Today, perhaps as never before we need to understand as clearly as possible our need of the Sacraments/The Holy Mysteries of Chrismation, Baptism and Communion. To really understand Chrismation, we must also look at the Sacraments/Holy Mysteries of Baptism and Communion, for the three are linked together, for us as Orthodox Catholic Christians, into an understanding of who we are in Christ Jesus our Lord, our God and our Savior.
A sacrament is to be understood as a gift and not merely a liturgical act; therefore reference to the Sacrament of Chrismation is best stated as a grace given rather than a performed liturgical rite.
As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we understand the Sacrament of Chrismation is more clearly understood within the context of the tripartite rite variously called the Holy Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and Communion in that precise order of administration. Indeed, each is a separate gift of Divine Grace yet the blessings of each sacrament that are imparted to the recipient become conjoined finally with the essence of the Holy Trinity that has clothed the individual with Divine Adoption, the Energies and Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Membership into the Mystical Body of Christ that is the Holy Church. We understand that sacramental graces are unique and particular. But, at the same time they collectively and cohesively co-operate with each other as the life of the Christian develops in the Holy Church.
Therefore, the three sacraments within the rite of Christian Baptism and Chrismation are essential to the wholeness and wholesomeness of the life of every believer. The road toward salvation is opened through the spiritual bath of Baptism in water and is generated with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit by the anointing rite of Chrismation. Finally salvation is assured with the reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the Christ. These three Sacraments when administered in this sequential manner introduce the newly Baptized and Chrismated to the experience and hope of Salvation.
Orthodox Christianity as expressed through Orthodox Catholicism affirms that one's spiritual development, growth, maturation and fortification can only come about by a consistent exposure and unified experience of God's grace. Therefore this faith experience is the way to salvation.
Conforming to early church practice of immediate inclusiveness, i.e. persons of every age and gender, the Orthodox Catholic Church adheres to the belief that everyone should immediately identify with the community of believers and become truly part of the believing community in all things; from the waters of the font, by and through the Spirit, to the table of the Lord. All these moments of grace are essential and important.
It is difficult to speak about the Sacrament of Chrismation in an isolated fashion without maintaining a constant regard for and reference to the water rite of Baptism. In fact, the action of Chrismation, unfolds within the baptismal rite when the water itself is anointed. Therefore it will be important to refer periodically to the water blessing in the font as the meaning of the anointing sacrament is further explored and explicated.
The mystery of Baptism is the beginning of the life in Christ, causing men to exist, live and excel in true life and being.
From the eternal point of view, baptism incorporates a person as a child of the Eternal Heavenly Father into the Body of Christ. Through and by the grace of this sacrament, one has been purchased outright by God Our Father and begins to develop a new spiritual life which sets him/her free from sin, making possible one's reconciliation with God. With these Divine Graces there is a completed and harmonious unity with God.
Water is one of the primary, most ancient and universal of all religious symbols. There can be no life without water yet paradoxically it can destroy and annihilate life. Sacred scripture reveals in the Old Testament that through the blessed water, God is present: The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, upon many waters. (Psalm 29:3)
Without the presence of God, humankind is doomed. But as the psalmist's declaration reveals, his power-filled presence assures the redemptive and salvific action within all creation. When consecrated, water indeed does save as it acquires the very breath of God; permeating all created beings with his holy presence.
In the actual rite of blessing, for instance in both the Armenian and Syrian rites, water is anointed with the Holy Chrism (Meron) and is infused with the Holy Spirit and presence of the Christ. Saint Ambrose comments on this divine epiphany saying, "The water does not heal if the Spirit does not descend to consecrate it. The water which has the grace of Christ heals."
The Prayer Over the Water that appears in the Armenian rite, for instance, gives us the idea of this spiritual glory and authority and in prayer is an Epiklesis addressed to the Holy Spirit requesting Divine action and descent for the sanctification of the water. "We now therefore pray thee, O Lord, send thine Holy Spirit into this water and sanctify the same....And grant that this water...be unto him/her for the remission of sins and for the reception of the Holy Spirit."
The Holy Chrism is used not only to sanctify the water but to permeate it. The water truly becomes the Christ Clothing into which the catechumen is immersed. Finally, the newly Baptized is attired by donning a spiritual Garment of Salvation.
Christ now dwells in the water which washes, cleanses, forgives, saves and finally clothes. This is verbally proclaimed by the priest, "You that have been baptized in Christ and have put on Christ. Alleluia. You that have been enlightened in the Father, the Holy Spirit shall rejoice in you. Alleluia."
The Chrismation rite is uniquely understood as the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Yet it still refers to the water rite whereon the Spirit first hovered.
It is important to understand its the origin and semiotic character. In the Old Testament writings, anointing is first associated with authority. On the direct command of God, Moses received the tradition of the authority of the priesthood, kingship and prophecy (Exodus 28:1; 19:10). This theophany to Moses on Mount Sinai was a type of sealing or sign, that imbued him with the authority to establish the priesthood. Although Moses ,at first, anointed Aaron as a priest, the rite of anointing that later developed in the Hebraic tradition imparted an authority associated with kingship as well. It was first used by Samuel, in the anointing of King David (1 Kings 16:1) and then in the anointing of Saul, (1 Kings 10:1). Yet the ritual of anointing raises a question concerning the particular usage of oil as a symbol of God's salvific power and authority and not any other kind of liquid.
Like water, oil has also acquired a functional purpose in creation and as been likewise seen as an emblem of grace. It has been used as medicine for healing, fuel to create light and warmth and as food to sustain life. Moreover, oil is a symbol of reconciliation and peace.
After the Great Flood, a dove, bearing in its mouth a branch from an olive tree, came to Noah and assured him of the end of the flood, of God's forgiveness and of his own reconciliation with the Almighty Lord God (Genesis 8:11). Thus, this oil from the fruit of the olive tree encumbers a number of semiotic allusions; as an act of redemption and reconciliation, a sign of protection and safety, a sign of authority, leadership, commission and creation of new life. But most importantly, it signifies that God's covenant with all of humankind since creation has not been abandoned but has been faithfully kept as Promise. This covenant is to restore all things to Himself; those things in heaven and on earth. With and by this oil, He is present and all who are sealed and anointed by this oil are imbued with His presence as proclaimed by the Holy Prophet Isaiah, ""The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me with oil, he has sent me to bring the good news to the poor." (Isaiah 61:1)
It is therefore essential to understand this prelude to the actual Sacramental rite of Chrismation. In the ritual this holy oil not only conveys the symbolisms already explained but more importantly effectuates the mystical presence of Christ's Holy Spirit. Finally through unction our own mystical transformation is made possible by the grace given with the Blessed Meron, The Oil of Gladness.
Thus, oil is used to seal, consecrate, validate and establish the presence of the Kingdom made manifest upon those whom this mark of anointing has been placed. Protection, sanctification commission and ministry are all effectuated by the mystical power and grace of the Holy Spirit with the oil which marks and identifies the believer.
As a seal oil is used to mark those called to salvation granting protection to them as explained in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, "And the Lord said to him, go through the city of Jerusalem and set a mark upon the foreheads...touch not any man upon whom is the mark." (Ezekiel 9: 4-6)
With this oil of Chrism, Meron, those who are marked and anointed with it become God's full possession; saved...and...sanctified. Furthermore,the anointed ones become participants in process of theosis, i.e. taking part in the Divine Nature of God. Hence, this Orthodox doctrine is made manifest by this heavenly grace imparted and given with the particular Sacrament of Chrismation.
Thus Chrismation spurs these dynamics of Divine Power; Theophany, Sanctification and Theosis. They are both inherently present and operative in the life of the believer. The holy unction with Meron is truly God's act of claiming full possession of us who he has purchased outright through the water rite of Baptism though not yet removed [us] to his own warehouse Kingdom.
This particular oil is called Chrism that derives its name from the Greek word Chrismata which itself means anointing. It is also known by the word of Semitic origin Myron or Meron, [in Armenian Miuron] which means sweet ointment. The Chrism used in the Sacrament fundamentally consists of olive oil mixed with the precious balsam perfumes and essences of forty-eight kinds of flowers and other sweet smelling herbs and ingredients.
The actual prescription for preparing a type of Meron/Chrism oil that serves as a paradigm to such oils prepared today is explained in the second book of the Pentateuch:
Moreover the Lord said to Moses, Take the finest spices; of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred and fifty, and of aromatic cone two hundred and fifty, and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary and of olive oil , a hin; and of these you shall make a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumes, a holy anointing oil it shall be...and you shall anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests, and you shall say to the people of Israel, This shall be my holy an anointing oil throughout your generation. (Exodus 30; 22-30)
It is with such oil that Christians are anointed and become a Royal People, imbued and dressed with a Christ-like essence, as Saint Cyril of Jerusalem explains, "Take care not to imagine that this Myron is anything ordinary...(but) after the epiclesis, but the charism of Christ, made efficacious of the Holy Spirit by the presence of His Divinity." The sacred scriptures further clarify the significance of this oil as the very essence and presence of Christ Our God, "Your name is ointment poured upon me." (Canticle 1: 3)
The Chrism is the Lord Jesus THE CHRIST Himself. The Spirit of Jesus called Christos (Greek for the Anointed One) is this Meron, sweet anointing ointment, the mystical and spirit- filled presence of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Lord God -- the hypostasis of Godhead and manhood.
With the celebration of the rite of Chrismation, humankind immediately experiences Theosis and at once participates in the Divine Nature of God. We become that which is poured upon us (cf. Canticle 1:3). "It is as though the vessel of the alabaster were by some means to become the chrism it contains." (cf. Mark 14: 3)
As occurred in the water rite of Baptism, in this anointing rite we become clothed again with Christ. We become a new Christos. This new Christos is not only imbued with Christ's Holy Spirit, His Godliness, prayer, and love and compassion but he/she receives by this grace a crystal clear identity, truly confirmed and validated before the Eternal Heavenly Father.
From the waters of the font through and by the sealing with the Holy Meron the gift of Chrismation assures a genuine continuity between the entrance into and participation in the Mystical Body of Christ -- His Holy Church. It is finally through the Eucharist that this membership is maintained. The sacramental anointing balances this new life acquired by the grace of Baptism and by the believer attiring and putting on the Christ Clothing to ultimately become the fabric itself; a new Christos. The grace of Chrismation strengthens and confirms, one's life in the Holy Church, which moves toward an everlasting life into The Kingdom and it eternally remains the energy of that movement or spiritual progress towards the Kingdom of God forever belonging to Christ.
This chrism is perceived not just as a Divine Energia but the persona of the Holy Spirit of Christ Himself. The act of anointing clarifies one's identity and membership into the sacred fellowship of Christ. All who have been anointed form the new physical and mystical Body of Christ. The chrismated believer becomes truly A Christian in the very essence, nature and spirit of the prototype The Christos, Jesus Himself. Identity then is not conceptual but substantive; not merely Christian but "A Christian."
Everything which this Christian does hereafter is marked with Christ and His Holy Spirit so that he/she may be a temple and a dwelling of thy Godhead and may be able to walk in the ways of righteousness.
Christ's residency is validated by the sealing with the Holy Meron. This seal is placed upon every part of the body that makes manifest His presence in us and through us -- both individually and corporately in the Body of Christ. The sanctification of the human physical body through anointing is done so with the intention that the Mystical Body, The Holy Church is likewise marked, blessed and will be the final repository of grace. By the Faith of the believer and the Works borne and performed by that faith, ultimately the Church will become that which is poured upon it a temple and dwelling of thy Godhead. The believer through his/her works and deeds, wrought through the anointed senses of the body, i.e. the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, hands, heart, back and feet, will become a New Christos.
It is finally through the Sacrament of Chrismation that the Church is given life and breath. All who are anointed who have become members of the Church are enabled to enjoin one another now in sharing in the mystery of The Christ Jesus in His Body and His Blood at the Holy Eucharistic banquet.
Since the earliest tradition of the church until the present, this reserved privilege, sharing Christ in His Body and Blood, is predicated upon one's full membership into the Christian Community. Such an identity is ratified and validated in the Orthodox Christian tradition through the Sacrament of Chrismation.
This practice is rooted in the Mosaic Law concerning (cf. regarding circumcision) membership. And now this same regard is transferred to the Christian view of Table fellowship and Eucharistic sharing. Circumcision was a seal of the covenant, and only those who were circumcised could partake of table fellowship. This praxis became transferred and basic to the Church. Only those who were Chrismated and confirmed with the seal of Jesus Christ were allowed to enter into Communion with Him at His Holy Eucharist.
Unless one is born of the water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (John 3: 3).
As the Sacrament of Baptism becomes one's spiritual birth as a child of God, the Sacrament of Chrismation is the movement of this new life toward God's Kingdom -- a spiritual progress. It is a life now conform able to the Son of God; a life of Theosis, i.e. becoming Christ and participating in His Divine Nature in entering His Kingdom.
Through Chrismation, humankind is born in the Spirit and progresses toward perfection. Though the power of these gifts of the Spirit are not all visibly manifested at the very moment of the ceremony but later in the spiritual progress of the life of the New Christos it is certain that this powers' origin and cause is of the Divine Godhead Himself.
Thus Chrismation is the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT of which Our Lord speaks. It is our personal Pentecost. Through this sealing, confirmation and anointing rite, the Holy Spirit opens up our physical senses and gives the newly baptized the potential ability and energy to progress in the knowledge of the Triune God and to practice the virtues of faith, hope and a charity in the light of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The tradition of the Orthodox Christianity, thus teaches the immediate need of Chrismation as essential grace to give that mystical breath, spirit and energy to the body born in the waters of Baptism. The body cannot move without the energy, guidance and grace of the Spirit which is the breath of God placed upon us through this holy anointing. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. And saying this he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20: 19-23)
Christ's Holy Spirit with which we are graced and clothed at Chrismation becomes His Breath upon and in us in the same way as He breathed upon the Apostles. His Breath is now our breath, His Spirit now resides in us.
Both the water rite of Baptism and the anointing rite of Chrismation in the theology and tradition of Orthodox Christianity are essential to one's salvation. Each sacramental grace having its unique salvific dynamic yet both dependent upon each other in preserving the continuity of spiritual progress toward perfection and life in God's Heavenly Kingdom.
While some non-Orthodox communions emphasize the Chrismation rite in terms of community membership alone, the Orthodox perception is more comprehensive because of the union with the Baptismal rite. It is by this anointing one's salvation begins with the marking of the water and the sealing of the body.
In conclusion, Orthodox theology of the sacraments is rooted in the concept of wholeness. The sacraments which are each individual gifts of grace are likewise and even simultaneously components of wholeness of the soul and spirit. When these sacramental graces are received, the believer moves closer in spiritual progress toward experiencing all the fullness of God. The sacraments, thus, are genuinely those gifts which show the plan of God as he designed it for all humanity.
Through the Orthodox Catholic rite of Chrismation -- the gift of Spiritual Baptism -- assures us of the presence of God's grace which is Christ Jesus Himself. Our Savior's spirit is poured upon us in order to heal, make whole, and totally unite us with Himself and bring us unto Salvation. Through this spiritual progress of every Christian, by the anointing with the Holy Meron, one's completeness is achieved as the sweetness of this Life and Breath of Christ binds us all to God and to each other. Christ is our common antecedent and common denominator; the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the road to salvation and it is by and with His Holy Spirit we are able to move toward the Kingdom. As He said, "Unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the Kingdom of God." (John 3:1-8)
Now the grand design of God's plan though appearing to be completed yet commences. The life of a Christian has just begun and will be completed in eternity, in the Heavenly Jerusalem, In Thy Kingdom Come.
Yes, Chrismation is very necessary in this day and age, but necessary also within the understanding of Baptism and Holy Communion as well.
Blessings to each of you. AMEN...,
+Perry (Joseph Benedict) Sills, S.T.D.
The Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church in America
San Jose, California
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