- Sacred Mysteries
The term sacred mysteries generally denotes the area of
supernaturalphenomena associated with a divinityor a religious ideology.
Pre-Christian religious mysteries
Religious mysteries formed an important part of the worship of a number of pre-Christian religions, including the
Eleusinian Mysteries, Mithraism, the Cult of Isis, and the Cult of Sol Invictus. Dedicated devotees of the religion would be inducted into the mysteries by receiving special instruction. Due to the secrecy surrounding this special instruction, very little is now known about what was included in the mysteries.
Mystery traditions were popular in
ancient Greeceand during the height of the Roman Empire, and may have influenced the introduction of sacred mysteries in Christianity.
The term is used in
Eastern Christianityto refer to what the Western Churchcurrently calls Sacramentsand Sacramentals. In the Early Churchthey were kept hidden from the pagans— the so-called " Disciplina arcani" — lest they become objects of ridicule. As the Age of Persecutionended, the secrecy was gradually relaxed. But the term continued to be used. Originally the term "Mystery" was used in both the East and the West, as shown from the "Mystagogical Homilies" of St. Cyril of Jerusalemand the work, "On the Mysteries" by St. Ambrose of Milan.
The terms "Sacrament" and "Sacramental" are terms, which the
Western Churchhas carefully defined in Canon Law. Thus, for instance, the Council of Trentdeclared there to be "exactly" seven sacraments. The Eastern Churches, in contrast, have never defined the Mysteries in such precise terms. And, though the Western Church teaches that the consecratedbread and wine of the Eucharistare one Sacrament, the Divine Liturgyrefers to the Eucharist as the "Mysteries", in the plural. Orthodox Christians have always received Holy Communion in both species (both the Body and the Blood), and even reserve both in the tabernacle.
The word "mysterion" (μυστήριον) is used 27 times in the
New Testament. It denotes not so much the meaning of the modern English term "mystery", but rather something that is "mystical". In the biblical Greek, the term refers to "that which, being outside the unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation." [Strong, James, "The New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible" (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2001, ISBN 0-7852-4539-1), p. 168.]
For the Eastern Orthodox, Christian life is centered in the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, the union of God and man. However, the redemption of man is not considered to have taken place only in the past, but continues to this day through
theosis. ["The Sacramental Life: An Orthodox Christian Perspective", (St. John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, TN, 1986), p. 6.] The Sacraments, or Sacred Mysteries are the most important means by which the faithful may obtain union with God, provided they are received with faithafter appropriate preparation. Orthodox Christians believe that God is present everywhere and fills all things by his Divine grace, and that all of creation is, in some sense, a "sacrament." However, they believe that "He is more specifically and intensively present in [those] particular and reliable manners which He Himself has established," [Ibid, p. 7.] i.e., in the Sacred Mysteries.
Though Orthodox instructional materials may list seven Sacred Mysteries (
Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Holy Communion, Marriage, Ordination, and Unction), it must be understood that the term is not limited to these seven. The Sacred Mysteries can be defined as "those holy acts through which the Holy Spirit mysteriously and invisibly confers Grace (the saving power of God) upon man." [ ArchpriestSeraphim Slobodskoy, "The Law of God" (Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, Jordanville, NY, 1996, ISBN 0-88465-044-8), p. 471.]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05032a.htm Discipline of the Secret] article in
* [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3405.htm On the Mysteries] by St. Ambrose of Milan
* [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310119.htm Mystagogical Lectures] St. Cyril of Jerusalem
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