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WHAT IS HOLY CHRISM?
From the order of Baptism above, you will notice that immediately after being baptized, the Priest anoints you with Holy Chrism. Chrismation is a separate Sacrament from Baptism, but is performed immediately after. It is the sacrament whereby the newly baptized is bestowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and like Baptism, is God-instituted. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says the following on the Sacrament of Holy Chrism:
“Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, ye have been made conformable to the Son of God; for God having predestinated us to the adoption of sons, made us share the fashion of Christ’s glorious body. Being therefore made partakers of Christ, ye are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs, or anointed. Now ye were made Christs, by receiving the emblem of the Holy Ghost; and all things of Christ. He also bathed Himself in the river Jordan, and having imparted of the fragrance of His Godhead to the waters, He came up from them; and the Holy Ghost in substance lighted on Him, like resting upon like. In the same manner to you also, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, was given the Chrism, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost; of whom also the blessed Isaiah, in his prophecy respecting Him, says in the person of the Lord, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach glad tidings to the poor (Is. 61: 1).
For Christ was not anointed by men with oil or material ointment, but the Father having appointed Him to be the Saviour of the whole world, anointed Him with the Holy Ghost, as Peter says, Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost. And David the Prophet cried, saying, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of the kingdom; Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God even Thy God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows (Ps. 45:6). And as Christ was in truth crucified, and buried, and raised, and you in likeness are in Baptism accounted worthy of being crucified, buried, and raised together with Him, so is it with the Chrism also. As He was anointed with the spiritual oil of gladness, the Holy Ghost, who is so called, because He is the author of spiritual gladness, so ye were anointed with ointment, having been made partakers and fellows of Christ.
But beware of supposing this to be plain ointment. For as the Bread of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Ghost, is mere bread no longer, but the Body of Christ, so also this holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor [so to say] common, after the invocation, but the gift of Christ; and by the presence of His Godhead, it causes in us the Holy Ghost. It is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thine other senses; and while thy body is anointed with the visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.
And ye were first anointed on the forehead, that ye might be delivered from the shame, which the first man, when he had transgressed, bore about with him everywhere; and that with open face ye might behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). Then on your ears; that ye might receive ears quick to hear the Divine Mysteries, of which Isaiah has said, The Lord wakened mine ear to hear (Is. 50: 4); and the Lord Jesus in the Gospel, He that hath ears to hear let him hear (Matth. 11: 15). Then on your nostrils; that receiving the sacred ointment ye may say, We are to God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved (2 Cor. 2: 15). Then on your breast; that having put on the breastplate of righteousness, ye may stand against the wiles of the devil. For as Christ after His Baptism, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, went forth and vanquished the adversary, so likewise, having, after Holy Baptism and the Mystical Chrism, put on the whole armour of the Holy Ghost, do ye stand against the power of the enemy, and vanquish it, saying, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
Chrism is also symbolic of the tongues of fire that descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and were thus filled with the Holy Spirit. The Apostles in turn, passed on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to others by the laying on of their hands upon the heads of the faithful: “Then laid they their hands on them, [those who were baptized] and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8: 17). “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them” (Acts 19: 6).
The Apostles also ordained bishops who were also empowered with the laying on of their hands to give the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Church grew, it was impossible for the bishops to be present at all the Baptisms and so the Church introduced the use of the Holy Myron which through prayers by the bishop was sanctified and then given to the priests to anoint the newly baptized. In this way it was not necessary for the bishop to be present. Whether the recipient received the gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the bishop’s hand or through the Chrism, the Sacrament was truly administered, for both these are the sensible and visible elements of the Sacrament. The invisible and supernatural element is always Divine Grace.
As has already been mentioned, the Orthodox Church performs the Sacrament of Chrismation [or Confirmation as it is better known in the west] immediately after Baptism. This is how the Church received it from the Apostles and has safeguarded this practice up to the present day. The Protestants reject this Sacrament altogether, while the Roman Catholic Church, since the Council of Trent [1545-1563] postpones the holy chrism and bestows it after many years have passed because, according to her rationalistic spirit, she believes that the child must be at an “age of reason” in order to receive the holy chrism or confirmation. The Anglican Church follows the practice of the laying on of hands by the bishop again when the child comes to an age of discretion.
This most divine Sacrament was instituted by Christ Himself at the Last Supper, on the night in which He was betrayed: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take eat: this is my Body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my Blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matth. 26: 26-28). Christ also said “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22: 19). And “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6: 51, 53-56).
The Church in compliance with Christ’s bidding to “Do this in remembrance of me” celebrates this Mystery of Mysteries and will continue to celebrate it until the end of time. The service for this Sacrament is called the Divine Liturgy. The Priest, having set on the holy altar the bread and the wine, and at a time appointed during the service, repeats Christ’s words to his Apostles, “Take eat: This is my body…” and, “Drink ye all of it: This is my blood…” He then prays to the heavenly Father to make the bread the Body of Christ, and the wine the Blood of Christ, changing them by the Holy Spirit. And at precisely this moment, the Holy Spirit transmakes the elements into the Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But beware, all you who are preparing to partake of this sublime Mystery, in thinking as the Protestants do, for they do not believe that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but are simply symbols and types which represent Christ’s body and blood. If they could, they would even change the very words of our Lord, for He said “This is my body” and not this is symbolic, or a type of my body. He said “This is my blood” and not this is symbolic, or a type of my blood. Of course our eyes see bread and wine and our tongue senses the taste of bread and wine, but things are not as they appear. From the moment when the Holy Spirit descended and the Sacrament was perfected, we no longer have that which we see with our eyes or taste with our tongue. We have that which we believe, worship and adore. We have the very Body and Blood of our Christ who communicates to us life and incorruptibility.
After the Sacrament of Baptism, the Church immediately bestows upon you the Sacrament of Chrismation and then, before you depart from the Church, she invites you to partake of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Nicholas Cabasilas, writing in the 14th century says: “After the Chrismation we go to the table. This is the perfection of the life in Christ; for those who attain it there is nothing lacking for the blessedness which they seek. It is no longer death and the tomb and a participation in the better life which we receive, but the risen One Himself. Nor do we receive such gifts of the Spirit as we may, but the very Benefactor Himself, the very Temple whereon is founded the whole compass of graces”.
Having then received within us the Lord of Glory, we have become one with Christ. It follows then that our souls and our bodies are sanctified; the entire man is sanctified and thus becomes the abode of the Holy Spirit. We communicate our God and we ourselves become gods, partakers of divine life and heirs of God’s kingdom.
Another benefit is the union of all those Christians who communicate Christ in the one body, the one spiritual family, the one divine communion of sanctified and loving men. St. Paul says, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10: 17). The Eucharist, by uniting the members of the Church to Christ, at the same time unites them to one another. The Eucharist creates the unity of the Church. It is the Sacrament of the Church’s ascension to the kingdom, the Sacrament of the world to come. Amen.