Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Holy Baptism, Part 07: The Chrism

...and Other Rites

Chrismation is the passing on of the gift of the Holy Spirit. And just as we believe incorporation into Christ and forgiveness of sins and rebirth are bestowed via water, so we believe - and experience! - the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to reside in us is bestowed via the holy oil. Not that the water or the oil itself does anything, but that the Holy Spirit sanctifies them and works these wonders in and through them.

Holy Chrismation began, in the Apostolic Church, as the laying on of hands. Specifically, the Apostles laid their hands on new Christians. (Acts 8:13-17) When, however, the Church began to grow too big for them to continue doing this in person, the Apostles, according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, began sending around a special holy oil called chrism, which they themselves had prepared, with which to anoint new Christians for the receiving of the Holy Spirit, Who Himself is the inner anointing. Thus, St. John says (1 John 2:27): “...the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in Him.”

Today, chrism is prepared at the Ecumenical Patriarchate roughly once every ten years by bishops from every jurisdiction and distributed to all the churches. (That’s if I’ve understood correctly, but I have been told different things on this, so if I’m mistaken, somebody please correct me.) The recipe is based upon one ordained by God in the Old Testament:

The LORD said to Moses, “Take the finest spices: 12 pounds of pure, liquid myrrh, 6 pounds of sweet smelling cinnamon, 6 pounds of sweet [sugar] cane, and 12 pounds of cassia [inner bark of cinnamon], according to the standard weight of the sanctuary, and a gallon of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. (Exodus 30: 22-25)
To this basic recipe are added, today, enough more ingredients to make up to 57 in all. And to the new batch of chrism is added the leftover chrism, to forge another link between all who are going to be chrismated with it and all who have been before.

The new Christian is anointed with the holy chrism on the forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, chest, hands, and feet. Holy oil is for the anointing of kings. Holy oil is for the anointing of priests; in the Mystery one becomes a member of Christ’s “royal priesthood”. (1 Peter 2:9) The very word, “Christ”, from the same Greek root as “chrism”, means The Anointed One, as does also the Hebrew word, ”Messiah.” The chrismated person now shares in Christ’s own anointing. As each part of you is anointed, the priest says, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the people respond, preferably loudly, “Seal!”

Now comes the dressing in a clean, white robe. The priest says, “The servant of God (Name) is clothed with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then the people sing: ”A robe of divine light bestow upon me, O You that for vesture array Yourself with Light; and bestow many mercies, O Christ our God, Who are plenteous in mercy.”

Hear are pictures of my own baptism and chrismation in a Russian church; in the latter, my hair is wet and clearly I am already dressed. The Greek rubric, however, calls for the new robe to be given after the chrismation. The priest also puts a cross pendant (given by the godparent, usually) around your neck. It may have lain three days or more upon the altar before this occasion.

We are not finished yet. There’s quite a bit more to go, Ali, before your party begins.

The newly-illumined is given a lighted candle, and with the priest and the godparent(s), now proceeds around the baptismal font three times, the choir meanwhile singing, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!” This little procession is a vestige of the earlier custom of bringing the newly-baptized into the church, or into the sanctuary, at least, from the narthex or from another building.

Next come the Scripture readings, the Epistle...

and the Gospel...

..and after these, the priest takes a sponge and wipes away the chrism from the person’s forehead, eyes, ears, etc., saying, as he does so, “You are justified, you are illumined" and "You are baptized; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh, you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of Father, and of Son, and of Holy Spirit. Amen.” He wipes it away because it is to be disposed of in a reverent manner, and not, for example, to be wiped away later with tissues that are thrown into the trash.

Now the new Christian offers his or her first gift to Christ, and it is the gift of his body, that is, of himself. (Romans 12:1) The symbol of this, the symbol of ones strength, is his hair (Jude 16:17). Amid numerous prayers, the priest snips four locks of hair, front, back, and over each ear, in the shape of a cross. (Not to worry; he takes too little to affect your appearance.)

After all this, you are “churched,” a custom stemming from the Old Testament practice of presenting all male children in the Temple at the age of 40 days. The Church presents both males and females to the Lord and to the Church.

Are we finished yet? Maybe, maybe not. It depends upon the custom of your local parish. You may now be given already-consecrated Holy Communion before the final blessing.

Or you may simply be blessed and will receive Holy Communion for the first time the following Sunday. In that case, you will be the first to receive, and you will carry the same lighted (and possibly decorated) candle you were given in the course of these Holy Mysteries.

NOW it’s time for the party to begin; and now, there’s very, very much, a downright bewildering array of things, to celebrate!

Here are some baptisms I've gleaned for you from Youtube, for your viewing and listenig pleasure. Questions welcome.