Dozens of faithful gathered in the courtyard of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul on Holy Thursday to receive on a piece of cotton a bit of the freshly “baked” Holy Myrrh.
With 57 ingredients from all over the world, among them extremely rare ones, the Holy Myrrh ( Άγιο Μύρο) is set for preparation in the Canopy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on Palm Sunday, in a ritual process that takes place once in ten years.
The ritual process of preparing the Holy Myrrh took place at the start of the Holy Week in the Canopy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a ritual that takes place once in ten years.
The Holy Myrrh is a concentrated aromatic oil brewed from 57 aromatic substances, some of them rare, from plants and animals, and symbolizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek Orthodox Church uses the aromatic oil to give the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who get baptized.
According to the tradition, the Ecumenical Patriarch, on Palm Sunday, awards the gilded service crosses to the myrrh-makers who will prepare the Holy Myrrh on Palm Sunday. The next day, on Holy Monday, the Patriarch lights the fire under the copper boilers.
The ten myrrh-bakers stir the aromatic ingredients, of plant and animal origin, in the copper boilers, that were donated to the Patriarchate in 1807 by the seraphs (the silversmiths) of Istanbul.
Basic ingredient of the Holy Myrrh is virgin olive oil, dry red wine and rose oil.
Among the ingredients are two extremely rare materials of animal origin: the ambergris known also as “treasure of the sea” or “floating gold” and animal musk.
Ambergris comes from the elimination of gastric contents -vomiting- indigestible parts of the diet of the Sperm Whale, while the musk is derived from the gland of a species of male musk deer of Tibet.
During the byzantine times, the Holy Myrrh was prepared by pharmacists and physicians but nowadays it is pharmacists and chemists.
Pharmacist Giorgos Savvic, with several decades of experience in the Holy Myrrh preparation awarded as Lord of Myrreto whom, in November 2021, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew awarded the Office of Lord Myrepsos of the Great Church of Christ, in 2021 in order to be responsible for the preparation, preparation and baking of St. Myrrh.
The 57 ingredients
Savvic told state-run news agency amna, that for the composition of the Holy Myrrh the official catalog from 1890 is been used.
“This composition includes 57 ingredients, mainly drugs. Drugs are components from various plant tissues. They can be roots, flowers, bark, seeds, bulbs, roots, gums, resins and various other components, which come from plants or shrubs or trees or flowers.
“Preparations this year began around the beginning of March, with the order of the ingredients that will be used”, Savvic said.
Among the 57 excellent quality ingredients mentioned on the official the Patriarchal Catalog, some of which are known to many, while some are little known, are the following:
pure olive oil, wine, rose water, rose water,, citrus flowers water, pure mastic, fragrant gum , long pepper, Bohemian angelica, cinnamon, amber, safran, cardamon, ginger, oils from lavender, laurel and rosemary, some plants from India, Holland and Mecca.
According to the Chief Myrrh-baker, these ingredients can not all be found in one country or in one part of a country, and for this reason they are ordered from different countries.
“There are some ingredients that can not be found because they do not exist. E.g. One substance that we will not be able to find this year, but we will use from a stock left over from the previous baking of 2012, is the ambergris, which is a product that the sperm/humpback whale eliminates from its stomach. This material, when excreted from the whale’s stomach, floats on the surface of the sea and with the salt and the temperature of the sun some internal chemical process takes place, which gives it some aroma. The main role of this material is that it is fixative of the perfume on the human skin, ie it lasts the perfume for several hours and is felt by the one who wears it. When and if the barn is found, it is very expensive.
For future baking and if this ingredient cannot be found, it is possible to use a substitute with the same quality.
Another rare material, which we also did not find this year and we will use a plant substitute, is the musk that comes from the gland of a species of deer that lives in Tibet and seems to be an endangered species.
“I happened to meet a dealer of this substance who was selling it for $ 250 a gram. About 50 grams of the musk are used for the Holy Myrrh,” Savicc said.
Many of the rare ingredients materials are still plentiful and are still on the market.
For example, the ladano, which comes to us as a sponsorship from Crete and comes from the plant called ladania (Cistus creticus/pink rock-rose), its Latin name). This species, however, has begun to decline significantly in Crete. In contrast, the Spaniards cultivate it in their country, avoiding its extinction from nature.
The process of baking the Holy Murrh
One day before the process of baking the Holy Myrrh begins, on Palm Sunday, the Ecumenical Patriarch blesses the myrrh-bakers, awarding them with crosses of ministry.
The process begins on Holy Monday and ends on Holy Wednesday, while on Holy Thursday, it is consecrated, processed and placed in the Myrrh-storage of the Patriarchate.
The initial preparations begin in March, when extracts from the various herbs bought from the Egyptian Market in Istanbul are being made. The extracts are filtered and added to the Holy Myrrh on the first day that its preparation begins.
“After the preliminary work has been done, ie the cleaning and control of the equipment used, the baking process begins, early on Holy Monday morning, in the Canopy of the Patriarchate, an elegant wooden pavilion next to the Patriarchal Church of St. George.
On Holy Monday, the Ecumenical Patriarch, after the service of the Blessed Virgin, sprinkles the materials and utensils with holy water, and lights the fire under the boilers.
Old church documents are used to light the fire, as well as damaged books and icons that have no historical or artistic value. They are sorted by priests, who are specialized in the history of ecclesiastical art.
Throughout the process of preparing the Holy Myrrh, that is, from Holy Monday to Holy Wednesday, the Patriarch, bishops and clergy alternate in reading the chapters of the Gospel and passages from the New Testament.
There are normally seven heated copper containers/boilers used for the baking, giving 400-500 liters of Holy Myrrh at every baking. This year only four of five were used because there is a stock of the Holy Myrrh from previous baking procedures.
The boilers have a constant temperature to avoid that some ingredients are damaged when boiled.
On Holy Monday, the Patriarch pours the olive oil and the wine first, then follow the flower water, the rose water and the extracts of various plant origin, which over time are stirred with the traditional big wooden spoons.
Late in the afternoon the stirring stops and the fire almost goes out.
On Holy Tuesday, the Patriarch adds seasonal flower petals in the boilers. The procedure stops from afternoon until the morning of Holy Wednesday, until it cools down sufficiently (approximately 25-30 degrees Celsius).
On Holy Wednesday, after the contents of the boilers have cooled and reached 25-30 ° C, the essential oils are added.
The essential oils are placed after cooling, because if heated, they evaporate. The rose oil, which is the main aromatic ingredient of Myrrh, is added by the Patriarch on Holy Wednesday.
Immediately after this process of adding, mixing and stirring with the wooden spoons, the process of filtration begins.
After the filtration, the Holy Myrrh is placed in silver amphorae and containers.
On Holy Thursday, after the consecration in the Patriarchal Church of Agios Georgios, priests in pairs, holding one amphora each, carry the Holy Myrrh to the Μυροφυλάκιο – the Holy Myrrh depot – of the Patriarchate.
Agios Myros is sent Upon request to the Greek Orthodox Dioceses the Holy Myrrh is distributed all over the world, in order to be used in the baptisms and in the consecration of the Holy Table in the openings of churches. It is also used during the Sacrament of Christ in Christians of other denominations who embrace Orthodoxy.
In the past, when there were Greek Orthodox kings and emperors, it was used during coronation ceremonies.
Source: amna, wikipedia