Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
THE YEAR 1938 SAW AN ESCALATION of warlike activities in Nazi Germany. In March Hitler invaded Austria and began to move against Czechoslovakia. Attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses increased and thousands of German Jews were arrested.

The response of one Russian-American, Irving Berlin, was to compose the song “God Bless America” which would become like a second National Anthem during World War II and the years that followed. From the first, however, there was opposition to the song by some. They felt that it seemed to be a statement that everything in American life was positive, despite obvious examples of racial, ethnic and religious prejudices that were rife in many places. They interpreted “God Bless America” to mean “God reward America.”

Praying for the Nation

Christians have always prayed for their country, even when its leadership was persecuting them. The Lord Jesus was displayed on the cross as an anti-Roman revolutionary (the “King of the Jews”), yet He never advocated revolt as many Jewish zealots did. His approach was rather, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). The apostolic writings, composed when Roman officials began repressing Christians, still insisted, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). St Paul here offered his most elaborated statement on supporting the civil authority by prayer “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:1-7).

The main points in this passage would be repeated frequently in the apostolic writings and by the early Christian defenders of Christianity. The ultimate source of civil power is God and therefore it is God who has placed rulers in authority.

The power of earthly rulers is legitimate, if limited to the temporal order. As St Justin the Philosopher (100-165) explained, “Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment… as Christ intimated when He said, ‘To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required’” (Justin, First Apology).

From the start, the Church rejected the Empire’s idolatry and emperor-worship. It condemned many of its cultural values as well and as a result it suffered greatly at the hands of the Empire’s leaders, but in principle it respected the God-given place of the Empire and its Emperor.

In St Paul’s view civil authorities have a place in God’s purposes: to insure “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). When the state is at peace then believers are free to live godly lives, raising up their praises to God without hindrance. This passage is the inspiration for our prayer for civil authorities to this day. In the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom the priest prays, “…for our civil authorities, for the government and the armed forces. O Lord, grant them peaceful rule that we too in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all virtue and honor.”

In the Liturgy of St Basil our prayer is similar, but with an added note. “Remember, Lord, this country and all those in public service whom You have allowed to govern on earth. Grant them profound and lasting peace. Speak to their hearts good things concerning Your Church and all Your people that through the faithful conduct of their duties we may live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness. Sustain the good in their goodness; make the wicked good through Your goodness.” We recognize that, while rulers may be legitimate, they may not always be godly.

The “Christian State”

In ad 313 the Edict of Milan decreed religious toleration in the Roman Empire. This was followed in a few years by the proclamation of Christianity as the state religion in the Empire. The state came to be seen as a servant of God. At the height of this development the Emperor was seen as a kind of secular deacon, wearing a sticharion and orarion as part of his imperial regalia and receiving Communion at the holy table.

There were also Christians who felt that God did not desire a “Christian state.” The North African philosopher Lactantius viewed history this way in his synopsis of Christian thought, the Divine Institutes: “God might have bestowed upon His people both riches and kingdoms, as He had given previously to the Jews, whose successors and posterity we are. However, He would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness and prosperity, slide into luxury and eventually despise the commandments of God. For this is what our ancestors did” (V, 23). When Constantine became Emperor he appointed Lactantius as tutor to his son Crispus. We do not know whether the philosopher’s attitude to a Christian state changed after that.

In any case, while civic tranquility may free believers to pursue union with God, times of persecution or civil strife often bring out the strengths of some, adorning the Church with holy martyrs, confessors and passion-bearers. Each era and condition of life may become the arena for following Christ.

The Battle-Hymn of the Empire

One of our most frequently-heard prayers, the troparion of the holy cross, was originally a battle-hymn for the Christian Empire. The literal translation of the original Greek text is: “O Lord save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory to our emperor over the barbarians and preserve Your dwelling-place by the power of Your cross.” It is with this meaning that the hymn features into Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, where the troparion of the cross represents the Russian army successfully battling Napoleon and his troops. With the fall of the Eastern Christian Empires (Byzantium, Russia) the hymn has been adapted in various ways to remove the references to the emperor and the barbarians. One popular version says “grant victory to our country over its enemies.”
In some churches, however, the following is sung: “grant victory to Your people over their enemy (i.e. the devil).” This version stresses that the Christian people as a whole, rather than any earthly realm, is the dwelling-place of God and that our real enemy is not the nation next door but our spiritual foes, the powers of evil.
 
A FEW YEARS ago an Orthodox priest quipped, on being ordained a bishop, that his spiritual life had been challenged as never before. “You put me on a throne, dress me up like the Byzantine emperor, call me ‘Master’ and expect me to be humble!” When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in the fifteenth century they named the Ecumenical Patriarch as “Ethnarch” of the Greek millet or nation. Each non-Muslim group under Ottoman rule (eg Armenians, Copts, Jews, etc.) was considered a subject “nation” and had its own national leader. It was at that time that the Ecumenical Patriarch took on some of the old emperor’s regalia. In time other patriarchs, metropolitans and bishops did the same. They started wearing crowns, being called “most eminent lord” and assuming all the trappings of state still used today. One temptation confronting Church leaders, then, was to see themselves as civil rulers rather than churchmen. When St Paul was writing to the Christians of Corinth in the first century such magnificent trappings were unknown. This did not prevent some Christian leaders and their followers from putting on airs. In the Apostle’s First Letter to the Corinthians he criticizes the divisiveness in their community: “…there are quarrels among you,” he wrote. “What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Christians – both clergy and laity – still succumb to this temptation when they attach themselves to one or another important person to show themselves as superior to others, confusing greater responsibility with higher status and honor. St Paul confronts such attitudes with the principle he spells out in 2 Corinthians 1:24. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” He contrasts “lording over” others in the Church with “working with” others to assure a joyful spirit in the community. Church leaders are not meant to dominate from above but to lead from within the community they serve.

Clericalism and Laicism

A frequently cited example of domination in the Church is clericalism, where all responsibility in the parish is in the hands of the clergy while the laity is expected to simply “pray, pay and obey.” Similarly parish clergy complain that people from the bishop’s office tell them how to run their parish while bishops point their finger at higher-ups who interfere in their diocese! There is often the feeling among Christians that leadership in the Church means domination rather than cooperation. The troublemakers in Corinth were not the Apostles, Paul or Cephas; they were the followers who stirred up antagonisms in their name. Similarly many Churches have suffered from what has been called “laicism,” where groups of parishioners attempt to dominate the parish and exclude others or limit their participation, perhaps on ethnic lines. Sometimes the parish “elite” have felt that the priest is merely their employee, supposed to do their bidding. Others have resented the bishop for enforcing diocesan policies (particularly financial ones) on their parish. How often do parish bigwigs pressure the priest to bend the rules for them or their relatives? It is not only clergy who may try to dominate the Church. Church life as envisioned in our Tradition calls for a model different from either clericalism or laicism. It presumes that laity working together with clergy of all ranks –bishop, priest, deacons, chanters, etc. – each fulfilling their proper function. None of these roles is simply an honorific. Each of them is, first and foremost, a service to the Body of Christ, the Church, and therefore to the Lord Himself. In the past the parish clergy were the only educated members of the community, particularly in villages and rural areas – perhaps the only parishioners who could read! They were the acknowledged leaders in the community, the keepers of good order. In the parish their word was law. Today, in many if not most parishes, the priest is not the most educated person in the community, except in religious matters. The laity are recovering their rightful place in the life of the Church. In an attempt to involve more laypeople in Church life, however, some clergy have put men and women in leadership positions without proper training. A parish council member or a catechist, who has not been trained in the Tradition or in the vision of our Church, will not be able to contribute positively to the Church’s mission. Their secular education may make them leaders in their own fields, but they may remain children in their understanding of the Church and its ways. A yearling lamb does not make a good shepherd.

The Smell of the Sheep

Since becoming Bishop of Rome Pope Francis has encouraged important churchmen to lead from within rather than remaining at a distance from their flock. He told an archbishop whom he had just appointed papal almoner (charity director) not to sit in an office writing checks but to go out to the streets and serve the needy found there. Shepherds, he insists, should smell of their sheep because they are in their midst. The pope’s injunction forces Church leaders to ask, “Where are the sheep to be found?” In some places they may congregate in coffee houses or the local pub – the shepherd’s place would be there with them. In many parts of our society the sheep rarely stray from in front of the TV or the computer. Shepherds have gone there as well, whether by visiting homes or making a presence for Christ in the media. Some suburban churches have opened chapels or stalls in their local shopping malls because that’s where the people may be found.

Sheep Know the Difference…

The movement toward greater lay involvement in the Church has led some parish priests to live so much like their parishioners that people might not know that they are priests at all. Some avoid any type of clerical dress in their desire to be “one of the boys.” For others their parish life consists in rounds of meetings rather than in leader people in prayer. Sheep, however, know that their shepherd is not just another one of the sheep. They would be frightened if the shepherds started acting like sheep. Similarly Christian laypeople know that their priest has a different calling than they do. They should be able to detect in their pastors a greater commitment to prayer and the service of the Church as well as to fellowship with their parishioners.

A Model Shepherd

St John of Kronstadt served as a priest in a big city parish near St Petersburg in Russia from 1855 to 1908. He came to be known throughout the Russian Church for his devotion to the holy mysteries. He served the Divine Liturgy daily, unusual outside monasteries, and often heard confessions for hours on end. It was the witness of his prayer life that made people throughout Russia recognize him as “their” shepherd. One observer described the effect of serving the Liturgy on St John: “An extraordinary spiritual joy, extraordinary peace and heavenly rest, extraordinary strength and power were now reflected in each trace of his features. His face was as if glowing, was as if giving off some sort of light.” As St John himself said, “I die when I am not celebrating the Liturgy…”
 
IN THE MODERN AGE the world has come to accept one civil calendar which originated in Western Europe centuries ago. Many of us are aware that some groups still maintain an attachment to their historic calendars. The Chinese and Vietnamese, for example stage their own New Year’s celebrations according to their ancient calendars, usually in late winter. The Islamic New Year may begin anywhere from mid-October to mid-December. And the Jewish New Year, Rosh Ha-shanah, regularly begins in September. Starting in the last half of the fifth century (probably ad 462), the Byzantine Empire designated September 1 as the first day of the New Year. The Byzantine liturgical year was arranged according to that calendar and September 1 remains the first day of our liturgical year. The cycle of the Church’s Great Feasts begin in September with the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8) and conclude in August with the feast of her Dormition (August 15). Although our contemporary civil calendar begins on January 1, many of our public institutions effectively begin their year in September also. Congress and the courts, the school year, the theater and concert seasons, fundraisers, and other civic events on hold through the summer start up again only after Labor Day. Perhaps the Jews and the Byzantines got it right after all.

The Indiction

The first day of the Church year is called the Indiction. Originally referring to the start of a tax assessment cycle in the Roman Empire, this word has come to mean the beginning of a cycle in a more general way and may be found in legal or formal documents to this day. Thus in 2011 Pope Benedict XVI issue a formal letter “For the Indiction [i.e. Beginning] of the Year of Faith.” And so calling September 1 an Indiction simply means that it is the start of a new cycle of the feasts, fasts and other observances of our Church. On this day Byzantine churches read the Gospel of the beginning of Christ’s public ministry as recorded in Luke 4:16-22. After reading the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2 the Lord tells His listeners, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Messiah is at hand: God’s plan is on the move.

The “Year of the World”

A lesser-known aspect of the Byzantine calendar is that September 1, ad 2013 is the first day of am 7522! From ad 691 to 1728 the Byzantine Churches followed a system dating years from the creation of the world according to the calculations in the Book of Genesis (AM, Anno Mundi, the “Year of the World”). In 1700, during his westernization of Russia, Tsar Peter the Great replaced the Byzantine Era in his realm with the Western Christian Era. A few years later the Patriarchate of Constantinople and all the Churches in the Ottoman Empire followed suit. Formal documents of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Mount Athos and some other Eastern Church bodies may still indicate the Byzantine Era date along with that according to the Christian Era.

Prayer for the Environment

The Genesis story of creation, on which the Byzantine Era was based, has given rise to a new expression in the modern age. In 1989 the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I designated September 1 as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment. He called for “prayers and supplications to the Maker of all, both as thanksgiving for the great gift of Creation and in petition for its protection and salvation.” The patriarch noted that modern society has embraced an approach to the world around us, based on a philosophy which denies the existence of God the Creator. Since in this philosophy there is no God, there is no reason to consider creation as a divine gift. And since in this materialistic philosophy there is no higher life than the physical, there is no benefit to ascetic effort: to use the gifts of the earth sparingly and always with an eye to the needs of those who have less. In the patriarch’s words, “Unfortunately, in our days under the influence of an extreme rationalism and self-centeredness, humanity has lost the sense of sacredness of creation and acts as its arbitrary ruler and rude violator. Instead of the eucharistic and ascetic spirit with which the Orthodox Church brought up its children for centuries, we observe today a violation of nature for the satisfaction not of basic human needs, but of man's endless and constantly increasing desire and lust, encouraged by the prevailing philosophy of the consumer society.” Christians, the patriarch affirms, should approach the material creation with a eucharistic spirit, that is, with an attitude of thanksgiving, recognizing that it is of God and given to us by His grace. It should be used with an ascetic spirit, that is, according to our real needs rather than from a desire to amass or to out-possess others. An ascetic spirit sees our abundance as given that we may use it in doing good for those in need. More recently H.H. Francis, the Pope of Rome, affirmed similar sentiments, speaking to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square. He identified modern society as a “culture of waste,” as others have spoken of a throwaway society. “This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” the pope said. “Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.” As we begin the new Church year we can embrace the sentiments of both these hierarchs, by taking a fresh look at the creation in which we live, seeing it as God’s gift to us meant to be used with a spirit of simplicity and love for others.
Prayers for the Protection of the Environment
Apolytikion (Tone 4) – Lord and Savior, who as God brought all things into being by a word, establishing laws and governing them unerringly to your glory, at the prayers of the Mother of God, keep secure and unharmed all the elements which hold the earth together, and save the universe. Kontakion (Tone 2) – With your all-powerful strength You framed all things, both visible and invisible; and so keep unharmed, we implore your goodness, the environment that surrounds the earth. Ikos – Loving Savior, we praise the manifestations of your providence and your many saving powers; because with ineffable wisdom and order and harmony You have established for all things laws and unalterable ordinances for the protection of us, your royal fashioning. Keep us unshaken, Lord, from every corrupting activity, change and destruction, as guardian, protector and deliverer of all things, keeping in them the essential power unmoved, and especially watching over the environment that surrounds the earth.
 
THE GOSPEL PARABLE READ at today’s Divine Liturgy is actually two stories with two different if complementary points. The first concerns those invited to the banquet and those who finally came. The second is the issue of the so-called “wedding garment.” The Gospel of Matthew depicts Christ encountering increasing opposition the closer He came to the center of the Jewish establishment, Jerusalem. In Matthew 21:1-17 Jesus enters the Holy City, ejects the money changers from the temple and confronts the chief priests. Then we read four vignettes, each criticizing the Jewish leadership in the harshest of terms. The first such condemnation is the episode of the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22). Then, in Matthew 21:28-32, we read about the two sons: one who professed obedience to his father but in words only – a veiled criticism of the Pharisees who claimed to know the will of God – and the second who actually did the father’s will. In the words of St Hilary of Poitiers, the religious leaders “…put their faith in the Law and despised repentance from sin, glorying instead in the noble prerogative that they had from Abraham” (Homily on Matthew 21, 13). The second son recalls the sinners who repented at the preaching of John the Baptist: the tax collectors and harlots who enter the kingdom of God before “the righteous” because one can repent of greed and lust, but not of the denial for the need of repentance. Finally in verses 33-46 we read the parable of the wicked vinedressers whose infidelity leads the owner of the vineyard to lease it to others. And, as the Gospel reminds us, “When the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them” (Matthew 21:45).

The Royal Wedding

The story of the wedding banquet is in many ways an echo of the parable of the vinedressers. In each story an important person reaches out to his people; he is rebuffed, and finally turns to others. The vineyard owner in the first parable and the king in the second represent God. The disdainful tenants and the invited guests signify the people of Israel. The new tenants of the first story and the new guests of the second represent the Gentiles who would respond in faith. It may be hard for us to imagine the reaction of the invited guests to the banquet. An invitation to such an occasion would be esteemed, even coveted. “But," as the Gospel says, "they made light of it and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5). It is as if Matthew were describing our own day rather than his. This is the way many Christians – our own friends and relatives sadly among them – react to their invitation to the Eucharistic Banquet week after week. But how could an invitation to a royal wedding be dismissed so easily? Couching this parable in terms of a royal wedding is a way of saying that the initiative of God in sending the prophets to Israel, announcing the coming Messiah was at least as compelling as a kingly gala. One after another, prophets came and were recognized in some way as foretelling what was to come. At last the Forerunner came and proclaimed “Everything is ready – this is the Lamb of God” but was ignored by many who heard him. Those invited had so lost themselves in the concerns of the everyday world that they treated the invitation like junk mail.

Those Who Accept the Invitation

The messengers seek out – not the pillars of society at their farms and businesses – but the insignificant on the highways, representing the Gentiles. According to the Jewish opinion of the day, the Gentiles are inferior in God’s eyes to the Chosen People. Nevertheless, they respond to the king’s invitation where the important people did not. Churchmen are often criticized for catering to the well-to-do: landowners, benefactors, etc. Pope Francis of Rome has repeatedly pushed Catholic leaders to focus their efforts on the poor without ignoring the leaders of society. In fact he notes, what generally happens in our world is the opposite. “If investments in the banks fail, ‘Oh, it’s a tragedy,’” he said at a Pentecost vigil in Rome; “But if people die of hunger or don’t have food or health, nothing happens. This is our crisis today.” In the language of Matthew 22, Pope Francis might be called the Bishop of the Highways.

The Wedding Garment

In the second part of this parable the people from the highways have come to the banquet, but one is not wearing the appropriate “wedding garment.” In Jewish tradition this meant finery, one’s best clothing. A Jewish parable tells of a king inviting people to a banquet. Some went home and prepared immediately; others continued working and therefore arrived still in their work clothes and so were not allowed in. In the Gospel this theme of readiness is frequently found in Jesus’ teachings, particularly in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Many Fathers interpreted the “appropriate garment” to mean a virtuous life. The Gentiles may have replaced the leadership of Israel in the People of God, but if they ignored the Gospel way of life, they too would be excluded. St Gregory the Dialogist saw the garment as woven out of love of God and love of others. “These are great precepts,” he wrote, “sublime precepts, and for many they are hard to fulfill: nevertheless this is the wedding garment. And whoever sits down at the wedding feast without it, let him watch with fear, for when the King comes in, he shall be cast forth.” The “Bridegroom Matins” of Holy Week uses this interpretation as the basis of its beloved exapostilarion, “I see Your bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, but I do not possess the right garment that I may enter therein. Brighten the robe of my soul, O Giver of light and save me!” We much acknowledge our own spiritual emptiness (“I have no garment”) and seek God’s grace (“Brighten the robe of my soul”) to be made worthy of a place at the banquet.
How shall I enter the splendor of Your holy place, for I am unworthy? If I dare to enter the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment, and I shall be chained and cast out by the angels. O Lord, cleanse the stain of my soul and save me, for you are the Lover of Mankind. O Bridegroom more beautiful than all men, who have called us to the spiritual banquet of Your bridal chamber, remove from me the ill-clad image of my iniquities by this sharing in Your sufferings. Adorn me with the glorious robe of Your beauty and manifest me as a radiant guest of Your Kingdom, for You are compassionate.

From the Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week

 
AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SECTION from 2 Corinthians read at today’s Divine Liturgy we read, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). To what is he referring? How are we anointed and given the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to “be sealed”? How is the Spirit a “guarantee”?

What is a Seal?

For most of Western history people did not have the self-stick envelopes we do today. Letters and documents were sealed with hot wax. Usually a stick of wax was heated and allowed to drip onto the document to close it. Then a sign such as the image on a ring was dipped into the wax before it hardened. This served two functions: to insure that the missive could not be opened by just anyone and to authenticate it as coming from the person whose image was used. Because the seal was a material substance placed upon a document, a material substance came to be used to represent the Holy Spirit as the seal on our relationship with God. This substance was not wax, but an especially fragrant ointment called chrism or myron, a rich blend of oils and aromatic spices. Prepared and blessed by bishops, it is then distributed to their churches for local use. The newly-baptized are marked with chrism to show that they are “in Christ,” united to Him in His death and resurrection through baptism, and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, we sing, echoing St Paul (Galatians 3:27). This sealing we have come to call chrismation, the anointing with Chrism. Although this terminology is not regularly employed in the West, Pope John Paul II used it to describe this mystery when addressing pilgrims in 1998: “The seal of the Holy Spirit therefore signifies and brings about the disciple's total belonging to Jesus Christ, his being always at the latter's service in the Church, and at the same time it implies the promise of divine protection in the trials he will have to endure to witness to his faith in the world.”

How is the Spirit a Guarantee?

In the New Testament we find the Holy Spirit bestowed in a number of ways. The Father bestows the Spirit on Christ in the form of a dove at His Baptism and on the apostles in the form of fiery tongues at Pentecost. Christ bestowed the Spirit by His word alone on the evening of His resurrection. In Acts 10 we read that the Spirit descended upon Cornelius and his household even before they were baptized, without any human intervention. By and large, however, this bestowal of the Spirit comes about after baptism as a “sign” or “guarantee” that the Lord is truly working in the heart if the one so anointed. What has happened here is miraculous, it affirms, and it is of God.

Anointing – an Ancient Rite

Anointing with this special oil – chrism or myron – came to be considered the sign of being set apart very early in the history of Israel. The first chrism was made by the prophet and Lawgiver, Moses, according to directions given him by God (Exodus 38:25 LXX), and used by him to consecrate the Tabernacle and anoint Aaron for the service of the High Priest. All subsequent prophets, high priests and kings over Israel were likewise chrismated, as was anything or anyone reserved exclusively to the service of God or to a life of holiness. At a certain point all priests were anointed in a similar way, setting them apart for the service of God. In Christ these first anointings given under the old Law was fulfilled: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38). He is the one truly anointed – set apart – for the mystery of salvation, but His anointing is invisible – done by the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity. Contemporary scholars have noted that all the material anointings with oil in Jewish practice are paralleled in the New Testament Church. As Moses consecrated with holy oil the Tabernacle in which the tablets of the old Law were kept, so also the Christian temple is sanctified with Chrism. The walls, the holy table, the sacred vessels are consecrated in this way. When a hierarch consecrates antimensia (the principal cloth on the holy table) and even icons he does it by anointing them with chrism.

The Anointing of Priests

In the Western Church candidates for holy orders are anointed with chrism, recalling the anointing of priests in the Old Testament. In the Byzantine Church this is not done; instead it is in chrismation that all of us are anointed with chrism to be members of the royal priesthood. When the chrism is blessed the hierarch says this prayer:
“By the coming of Your holy and adorable Spirit, O Lord, make of it a garment of incorruptibility, a perfect seal that imprints on those who receive Your divine bath the right to bear Your godly Name and that of Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit so as to be known as members of Your family… becoming Your own people, Your royal priesthood, Your holy nation stamped with the seal of Your spotless chrism.”
The prayer lists three effects of this anointing:
  1. The right to bear the name Christian – we are “other Christs” (“other anointed ones”).
  2. We are members of God’s family, His holy people.
  3. We are His royal priesthood, set apart to lead and represent the world in the worship of its Creator.

A Visible Mark

In the Church’s prayers this anointing is described as a visible mark, or even as a garment, highlighting its visible character. When any of the above items are anointed, a visible mark is left: the sign of the cross, declaring it sanctified. When a person is anointed with the sign of the cross, the same is true: a visible mark is left. This too is in imitation of Old Testament practice. The high priest was anointed with the Hebrew latter tav. Studies have shown that this letter in the time the Biblical text was first written was in the form of a transverse cross, somewhat like our letter X. This mark was also inscribed on the plaque the high priest wore. Sometimes, at the baptism of infants, we see the newly-baptized then dressed in a cute little suit or fancy white dress. The color is right but the cut is wrong! The white garment given at this mystery is nothing other than the white robe worn by clergy in the altar: the stikharion. It is the basic garment of the priesthood worn by servers and clergy of every order. That it is given at chrismation reminds us that we all share in the common priesthood of the faithful, able to join together with others in the Church to offer the mystical sacrifice in union with our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus.

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