What is Holy Chrismation?
by Fr. Michael J. Buben
“Holy Chrismation is a Sacrament in which the baptized believer, being anointed with Holy Chrism on certain parts of the body, in the name of the Holy Spirit, receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit for growth and strength in spiritual life.” (Catechism)
This sacrament is administered immediately after baptism and like baptism cannot be administered twice to the same soul. Baptism cleans us from the pollution of original sin and makes us a member of the grace-giving living Orthodox Church of Christ. Chrismation nourishes and strengthens the baptised in the spiritual life. Just as a child needs the guidance of its parents, so a newly baptised soul receives the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the reasons why Chrismation has never been performed separately in the Orthodox Church.
Our Lord and Savior instituted this Sacrament when at the Jerusalem Temple He said: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth in me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters etc., etc.“ (John 7:37-38). St. John explains this text as forecasting the Holy Spirit which believers would receive.
After the Apostles were strengthened with the “power from above”, they transferred gifts of this power to all who were baptized and “put on Christ.” As an example let us read the following texts from the book of Acts. “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. (For as yet He was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:14-17)
When the Apostles could not be at all places to “lay hands” on the growing number of Christians as thousands began to accept Christianity, they instituted the use of Holy Chrism. Holy Chrism could easily be distributed to the bishops and priests in the settlements where they served. Only bishops received the power to make Chrism as it was needed, and priests used it only in the absence of the bishop, but always in the bishop’s name as centuries passed. “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” (I John 2:20). St. John in his first epistle further explains the inward grace which anointing with Chrism brings; and the anointing which you have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie: and event it hath taught you, abide therein.” (27)
St. Paul also wrote about Holy Chrismation when he said: “Now He which establisheth 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.” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
St. Paul in this text says anointing with Holy Chrism establishes us in Christ, and it is from here that the Church takes its formula for this Sacrament: The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The anointing of the forehead signifies the sanctification of the mind, or thoughts.
The anointing of the chest signifies the sanctification of the heart, or desires.
The anointing of the eyes, ears, lips signifies the sanctification of the senses.
The anointing of the hands and feet signifies their sanctification to good works and the walk in the way of His commandments.
Orthodox brothers and sisters Through the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation you were Confirmed in the Orthodox Faith. You received the Holy Spirit and grace-giving gifts, without which it would have been impossible for you to have spiritual growth.
Does the Sacrament glow in your heart or has it dimmed like the last ember in the fireplace? “Stir up the Gift of God!” Do not dim the gifts of the Holy Spirit nor contradict their influence by vain thoughts and desires. Help thy neighbor. Make use of prayer and fasting. Follow His commandments.
Specific parts of your body were sealed with Chrism, that all your strength and abilities might he given to the service of God. “For ye were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6: 20)
From Word Magazine – Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
February 1962 – p. 5