Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anointed With Oil

The celebrated St. Cyril, writing in the fourth century, in his Catechetical Lectures, iii., Section 21, speaking concerning Jesus, says:

“When He truly was baptized in the river of Jordan, He ascended out of the waters, and the Holy Spirit substantially descended upon Him, like resting upon like. And to you also in like manner, after ye have ascended from the waters of baptism, the [anointing] is given, which bears the image or similitude of Him by Whom Christ was anointed; that as Christ after baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Him went forth to battle and overcome the adversary; so ye also after holy baptism and the mystical [anointing], being vested with the armor of the Holy Spirit, are enabled to stand against the opposite powers.”

In the same lecture, Section ii., Cyril describes how the church of his day anointed the baptized with oil before praying for them to receive the Holy Ghost, and he also explains the meaning of the ceremony.

“They were first anointed in the forehead,” says he, “to wipe away that shame which the first man, by his transgression had contracted; and that they might now, with open face behold the glory of the Lord.

Then they were anointed on the ears, that they might have ears to hear the divine mysteries.

After that, on the nose and the heart; that they might be a sweet savor unto the Lord; and being armed with the breastplate of righteousness, might be able to stand all the insults of the devil.

In Bible times the anointing with oil seems usually to have been the pouring or placing of a little oil on the head, or forehead: but in Old Testament times the blood of the consecration offering was applied to the right ear, thumb, and great toe of the high priest to symbolize his entire consecration (Lev. 8:24).

The church of Cyril’s day seems to have had a much more elaborate ceremony with the anointing oil to symbolize what the Holy Spirit would do for those in whom he came to dwell.

Harvard Divinity School Bulletin 1860. Cambridge, Massachusetts

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