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To anoint is to pour or smear oil. In the Old Testament people and things are anointed to symbolize the introduction of a sacramental or divine influence. Unction is another term for anointing. In more traditional churches the oil may be called chrism.

The word is known in English since c. 1303, deriving from Old French enoint "smeared on", pp. of enoindre "smear on", itself from Latin inunguere, from in- "on" + unguere "to smear." Originally it only referred to grease or oil smeared on for medicinal purposes; its use in the Coverdale Bible in reference to Christ (cf. The Lord's Anointed, see also Chrism) has spiritualized the sense of it, a sense expanded and expounded upon by St Paul's writings in his "Epistles". The title Christ is derived from the Greek term Χριστός (Khristós) meaning "the anointed one"; covered in oil, anointed, itself from the above mentioned word Keres.


Old Testament

Hebrew Bible

Image:Samuel e david.jpg
Samuel anoints David, Dura Europos, Syria, Date: 3rd c. CE.

Among the Hebrews, the act of anointing with the Holy anointing oil was significant in consecration to a holy or sacred use: hence the anointing of the high priest (Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 4:3) and of the sacred vessels (Exodus 30:26). Later, Kings and Prophets were given the right to partake in this sacrament as well.


Olive oil was used also for medicinal purposes. It was applied to the sick, and also to wounds to soften them (Isaiah 1:6).

The expression, "anoint the shield" (Isaiah 21:5), refers to the custom of rubbing oil on the leather of the shield so as to make it supple and fit for use in war.


It was the custom of the Jews in like manner to anoint themselves with oil, as a means of refreshing or invigorating their bodies (2 Samuel 14:2; Psalms 104:15, etc.). The Hellenes had similar customs. This custom is continued among the Arabs to the present day. Since about 3,000 years ago, Persian Zoroastrians honor their guests with rose extract [Golaab] out of a beautifully designed glass goose-necked bottle, while holding mirror in front of their guest's face. The guest holds his/her palm, collects the rose-water and then spreads the perfumed liquid onto face and sometimes on his/her head. The words of "Rooj kori aka" (have a nice day) might be said as well.

Priests and kings

The High Priest and the king are each sometimes called "the anointed" (Leviticus 4:3-5, Leviticus 4:16; Leviticus 6:20; Psalm 132:10). Prophets were also anointed with the Holy anointing oil (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15).

Anointing a king was equivalent to crowning him; in fact, in Israel a crown was not required (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 2:4, etc.). Thus Saul (1 Sam 10:1) and David were anointed as kings by the prophet Samuel:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. - 1 Samuel 16:13.

Christian monarchy

Image:Sacre de Louis XV.jpg
The Anointing of young Louis XV as King of France.
Image:Preussen 1701 Königsberg.jpg
Friedrich I, King of Prussia, being anointed by two Protestant bishops after his coronation at Königsberg in 1701.

In Christian Europe, the Carolingian monarchy was the first to anoint the king [] in 7th century AD at a coronation ceremony that was designed to epitomize the Catholic Church's conferring a religious sanction of the monarch's divine right to rule. Nevertheless, a number of Merovingian, Carolingian and Ottonian kings and emperors have avoided coronation and anointing.

English and Scottish monarchs in common with the French included anointing in the coronation rituals (sacre in French). The Sovereign of the United Kingdom is the last anointed monarch. For the coronation of King Charles I in 1626 the holy oil was made of a concoction of orange, jasmine, distilled roses, distilled cinnamon, oil of ben, extract of bensoint, ambergris, musk and civet.

Shakespeare reflected English popular culture in the indelible nature of anointing:

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off an anointed king.[]

However this does not symbolize any subordination to the religious authority, hence it is not usually performed in Catholic monarchies by the pope but usually reserved for the (arch)bishop of a major see (sometimes the site of the whole coronation) in the nation, as is sometime the very act of crowning. Hence its utensils can be part of the regalia, such as in the French kingdom an ampulla for the oil and a spoon to apply it with; in the Swedish and Norwegian kingdoms, an anointing horn (a form fitting the Biblical as well as the Viking tradition) is the traditional vessel.

The French Kings adopted the fleur-de-lis as a baptismal symbol of purity on the conversion of the Frankish King Clovis I to the Christian religion in 493. To further enhance its mystique, a legend eventually sprang up that a vial of oil—the Holy Ampulla--descended from Heaven to anoint and sanctify Clovis as King. The thus "anointed" Kings of France later maintained that their authority was directly from God, without the mediation of either the Emperor or the Pope.

Legends claim that even the lily itself appeared at the baptismal ceremony as a gift of blessing in an apparition of the blessed Virgin Mary.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anointing of an Orthodox Sovereign is considered a Sacred Mystery (Sacrament). The act was believed to bestow upon the ruler the empowerment, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to discharge his God-appointed duties, and his ministry in defending the Orthodox Christian faith. The same Myron which is used in Chrismation is used for the Anointing of the Monarch. In the Russian Orthodox Church, during the Coronation of the Tsar, the Anointing took place just before the receipt of Holy Communion, toward the end of the service. The Sovereign and his Consort were escorted to the Holy Doors (Iconostasis) of the Cathedral, and were there anointed by the Metropolitan. After the Anointing, the Tsar alone was taken through the Holy Doors (an action normally reserved only for bishops or priests) and received Holy Communion at a small table set next to the Holy Table, or altar.[]

Christian sacramental usage

Early Christian usage

In early Christian times, sick people were anointed for healing to take place:

James 5:14-15
14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Mark 6:13
13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

Early Gnostic usage

Many early apocryphal and Gnostic texts indicate that anointing was part of the baptismal process, and in fact that the baptism with water (Johns baptism) is incomplete. The Gospel of Philip states; "The Chrism is superior to baptism, for it is from the word "Chrism" that we have been called "Christians", certainly not because of the word "baptism." And it from the "Chrism" that the "Christ" has his name. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the Resurrection, the Light, the Cross, the Holy Spirit. The Father gave him this in the bridal chamber, he merely accepted the gift. The Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father. This is the Kingdom of Heaven." In the Acts of Thomas the anointing is in fact the beginning of the baptismal process and essential to becoming a "Christian." It claims that God knows his own children by his seal, and that we shall receive the seal by the oil. Many such baptisms/Chrismations are described in detail throughout the gnostic text.

Roman Catholic Cult usage

The Roman Catholic Church blesses three types of holy oils for anointing: Oil of the Catechumens (traditionally abbreviated "OS" for oleum sanctum), Oil of the Infirm ("OI"), and Sacred Chrism ("SC"). The first two are said to be "blessed", while chrism is "consecrated".

The Oil of Catechumens is used to anoint the catechumens (adults preparing for reception into the church) just before receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. Anointing is part of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and the Oil of the Infirm is used for this. The Sacred Chrism is used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.

Any bishop may consecrate the holy oils, and normally do so every Holy Thursday at a special "Chrism Mass".

Orthodox Cult usage

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, Confirmation is known as Chrismationfrom the Greek word chrisma (χρίσμα), meaning the medium and act of anointing. The Eastern Churches perform the Mystery of Chrismation immediately after the Mystery of Baptism during the same ceremony, even in the case of infant baptism, using the sacred myron (chrism) which they believe contains a remnant of oil blessed by the Twelve Apostles. This myron may be added to as needed, usually at a ceremony held on Holy Thursday at one of the Patriarchal Cathedrals. The new myron contains olive oil, myrrh, and numerous spices and perfumes. This myron is normally kept on the Holy Table (altar) or on the Table of Oblation. During Chrismation, the newly illuminate (i.e., newly baptized) person is anointed by making the sign of the cross with the myron on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, lips, both ears, breast, hands and feet. The priest uses a special brush for this purpose.

The oil that is used to anoint the catechumens before baptism is simple olive oil which is blessed by the priest immediately before he pours it into the baptismal font. Then, using his fingers, he takes some of the blessed oil floating on the surface of the baptismal water and anoints the catechumen on the forehead, breast, shoulders, ears, hands and feet. He then immediately baptizes the catechumen with threefold immersion in the name of the Trinity.

Anointing of the sick is called the Sacred Mystery of Unction. Although practices will vary, most of the Orthodox use Unction not only for physical ailments, but for spiritual ailments as well, and the faithful may request Unction any number of times at will. In some churches, it is normal for all of the faithful to receive Unction during a service on Holy Wednesday of Holy Week. The holy oil used at Unction is not stored in the church like the myron, but consecrated anew for each individual service. When an Orthodox Christian dies, if he has received the Mystery of Unction, and some of the consecrated oil remains, it is poured over his body just before burial.

It is also common to bless using oils which have been blessed either with a simple blessing by a priest (or even a venerated monastic), or by contact with some sacred object, such as relics of a saint, or which has been taken from an oil lamp burning in front of a wonderworking icon or some other shrine.

Consecration of Oil in the Orthodox Cult

Among Eastern Orthodox Cults, the Myron (Μύρον, Holy Oil) for Chrismation (and, prior to the 20th century, for the Anointing of monarchs) is prepared periodically by the Orthodox Patriarchates (such as the Church of Constantinople -- see an announcement and process for preparation, with some sample dates of preparation) and by the various heads of autocephalous churches (such as the Orthodox Church in America -- see photos of the process). The Consecration of the Oil, when performed, occurs during Holy Week, and thereafter the Oil is distributed to the Orthodox parishes and monasteries under the authority of that ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

At the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the process is under the care of the Archontes Myrepsoi, lay officials of the Patriarchate. Various members of the clergy may also participate in the preparation, but the Consecration itself is always performed by the Patriarch or a bishop deputed by him for that purpose.

Pentecostal churches

As in the early Christian church, anointing with oil is used in Pentecostal churches for healing the sick and also for consecration or ordination of pastors and elders.

The word "anointing" is also frequently used by Pentecostal Christians mistakenly to refer to the power of God or the Spirit of God residing in a Christian: a usage that is misread in the Bible (e.g. in 1 John 2:20). A particularly popular expression is read completely out of context - "the anointing that breaks the yoke", which is derived from Isaiah 10:27:

And it shall come to pass on that day, that his burden shall be removed from upon your shoulder, and his yoke from upon your neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of oil.

Strangely the NIV translates this passage as, "the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat." The context of this passage refers to the yoke of Sennacherib, and how his oppressive nature is overturned by that of Hezekiah who was said to be as mild as oil.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In the cult of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Melchizedek Priesthood holders may anoint the head of an individual who is ill and has requested a blessing. Pure olive oil must be used, and it must have been consecrated earlier in a short ordinance that any Melchizedek Priesthood holder may perform.

In addition to the James 5:14-15 reference, the Doctrine and Covenants contains numerous references to the anointing and healing of the sick by those with authority to do so.

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