The desert monastery of Anba Bishoi in Wadi Natrun has, for the last three weeks, been the scene of an event which takes place ever so often in the Coptic Church. This is the preparation or ‘cooking’ of the Holy Myron or Chrism Oil. Some 10 days ago Pope Shenouda III presided over the ceremony, accompanied by 61 bishops, scores of priests and deacons.
Pope Shenouda III told Watani that anointment with Myron was not a mere rite practised by the Coptic Orthodox Church but was one of the Seven Sacraments through which a baptised person would be bestowed with the Holy Spirit. The Pope said that putting drops of Myron oil into the baptismal water causes the water to become living water which, through the Holy Spirit, grants new birth to the soul and body. But the Chrismation or anointment with Myron is an independent Sacrament which immediately follows the Baptism, and through which the Holy Spirit dwells in the baptised, he explained. There are three actions a priest performs following baptism, His Holiness said; he anoints the baptised with Myron, he lays his hand on the baptised person’s head, and breathes in his or her face to accept the Holy Spirit as Christ did with His disciples.
Since Myron is used in the major part to anoint the baptised and to consecrate churches, altars, and icons, the Coptic Church, His Holiness said, is very careful to be well stocked with Myron oil. Whenever a pope observes that the stock of Myron is dwindling, he invites the Holy Synod to participate to cook a new batch of the sacred oil.
This is the seventh time Myron is cooked during the papacy of Pope Shenouda III. The cooking process usually starts during Holy Lent, before Passion Week, and ends on Sham al-Nessim day or Easter Monday when it is finally packaged in flasks. This explains why it is mostly done in April. His Holiness remembers that the first time he, as pope, cooked the Myron was in April 1981. The second was in 1987, the third in 1993, and the fourth was in April 1995. The fifth time was in Eritria in April 2004, while the sixth was in April 2005. The increasing need for Myron has been due to the growth in number of the Coptic Orthodox congregation in Egypt and outside. We now have, Pope Shenouda said, 156 churches in the US, 50 churches in Australia, and many others in Africa and Europe.
To cook the Myron this time, the Pope said, he asked Anba Serapion, Bishop of South California and Hawaii, to delegate Father Georgious Attallah of St John’s in Covena, California, to prepare the ingredients needed and stock them at Anba Bishoi monastery during April 2008. Before he was ordained, Fr Georgious was a professor at the faculty of science.
The ingredients comprise 27 special oils and sweet spices which were mentioned in the book of Exodus and in the Psalms. Some are found in Egypt and some are imported from abroad; Anba Avraham, Archbishop of Jerusalem sent us some ingredients from there, while the pure olive oil comes from the produce of the Bramous Monastery in the Western Desert.
When the ingredients were ready, the Pope said, I blessed them on the morning of 3 April, and we carried them in a procession of rejoicing to where the holy oil would be cooked. The following day we ground the components and placed them in soaking bowls. The oil passes through four phases of soaking and additions, with specific periods of time in between, to mature. On 17 April we, together with 61 bishops, sanctified the holy oil and on 28 April, Sham al-Nessim day, the “yeast” is finally added and the Myron is thus ready for packaging. It is stored in flasks and sent to the different bishoprics. The “yeast” is a little of the old Myron which, considering the perpetual addition of a “yeast” from every previous Myron, goes back to the spices which were used in the Holy Shroud when the body of Christ was placed in the tomb.
Watani asked why was the Holy Oil always cooked during Lent, to which the Pope answered that the Lent was a holy time of repentance, which matched well the holiness of the sacrament.
Finally, Pope Shenouda affectionately and appreciatively reminded us to acknowledge the role of Anba Sarabamon, abbot head of Anba Bishoi Monastery, who lovingly shouldered the responsibility of hosting the blessed ceremony and all the visitors involved in the work.
27 April 2008