The Holy Myrrh, also called, chrism, holy anointing oil, and is used in the Anglican, Armenian, Assyrian, Catholic and Old Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and Nordic Lutheran Churches in the administration of certain sacraments and ecclesiastical functions. The Holy Myrrh consists of a mixture of oil and 57 different medicinal plants and aromatic substances, and is prepared according to an ancient privilege exclusively at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, every ten years, and then sent to all Orthodox Churches, in order to be used in the anointing mystery (after baptism).
The preparation is based on the description of Moses in the Book of Exodus (Exodus 30, 22-25), where we read:
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 calamus, 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.
The Holy Myrrh began to be prepared in the 2nd century AD. Until the 8th century, only bishops prepared it, however slowly the right passed to the patriarchs and then to the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Ingredients of the Holy Myrrh
The ingredients of the Holy Myrrh change from season to season. The first written recipe, preserved in Berber code of the 8th century, mentions 13 materials. The materials with which they prepared the Holy Myrrh is herbs, dragees and essential oils. These components with several variations and additions, appear on lists of ton8o century until the late 19th century.
Indicatively it contains:
• Indian leaves
It also contains calf, ethereal animal secretion from the gland of the male calf.
The sacred preparation of Holy Myrrh in Holy Week
During Palm Sunday and Holy Monday the blessing of the Patriarch marks the beginning of the preparation process. Then the Patriarch puts the materials in boilers and lights up the fire.
Holy Tuesday takes place the memorial of those who have donated money or items for the preparation of the Chrism, and the Holy Gospel is being read.
On Holy Wednesday the mixture boilers fill various herbs, and thus completes the preparation of the Holy Myrrh, which is mounted in silver containers.
Finally, on the morning of Holy Thursday, a litany is conducted within the Patriarchal court in which the Myrrh is transferred in 24 archimandrites holding 12 large silver containers. This final process is also attended by diplomats and a representative of the Greek State.
The ceremony ends with Mass, during which the Holy Myrrh is blessed and sanctified. Then the Myrrh is transported and stored in large containers, the Myrophylakia in the Patriarchate Tower. From there it is distributed to all Orthodox Churches.
Apart from the sacrament of anointing, by which the use of Holy Chrism symbolizes the transmission of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the baptized, the Holy Myrrh is used:
• For the nomination of people who come to Orthodoxy from other denominations, which accept the baptism previously
• The temple inauguration, for the consecration of the altar
• The consecration of sacred objects and images
• In the Orthodox coronation of Kings and Emperors
• In disposing relics
Properties of the Holy Myrrh
The myrrh apart from blessing, is also an oil with strong healing properties, such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent, expectorant, antifungal, antiparasitic, tonic, sudorific, healing, antiseptic, tonic, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic.