[STOTS Communications, South Canaan, PA] This Holy Week, during the 100th anniversary of St. Tikhon being elected Patriarch of Moscow, was most special at St. Tikhon’s as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon led the whole church in preparing Holy Chrism at the Monastery Church. Holy Chrism is used to receive those who are newly baptized, and those being received into the Holy Orthodox Faith in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). This is one of the actions of an autocephalous church.
According to Fr. John Erickson’s 1971 article in the SVS Quarterly, a church is termed “autocephalous” if it has the right to resolve its own internal problems on its own authority (following Holy Tradition of course), independent of other churches, and is self governing, appointing its own bishops, including the first among them, without expression of dependence on another church. (SVS Quarterly, Vol. 15, 1971, pp. 28-29) The right to prepare Holy Chrism is given to the primate of an autocephalous Orthodox Church (see brief write-up on this from our OCA website by clicking here). Our Tomos of Autocephaly, given by the Russian Orthodox Church on April 10, 1970, specifically includes the preparation of Chrism as point 2 (d). This is an especially important action for the OCA in fulfilling its mandate of ministering to the needs of God’s children here in North America.
In glimpsing God’s hand present in the preparation of Holy Chrism, a most significant group of witnesses and participants were present. Our first Orthodox Christians in the new land, the native Alaskans, were represented by Archpriest Peter Chris, from St. Innocent Church in Anchorage, and Fr. Vasily Fisher, from St. James Church, Napaskiak, Alaska, respectively. Among those stirring included descendants from Orthodox immigrants to America and converts to the Orthodox Faith. Finally, we were blessed by the presence of Archimandrite Philip Mugadizi, Deputy Dean of the Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi Kenya, from the ancient see of Alexandria. He came to observe and participate in the preparation of Holy Chrism.
Archpriest Joseph Martin has led the work of preparing Holy Chrism, under the Metropolitan’s oversight, since at least 1999. He shared that over 50 clergy came to assist in the preparation of the Holy Chrism. Among them were clergy from St. Tikhon’s Monastery, St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s Seminaries, and OCA hierarchs, and clergy from across the church. As is evident from the photos, one priest reads the Gospels continuously while the other stirs the mixture of olive oil, wine, and many oils and essences that is heated over a burner. During services one priest continually stirs the mixture. When the essences and oils were added, the church was filled with the fragrance of the Holy Chrism!
The preparation began on Monday morning with Metropolitan Tikhon blessing the ingredients before preparation and Holy Week services got underway. Fr. Basil Ferguson, a third-year St. Tikhon’s seminarian, assisted Archpriest Joseph during the course of the days of preparation. Additions were made periodically as the preparation continued to cook. Wednesday afternoon, the cooking concluded and the mixture was allowed to rest. Later on Wednesday evening, the Holy Chrism was poured into a number of jars.
The process of preparation was completed during the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday, with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, and His Eminence, Michael, Archbishop of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, and Rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary, who was also present on Monday morning. Archimandrite Philip, Archpriest Eric Tosi, OCA Secretary, and Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak, Secretary to the Metropolitan, were among the concelebrating clergy. (To see story and photos of the celebration of the Liturgy, click here.) At the Great Entrance, clergy carried all the jars of the newly prepared Holy Chrism, led by Archpriest Joseph Martin who carried a historic jar of Holy Chrism, given by the Russian Orthodox Church when autocephaly was conferred. The jars were then placed on the altar.
Later on in the Liturgy, the lids were removed from the jars. Before the Litany preceding the Lord’s Prayer, Metropolitan Tikhon blessed the contents of each jar three times. Then at the end of the Liturgy, the process was completed. A few drops of the historic Holy Chrism were placed in each jar of the new Holy Chrism. Then a few drops from each of the jars were likewise replaced in the historic jar. Now all the Holy Chrism is mixed between that which was newly prepared, and the historic Holy Chrism received!
This Holy Chrism will be used to receive all those being baptized into the Orthodox Faith in the Orthodox Church in America in the coming years, along with those being received in like manner into the Orthodox Faith. This Holy Chrism has been lovingly and prayerfully prepared by the hands of many in our Church under the direction of Metropolitan Tikhon. Thank you to all who assisted in this most holy action of our Orthodox Church in America, and thank God for the blessing of being able to participate in this essential effort during Holy Week.
Archpriest Steven Voytovich, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Dean
(Photos meticulously captured during the course of the week by Reader Andrew Bohush!)