Chrism

CHRISM

Also known as holy Myron, the sacred oil used in anointing and in ceremonies of consecration.

The tradition of using this sacred oil goes back to the Old Testament (Ex. 30) where God ordered Moses to prepare an anointing oil compounded from myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and sweet calamus mixed with pure olive oil. It was used in anointing kings, priests, the tent of the tabernacle, the ark, the altar, and the altar vessels.

In his encyclopedic work Misbah al-Zulmah fi Idah al-Khidmah (The Luminary of Church Services), Abu al-Barakat IBN-KABAR (d. 1234) devotes the whole of section nine to the subject of the holy chrism.

According to this work, in the early church the apostles continued the Old Testament practice of using the above-mentioned sacred oil, mixed with the myrrh and aloes that had been brought by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus for the burial of Christ’s body (Jn. 19:38-42). The apostles consecrated this oil in the upper room (Mk. 15:15; Acts 1:13) and each one carried an adequate quantity on their evangelization mission to different parts of the world. They also gave orders that, before it was completely used up, it should be replenished by consecrating a new supply from the same ingredients added to the residual amount.

This sacred oil continued to be consecrated for use in the church according to a strict procedure kept by the patriarch. A particularly significant day was chosen to carry out this ceremony: the sixth Friday of the sixth week of Lent, this being also the fortieth day of the PASCHA and the day on which Christ baptized the disciples. The number six represented the sixth millennium after the creation of Adam, in which the Logos was incarnate for the salvation of man, and the sixth day of Holy Week, on which He was crucified.

However, in the days of Pope MACARIUS I (932-952), it was agreed to have the chrism consecrated on Thursday of Holy Week. The patriarch who succeeded him, THEOPHILUS (952-956), reverted to the sixth-Friday tradition. The next patriarch, MINA II (956-974), wishing to conciliate certain monks, decided to have the ceremony of consecration performed on Maundy Thursday one year and Good Friday the next. This compromise was ended by Patriarch ABRAHAM (975-978) in favor of Thursday alone. Succeeding patriarchs have also adhered to this day.

IBN KABAR gives the following ingredients as basic components of the chrism: myrrh, sweet calamus, spring cytisus, raw amber, cinnamon, sandalwood, cassia, spikenard, saffron, cardamon, kust root, red rose petals, nutmeg, bee balm, balsam oil, and olive oil.

The concoction is performed in three stages in which the above- mentioned ingredients are mixed together and left to filter overnight. Ibn Kabar tells us that he had consulted various manuscripts, each giving different quantities and methods. To resolve the matter, he preferred to give a description of the system used in his days by Pope THEODOSIUS II (1294-1300) at the Church of Saint Mercurius in Cairo during Holy Week 1299.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Burmester, O. H. E. “A Coptic Tradition Concerning the Holy Myron (Chrism).” In Publications de l’Institut d’études orientales de la Bibliothèque patriarcale d’Alexandrie 3 (1954):52-58.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. “Le MS Vatican Copte 44 et le Livre du Chrème (ms. Paris arabe 100).” Le Muséon 45 (1932):181-234.
  • William Sulayman Qeladah, ed. Al-Dasquliyyah, Ta‘alim al-Rusul. Cairo, 1979.

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