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The Sacrament of Chrismation in the Oriental Orthodox Church

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  • Thomas Daniel
    Window Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4, 1992 Copyright 1992 [Permission is granted to use, print, reproduce this article provided the following acknowledgment is
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 24, 2001
      Window Quarterly
      Vol. 2, No. 4, 1992
      Copyright 1992

      [Permission is granted to use, print, reproduce this article provided
      the following acknowledgment is given: From Window Quarterly 2,4
      (1992); ACRAG c.1992.

      The Sacrament of Chrismation in the Oriental Orthodox Church

      By Fr. Garabed Kochakian

      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. The explication set forth is primarily based upon the ceremony
      celebrated in the Armenian Orthodox tradition, however the theology
      of the sacrament itself is consonant and in compliance with the
      Christological understanding among all the Oriental Orthodox
      Churches; namely, the Syrian Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox, the
      Ethiopian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Church of India otherwise
      known as Malabar.

      In the tradition of all the national Oriental Orthodox Churches the
      Sacrament of Chrismation is more clearly understood within the
      context of the tripartite rite variously called THE RITE OF CHRISTIAN
      INITIATION that includes 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
      Initiation 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 neophyte to the experience and hope of Salvation.

      Oriental Orthodoxy 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, Oriental Orthodoxy adheres to the
      belief that everyone should immediately identify with the community
      and become truly part of the 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, in particular 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 is an
      Epiclesis 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
      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
      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.
      Anointing as Seal

      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).

      The Holy Chrism

      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
      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 {the Anointed One Gk.} is this Meron, sweet
      anointing ointment, the mystical and spirit- filled presence of the
      Incarnate Word, Jesus Lord God-- the hypostasis of Godhead and

      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.

      Into the Body of Christ

      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
      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.

      It is noteworthy to mention that in accordance with the rite in the
      Armenian Orthodox tradition, this anointing is done always in the
      name of Jesus Christ; making a new Christos (anointed one). "Sweet
      ointment in the name of Jesus Christ is poured upon thee as a seal
      of the incorruptible heavenly gifts."

      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

      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.

      Communion In Christ

      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 Oriental Orthodox
      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.

      Born In The Spirit

      "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
      conformable 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

      The tradition of the Orthodox, 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:

      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 the Oriental Orthodox Church 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.

      The Oriental Orthodox rite of Chrismation--the gift of Spiritual
      Baptism-- assures us of the presence of God's grace which is Christ
      Jesus Himself. Our Saviour'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


      Cabasilas, Nicholas, The Life in Christ, ( New York: St. Vladimir's
      Press, 1974), p.101

      Coniaris, Anthony M. These Are The Sacraments. Minneapolis,
      Minnesota, Life Publishing Company, 1981.

      Dix, Dom Gregory. The Shape of The Liturgy. London: Dacre Press Adam
      & Charles Blackwell, 1970.

      Kochakian, Garabed. The Sacraments: The Symbols of Our Faith. New
      York: Saint Varan Press, 1983.

      Kaloustian, Shnork. Saints and Sacraments. New York: Saint Vartan
      Press, 1969.

      Nersoyan, Tiran. The Order of Baptism According to the Rite of the
      Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Evanston, Illinois: Saint
      Nersess Seminary Press, 1964.

      Tawil, Joseph. The Three Sacraments of Christian Initiation. West
      Newton, Massachusetts, 1976.
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