CONSECRATION OF THE CHRISM
The infrequent occasions on which the preparation and consecration of the chrism is performed are events of considerable spiritual joy. After concocting the prerequisite ingredients of the chrism and also of the kallielaion (oil of the CATECHUMENS) that is usually consecrated on the same day but in a separate service, they are placed in special vessels. Two wooden altars, covered with silk veils, are set up in the sanctuary to the right and to the left of the main altar, on which the vessels containing the chrism and the kallielaion are placed: the chrism on the right (southern) altar, and the kallielaion on the left (northern) altar.
The consecration of the chrism and the kallielaion is exclusively reserved to the patriarch of the church of Alexandria. The service is usually performed on Maundy Thursday, or, alternatively—though rarely—on any Sunday during the fast of Lent, and is attended by many bishops and clergy. Following the prayers of the morning service, the liturgy of the consecration proceeds as follows:
After the TRISAGION, the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of thanksgiving, and the offering of incense, the patriarch prays that God may grant him grace, blessing, and power to accomplish this sacred service.
Readings are taken from Isaiah 61, Exodus 30, and Exodus 40, all of which deal with the preparation of the holy ointment as commanded by God to Moses.
The Pauline Epistle is from Hebrews 1:5-14, the Catholic Epistle from 1 John 2:21-29, and the Acts from 8:14-40, all passages being relevant to the purpose.
The three agios are followed by the intercession of the Gospel, the Psalm-versicle (88:19), and the Gospel (Mk. 14:3-9) in Coptic and Arabic. Here the archdeacon calls upon the catechumens to depart.
The clergy form a procession carrying censers, crosses, fans, and candles in front of the patriarch, while the chrism and the kallielaion are carried by the patriarch and the bishops, all singing psalmodies. The chrism and kallielaion are then placed on their respective altars.
The patriarch performs the service of the blessing of the water and the foot-washing on Maundy Thursday. Then he enters the sanctuary and begins the prayer of the consecration of the chrism.
The archdeacon says, “Let us stand well,” and the patriarch prays that God may sanctify the chrism. and render it fit for the holy unction.
The archdeacon says, “Bow your heads to the Lord,” and the patriarch prays for the chrism to be invested with the Holy Spirit. Psalm 44:6-8 is read, followed by the three great petitions, the Creed, and two further prayers. The words of the latter prayer are accompanied with the sign of the cross while the congregation answers “Amen” each time, calling upon God to render it a phylactery of life, an indestructible seal, a breastplate of strength— against all the evil workings of the devil.
The archdeacon says, “Let us stand well,” and the patriarch prays, “The love of God the Father, the grace of His holy-begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, and the communion and the gift of His Holy Spirit be with you,” to which the congregation answers, “And with your spirit.” The patriarch says, “Lift up your hearts.” The congregation says, “They are with the Lord.” The patriarch says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord.” The congregation says, “It is meet and right.”
The patriarch continues with the prayers of the holy chrism until he reaches the invocation of the Holy Spirit, which he says inaudibly, and then signs the oil various times with the sign of the cross, saying, “Holy chrism; an oil of gladness; a royal grace; a vesture of light; a garment of salvation; a phylactery of life; a spiritual grace; a purification of soul and body; a joy of grace; an eternal gladness; an indestructible seal; a repose of the faith; a breastplate of strength against every diabolic deed,” the deacons following each clause with “Amen.”
The archdeacon prays for the peace of the world, for deliverance from tribulation, for forgiveness of all sins, for the priests of the church, for the sanctification of the holy chrism, the congregation answering every clause with “Kyrie eleison.”
The patriarch says the prayer for the consecration of the holy chrism, to which the congregation answers, “Absolve, pardon, and forgive us, O God.” Then the patriarch gives thanks to the Lord, beseeching the Almighty to send the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the holy chrism, and the congregation follows with the Lord’s Prayer.
The archdeacon says, “Bow your heads to the Lord.” The patriarch says the final prayer of sanctification.
The patriarch, accompanied by the clergy, the deacons, and the congregation, proceeds to the other altar to consecrate the kallielaion.
The vessels are then left on the two altars until Easter Day, or the following Sunday, during which period a quantity of the old chrism and the old kallielaion is added to the new. Then they are conveyed for preservation in the appropriate places and for distribution among the various churches which require it.
- Butler, A. J. The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, Vol. 1, p. 337. Oxford, 1884.
- Vansleb, P. J. M. Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie, pp. 91, 231f. Paris, 1677.