The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments): The Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


[Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky]

The Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation is performed usually immediately after the Mystery of Baptism, comprising together with it a single church rite. The performer of the Mystery (Sacrament), the bishop o rpriest, "anoints the one who has been baptized with Holy Myrrh, making the sign of the Cross on the brow and eyes, the nostrils, the lips, both ears, the breast, and the hands and feet" (from the Book of Needs); while signing each part of the body he pronounces the words, "The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit." This Mystery (Sacrament) is also performed on those who are united to the Church from heretical communities as one of the means of their being united to the Church. The words by which the Mystery (Sacrament) is performed, "the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit," indicate its significance and effect. It is a) the culminating act of "being united" to the Church, the confirmation or seal of union; b) "the seal of the grace-given powers" which are bestowed in it for strengthening and growth in spiritual life.

Please note: The Sanctification of the Holy Myrrh (the Chrism Oil used in the Orthodox Church for the Mystery of Chrismation) took place at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Phanar, with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presiding and the participation of approximately 55 Orthodox Hierarchs from around the world, including representatives from the Senior Patriarchate of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the Patriarchate of Serbia, the Autocephalous Churches of Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania and the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

This auspicious celebration that takes place approximately once every ten years, when the reserve of Holy Myrrh nears depletion...Holy Myrrh is sanctified to be used in the celebration of the Mystery of Holy Chrism, one of the Seven Mysteries (Sacraments). It is a visible means of the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized. The Ecumenical Patriarchate distributes the Holy Myrrh to the Orthodox Churches throughout the world...On Holy Monday, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, the Patriarch approaches the "Kouvouklion" (ceremonial canopy), which is adjacent to the Patriarchal Church of Saint George. This is where the cauldrons for the chafing of the Holy Myrrh were placed. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch blesses the beginning of the series of sacred services for the sanctification of Holy Myrrh by holding the service of Aghiasmos (the ritual for Holy Water). He then sprinkles the materials which had been prepared, the utensils to be used, and the cauldrons, with the Holy Water. Holding the triple archieratical lit candles, he ignites pieces of old holy icons mixed with kindling which had been placed under each cauldron. Continuing, the Patriarch reads certain chapters from the Holy Gospels. The reading of these passages from the New Testament continues by other Hierarchs present, the Clergy of the Patriarchal Court, and other clergy. This order of readings continue all day throughout Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday.

On Holy Tuesday, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Patriarch entered the holy Kouvouklion again as the Lesser Supplication to the Theotokos was chanted. He commemorated all who either with materials, with monetary gifts, or with their labor have contributed for the preparation of Holy Myrrh.

On Holy Wednesday, at the conclusion of the Presanctified Divine Liturgy, His All Holiness once again entered the holy Kouvouklion and after a brief prayer service poured rose oil, musk and the remainder of the fragrant oils into the cauldrons. By the end of the day the chafing of the Holy Myrrh had been completed and it was transferred by the Perfumes to large silver vases and small chrismatories.

The Holy Myrrh is prepared fifty seven ingredients; olive oil and a variety of fragrant oils, essences and aromatics according to an official register of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. These symbolize the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit which are received by the Christian who is being anointed. The most ancient particular references, concerning the materials for the myrrh, and for the preparation and chafing of the ingredients to be used, date from the 8th Century. This is the earliest description we have, and it has been preserved to this day.

On Holy Thursday, after the dismissal of the Service of Orthros (Matins), conducted in the Chapel of Saint Andrew the Apostle and the vesting of the Patriarch and the Hierarchs, they descend from the Patriarchal Manse to the Patriarchal Church of Saint George proceeding in litany with the ringing of the bells. His All Holiness holds a small silver chrismatory (vial for Myrrh) and the most senior of the Hierarchs holds a global vase of alabaster containing Pre-sanctified Myrrh, from the previous sanctification, while the second Hierarch in seniority carries one with new not as yet sanctified Myrrh. The remainder of the Hierarchs carry small silver vessels containing Myrrh prepared for sanctification. Twenty four Archimandrites, followed the procession in pairs, holding on either side, twelve silver urns containing Myrrh to be sanctified.

Toward the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great and as the congregation knelt down in prayer, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sanctified the Holy Myrrh according to the prescribed order. Following the Divine Liturgy, a procession identical in order to the earlier one was formed. The alabaster global vases and the other silver vessels containing Holy Myrrh were deposited in the Patriarchal Repository of Holy Myrrh (Myrofylakion).

The sanctification of Holy Myrrh is celebrated only by bishops, never by presbyters. This tradition in the Church is steadfast and unanimous...This common right of all bishops gradually devolved to the bishops of certain established Churches; to the Patriarchs, and finally only to the Ecumenical Patriarch. In other words, whereas each and every bishop has the hierarchical right to sanctify Holy Myrrh, canon law does not permit him. It appears there are three principal reasons which contributed to this curtailing of the right of bishops to sanctify Holy Myrrh. To begin with, it was given to the Primates of each ecclesiastical jurisdiction and then ultimately given to the Ecumenical Patriarch.

The first of these reasons is the rarity of the elements involved and the difficulty for each bishop to procure them for the preparation of the Holy Myrrh. Second, is the constantly increasing exaltation of the First, or Primate of the broader ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Third, is the prominent place, with the passing of centuries, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate received from the Patriarchates of the East, and the maternal bond of the Church of Constantinople with the Churches whose people received the Christian faith from its missionaries.

In reality, the concentration of this right to sanctify Holy Myrrh given to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not to be understood as a dependency or subordination of the other Churches, but rather as a tangible and visible sign of the unity of the bond of the various Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches toward the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is necessary point, not for the exaltation of the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Orthodoxy, but for the existence of a perceptible indication of the unity of the totality of the local Orthodox Churches. That notwithstanding, today in the Orthodox Church the Patriarchates of Moscow, Belgrade, and Bucharest sanctify Holy Myrrh in addition to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and perhaps even some other Orthodox Churches...

Holy Myrrh is also used for the reception of converts into the Orthodox church and for those who have fallen away; for the dedication of Churches; the Consecration of holy Altars; the Consecration of holy Antimensions; and for certain other instances of ritual. In the past it was also used to anoint Orthodox Emperors during their coronation.]

This Mystery (Sacrament) is likewise called the "gift of the Spirit" (St. Isidore of Pelusium), "the mystery of the Spirit" (Tertullian and Hilarion), "the symbol of the Spirit" (St. Cyril of Jerusalem), St. Cyprian testifies that the ancients, speaking of the words of the Lord concerning the birth by water and the Spirit, understood the birth by water to be Baptism in the strict sense, and the birth by the Spirit to be Chrismation.

(Next: The Original Means of the Performance of this Mystery)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George