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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The Mystery of Chrismation is performed usually immediately after the Mystery of Baptism,
comprising together with it a single church rite. The performer of the Mystery, the bishop or
priest, “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 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 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; and b) the seal of the grace-given powers which are bestowed in it for strengthening
and growth in spiritual life.
St. Cyprian writes, “Those baptized in the Church are sealed by the seal of the Lord after the
example of the baptized Samaritans who were received by the Apostles Peter and John through
laying on of hands and prayer (Acts 8:14-17). That which was lacking in them, Peter and John
accomplished . . . Thus is it also with us . . . They are made perfect by the seal of the Lord.” In
other Fathers of the Church also, Chrismation is called a “seal” (Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of
Jerusalem), “the spiritual seal” (Ambrose of Milan), “the seal of eternal life” (Leo the Great),
“the confirmation” (The Apostolic Constitutions), “the perfection” or “culmination” (Clement of
Alexandria, Ambrose). St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “By the seal of the Holy Spirit are sealed
all the entrances into your soul; by the seal of the anointing all your members are sealed.” St.
Basil the Great asks: “How will your angel dispute over you, how will he seize you from the enemy,
if he does not know the seal? . . . Or do you not know that the destroyer passed over the
houses of those who were sealed, and killed the first-born in the houses of those who were unsealed?
An unsealed treasure is easily stolen by thieves; an unmarked sheep may safely be taken
This Mystery 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.
The original means of the performance of this mystery.
These gifts of the Holy Spirit originally were given in the earliest Church through the laying
on of hands.
Concerning this we read in the book of Acts (8:14-16), where it is related that the 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 LordJesus. Then laid they their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” Likewise in Acts
19:2-6 we read about the Apostle Paul, that when Paul met disciples in Ephesus who had been
baptized only with the baptism of John, “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 newlyconverted,
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 a two-fold supposition: Either the Apostles, in giving the
Holy Spirit to believers through the laying on 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 (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 Apostles). But however it may have been, anointment undoubtedly comes from
the Apostles, and for them it had its foundation in instructions from their Divine Teacher. The
Apostle Paul writes: “Now he which stablisheth 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” (1 Cor.
1:21-22). The very words which perform the Sacrament, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,”
are closely bound up with this expression of the Apostle. The Apostle writes: “Grieve not the
Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are signed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 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 of the Apostle John we read: “But ye have an unction from the Holy
One, and ye know all things. And further, The anointing which ye have received of Ham 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” (1 John
2:20-27). In the words quoted from the 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
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 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “you are worthily called
‘Christians,’ that is, ‘anointed ones;’ and concerning you God has said, “Touch not Mine
anointed ones.” (Ps 104:15).
In the account of the eighth chapter of the Acts of the 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 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 of the gifts
of the Spirit, this laying on of hands (and the Chrismation that later took its place) was at thesame 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 was performed
by the Apostles themselves and their successors the bishops, as overseers of the members
of the Church, whereas even the performance of the Eucharist had always been given to presbyters
With the extraordinary spreading of the holy Faith, when people began to turn to Christ in
all the countries of the world, the 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 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 Apostles and
bishops themselves, while the anointment of the baptized with the sanctified chrism was left to
presbyters. 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; 1 Kings [1 Sam.] 16:13; 3  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 forbids presbyters only to sanctify the Chrism.
Chrism and sanctification.
Just as it was the Apostles who were sent to the baptized Samaritans in order to bring down
upon them the Holy Spirit, so also in the Mystery 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 Apostles. The sanctification of myrrh occurs in a special solemn sacred rite, with the participation,
when possible, of other bishops of the Church (The Patriarch or chief Metropolitan consecrates
the chrism for the whole of his local Church.).
In the West, the separation of Chrismation from Baptism occurred in about the 13th century.
Moreover, at the present time in the Roman church the anointment (which is called “confirmation”)
is performed only on 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 Roman church to those who have become seven years of age, and it is performed
by a bishop.
Apart from the Mystery of Chrismation, the myrrh is used also in exceptional circumstances.
Thus, at the sanctification of a Church there is performed the signing with the holy myrrh of the
holy Altar-table, upon which the Mystery 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 accession to the royal throne of Orthodox kings.