Sanctification of Life

The Orthodox Mysteries (Sacraments)

Information and Readings for Auditors

Course Syllabus

Required Texts

  • Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

Course Format: In Person or Online

The course meets on Mondays from 7pm to 9pm in Larkin 340.

The Zoom link for those following online is:

Week 1: Introduction to the Course and Sacramental Theology


  • course overview, format, expectations, and resources
  • theology and problematics of the holy mysteries (sacraments)


Week 1 Recording

Week 2: The Mysteries of Initiation: Baptism and Chrismation I


  • sacrament, symbol, grace, and further sacramental problematics
  • baptism and chrismation in the New Testament and early church
  • historical development of the catechumenate and mysteries of initiation

Readings for Class Discussion

Optional Reading


Week 2 Recording

Week 3: The Mysteries of Initiation: Baptism and Chrismation II


  • detailed study of the services of baptism and chrismation
  • the method of theological reflection on liturgy

Readings for Class Discussion

Week 3 Recording

Week 4: The Mysteries of Initiation: Baptism and Chrismation III

Week 5: The Mystery of Confession (Repentance)

Week 6: The Mystery of Crowning (Marriage)


  • marriage in the New Testament and early church
  • historical development of marriage
  • detailed study of the services of betrothal and crowning
  • theological reflection, contemporary issues and renewal

Seminar: Marina Ghebrial

Readings for Class Discussion

Additional Reading

Week 6 Recording

Week 7: The Mysteries of Holy Orders


  • ministry in the New Testament and early church
  • historical development of the threefold order of ministry (bishops, presbyters, deacons)
  • detailed study of and theological reflection on the services of holy orders
  • minor orders (subdeacons, readers) including deprecated orders (chanters, etc.)
  • contemporary issues and renewal, including revival of a female diaconate

Seminar: Haig Chahinian

Readings for Class Discussion

Additional Reading

Week 8: The Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick


  • illness and healing in the New Testament and early church
  • historical development of the mystery of anointing
  • detailed study of the service of anointing
  • theological reflection
  • contemporary issues and renewal

Readings for Class Discussion


Week 8 Recording

Week 9: The Mystery of the Funeral and Burial I


  • death and burial in the New Testament and early church
  • historical development of prayers for the departed, as well as the mystery of the funeral and burial
  • theological reflection on the communion of the saints and prayers for the departed

Readings for Class Discussion

Some Prayers for the Departed

Prayer for the Departed (from the funeral and memorial services, so most common of all prayers for the departed)

O God of spirits and of all flesh, who hast trampled down death and overthrown the devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants, (names), in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which they have committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For Thou art a good and man-befriending God; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for Thou only art without sin, Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy word is truth. For Thou are the resurrection, the life, and the repose of Thy servants, (names), who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayers for the Departed (from an Orthodox prayer book, typical of many prayers in daily personal prayer)

With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Thy departed servants, (names), where there is neither sickness nor sorrow nor sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.

Remember, O Lord, the souls of Thy departed servants (names) and of all my kindred according to the flesh. Also remember all those of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection and of the life eternal, and render unto them eternal memory.

Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend the souls of Thy departed servants (names) and pray to Thee to grant them rest, O Lord, in the place of Thy rest, where all Thy blessed saints repose, where the light of Thy countenance shines. Grant that our lives may be godly, sober, and blameless, that we may be worthy to meet them again in Thy heavenly Kingdom. For Thou art the resurrection and the life and the repose of Thy departed servants, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Remember, O Lord, our parents, brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection, and all those who have ended their lives in piety and faith. Forgive them all their transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, committed by them in word or deed or in thought. Set them in bright places of light, in places of green pasture, in places of rest whence all pain, sorrow and sighing have fled away, and where the light of Thy countenance shines and gladdens for ever all Thy saints. Grant unto them and unto us Thy kingdom and participation in Thine ineffable and eternal blessings, and to delight in Thine unending and blessed life. For Thou art the life, the resurrection and the repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and we render glory to Thee, with Thine eternal Father, and with Thine all-holy, gracious and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Third “Kneeling” Prayer of Pentecost (from the service later on the day of Pentecost when we return to kneeling after keeping the celebration of the resurrection — in Greek, the anastasis, literally ‘standing again’ — by standing in worship for the 50 days after Pascha: this is perhaps the most detailed liturgical statement of Orthodox Christian beliefs about the state of those who have departed in faith and await the final resurrection)

O Christ our God, ever-flowing, living and illuminating fountain, creating power, coeternal with the Father, who hast, most-excellently, fulfilled the whole dispensation for the salvation of man; who didst burst the indestructible bonds of death and hast torn apart the bolts of Hades, and hast trampled underfoot the multitude of evil spirits; who didst offer Thyself for us, as an unblemished victim, and gavest Thy most-pure body as a sacrifice, untouched and inviolate by any sin, and, through that dread and indescribable priestly act hast bestowed upon us eternal life; who, having descended into Hades, and smashed the ancient bars, didst show forth the way up unto them that sat in darkness; who, with the allurement of divine wisdom, didst entice also the author of evil, the dragon of the abyss, and with chains of gloom didst bind him in Tartarus, and in the unquenchable fire, and didst confine him in utter darkness by Thine immeasurable might. O greatly-glorified Wisdom of the Father, who didst manifest Thyself as a great helper of them that are oppressed, and didst enlighten them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, Thou Lord of eternal glory and beloved Son of the Father Most-high, Light everlasting of Light everlasting, O Sun of righteousness: Hearken unto us that pray unto Thee, and give rest unto the souls of Thy servants, our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, who have fallen asleep before us, and our other kinsmen after the flesh, and all Thine own who are in the faith, of whom we now make memorial, for in Thee is the dominion over all, and in Thy hand Thou holdest all the ends of the earth.

O almighty master, God of the fathers, and Lord of mercies, and maker of the race of mortals and immortals, and of every nature of man, of that which is brought together and again put asunder, of life and of the end of life, of sojourning here and of translation there; who dost measure out the years of life and set the times of death; who bringest down to Hades and raisest up; who bindest in infirmity and releasest unto power; who dispensest present things according to need, and orderest those to come as is expedient; who makest glad with the hope of resurrection them that are smitten with the sting of death. Do Thou Thyself, then, O master of all, God our Saviour, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of them that be far off upon the sea, who, on this last and great and saving day of the feast of Pentecost, didst show forth for us the mystery of the Holy Trinity, consubstantial and coeternal, undivided and unmingled, and didst pour out the descent and presence of Thy Holy and lifegiving Spirit in the form of fiery tongues, upon Thy holy apostles, appointing them to be the evangelists of our pious faith, and showing them forth to be confessors and preachers of the true theology; who also on this all-perfect and saving feast, dost deign to receive, therefore, prayers of purification for them that are bound in Hades, and grantest unto us the great hope that respite and comfort will be sent down from Thee unto them that are bound from the filth that binds them. Hearken unto us, also, Thy humble servants who pray, and give rest unto the souls of Thy servants who have fallen asleep before us, in a place of light, in a place of green grass, in a place of refreshment, whence all sickness, sorrow, and sighing have fled away; and do Thou place their souls in the tabernacles of the righteous, and count them worthy of peace and respite. For the dead praise Thee not, O Lord, neither do they that are in Hades dare to bring confession unto Thee; but we, the living, bless Thee and entreat Thy goodwill, offering unto Thee prayers and sacrifices for their souls.

O great and man-befriending God, who art eternal and holy, who hast counted us worthy, also, to stand before Thine unapproachable glory at this hour, that we may hymn and praise Thy wonders: Do Thou cleanse us, Thine unworthy servants, and grant grace that with contrite heart and without presumption, we may offer unto Thee the thrice-holy doxology and thanksgiving for Thy great gifts, which Thou hast granted us, and ever grantest unto us. Remember, O Lord, our infirmity, and destroy us not for our transgressions, but show great mercy because of our humility, that fleeing from the darkness of sins, we may walk in the daylight of righteousness, and, having been clothed with the armour of light, we may persevere unassailed by any snare of the evil one, that with boldness we may glorify Thee in all things, the only true God and Friend of man.

For surely and truly a great mystery is Thine, O master and creator of all, both in the temporary dissolution of Thy creatures, and, thereafter, their restoration and eternal rest. We confess Thy grace in all things, in our coming into this world, and our departure, our hopes of resurrection and life incorruptible, pledged beforehand, through Thine unfailing promise, which we shall receive hereafter at Thy second coming. For Thou art both the author of our resurrection and the impartial man-befriending judge of them that have lived, and the master and Lord of recompense, who, through Thine extreme condescension, didst partake, equally with us, of flesh and blood, and of our undeniable passions, when Thou didst willingly submit to temptation, accepting this out loving kindness and compassion, and wherein Thou Thyself, being tempted, hast suffered, becoming for us who are tempted, the helper which Thou Thyself hast promised to be; and therefore Thou hast led us with Thyself unto Thy passionlessness. Accept, therefore, O Master, our prayers and supplications, and give rest unto all the fathers and mothers, and children, and brothers and sisters of each of us, and to any others of our kindred and of our people, and to every soul that has fallen asleep before in the hope of the resurrection unto life of the age to come. Commit their souls and their names in the Book of Life, in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the land of the living, in the Kingdom of Heaven, in a Paradise of delights, leading all, by Thy radiant angels, in Thy holy abode, raising up also with Thee our bodies in the day which Thou hast appointed, according to Thy holy and unfailing promise. There is, therefore, O Lord, no death for Thy servants, when we go forth from the body and come unto Thee, our God, but a change from things most-sorrowful unto things most-beneficial and most-sweet, and unto rest and joy. And though we have sinned against Thee, be merciful unto us and unto them, for no one is pure of defilement before Thee, though his life be but for one day, except Thou alone, our Lord Jesus Christ, who didst reveal Thyself sinless on the earth, through whom we all hope to receive mercy and the forgiveness of sins. Do Thou, therefore, for us and for them, as Thou art a good and man-befriending God, loose, remit, and forgive our falls into sin, whether voluntary or involuntary, those done in knowledge or in ignorance, whether they be manifest or unnoticed, those of deed, those of thought, those in word, and those of all our habits and movements. And give freedom and respite unto them that have been taken from us, and bless us who are here present, granting a good peaceful end unto us and also unto all Thy people; and open unto us Thy tender mercies and Thy love for man at Thy dread and fearful coming, and make us worthy of Thy Kingdom.

O great and most high God, who alone hast immortality, who dwellest in light unapproachable, who hast fashioned all creation in wisdom, who hast divided the light from the darkness, and hast set the sun to rule the day, and the moon and stars to rule the night, who hast counted us sinners worthy at this present hour to come before Thy presence with praises, and to offer unto Thee our evening service: Do Thou Thyself, O man-befriending Lord, direct our prayer as incense before Thee, and accept it for an odour of sweet fragrance, and grant that our present evening and coming night be peaceful. Clothe us with the armour of light. Deliver us from the fear of night, and from everything that walks about in darkness. And grant that the sleep that Thou hast given for the repose of our infirmity may be free from every fantasy of the devil. Yea, O master of all and bestower of good things, may we, moved to compunction upon our beds, remember Thy most-holy Name in the night. And, enlightened by the instruction of Thy commandments, may we rise up in joyfulness of soul unto the glorification of Thy goodness, offering prayers and supplications unto Thy deep compassion, for our own sins and those of all Thy people. And do Thou visit them, through the prayers of the Most-holy Theotokos. Amen.

From Anaphora the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (the heart of Orthodox Christian worship)

Again we offer Thee this rational worship for those who have fallen asleep in the faith: ancestors, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith, especially for our most holy, pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.

Week 9 Recording

Week 10: The Mystery of the Funeral and Burial II

Week 10 Recording

Week 11: Some Other Mysteries


  • other holy mysteries (eg consecration of church, great blessing of water, monastic tonsure, blessing of home)
  • sacraments vs “sacramentals” (non-sacrament rites of blessing)

Seminar: Svetlana Panich

Readings for Class Discussion


  • course review

Week 12 Recording