The Sanctification of the Holy Chrism
In the Orthodox Church, the Holy Chrism is sanctified for use in the celebration of the sacrament of Chrismation.† It is a visible sign of the transmission of gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who are baptized.
During the early years of Christianity, the transmission of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the baptized were given by the Apostles through the "laying of hands." It I stated in the Scriptures that, "Now when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14‑17, R.S.V.)
When the Church spread throughout the world and the number of the baptized was greatly increased, it was not possible to continue the practice of Samaria. Consequently, the Apostles introduced the use of the sanctified Chrism.† The Holy Chrism was sanctified by the Apostles and was continued thereafter by the bishops through the Apostolic Succession. The "laying on of hands" was completely replaced by the Holy Chrism to transmit gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The use of the Holy Chrism was introduced to the Christian Church from the existing Old Testament practice. It is stated that, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Take the finest spices ‑‑ 12 pounds of liquid myrrh, 6 pounds of sweet‑smelling cinnamon, 6 pounds of sweet cane, and 12 pounds of cassia (all weighted according to official standard). Add one gallon of olive oil, and make a sacred anointing oil, mixed like perfume.''' (Exodus 30:22‑25)
Over the years of its existence, the Holy Chrism has been known by many names, such as "oil," "oil of Thanksgiving," "oil of anointing," "Chrism," "Chrism of thanksgiving," "Chrism from heavens," "mystical Chrism," "myrrh," "divine myrrh," "mystical myrrh," "great myrrh," and "holy and great myrrh."† Today, the terms generally used are "Holy Myrrh" or "Holy Chrism."
The Holy Chrism is prepared from oil and another fragrant essences, which symbolize the variety of gifts of the Holy Spirit that the chrismated Christian receives. The most ancient list of materials and the aforementioned information "concerning the materials of the myrrh," which are still used today, date from the eighth century C.E.†† This list includes the materials used for the preparation and making of the Holy Chrism. , from which the Holy Chrism is made," which includes 57 kinds of elements.
Information on how Holy Chrism was sanctified during the first centuries of Christianity is not available. The oldest reference is in The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytos. Later, directions concerning the sanctification of the Holy Chrism were included in the Great Prayer Book (Mega Euchologion) and Goar's Euchologion. Constantinople presently uses this course in the preparation of the Holy Chrism.†
After the doxology on Palm Sunday, the Patriarch blesses the Archon of the Myrrh who, along with the other Archons, work with him to make the Holy Chrism. They wear a white tunic reaching to the ground. After blessing the Archon of the Myrrh, the Patriarch then places a towel on him.
The next day, on Holy and Great Monday, after the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Patriarch enters the Patriarchal Church of the Great Myrrh, Saint George, where an appropriately decorated sepulched and the boilers for the Holy Chrism are located. The Patriarch then blesses the beginning of the cycle of the sanctification of the Holy Chrism with a special holy service. Following the blessing, he sprinkles holy water on the prepared materials, the utensils to be used, and the copper boilers. Then, holding a lighted candle, he touches each boiler, placing pieces of old charred holy icons in them. Then the Patriarch reads chapters from the Holy Gospel. The readings of the lessons (pericopes) from the New Testament are then continued by those present, including hierarchs, clergy from the Patriarchate, as well as visiting clergy. This order of readings continues all day on Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday.
On Holy and Great Tuesday, after the Divine Liturgy, a small supplication canon to the Theotokos is sung at the holy sepulcher. Prayers are offered for those who contributed material, money, and effort to prepare the Holy Chrism.
On Holy and Great Wednesday, after the Divine Liturgy of the Pre‑sanctified gifts, the Patriarch once again comes to the holy sepulcher and, after a brief service, places in the boilers rose oil, musk, and other sweet‑smelling oil. On this day, all preparations for making the Holy Chrism are completed.
On Holy and Great Thursday, after Matins (Orthros) at the Patriarchal chapel of Saint Andrew and after the complete vesting of the Patriarch and the other hierarchs, the procession from the Patriarchal Palace to the Patriarchal Church begins. The bells ring during the entire procession. During the procession, the Patriarch holds the small myrrh container.† The first in order of the hierarchs holds an alabaster containing pre‑sanctified Chrism.† The second in order of the hierarchs holds an alabaster containing unsanctified Chrism.† The other hierarchs hold small silver vases containing Chrism from the prepared materials to be sanctified. Twenty‑four archimandrites hold (one on each side) 12 silver containers filled with the Chrism to be sanctified.† During the Divine Liturgy, at the appointed time after the exclamation: "And may the mercy of our Great Lord," the Grand Archimandrite exclaims, "Let us attend."† The congregation kneels, and the Patriarch sanctifies the Holy Chrism according to the rubrics. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the sanctified Holy Chrism is transferred from the church to the Patriarchal myrrh center in reverse order according to the order of the Procession. It is in the Patriarchal myrrh center that the alabasters and the containers that contain the Holy Chrism are deposited. Followingthis transfer, the dismissal of the Divine Liturgy takes place.
As was stated earlier, Holy Chrism is used mainly in the celebration of the sacrament of Chrismation, which takes place immediately following the sacrament of Baptism. It is, however, a separate, distinct sacrament from Baptism. According to Orthodox Church readings, through the administration of the sacrament of Chrismation, the baptized receive gifts (charismata) that are transmitted to them by the Holy Spirit.† Such gifts also help the baptized live a life in Christ, which they enter through baptism, and equip them in their struggle against sin and the attacks of evil.† Through the seal of Chrismation, the baptized attain "mature manhood, to the measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13 R.S.V.)
The Holy Chrism is also used to chrismate the heterodox (non‑Orthodox) joining the Church, and to chrismate those fallen away from the Orthodox Faith and who are returning to the Orthodox Church.† In addition, it is also used to consecrate holy churches, altar tables, objects, and utensils, and for other sacred ceremonial circumstances. In past centuries, it was also used to anoint the Orthodox kings during their crowning.
Editor: Διάκονος. Rev.Deacon. Kamil Tannous
Orthodox Patristic Church