The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church serves the faithful through the seven sacraments. These sacraments are called mysteries because the invisible grace of the Holy Spirit is granted through them. The seven sacraments are:-
1.Baptism 5. Matrimony
2.Confirmation 6. Penance
3.Holy Communion 7. Unction of the Sick
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, taking the example of pillars as has been said in the Proverbs of Solomon as a starting point, teaches that there are seven sacraments (Proverbs 9:1). Of the seven, the six sacraments can be performed by a bishop and a priest. Ordination is conferred by a bishop only.
Of the seven sacraments, Baptism is the first. Baptism is the sacrament through which we are reborn and enter the Kingdom of God. (Jn 3:5). Baptism has a Biblical basis (Mt. 28:19-20)
Through Baptism sin is forgiven (Acts 2:8). Cleansing and blessing is attained through Baptism. (1Pet. 3:21; Tit. 3:5-6).
In our church we baptise children. In the Old Testament children were considered as people of the covenant after they were circumcised. In the New Testament children are baptized in their infancy and become members of the family of Christ. God has never isolated children from His grace. For example Jeremiah was blessed while he was in the womb of his mother. (Jer. 1:5). John the Baptist was likewise filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb of his mother (Lk. 1:15). Our Lord and Saviour during the period of His teaching has blessed children. This shows that the age of children does not prevent them from being brought to God (Mt. 19:13-15; Mk. 10:13-15; Lk. 18:15-17; Acts 16:33; ICor. 1:16). In the practice of our Church a boy is baptised on the foretieth day after birth and a girl on the eightieth day after birth.
In the Old Testament males entered the house of God forty days after birth. Females also entered the house of God eighty days after birth. (Lev. 12:15, Lk. 2:21-24). Since children cannot confess their faith a godfather and a godmother are assigned to them respectively. Baptism is done by dipping and sprinkling. (Mt. 28:19-20). Those martyrs who shed their blood in martyrdom are considered as having been baptized by their blood (Mt. 10:32, 16:25).
Order of Baptism
It is performed in a baptismal lake (river) which is deep enough for immersion. If sufficient water is not available in a church courtyard, a pond or a wide basin in constructed which can immerse the whole body. Where water is not found which can immerse the whole body the available water is taken in three handfuls, or in a cup and is sprinkled over the whole body (Didas. 34, Fetha Negest Article 3).
The priest after completing the prayer makes the baptised person bow in the four directions by saying, I make you bow down to the Father, I make you bow down to the Son, I make you bow down to the Holy Spirit
I baptise you in the name of the Father, I baptise you in the name of the Son, I baptise you in the name of the Holy Spirit, so saying he baptises him/her. (Mt. 28:19-20).
Before baptsm, the hair is shaved and clothes are taken off. Immediately after Baptism, he/she is blessed and receives the Holy Communion, which is the culmination of the sacraments
If the one to be baptized is an adult, he is made to receive basic religious education (Catechism) and is baptized after having accepted and believed in the teaching.
-Males can only be god fathers to males and females can only be god mothers to females (Fetha Negest 3:Dida. 34; Nic. 24).
-If any unbaptized person is seriously ill and his life is endangered, he is baptized. (Fetha Negest Article 3)
If the ones to be baptized are grown ups and can pray, they recite the creed
If the ones to be baptised are children, their godfathers and godmothers promise to teach and cultivate them spiritually.
Children born of Christian families are baptised after forty days if male and eighty days if female. However, there is no restriction of age if the person believes in salvation in Christ
Baptism is in the name of the Trinity (Mt. 28:19).
Baptism is not repeated for one person (Rom 6: 3,4; Eph.
Baptism is by water only (Fetha Negest 3; Jn. 3:5).
After his/her baptism, a cord is put around his/her neck. This is the sign or identification of a Christian.
Baptism symbolizes the death and burial of Christ. The resemblance of death and burial is the partaking of death and resurrection of Christ (Didas. 34; Rom.6:5,6).
Furthermore, Baptism is performed according to the book of Baptism and Fetha Negest.
2. Confirmation (Myron)
It is the holy ointment which one is annointed after Baptism. Confirmation like Baptism is performed once and cannot be repeated. Through the sacrament of confirmation, the believer is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Apostolic times the baptised person was granted the Holy Spirit by the laying of the hands. (Acts 20:14-17). When the church expanded, however, the bishops who continued the works of the Apostles permitted the replacement of the laying of hands by the annointing of the Holy Oil.
The gift of the Holy Spirit with myron, confirmation, has Biblical foundation. The believer is annointed with the Holy Oil immediately after Baptism. When the Apostles baptised children and grown ups, the baptised person was granted the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8: 14-17; 19:5-6).
Children should be annointed with myron as soon as they are baptised so that they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible confirms that let alone afterbirth, there were children who were granted the Holy Spirit while they were still in the wombs of their mothers. (Lk. 1:15; Jer. 1:1-8).
The right to annoint was originally confined to the Apostles but later passed on to bishops, and then priests were also authorized to administer the sacrament.
3. Holy Communion
Holy Communion is the culmination of all sacraments of the Church. Holy Communion means offering of sacrifice. This is not an offering of man to God but the offering of God for man. The sheep and goats were offered as sacrifices in the altars during the Old Testament times. However, these were preceding examples of the offering of the flesh and blood of Christ during the New Testament. The offering of bread and cup of grace which Melchizedek offered to Abraham (Gen. 14:18) and the Sacrifices which the Israelites offered during the day of their liberation exemplifyChrist our pascal lamb. Holy Communion has Biblical foundation (Mt. 26:26; ICor. 11:23-25). When the priest pub the bread on the paten and the wine in the chalice and conducts liturgical prayer, the bread is changed into the body of the Son of God and the wine into the blood of the Son of God. What is thus given in our Church is the body and blood of the Son of God.
When the priest administers the body, the deacon administers the blood with a cross-spoon. Those who, due to sickness, are not able to come to the Church receive the Holy Communion in their homes during liturgical service. The Holy Communion has to be administered on the same day; it cannot be spared for another time. Holy Communion should be taken after abstinence from food for at least fifteen hours. According to the doctrine of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church the Holy Communion is real body and blood of Christ. (Jn. 6:51,52,53,55).
Like the other sacraments, the Holy Communion was originally performed by the bishops who succeeded the Apostles, but as the church expanded they authorised the priests to perform the sacrament. The deacons assist the bishops and the priests. The believers who have examined and cleansed themselves through penance can receive the Holy Communion. But those who have not cleansed themselves through penance even if they receive the Holy Communion unworthily it will bring damnation upon them. (ICor. 11:28-29; Liturgy of John Chrysostom).
This is the sacrament through which the clergy are entitled to perform the various services of the Church. This sacrament has Biblical basis. (Mt. 28:19,20; Eph. 4:11; Acts 26:20).
There are three hierarchical ranks of Ordination. These are deacon, priest and bishop.
a) Deacons are ordained into this Order before marriage.
b) After marriage, the deacons become priests but if they wish to be monks and be ordained priests they have to remain celibate.
c) The duty of the deacons is to assist priests and bishops.
d) They are ordained by bishops
e) In our Church, there are three ranks under the deacon- hood which qualify one to serve the church. These ranks are conferred through blessing and not by the laying of hands
f) No pay mentis made for receiving any of the Ordinations. (Acts 8:18-26).
g) Ordination is not attained through inheritance but through a calling of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the canons of the Church.
The Order of priesthood is conferred either after marriage, or after becoming a monk. He can perform all the sacraments except, conferring Ordination, consecration of the Holy Oil used for sacrament of confirmation, consecration of the altar, the Ark of the Covenant, new church and new vessels. If he becomes a priest in celibacy, he can attain the rank of bishop; but if he is married, he will be limited to the rank of priesthood. A priest is ordained by the laying of hands and the breath of a bishop.
This rank is conferred on a clergy who has restricted himself in celibacy. He is consecrated by all the members of the Holy Synod but in times of difficulties, he is consecrated by the laying of hands and breath of at least two bishops. Besides administering all the sacraments of the Church, he is a church leader and an overseer of the general affairs of the Church.
Those who are ordained as bishops must fulfill the following requirements.
They should be:-
• Of good health
• Well educated to defend and profess their faith
• Of exemplary behavior
• Only males
Ordination is not repeated or renewed. Both those who reordain or are reordained are deconsecrated from their ordination. (Canon of the Apostles 68). Christ chose a certain number of persons for the Holy Ordination. (Lk. 6:12, 13: Jn. 20: 19-25). He also gave them special authorty not given to others. (Mt. 18:18).
Before His ascension, Christ promised them that He will always be with them to the end of the world. (Mt. 28:20). He also appointed them with all ranks. (Lk. 24:51).
When Judas left his Apostolic ministry, the Apostles held a Synodical Meeting and chose Mathias as a replacement. (Acts 1:15-26).
5. Holy Matrimony
Christian marriage is one of the seven sacraments which is performed in a church by means of which the grace of the Holy spirit is obtained. Holy Matrimony is based on the Bible. (Gen. l:27,28,2:18;Mt. 19:4-6).The Canon of the Church requires that before matrimony is effected the following conditions should be met.
1.Both couples should be Christians to obtain the grace of God.
2. Both should belong the Orthodox Tewahedo Church. If any one of them is not a member, he/she should first be a member of the Church .he/she should first be a member of the Church
3. No pre-marital sexual relationship is permitted.
4. Both should consent to be united in marriage.
5. No marriage is allowed within seven generation so as not to break the rule of kinship that forbids marriage between close family relations. (Lev. 18:6-21; Deut.7:34).
6. As the marriage of Christians epitomizes the unity between Christ and the Church, it shall not be broken. (Eph. 5:32).
7. In our Church one to one marriage only is allowed.
8. Re-marriage can not be conducted by any one of the two partners unless divorce is effected because of adultery or one of the partners dies. (Mt. 19:6-9).
9. The Sacrament of Matrimony is celebrated by bishops and priests.
10. Matrimony is not performed without Holy Communion. (FethaNegest Article 24:899).
11. Parents should be consulted and their consent should be secured
6. Mystery of Penance
Penance means to feel remorse, repent and cleanse oneself from sin. Although Christians are reborn through Baptism, men are liable to commit sins. Therefore:
– Every Christian should have a father confessor (soul-father)
-Every one should go to the father-confessor and confess his/ her sins. (Lev. 14:31, Mt.8:4; Epiphanius Faith of Fathers Hai. Ab. 59:20). Those who confess their sins and return to
God receive the grace of God and by receiving the Holy Communion they will enter to their former place of honour.
Confessions and remissions are performed only by bishops or priests. Penance is based on the Bible. (Mt. 16:19; 8:4). The confession of the penitent made in front of the father-confessor and the tears shed for the sins committed will enable them to be rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit. (Liturgy of Athanasisu). Penance is one of the Sacraments that are repeated. The main objectives of the teachings starting from the Prophets, of John the Baptist; Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and his disciples the Apostles is to enable people to inherit the kingdom of God through repentance,’ ‘Repent ye: for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” On the basis of this truth, the Church teaches the need and virtue of Penance. (Mt. 3:1-2,4:17;Zach. 1:3).
7. Unction of the Sick
It is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Church. It is an annoitment administered to the sick. It has Bibilical origin and is administered by bishops and priests. (Mk.6:13; Jas. 5:13-15).
In our Church, since Unction is preferred to cleanse sins of the flesh as well as of the soul, Unction is administered to one who afflicted by sin. Unction is performed by bishops and priests.
Each of the Seven Sacraments has its own book of prayer and system of application. The Seven Sacraments as a whole are considered as manifestations of the faith and tenets of the religion of the Church.
These Sacraments are all performed in the Church. However, it is not also forbidden if they are performed elsewhere as and when conditions are met. The main aim of all the Sacraments is to redeem mankind.