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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 termanointingindicates the

communication to the faithful of a spiritual gift. But it is evident that the termanointing” 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 wordChristian” in a close bond with

Chrismation.” Chrisma and Christos in Greek signifyanointment” 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 [1] 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 calledconfirmation”)

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.

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