ANTELIAS, Lebanon–The Blessing of Holy Chrism (Muron) is uniquely important for the Armenian Church. Waves of jubilant believers gathered at the Catholicosate of Cilicia on June 7 to witness the ceremonious event that happens only once every seven years.
In a testament of love and commitment to the Armenian Church, thousands of pilgrims from around the world flocked to Antelias, Lebanon to witness the Blessing of the Holy Chrism by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.
Representatives of each prelacy of the Catholicosate were present, as well as clerics representing the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenia’s, who was represented by Arch. Norvan Zakarian (Primate of the Diocese of France), Bishop Yezras Nersisian (Primate of the Diocese of Russia). The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was represented by the Grand Sacristan of the Saint Hagop Cathedral, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian. Patriarchal Vicar Arch. Shahan Sevadjian attended on behalf of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He headed a delegation with Rev. Fr. Tatoul Anoushian and Father Vagharshag Serovpian.
All clerics, including all prelates of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilcia joined the Aram I on on the platform, for the ceremony.
Representatives of various Christian communities in Lebanon shared the spritual occasion with the Armenian Church. Among them were representatives of the Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Chaldonean Protestant and Armenian Protestant.
Thousands of pilgrims, who had flocked to Antelias from all over the world, filled up the Catholicosate’s headquarters to attend this ceremony, which occurs only once every seven years. This phenomenon is itself a testament to the love and commitment of our people towards the Armenian Church.
The Nuncio Apostolic in Lebanon and government officials were also present. His Holiness received on this occasion letters from heads of churches and ecumenical organizations expressing their spiritual love and fellowship.
The service started when the Pontifical Procession, led by Bishops followed and the Armenian Pontiff proceeded from the Monastery toward the altar built on the platform outside the Cathedral especially for this occasion. The Godfather of the service was Vrej Armoyian, a community leader of the Prelacy of Canada.
The Catholicosate’s “Shenorhali” Choir performed the hymns. Members of the Cilician Brotherhood brought out the historic Cauldron of the Holy Chrism rom the Cathedral carrying it on their shoulders and placed on the platform outside, in front of the Pontiff.
While the lid of the cauldron was being lifted, it seemed as though the doors to the souls of believers were also laid open. Reciting prayers, the Catholicos added to the cauldron the main ingredient of the Chrism, the Balsam, and the old Chrism, which according to tradition contains samples of the oil that the Apostles used to cure patients. The Apostle who evangelized Armenia, Saint Thaddeus, is said to have brought a part of this oil to Armenia. Amid the excitement of the faithful, Catholicos also mixed in the cauldron a sample of Holy Chrism blessed in St. Etchmiadzin as a symbol of the unity of the Armenian Church. During the service, the representative of the Catholicos of All Armenia’s read out His Holiness Karekin II’s address on this occasion, in which he welcomed the blessing of Chrism in Antelias and expressed his brotherly affection for His Holiness Aram I.
At the most sacred moment of the service, Catholicos Aram I stirred the new Chrism with the Holy Right Hand of Saint Gregory the Illuminator sanctifying the new Chrism with the blessings of the Patron Saint of the Armenian Church.
In his address to the thousands of pilgrims, His Holiness conveyed the meaning and symbolism of the Holy Chrism.
His Holiness summarized his thoughts in the following four points:
The Chrism as a guarantor of the Armenian Church’s continuity
During the blessing of the Holy Chrism, the old Chrism was mixed with the new. This is not a mere tradition or a coincidence. It symbolizes the eternal path of the Armenian Church. In its true being the Church is a mission. In the life and mission of the Church, the past, present and the future are consistently present in a harmonious way. Neither time, nor historic circumstances or geographical distances can cause disruption in the Church’s continuity. Beyond this theological concept, in our Church the Holy Chrism is the spiritual force through which our church refuses any thought and attempt of becoming part of the past and continues to exist with its path always headed to the future. Through the old Chrism, our catholicoi, our saints and martyrs come to unite with the new Chrism with their faith and their vision. Therefore, this Chrism is living history. To be blessed with the Chrism means to come in live contact with our nation’s and church’s history. Receiving the Chrism of the Armenian Church means being stamped with the faith and sanctity of our fathers who had embraced Jesus Christ in their lives.
The Chrism as a holy bond for the indivisible unity of the Armenian Church
During the ceremony, the Chrism of the Catholicosate of All Armenia’s was mixed to the Chrism of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. The same will be repeated in Saint Etchmiyadzine in September, when the Chrism of the Catholicosate of Cilicia will be mixed with the Chrism of the Catholicosate of All Armenia’s. This symbolic gesture concretely expresses the indivisible unity of the Armenian Church. The Holy Sees that have come to exist in the Armenian Church due to historic circumstances and necessity can in no way shake the internal unity of the Armenian Church. More than ever, our nation needs the strengthening of its unity in order to overcome the threats facing our spiritual, cultural and national identity both in Armenia and the Diaspora. In this Holy moment of Chrism Blessing we greet our spiritual brothers Catholicos of All Armenia’s His Holiness Karekin II, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Torkom Manougian and the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Archbishop Mesrob Moutafian, wishing them a rich and long term of service. We also greet in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship all the representatives of churches who are with us at this ceremony, as well as all church leaders who through their prayers share this spiritual event in the life of our church.
The Holy Chrism as an invitation to participate in the life of the Armenian Church
The Armenian Church is not a structure, a set of rituals or dogma. It is the wholeness of our nation, constructed as a community on the faith of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Chrism we become part of the Church’s wholeness, its collective life. Our children are blessed with the Holy Chrism. The items used in Church life are ordained with the Holy Chrism. Those called upon to serve the Church are ordained with the Holy Chrism. The Holy Chrism is a path that leads to participation in our Church’s common life. The Holy Chrism is the heavenly power taking the Church’s God-given mission, evangelism and service to the people. We should approach the Holy Chrism with this awareness. Let us not forget that on our foreheads is stamped the centuries-old Chrism of the Armenian Church. With our life and work we should remain loyal to the Holy Chrism, its symbolism and its message.
The Holy Chrism as a source for spiritual renewal
As a mission the church has an essential need for internal renewal. The Chrism is the renewing and revitalizing presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. It is through it that the Church remains active in its life and mission, resisting the rust and dust of time. It is through the presence of the Holy Chrism that the Church renews its spiritual life and keeps itself strong against all types of distorting influences. In front of the challenges of the current world, our Church has such an imperative and immediate need for spiritual renewal, so that it can make its mission in the life of the nation more effective. We consider the infiltration of our church’s spiritual values in our nation’s life, its spiritual invigoration, the adoption of evangelical truths in our individual, family and collective lives as priorities for our church. Therefore, the Blessing of the Holy Chrism should become an opportunity and an invitation for spiritual renewal and the strengthening of the mission of faith in our Church.
His Holiness then dedicated the new Holy Chrism to the new generation: We express gratitude and satisfaction to God that this is the third blessing of the Chrism that we perform. We dedicate the blessing of this Holy Chrism to our new generation, the generation that is called upon to build the future of the church. He continued: In the globalised world, faced with new lifestyles, new viewpoints questioning our Christian faith, out spiritual truths and moral values, it is not easy to be true Christians. It is also not easy to stay Armenian in a context of a culture of globalisation, which destroys nation and culture, identity and tradition. Therefore, stay alert. Let the winds blowing around you not push you away from your roots. Be proud of your spiritual and national values, for the preservation of which your ancestors shed blood. You have the Armenian Chrism on your forehead. Keep your faith strong, the Armenian Chrism pure and in front of the current world’s storms transform your life into one stamped with spiritual and national values.
The faithful remained in Antelias until late at night, approaching the Chrism pot with great awe and kissing it. A committee formed by the Catholicosate especially for this event had prepared several souvenirs, which were distributed to the faithful at the entrance of the Catholicosate. Particularly impressive was the presence of students, who were wearing special shirts with the theme of the blessing of the Chrism.