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The Mystery of Chrismation

Тhe mystery of Chrismation is intrinsically connected to the Mystery of Baptism and is performed on a person once in a life: to preserve the purity of soul received in Baptism, grow and strengthen oneself in the spiritual life, one needs special help from God which is given in the Mystery of Chrismation. After the immersion into the Font and a corresponding litany and a secret prayer for sending the Holy Spirit onto the one being baptized, the priest anoints the forehead, the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the mouth, the breast and the hands of the baptized with the Holy Chrism, making with it the sign of the cross on them, pronouncing the words: “The Seal of the Holy Spirit”. After these words, at every anointing, the priest pronounces special verses. Anointing of the forehead means sanctification of mind and thoughts. Anointing of the eyes, ears and lips – sanctification of senses. Anointing of the hands – sanctification of deeds and all behaviour of the Christian.

The holy Chrism (Greek μύρον – aromatic oil) is a very holy thing, which is usually kept upon the altar. It is a special mixture of plant oils, aromatic grasses and fragrant resins (up to 50 substances). The main substance for the preparation of the chrism is the olive oil of the highest quality. The white grape wine is necessary for the preparation of the chrism to prevent ignition and burning of oil. Among the aromatic substances frankincense, rose petals, orris, spicy and galangal roots, Muscat, rose, lemon and clove oils and other ingredients are used.

The History of the establishment of the Mystery of Chrismation

The establishment of the Mystery of Chrismation goes back to the Apostolic times. In the epistles of Apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit which Christians possess is sometimes called “Anointment” (1 Jn.2:20, 2 Cor.1:21). Initially the Apostles laid hands on the newly baptized, but when it became practically impossible for the distant places, the specially sanctified aromatic oils started to be distributed to the priests for the anointing of the converts. After the Apostles’ death the Chrism was sanctified only by a council of bishops (their immediate successors) headed by the primate of a local church. The Laodicea council of 343 adopted the following canon number 48:

They who are baptized must after Baptism be anointed with the heavenly chrism, and be partakers of the Kingdom of Christ.

With this canon the council sanctioned the practice of performing the Chrismation immediately after the Baptism, which probably was not always practiced in the times of the Laodicea council. The Chrismation was performed for the second time upon a person who was enthroned through the Church as a Tsar. It was called the “inaugurational Chrism” or “Anointment for Kingdom”  (τò χρίσμα τῆς βασιλείας in Greek). In this case it was the second and highest degree of the Mystery of Chrismation.

In the Old Testament times the Tabernacle, the High Priests, prophets and kings were chrismated. The Myrrh-bearing women brought the Chrism to the tomb of Christ. The Chrism is also used in the rite of consecration of a new altar in a church. Old Russia started to use the Chrism after the acceptance of Christianity. A famous Russian saying is: “We/they are anointed with the same Chrism”. It describes the relations of spiritual kinship, acquired by Christians through common participation in the Church Mysteries. Until the middle of 15th century the Russian Church used the Chrism brought from Constantinople, but since it became autocephalous, it started to prepare it herself.

The Meaning of the Mystery of Chrismation

The Holy Fathers of the Church connect the very word “Christians” with Chrismation. Saint Kyril of Jerusalem says: “After you received this holy Mystery, you are called Christians, justifying this name by your rebirth. Before you received this grace, you were not truly worthy of this name, but only approached to becoming Christians.”

Archbishop Simeon of Thessaloniki writes about the Chrismation:

The Chrismation puts the first seal and restores the image of God, damaged in us through the non-obedience. In the same way it revives the grace, blown by God into the human soul. The Chrismation contains in itself the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the treasury of His fragrance, the sign and the seal of Christ.

The order of the sanctification of Chrism rightfully belongs to the persons who have been consecrated as bishops. But since the unfortunate “reform” of the 17th century the Old Believers’ Church existed for almost two centuries without the high bishop’s rule. However, as Fyodor Melnikov testifies, such a situation did not prevent the Old Believers to lead fruitful spiritual life even before the restoration of the complete three-degree hierarchy in 1846.

The Old Believers’ Church always had enough priests… The priests of the Old Believers’ Church performed all Mysteries and rites which were in their power. They baptized, chrismated, heard confessions, gave communion, married, anointed the sick, buried the dead and so on. They did not have the power to sanctify the Chrism, for this power belongs to bishops. But this difficulty was solved according to the ancient canons of the Church. Priests had plenty of Chrism, which had been sanctified by former Orthodox Patriarchs. Even the Chrism from Patriarch Filaret was available. But with time passing it became scarce. The priests started to dilute it with the sanctified oil, which is allowed by the Church canons in case of necessity.

Priests cannot consecrate churches (temples) if they do not have an Antimins. But the Old Believers’ Church preserved ancient Antiminses, consecrated by devout bishops, which the Old Believers’ priests used to consecrate churches and celebrate the Holy Liturgy (F.Melnikov, A Short History of the Ancient Orthodox (Old Believers’) Church).

According to the Church canons, persons from Christian denominations can be accepted into Orthodoxy through Chrismation (and not through Baptism), if the right form of Baptism is preserved in their denominations. Thus, in antiquity, Arians, Macedonians, Sabbatians, Novatians, Quarto-decimans and Apollinarians were accepted into the Orthodox Church through the Chrismation according the the 7th canon of the 2nd Ecumenical Council. Representatives of Monophysitism were also accepted through Chrismation. For instance, the order of the acceptance of Armenians and Jacobites is preserved in Slavonic Nomocanons.