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Question 74.

Father Christopher, your blessing!

As you know, the holy myrrh was sanctified this year during holy week at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I discovered that this myrrh is used during the mystery of chrismation, but I must ask: is this its only purpose? I was under the impression that the pleasant fragrance that is sprinkled on the congregation during major feast days, and on the epitaphios during the evening service on holy Friday was called myrrh.

With all due respect,
Evangelos.

 

Answer to Question 74.

Dear Evangelos,
During the early years of Christianity, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were imparted to the newly baptised through the laying on of hands by the Apostles. As the Church grew and the number of those being baptised greatly increased, it was impossible for the Apostles and their successors - the Bishops to be present, so the use of the Holy Myron (Holy Chrism) was introduced to transmit the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the baptised. Since then this has been the practice of the Church till the present day.
The Holy Myron is made and sanctified every ten years at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Beginning on Palm Sunday, five large copper vessels similar to caldrons are filled with 57 various oils, scented plants and other fragrances symbolising the variety of gifts from the Holy Spirit. Everyday until Holy Thursday special services are said for the Myron which is heated and stirred until the right consistency is reached. The Myron is then poured into smaller containers and carried to the Church where on Great Thursday the sanctification takes place.
The newly Sanctified Holy Myron is then distributed to other Churches around the world for use in the Mystery of Chrismation following Baptism, Chrismation of heterodox (non-Orthodox) joining the Church and the re-Chrismation of those who have fallen away from the Church and now return to the Orthodox Church. The Holy Myron is also used in the consecration of Churches, Holy Altars and certain Holy vessels like the Chalice. In the past it was also used to anoint Orthodox Kings during their coronation. Apart from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Holy Myron is also made by the Patriarchates of Moscow, Belgrade and Bucharest.
The sprinkling used during feast days and on the Epitaphios is something completely different and it is not blessed. Basically it is rose water or water mixed with cologne or perfume. The basic ingredient is water which is why it can be sprinkled whereas Holy Myron is basically oil which has a much thicker consistency and cannot be sprinkled effectively. Some people might call these perfumed waters myron (myrrh) but this just signified that they are aromatic. Myrrh is an aromatic resin taken from trees and shrubs and used in perfumes. Justifiably all perfumes can be called myrrh, but that does not make them holy.
In many places, especially villages in Orthodox countries like Cyprus, there is the custom where the person who has observed a feast and made an offering of the five loaves (Artoklasia) will stand next to the Priest at the appointed time and as the people come to venerate the Icon of the feast, he/she will cense the people with incense and sprinkle in their hands rose water or cologne. Iím not sure if there is a proper explanation and accepted symbolism behind this custom, but it was something I was asked about by my group who attend the weekly talk that I give and I gave them the following answer.
Incense is something we offer to God and in the usual prayer for the blessing of the incense we ask God to receive the sweet smelling savour of spiritual fragrance, and to accept it upon his heavenly altar; and in exchange to send down upon us the grace of his most Holy Spirit. In this case the prayer offered by the priest at the blessing of the incense is different: it is a petition for the person: ďAgain we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, visitation, forgiveness and remission of the sins of the servants of God, - (and the names the person or persons for whom the five loaves were offered). When we come and receive the incense we wish them Xronia Polla (Many years) so with the priest's prayer for them we also offer our prayers and good wishes for their good health and salvation.
It could also symbolize that we are offered incense because we are created in Godís image and just as we offer incense to God we offer it to each other in recognition of Godís image in all of us. The rose water or cologne could also be offered in recognition that we are all members of the one body of Christ. During the Lamentation Service on Holy and Great Friday Evening, the Priest sprinkles the Epitaphio, which is the embroidered Icon of Christí burial, with rose water which symbolically represents the myrrh with which Christ was embalmed. It can also represent the very precious ointment that a certain woman poured on Jesusí head as he sat at meat in the house of Simon the Leper and to which Christ said she did it in anticipation of his burial. If, as the Gospels teach us, we should see Christ in each of us, then this last interpretation is more than justifiable and we are all worthy to be anointed with precious ointment. This is also supported by the custom of the sprinkling. You will notice that when they receive the perfumed water in the hands many immediately apply it to their hair as though they were anointing their head.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher