on occasion they may be delegated to a priest. There are really only three truly sacramental orders: Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. And they are conferred by a bishop alone.
A deacon assists the priest in his sacramental functions and may with the priest’s permission under certain conditions himself baptize and minister the Anointing of the Sick and Extreme Unction, but this is not the norm. A priest performs all sacramental functions except that of Holy Orders and various consecrations which are proper to a bishop alone. A bishop exercises the plenitude of the Apostolic Succession, especially ordinations and consecrations. But in all these three orders it is Jesus the Great High Priest who performs the Sacraments through the agency of the deacons, priests, and bishops. Therefore all Christians are baptized, confirmed, healed, absolved, blessed and ordained by Jesus Christ himself. Each Christian is a direct disciple of the Lord Jesus as much as were the Apostles themselves. At the same time, all the Sacraments are effected by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9; I Peter 1:11), at the direction of the Lord. That is why, when he imparted the episcopal power to the Apostles he said: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” All Sacraments are actions of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who functions through the duly ordained “Ministers of Christ, and Stewards of the Mysteries of God” (I Corinthians 4:1).
Later we will be looking at the purpose and form of the three sacramental orders. (It is normal usage to say that deacons and priests are ordained, and bishops are consecrated, but this is a purely arbitrary distinction.)
A practical question
Now comes the thorny questions regarding a church you either attend or may attend:
- Does this church possesses the Apostolic Succession?
- If so, does it exercise it in a spiritually beneficial manner?
- Do/Will I have to deny or lie about my esoteric beliefs to be a member and receive their sacraments?
All three must be decided by you–no one else–using your intuition developed through meditation and prayer.
A final question, which must be asked, is of major importance: What if I cannot find a valid sacramental church that will not demand that I renounce or hide my esoteric understanding?
That is so crucial a matter that no one should advise you, but you should decide on your own. Sometimes it varies from congregation to congregation. I have known Eastern Orthodox priests that personally held very esoteric views (even reincarnation) and approved of others doing the same. I knew one Eastern Orthodox bishop who created an esoteric church, but after a while it betrayed itself and became safely exoteric. I have known Catholic priests that also were esoteric in belief and firmly held and even spoke openly of such things as reincarnation.
A great deal of truth is hidden by the “orthodox” churches. For example, I know of two very famous “elders” of the Eastern Orthodox Church who firmly hold the belief that proficiency in meditation can supply the effects of the Sacraments. Both say–only in the utmost secrecy–that in the profoundest depths of mystical prayer they experience the exact same effects as when they receive Communion. This is actually in keeping with Eastern Christian theology, for there is really only one Sacrament: the imparting of the Grace of God (which in Eastern Christian theology IS God, not a created energy). The authentic Orthodox teaching is that the various Sacraments are different means by which that Grace is imparted to human beings. However, the exoterics would never agree to that, especially those in the West.
So you may want to consider seeking and finding what you need in meditation alone until some way opens by which you can be true to both yourself and God while partaking of the Sacraments.
Next in Yoga of the Sacraments: Baptism, the Yoga of Life