The sacrament by which the newly baptized receives the grace of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is a complement to the sacrament of baptism. Despite being complementary to baptism and following immediately after it, confirmation must be regarded as a distinct sacrament, with its own rites and prayers. In view of its intrinsic qualities, confirmation is also referred to as laying on of hands and anointing. Through baptism, a person is spiritually reborn; confirmation conveys special grace that strengthens the recipient for the practice of the Christian faith.
In John 7:37-39 Jesus established this sacrament: “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water. (Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost granted confirmation to the apostles, and, in their turn, they were able to grant it to other believers by administering this sacrament to them.
Many canons passed by various councils assert the independence of confirmation and its separateness from baptism. According to Canon 38 of the Council of Laodicea (between 348 and 381), “They who are baptized, must after baptism be anointed with the heavenly chrism, and be partakers of the kingdom of Christ.”
In connection with the various categories of heretics who return to the fold of orthodoxy, Canon 7 of the Council of CONSTANTINOPLE (381) states, “Those . . . we receive upon their giving a written renunciation [of their errors] and anathematize every heresy which is not in accordance with the holy, catholic, and apostolic church of God. Thereupon they are first sealed or anointed with the holy oil upon the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears; and when we seal them, we say, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost . . .” (Canons of the One Hundred and Fifty Fathers, 1956, p. 185).
The visible element in the sacrament of confirmation comprises four parts: (1) An epiclesis of the Holy Spirit upon the water; (2) the holy chrism, by which the baptized rightfully becomes a “Christian”; (3) the signing with the holy chrism—the priest anoints the baptized, using thirty-six signs of the cross, which cover almost all the members of his body; and (4) the prayers said during the process of anointing, ending with the words: “Receive the Holy Spirit and be a purified vessel of our Lord Jesus “
The Coptic church, in line with other Orthodox churches, has a distinctive stand toward administering the sacrament of confirmation. Whereas in non-Orthodox churches, confirmation is the exclusive right of bishops, there is no such restriction imposed on Coptic priests, as they receive this right at ordination. Second, unlike other churches where confirmation is delayed till the age of discretion, Orthodox churches administer it together with two other sacraments, that is, preceded by baptism, and followed by holy communion.
Not only is this practice based on solid historical grounds, as it was observed by all churches, Orthodox and non- Orthodox alike, until the thirteenth century, when the Roman Catholic church chose to delay confirmation until the age of discretion. It also provides the necessary precaution against the likelihood of an unbaptized and unconfirmed child’s death before attaining that age.
- Jurgens, W. A. The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 vols. Collegeville, Minn., 1970-1979.
- Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco, 1978.