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Three that Testify

by Rev. Romanos V. Russo
photographs by Gregory Safchuk, courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. John H. Erickson


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“There are three that testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7-8)

Who is the faithful Christian unfamiliar with the words of Psalm 23? Since the day when King David, reflecting on his own youth watching over the flocks, compared God’s loving care for His people to that of a shepherd, this psalm has been dear to the hearts of believers everywhere. But perhaps the Eastern Christian loves it best because he sees in it not only a prefiguring of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, but also the three sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Chrismation, the Holy Eucharist.

‘He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul’ suggests the waters of baptismal rebirth. ‘You anoint my head with oil’ brings to mind the myron or chrism that seals with the Holy Spirit Himself. The Eucharist illuminates the words ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies… my cup overflows.’

In the eyes of the Christian East, saving faith in the Holy Trinity is conferred by the three mysteries, or sacraments of initiation into the life of Christ. In retaining the unity of Baptism, Chrismation and Communion on the same occasion, the East follows the practice of the apostolic Church. An adult coming to the Church to receive Christ was initiated by the waters of Baptism, the anointing by the oil of Confirmation, and the communing of the Body and Blood of Christ. This tri-unity was maintained even when it became customary to baptize infants.

The Oriental Churches seem to say “one is either fully a Christian or one is not.” And so to this day the East chrismates or confirms immediately after Baptism and crowns the rite of initiation by granting the neophyte to eat and drink of the Eucharistic Mysteries. The infant is entitled to receive Holy Communion from then on, whenever his family brings him to the Divine Liturgy. When he achieves the age of discretion, he makes his confession and thenceforth approaches Communion on the testimony of his own conscience rather than on the faith of the Christian family.

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Father Romanos is Director of the Office of Educational Services of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts.



Tags: Eastern Christianity Reflections/Inspirational