22 Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
23 “Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane,
24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil.
25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.
26 With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony;
27 the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense;
28 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base.
29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy.
30 And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests.
I. What is the Chrism Oil?
dictionary.com defines Chrism as “a consecrated oil, usually mixed with balsam or balsam and spices, used by certain churches in various rites, as in baptism, confirmation, and the like.”
The word Chrism, or Myron means fragrance or good-smelling perfume. The church makes this holy anointing oil by bringing 27 plants and materials, extracting their fragrance and mixing it with olive oil. Then, readings and prayers are held headed by the Patriarch, the metropolitans and bishops. Subsequently a liturgy is held which is called “the liturgy of consecrating the Chrism and Ghalilawn oil.”
II. Why do we make Chrism?
We make the Chrism in order to be placed instead of putting hand in the sacrament of Baptism. During the time of the apostles; when anyone was baptized in the water and came out, the apostles put their hands on him. Because the church expanded greatly, and because the apostles were limited, they decided to replace “putting the hand” with “anointing with the holy Chrism.” The origin of the Holy Chrism were the spices that were placed on the body of the Lord Christ. This was the beginning of the idea of the Chrism.
III. When do we use the Chrism?
We use it in consecrating the water of Baptism as the priest puts four drops to consecrate the water while praying. The Chrism oil is also used while anointing people by making 36 signs of the cross during baptizing them. It is also used to consecrate the churches, the altars, the Holy tablet that is used temporarily until the altar be consecrated, the utensils of the altar, the font of baptism, and the icons. In the past the Chrism was also used to consecrate the kings.
IV. Does the Chrism have a biblical origin?
The origin of the Chrism can be traced back to the Book of Exodus in Chapter 30 as referenced above. The Lord spoke with Moses and instructed him to take “quality” spices to make from them a holy anointing oil. Also, in the New Testament in 1 John 2:27, “But 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, you will abide in Him.
V. Who was the first person who made the Holy Chrism?
Saint Athanasius the Apostolic who was Patriarch number 20. This means that 19 Pope’s who preceded him, did not make it and used to put their hands. Pope Athanasius thought of having a part from the spices that were placed on the Lord’s body and mix it with olive oil, and then distribute it among the churches in the entire world. In the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, there are many patriarchs who did not make the Chrism. Pope Shenouda III made the Holy Chrism 7 times, including once in Eritrea. The other churches such as the Syriac Orthodox church also make their own.
VI. Making Chrism oil has two stages:
A. The Preparation
The preparation includes mixing 27 plant based ingredients together. The ingredients can be collected from the plants, roots or flowers of the plant. The perfumes that are used, are pure and free of any additions.
- Black Cardamom
- Calycotome Viscose
- Cinnamomum Cassia
- aesculus hippocastanum
- Sweet Sedge Oil
- Winter’s Bark – cinnamon oil
- Red Sandalwood
- Premium indian
- Cabbage Rose Oil
- Nutmeg Oil –
- Zingiber Zerumbet
- Cinnamon Oil
- Aloe Perryi
- Gum Elemi
- Cardamon Oil
- Liquid Amber
- Musk Oil
- Olive Oil
B. The Consecration
There is a specific liturgy of consecrating the Holy Chrism. Special prayers are prayed which include readings and hymns as well. During the consecration there will be readings from the four Gospels, readings from the five books of Moses, readings from the Psalms and readings of chapters that mention anointing, spices and oils.
On the day of consecration, all the fathers gather together wearing the clothes of ministry in the ancient church of St. Bishoy in the monastery. One of the fathers will carry the pure oil, another one will carry the solid material. There are also two other fathers carrying the flasks of the olive oil. All the fathers including the pope and bishops walk in a great parade, starting from the church of Saint Bishoy towards the cathedral of the monastery. All materials are then placed in a specific order, according to their numbers. Thanksgiving prayers are then prayed and all the fathers will share in blessing the ingredients. The preparation process then commences in steps. After that there is a liturgy prayed by some of the fathers, and then the preparation steps are continued. The jars of the Chrism will then be placed in the central part of the church and the monks will pray praises. The next day the congregation gets together again wearing the clothes of the ministry; and a liturgy is prayed in the monastery. The end of the liturgy marks the end of the consecration of the Holy Chrism. The oil is then placed on the Eastern side of the sanctuary where it will be kept until the second day of Easter when the new oil is mixed with the “yeast” which is left over Holy Chrism from a previous batch. The Holy Oil is then kept in the altar to attend the liturgies of the Holy Fifty days. Finally, the oil is put in packages to be distributed to all the churches in the world.
This is a simple explanation of the materials and the process of making the Holy Chrism in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Syrian Orthodox Church or the Russian or Armenian Orthodox churches might have some simple variations in the process.
For more detailed information, listen to Pope Tawadros’ sermon below from which this summary is derived.