THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF CHRISMATION
“Through the sacrament of chrismation, the Christian receives special gifts of the Holy Spirit needed for growth in the moral life of holiness. This sacrament was established by Jesus Christ, and His apostles administered them to believers after their baptism. Today’s Orthodox Church performs chrismation immediately after baptism, as a special sacrament, not as an integral part of baptism. A priest performs chrismation by anointing holy oil on certain parts of the believer’s body (his head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chest, hands and feet) with the utterance of a certain formula: ‘The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Only a bishop can bless Holy Oil. This is done at the Holy Liturgy on Great [Maundy] Thursday. Oils, wine and various fragrant substances are prepared. The bishop consecrates the oil stored in chrismaria that will be used for performing the sacraments.”
This text informs us of the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church regarding chrismation. What is important to remember is the assertion that this sacrament was established by the Lord Jesus Christ and administered by the apostles to believers after baptism.
On the basis of the Bible and other historical sources we can easily determine whether this claim of Orthodoxy is true or not. In fact, as any Biblical scholar would know, nowhere in any of the New Testament writings does the Lord mention the “holy sacrament” of chrismation with all the mentioned elements that are now used in Orthodoxy. Neither do the apostles mention a thing about ever using chrismation. Evidence from Scripture for such teaching can only be invented by someone, like the Orthodox teachers, only by ripping verses out of context and customizing them to prove their own extrabiblical doctrine. Before we review some of the Scriptures that the great Serbian Orthodox Church uses to rationalize its dogmas, let us briefly mention a few sentences from the church historian Eusebius Popovic. As we will confirm, this historian argues that the dogma of chrismation gradually evolved over time. In fact, over the centuries, significant differences in its practice arose in the western and eastern parts of the same Ecumenical Church. Also, historical data and evidence that the anointing oil (chrism) was labeled a “Holy Sacrament” only in the third era (according to the chronology represented by Eusebius Popovic). Such dating would place its acceptance as a sacrament only after 622 A.D.
“The means of grace, which the Holy Spirit grants, were given by the apostles Peter
and John in Samaria, and Paul in Ephesus, by the laying of hands… These two instances do not say whether these two cases involved anointing with oil or not.”
“The practice of anointing with oil arose only during the Second Period of schism, which occurred earlier between East and West. Specifically, in the Eastern Church, the priest would give the sacrament of chrismation by the anointing of chrism oil after baptism… while he anointed the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears, the priest would pronounce the formula: ‘Seal the Gift of the Holy Spirit.’ In the Western Church, however, in general it became the custom for chrismation to be given not by priests but by bishops. They traveled through their diocese for the purpose of anointing believers with the sacrament of chrismation on the forehead and laying on of hands… This sacrament is called either the sacrament of ‘Holy Orders’ or ‘Chrismation’ in the Western Church, while the Eastern Church only calls it ‘Chrismation’… Only in the Third Period did they call chrismation a ‘sacrament’… Bishop consecrated oil on the altar during the liturgy. Initially, there was no specific day assigned to this consecration. However, over time, Great [Maundy] Thursday became the day designated by the Eastern Church. Eventually, the consecration of oil became the exclusive dominion of the high bishop.”
As it is evident, the events surrounding the “Holy Sacrament” of chrismation were determined by “Holy Tradition”, not Scripture. However, it is interesting to look at the attempts by the Orthodox to justify this “Holy Sacrament” on the basis of the Bible. Here is how the “expert” apologist and champion against heresy, Lazar Milin, tries to distort the Bible for such purposes:
“’On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.’ (Jn. 7:37-9)
As you can see, John the Evangelist interprets this promise of our Savior to be that for those who are thirsty, they should approach Christ to drink from His founts – that is to be baptized and become members of His Church – and to receive the Holy Spirit when He would descend in His time after the glorification of Christ.
A brief summary: just before and after baptism, there is a holy act that seals the believers with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The apostles understood and obeyed this. Here is the biblical testimony:
‘When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 8:14-7)
As is clear from the text, the Samaritans were baptized first. The apostles did not consider their baptism as sufficient for growth in their faith. The apostles realized that the Samaritans right before their baptism should have received the ‘laying on of hands’ in order to receive the Holy Spirit. We doubt that this procedure did not originate from the apostles’ own ideas. They had to have learned it from the Savior, even though such a lesson is written nowhere in the Bible. Such a lesson becomes visible by the example of the apostles’ practice. Here is another biblical examples that teaches the same concept:
‘While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.’ (Acts 19:1-6)”
The careful reader of the text above will find a number of disagreements between Milin’s interpretations and the actual teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
Namely, the biblical text at the start of this argument, which was issued by the Lord Jesus and recorded by the evangelist John, alludes to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon every single person at the time of his faith in the Savior, after His glorification in heaven and earthly establishment of the Church. In the words of the Lord, the Holy Spirit will become like a stream of fresh (living) water within the life of an individual believer. Thus, he will never be spiritually thirsty.
Milin essentially interprets Christ’s instruction to refer to baptism and joining the Church, even though such a meaning from the text is not feasible. The specified text, therefore, refers to the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. It is not at all clear from where the Orthodox derive any justification for their dogma of “the Holy Sacrament of Chrismation” from this text. There is not even an indirect reference to chrismation in this passage! (The Lord gave a similar lesson on “living water” to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, but He certainly could not have meant for this woman to receive the “laying of hands” in order to get the Holy Spirit.)
From another angle, Milin cites the book of Acts in mentioning the descent of the Holy Spirit on believers after their baptism and the laying of hands of the Apostles. Again, these passages also do not support chrismation. Specifically, there is not one word referring to “chrismation” or “anointing by oil” (which is the main reason for Milin’s use of these texts). In fact, we find in Acts an opposite sequence of events with regards to the descent of the Holy Spirit followed by someone receiving baptism. (By Milin’s logic, this would mean that the “anointing” would have been fulfilled before baptism.)
Here are some examples. During the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, it is not
written that the Holy Spirit descended on him neither before nor after his immersion in water. Philip laid hands on him, and the eunuch did not display any unusual spiritual gifts, such as prophecy and speaking in tongues. On the other hand, in the home of the officer Cornelius recorded in Acts 10, Peter’s preached to the audience who initially put their faith in Christ. Then right away, the Holy Spirit came down upon them (without Peter’s having laid hands upon them) and displayed miraculous signs. Only afterward did Peter baptize these people:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
A case which contradicts the Orthodox view occurred during the baptism of the jailer and his house in Philippi (Acts 16). First they believed, and then they were baptized. Nothing is recorded about the descent of the Holy Spirit or anything about them having hands laid upon them.
For these reasons it is very disingenuous to take examples from the New Testament books to justify rituals such as chrismation that were established much later in time. The simple reality is that different texts undermine Orthodox teaching on chrismation (including the order of baptism and chrismation, let alone its existence in the New Testament). Perhaps the best evidence for this is the fact that the Holy Spirit moved the hearts of man before baptism, when they believed in the message by the preaching of the Gospel. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:
“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?… Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
However, let us reflect briefly on the last portion of Milin’s “proof”. This is the text contained in Acts 19 that describes baptism and the laying on of hands by Paul on the believers in Ephesus. The Orthodox text invokes this text as the crowning proof that the person who does not receive chrismation even if he is baptized cannot receive the Holy Spirit. The example of the baptized Ephesians who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit would seem to favor the doctrine of the sacrament that asserts a baptized person needs to receive the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” via chrismation.
However, is this really the case? Such a conclusion may be derived only from the superficial reading of Luke’s account. However, if one were to read this text along with the final part of the chapter (Acts 18:24-28), one would gain the following insight into the context surrounding these events:
– The disciples whom Paul found in Ephesus (19:1) were baptized “in the name of John’s baptism” by Apollos, a native of Alexandria , who himself was familiar only with the baptism performed by John the Baptist (18:24-25), but not Christian baptism.
– Because of his ignorance of Christian doctrine and baptism, Aquila and Priscilla, more mature Christians, taught Apollos more fully in the faith (18:26).
– It is not true that the disciples at Ephesus never heard of nor received the Holy
Spirit because they were “anointed” (“chrismated”), but rather because they were not yet baptized into Christ. John called upon his followers in Palestine, the Israelites, to repent and prepare to enter the kingdom of God.
– After Paul preached and taught to them faith in Christ, these disciples were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (i.e., in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). (19:5-6)
– After Paul laid hands on them did the Holy Spirit descend upon them. They received the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying.
After this time, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the newly baptized believer was associated with the laying on of hands by the Apostles (which does not occur in every situation in the Bible, as explained earlier). Eastern Orthodoxy does not find this example useful. Specifically, if one wanted to fully apply all of its implications – as the Orthodox try to do – then it would follow that all Orthodox believers who are newly baptized and chrismated ought to speak in strange ways, such as prophecy and uttering in foreign languages that they have neither learned nor knew before. Obviously, such things do not occur after Orthodox baptism and chrismation. Hence other “parts” of the evidence from the Biblical text quoted above, which Milin attributes as support for his position, are not “valid” and applicable in the case of performing the first two sacraments in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
However, since it is obvious that Orthodoxy connects the descent of the Holy Spirit with the anointing of oil, let us examine the history and meaning of the anointing of oil in places where the Bible mentions it.
Anointing of Oil in the Old Testament
Anointing with oil is in the books of the Old Testament is mentioned in several places. Anointing God’s servants (priests, kings, and prophets) with oil represented the external visible sign of the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of that individual. This is probably the origin of the idea of chrismation in the Eastern Orthodox (and Western Catholic) Church as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the newly baptized believer.
However, the anointing that is described in the Old Testament writings largely differs in meaning from their sacrament of chrismation. First of all, the Old Testament historical period did not have the practice of baptism, and certainly not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There was no Christ, no Church. Furthermore, the anointing of oil occurred rarely only for the types of people mentioned earlier. Here is how anointing with holy oil was conducted in the Old Testament, as well as restrictions relevant to its application:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy. Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men’s bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and whoever puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from his people.’ ”
The text above shows us the only proper way of making and using holy oil. The Lord’s statement referred to the anointing, and therefore the entire sanctification of the tabernacle of meeting, with all the liturgical items. The place of God’s habitation had to be consecrated, thus demonstrating a symbolic sign of true sanctification of God’s spiritual presence. Aaron, Moses’ brother, and his sons were anointed as priests, whose duties included the performing of sacrifices before a large altar that was in the courtyard in front of the tabernacle and teaching people in faith and how to perform other religious activities. Other ethnic groups were strictly prohibited from preparing this ointment and anointing themselves. The Lord would punish them by death. One of the Psalms refers to anointing oil poured out on the head of Aaron the high priest:
“It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.”
The Old Testament relates several examples when they anointed the kings of Israel:
“Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel: ‘About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.’ When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, ‘This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people’… Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?’”
“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king’… So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.”
“Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, ‘Long live King Solomon!’”
Also, the prophet Elijah anointed Hazael and Jehu as kings of 2 states along with Elisha as prophet:
“The LORD said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.’”
What we generally can conclude is that anointing with oil represents a type of ordaining for ministry to which the Lord called certain people. David, for example, did not immediately become king, even though the Spirit of the Lord descended on him after his anointing. God’s anointed man had to wait for his coronation many years after the anointing. Of course, the priestly, prophetic and imperial service have very little in common with the “sacraments” of our study, though we can see that they borrowed some features of the Old Testament practice, such as the descent of the Holy Spirit upon a person after his anointing.
Jesus of Nazareth Anointed by the Holy Spirit
The great truth of Holy Scriptures that Jesus of Nazareth Himself fulfilled all the Old Testament typology that pointed to Him. He said about Himself:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
The apostle Paul added:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
The Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king, which were a mere dim shadow of the vibrant New Testament reality. Namely, the word “Christ” in Greek or “Messiah” (“Moshiach” in Hebrew) would be translated into Serbian as “anointed”. In the previous section, we saw that they poured holy anointing oil on Old Testament anointed ones (Messiah, Christ) as a symbol of the spiritual presence of God and His mercy upon them. On the other hand, the one true Messiah Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of His mothers as the eternal Son of God. When He was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him from heaven in the physical form of a dove. This descent affirmed His identity as the Messiah and His ministry to fulfill the will of God.
Many parts of the Old and New Testament affirm Jesus’ ministry as Priest, Prophet, and King. If one were to read all the relevant verses on this subject, one would be convinced that the numerous ancient prophecies about the Old Testament Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus the Anointed, and Him Alone. Precisely because the symbolic anointing of the Old Testament Messiah is fulfilled in the New Testament in the person of Jesus the Son of God, it consequently means that there is no longer any need to keep on anointing people for such purposes. In fact, the New Testament writings make no further mention of anyone receiving anointing with oil for such purposes, unless one considers the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit that God gives to every person who believes in His Son as Savior.
Anointing of Believers with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament
In his argument that the apostles definitively chrismated newly baptized believers in order to receive the Holy Spirit, Orthodox theologians cite the word “anointing” in the New Testament. Apologist Lazar Milin alleges the term “anointing” in the New
Testament is a confirmation that the first disciples of Christ knew this “holy sacrament” and practiced it from the earliest times. Milin gives his explanation:
“To protect the faithful from those trying to deceive them from the sectarians and heretics of his time, the apostle John writes: ‘You have the anointing of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.’ (1 Jn. 2:20, 27)
The Apostle Paul also mentions the anointing in regard to the receiving of the Holy Spirit when he writes the Corinthians: ‘Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ (1 Cor. 1:21-2)
It is quite apparent that the apostles used the word ‘anointing’ here in the sense of an invisible internal action of the Holy Spirit on the anointed person’s soul. However, it is natural to ask why they called the effect of ‘anointing’ spiritual? This term might indicate an external action that serves as a visible sign of the anointing Spirit, similar to the way baptism is called ‘bathing’ because of the external character of this sacrament, that is immersion in water. Such a conclusion is very logical and probable, and from it we can conclude that the apostles not only ‘laid hands’ on the newly baptized people themselves, but they also anointed them, thus performing the sacraments that they transferred to bishops and priests. This is the same reasoning how the bishops and priests read certain prayers that the very apostles also recited. (Acts 8:15) All these elements exist in today’s Orthodox Church since the times of the apostles…”
As an evangelical Christian who asserts that the Orthodox sacrament of chrismation was not practiced in the first century Church, this author expresses his heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Milin for the claims stated above. Namely, although the quote cites the word “anointing” (presumably he uses this as evidence that the Apostles practiced chrismation, the physical anointing with oil), Milin added a sentence which deserves particular emphasis. He said it was “quite apparent that the apostles used the word ‘anointing’ in the sense of an invisible internal action of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, he suggests that is not totally safe to assume that this meant that someone was physically “anointed”!
The words of the Lord Jesus lead us to an identical conclusion. In John 16:7-15, He calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of Truth” to believers who receive it as a “guide to all truth” (v.13). This passage relates to Milin’s citation of the text in 1 John 2:20 and 27, which speaks of the “anointing” that keeps believers from spiritual apostasy and the acceptance of false teaching. So, the anointing that keeps the faithful away from apostasy is the Holy Spirit, and the anointing in the Old Testament was His visible symbol. Milin still believes that it is quite natural to wonder “why they called the effect of ‘anointing’ spiritual?” The answer to this question is very simple! As it is obvious, the apostles used
Old Testament symbols of such things that were able to describe the invisible spiritual reality of the New Testament. After all, they wrote epistles to Christians who read the Scriptures, which at that time consisted only of the books of the Old Testament. So, for example, the Old Testament in many places mentions in addition to anointing things such as circumcision and offering sacrifices. Although things such as circumcision and sacrificial offerings no longer existed in the New Testament Church (unlike the Old Testament), the apostles mention these actions to other as types of the spiritual reality
of Christian ministry:
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.”
“I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
All of these citations and explanations reveal the answer to Milin’s question regarding the Old Testament term “anointing” with the purpose of the invisible action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the New Testament Christian. Moreover, from the terse text that Milin offers, one realizes that even this Orthodox apologist cannot be certain if the Scriptures actually substantiate the idea that the activities of the Holy Spirit are carried out by physical anointing with oil! Despite the Scriptures cited above that show how New Testament writers used Old Testament concepts in a spiritual, not physical, sense for Christians today, this priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church has the bravado to assert later that “such a conclusion is very logical and probable”. Milin boasts that in addition to the apostles laying hands and anonting newly baptized believers, or even that they transferred this practice to others (assuming we allow the possibility that they personally did not do such work), the apostles certainly commanded this practice to their successors – the bishops and priests of the Orthodox Church. At the end of his discussion with the Protestants and “sectarians” who believe that the sacrament of chrismation after baptism is unnecessary and unfounded on the Scriptures, and besides all the uncertainty in presenting their claims to defend this “sacrament”, Milin concluded the following:
“(a) It is not true that the sacrament of chrismation has no basis in Scripture. The citation above clearly shows that it is based on the Holy Scriptures. (b) It is not true that the sacrament of chrismation after baptism is unnecessary. If the apostles performed chrismation, and the Holy Scriptures clearly show us that they did, then the apostles considered it obligatory. This is a further indication that the sectarian interpretation is contrary to Scripture.”
However, all these verses of Scripture and even data from church history prove the truth that completely contradicts Milin’s conclusions. The “sacrament of chrismation” has no basis in first century apostolic doctrine and practice. Instead, chrismation arose as a later development through many centuries, shaped by “Sacred Traditon”, that is, the teaching of the “Holy Fathers”.