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

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


The Original Means of the Performance of this Mystery

These gifts of the Holy Spirit were originally given in the earliest Church through the laying on of hands.

Concerning this we read in the book of Acts (8:14-17), where it is related that the Holy Apostles who were in Jerusalem, having heard that the Samaritans had received the word of God, sent to them Peter and John, who came and prayed for them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit: "For as yet He was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit." Likewise in Acts 19:2-6 we read about the Holy Apostle Paul, that when Saint Paul met disciples in Ephesus who had been baptized only with the baptism of St. John the Baptist, "when they heard this, they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus; and when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them." From these accounts in the book of Acts we see that in certain cases the Grace-giving actions of the Mysteries of Baptism and its seal, the laying on of hands, were expressed by immediate visible manifestations of the illumination of the Holy Spirit, joined to the spiritual joy of the newly converted, that they had been joined to the holy community, and that for them there had begun a new Grace-giving life.

In what way did the Grace-giving laying on of hands become the Grace-giving anointment with oil? Concerning this we may make the twofold supposition: Either the Apostles, in giving the Holy Spirit to believers through the laying of hands, at the same time inseparably used also a different sign, anointing, concerning which the book of Acts, however, is silent; or, what is more probable, they themselves changed the visible sign of the Mystery (Sacrament) [the laying on of hands], perhaps in the beginning in cases where they themselves were absent, replacing it with another visible sacred act (the anointment of the newly-baptized with myrrh which had been received from the hands of the Holy Apostles). But however, it may have been, anointment undoubtedly comes from the Holy Apostles, and for them it had its foundation in instructions from their Divine Teacher. The Holy Apostle Paul writes: "Now He Who establisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). The very words which perform the Mystery (Sacrament), "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit," are closely bound up with this expression of the Holy Apostle. The Holy Apostle writes: "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are signed unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). The "day of redemption" in Sacred Scripture indicates Baptism. By the sign of the Holy Spirit, evidently, is to be understood the "seal of the Holy Spirit," which immediately follows Baptism.

Likewise, in the Epistle (Letter) of the Holy Apostle John we read: "But ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things." And further, "The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you. But as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him" (I John 2:20, 27). In the words quoted from the Holy Apostles Paul and John the term "anointing" indicates the communication to the faithful of a "spiritual gift." But it is evident that the term "anointing" could be used in the spiritual significance precisely because Christians had before their eyes a material anointing.

The Holy Fathers of the Church place the very word "Christian" in a close bond with "Chrismation." Chrisma and Christos in Greek signify "anointment" and "the Anointed One." "Having become participants of Christ," says Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, "you are worthily called 'Christians,' that is, 'anointed ones'; and concerning you God has said, "Touch not Mine anointed ones" (Psalm 104:15).

In the account of the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Holy Apostles we learn (a) that after the preaching of the Deacon, Apostle Philip, in Samaria, many persons, both men and women, were baptized; and (b) that then the Holy Apostles who were in Jerusalem, having heard that the Samaritans had received the word of God, sent to the Samaritans Peter and John specifically in order to place their hands upon the baptized so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-17). This allows us to conclude that apart from the profoundly mystical side of the sending down on the gifts of the Spirit, this laying of hands (and the Chrismation that later took its place) was at the same time "a confirmation of the correctness " of the Baptism and the seal of the "uniting" of baptized persons to the Church. In view of the facts that (1) the baptism with water had been performed long before this as a baptism of repentance, and (2) quite apart from this, at that time, as throughout the course of Church history, there were heretical baptisms, this second Mystery (Sacrament) was performed by the Holy Apostles themselves and their successors, the bishops, as overseers of the members of the Church, whereas even the performances of the Eucharist had always been given to Presbyters (Priests) also.

With the extraordinary spreading of the holy Faith, when people began to turn to Christ in all the countries of the world, the Holy Apostles and their immediate successors, the bishops, could not personally be everywhere so as immediately after Baptism to bring down the Holy Spirit upon all the baptized through the laying on of hands. It may be that this is why it was "pleasing to the Holy Spirit" Who dwelt in the Holy Apostles to replace the laying on of hands by the act of Chrismation, with the rule that the sanctification of the Chrism should be performed by the Holy Apostles and Bishops themselves, while the anointment of the baptized with the sanctified Chrism was left to Presbyters (Priests). Chrism (myrrh) and no other kind of material was chosen in this case because in the Old Testament the anointment with myrrh was performed for the sending down upon people of special spiritual gifts (see Ex. 28:41; I Kings [I Sam.] 16:13; III Kings 1:39). Tertullian writes: "After coming up from the font, we are anointed with blessed oil, according to the ancient rite, as of old it was the custom to anoint to the priesthood with oil from a horn." The Sixth Canon of the Council of Carthage only forbids Presbyters to "sanctify the Chrism."

Chrism and Its Sanctification

Just as it was the Holy Apostles who were sent to the baptized Samaritans in order to bring down upon them the Holy Spirit, so also in the Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation, the myrrh which is used, according to the decree of the Church, must be sanctified by a bishop, as the highest successor of the Holy Apostles. The sanctification of myrrh occurs in a special solemn sacred rite, with the participation, when possible, of other bishops of the Church.

In the Latin West (Roman Catholicism), the separation of Chrismation from Baptism occurred in about the 13th century. Moreover, at the present time in Roman Catholicism the anointment (which is called "confirmation") is performed only upon the brow, whereas in the Orthodox Church the anointment with myrrh is made upon the brow, the eyes, the nostrils, the lips, the ears, the breast, the hands and feet. It is given in the Latin West to those who have become seven (7) years of age, and it is performed by a bishop.

Apart from the Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation, the myrrh is used also in exceptional circumstances. Thus, at the sanctification (Consecration) of a church there is performed the signing with the Holy Myrrh of the Holy Altar Table, upon which the Mystery (Sacrament), of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ will be performed, and likewise of the walls of the church. As a special rite, the anointment with myrrh is also performed at the ascension to the royal throne of Orthodox kings.

Next: The Mystery (Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist.



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!"


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

+Father George