Since things are not numbered together unless they belong in the same category or possess certain shared characteristics, the theological basis of the claim that there are seven and only seven “sacraments” can only be understood if we know what is being signified by that term. My pre-Orthodox perception was that if “sacrament” in the RC tradition and “Holy Mystery” in Orthodoxy were completely synonymous terms, then the claim that there were only seven such “mystical” acts within the Church plainly contradicted Scripture and Holy Tradition; for this reason I was comforted by the fact that Fr. Thomas Hopko was in agreement with this observation:
The practice of counting the sacraments was adopted in the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholics. It is not an ancient practice of the Church and, in many ways, it tends to be misleading since it appears that there are just seven specific rites which are “sacraments” and that all other aspects of the life of the Church are essentially different from these particular actions. The more ancient and traditional practice of the Orthodox Church is to consider everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical.
The Church may be defined as the new life in Christ. It is man’s life lived by the Holy Spirit in union with God. All aspects of the new life of the Church participate in the mystery of salvation. In Christ and the Holy Spirit everything which is sinful and dead becomes holy and alive by the power of God the Father. And so in Christ and the Holy Spirit everything in the Church becomes a sacrament, an element of the mystery of the Kingdom of God as it is already being experienced in the life of this world. (The Orthodox Faith, emphasis added)
The definition of sacrament presupposed by the claim that there are only seven is explicated in the Catechism of the Council of Trent:
In order, therefore, to explain more fully the nature of a Sacrament, it should be taught that it is a sensible object which possesses, by divine institution, the power not only of signifying, but also of accomplishing holiness and righteousness. Hence it follows, as everyone can easily see, that the images of the Saints, crosses and the like, although signs of sacred things, cannot be called Sacraments. That such is the nature of a Sacrament is easily proved by the example of all the Sacraments, if we apply to the others what has been already said of Baptism; namely, that the solemn ablution of the body not only signifies, but has power to effect a sacred thing which is wrought interiorly by the operation of the Holy Ghost. (COTC, Introduction to the Sacraments)
Since only those acts that meet the defined criteria as understood within the Augustinian tradition are properly called sacraments, it makes sense that Protestants do not affirm that there are seven sacraments for (1) they possess a different understanding of grace and (2) only signify with that term practices explicitly commanded by God. Certainly the following is conclusive evidence of the fact that there is a considerable lack of correspondence between RC and Orthodox terminologies:
Reply to Objection 6. Holy Water and other consecrated things are not called sacraments, because they do not produce the sacramental effect, which is the receiving of grace.
I trust that I am not the only one who has trouble with the claim that Holy Water is graceless, but the above only confirms my main point, which is that one must be very careful appropriating theological terms from other traditions.