Holy Baptism is our mystical participation in Easter, since having “died to sin,” through baptism we rise with Christ to “live in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4) as children of God. By Holy Chrismation, which in the Byzantine Rite is administered immediately after baptism, we mystically participate in Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us.
Holy Chrismation is performed by anointing with a sacred oil, consecrated by the bishop on Holy Thursday (et. Byzantine Leaflet Series, 1987, No. 37), called – chrism. Hence the proper name of the mystery – Holy Chrismation. In Greek the chrism is called – myron, therefore in Old-Slavonic the mystery is called – Myropomazanije, meaning the anointing with myro. In the Western World they call this sacrament – Confirmation.
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ promised to His apostles to send them “another Advocate – the Spirit of truth.” (In. 14:16-17) And He kept His promise since on that memorable first Pentecost all the apostles “were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:4) But our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit also to all those who will “believe in Him.” (In. 7:39) Therefore St. Peter assured the crowd in Jerusalem:
“Repent and be baptized … , and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those – whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
At the beginning the apostles bestowed the Holy Spirit upon the newly baptized by the imposition of their hands (Acts 8:17). Since they also administered Holy Orders by the “imposition of hands” (Acts 6:6), under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit, they agreed to anoint the newly baptized with the holy oil (in Greek – chrisma means anointing) and make them indeed – Christians, the anointed ones. Just as St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) explained to his neophytes: “Now you have been made Christs (the anointed ones), for you have received the emblem of the Holy Spirit – the holy Unction.” (et. his Catechetical Lectures, XXI, 1)
This change seems to be indicated already by St. Paul : “The One who anointed us is God – giving us the Spirit” (2 Cor. 1 :21-22) ; and also by St. John the Evangelist: ” You have the anointing that comes from the Holy One.” (1 In. 2:20) In the biblical sense the anointing means the reception of the Holy Spirit. The first patristic testimony concerning the anointing comes to us from the second half of the second century, given by St. Theophilus of Antioch (d. about 180 A.D.): “We are called Christians, because we were anointed with the oil of God.” (et. his To Autolycus, I, 12)
2. Since Apostolic Times, Holy Chrismation took place immediately after Baptism, as testified by the Acts of the Apostles, 19:5-6. St. Cyril explains: ” Christ, having been washed in the Jordan River, imparted the fragrance of Hi s d ivinity to the waters. As He was coming up from the waters, the Holy Spirit in His fullness enlighted Him, like resting upon Him. In the same manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams (Baptism), you were given the unction, the antitype of that wherewith Christ was anointed , the Holy Spirit.” (et. Cat. Lectures, XXI, 1)
Holy Christmation originally was administered together with Baptism by both the Eastern and the Western Churches. It was usually performed by the bishop. But after the introduction of infant Baptism and the discontinuation of the solemn celebration of Christian initiation, the administration of these mysteries was entrusted to the priests. Then a difficulty arose regarding Chrismation, since from apostolic times it became the prerogative of the bishops, as testified by the Apostolic Constitutions: “Let the bishop anoint those that had been baptized with the (holy) ointment.” (III, 16)
In the West, during the ninth century, the administration of Chrismation was separated from Baptism and reserved to the bishop. But in the East the bishop consecrated and distributed the holy chrism to his priests, who then administered Holy Chrismation to the infants, right after Holy Baptism. On this point the Council of Laodicea, which convened in the middle of the fourth century, clearly stated: “Those who are being initiated immediately after Baptism must be anointed with the heavenly chrism and become partakers of the kingdom of Christ.” (Canon 48).
3. The Fathers of the Church always considered Holy Chrismation as a completion of Baptism, bringing it to its perfection, i. e. to spiritual regeneration by “water and the (Holy) Spirit.” (In. 3:6) Thus for example the fifth century anonymous author of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy calls Holy Chrismation a “perfective anointing,” confering to us a “gift of the divine Spirit.” (Chapter IV, 3, 11) Therefore, consecrating chrism, the bishop prays: “Make this chrism for those being baptized to bethe seal of perfection.” (et. Goar, Euchologion, p. 503)
The pristine ritual of “giving the Holy Spirit,” as presented to us by the Acts of the Apostles (8 :15-17), was very simple: a) Prayer- St. Peter and John in Samaria “prayed for them that they (the baptized Samaritans) might receive the Holy Spirit;” b) Imposition of hands- soon changed to the anointing with the holy oil, as mentioned before; c) Invocation of the Holy Spirit- perhaps with St. Peter’s words: “Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:28)
The chrismation ritual had developed in its present form already in the third century, as recorded in the Euchologion of Bishop Sera pion of Thmuis (d. in about 362). The invocation of the Holy Spirit, i. e. the chrismal formula certainly remained the same : “Being regenerated and renewed by the washing (baptism) of a new birth, let them become partakers of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (ct. Euchologion, IV, 16) We also know that the great Alexandrian theologian, Clement (d. before 215 A.D.), referred to chrismation as the “Blessed seal.” (et. his Stromata, II, 3)
The connection between the anointing and the seal is clearly indicated by St. Paul, saying : “It is God who anointed us and has also put His seal upon us, giving us the (Holy) Spirit.” (2 Cor. 1: 21-22) Hence the invocation of the Holy Spirit, as used today in the Byzantine Rite, was formulated since ancient times. It reads : THE SEAL OF THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. This formulary can be traced at least to the fourth century, since the Second Ecumenical Council, celebrated in Constantinople in 381 A.D., ordained that the newlybaptized should be “anointed with holy chrism (myron) upon the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears. As they are anointed (sealed), we say : The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Canon 7)
4. Through Holy Baptism a seed of divine life is planted in the Christian’s soul, making him or her a child of God. Then the Holy Spirit, given in Holy Chrismation, makes this seed of divine life sprout in the soul and grow to its maturity, “to the extent of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13), As we grow older, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit working in our soul. Hence all the members of our body become anointed with holy chrism in order that they be moved and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The older writers, like St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), mention the forehead, the eyes, the nostrils, the mouth, the ears and the breast of the newly-baptized to be anointed. St. Cyril explains that we are anointed on our forehead- to be marked as a property of God; on our eyes- in order to be able to behold “with unveiled face the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18); on our ears- to be prepared to listen to the teachings of the Gospel; on our nostrils- that, perceiving the sweet aroma of chrism, we may become “a sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15); on our mouth- to be able to boldly profess the true faith; and finally on our breast- that having put on “a breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6:14), we may stand firm against the wiles of the evil one.
Then he continues : “As Jesus Christ, after His baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Him, went forth and vanquished the adversary (Lk. 4:1-13), so likewise you, after Holy Baptism and the Mystical Chrism, having put on the whole armor of the Holy Spirit, are to stand against the power of the adversary and vanquish it, saying with St. Paul (Phil. 4:13): ‘I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me!’ ” (d. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXI, 3-4)
The anointing of hands and feet was added much later. They are mentioned for the first time in the Sinaitic Euchologion, a manuscript from the ninth or tenth century. The hands- are anointed, since every Christian must “be ready to do good works” (Tit. 3:1); and the feet- since we have to “walk (to live) not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” (Rom. 8:4)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem concludes his explanation about the anointings with the holy chrism with the following words : “This holy ointment (the chrism) is symbolically applied to your forehead and to your other senses. While the body is anointed with the visi ble ointment, your soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit.” (d. Catech. Lectures, XXI, 3)
5. During the first centuries the newly baptized, after their Chrismation, were escorted by the clergy into the church to take part in the celebration of the Holy Liturgy and to receive First Holy Communion. As they entered the church the faithful welcomed them with what at that time was the Entrance Hymn : “All you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Alleluia,” (Gal. 3:27) From this point on the celebration of the Holy Liturgy continued.
Sometime during the eighth century, when infant baptism prevailed, the Rite of Christian Initiation became separated from the celebration of the Holy Liturgy and became a distinct service. As a liturgical service it then needed a proper conclusion of ritual. Thus the eighth century document, the so-called Barberini Code, already records the concluding ritual, as we have it today. It included: the Prokimenon (Ps. 27:1), scriptural readings of the Epistle (Rom. 6:3-11) and Gospel (Mt. 28:16-20), as well as the Insistent Ekteny with a special petition for the “newly enlightened (baptized)” that he or she may be “sustained in a pure profession of faith, in all holiness, and in the fulfillment of the commandments of Christ.”
At long last the ritual of Christian Initiation comes to its end and is concluded with a proper dismissal, as every liturgical service does in the Byzantine Rite.