What is Holy Oil? Fully Explained!

By Charalampos •  Updated: 02/04/23 •  6 min read

Many people who attend the Orthodox church have probably seen a priest draw a cross on the forehead of parishioners with oil.

But what is this oil used for? In the article, we will answer this question.

The Matters of The Sacrament

sacraments importance

In Orthodox Christianity, there are many sacred and ceremonial things for ministers or parishioners that carry holiness and attitude toward God.

Such things are called matters of the Sacrament. For example, we partake of prosphora as the body of Christ, and wine (or kagor) as His blood. Frankincense also serves as a church incense for the thurible.
The Holy oil used in Church Sacraments is called myrrh.

Holy Oil

In Christianity, myrrh is a specially prepared and consecrated aromatic oil used in the sacrament of chrismation for the anointing of the human body, especially after the baptism rite.

In the Orthodox Church, it can be used for the consecration of a newly built temple, for the anointing of the antimins, the altar, and the walls.

In Catholicism and in the Armenian Apostolic Church, in addition to the sacrament of chrismation, it’s used in the ordination of priests and bishops and in the consecration of temples and altars.

In some Orthodox countries, there was a rite of the anointing as tsar. Its essence was that the monarch who ascended the throne was anointed with myrrh or oil in order to give him the gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit to support him.

What is Holy Oil Made of?

What is Holy Oil Made of

Holy oil is olive oil or myrrh. Both types of oil are considered holy and ceremonial. The Bible also mentions freshly prepared olive oil, and Myrrh is a special aromatic oil made from olive oil.
Such oil is mentioned in the Bible:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil.

Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.” (Exodus 30:22-25).

What is it for?

Through the Holy oil of Myrrh, divine grace is transmitted to man.

The sacrament on which a person is smeared with Myrrh is called Anointing – sanctification of a person by smearing him with an aromatic mixture (myrrh). This replaced the laying of hands by the bishop on the heads of believers as the number of Christian communities grew.

What Else Do We Know About The Holy Oil?

What Else Do We Know About The Holy Oil?

In all four Gospels – John, Mark, Matthew, and Luke – there is a description of the anointing of Jesus Christ by a woman in Bethany:

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:37-38).

Thus, we can see the details of the anointing that happened to Christ. After that, Christ preaches a sermon to the Pharisees.

«When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”»

And Jesus answered: «“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”» 

Thus, Christ speaks about the forgiveness of the sins of sinners who are more likely to repent and start loving Christ. After that, he says that pouring perfume is a special manifestation of love and humility:

«“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 

You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”» (Luke 7:39-48)

Also, one of the meanings of chrismation is what Jesus Christ calls preparing Him for burial. On the Great and Holy Wednesday of Holy Week, Christians with sorrow remember the betrayal made by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver and the anointing of Christ with the myrrh before burial.

How is Holy Anointing Oil Made?

The preparation of myrrh in the Orthodox Church is strictly regulated. It is performed during Lent and lasts for several weeks.

The composition of this substance includes about fifty components, among which are olive oil, white wine, frankincense, rose petals, rose, lemon, and clove oils, etc.

On the Wednesday of the Cross-worshiping week, a special prayer service is performed. Then all the components of the myrrh are mixed and left to infuse until the beginning of Holy Week.

On Great Monday, myrrh is put on a small fire and boiled for three days without a break. All this time the priests are reading the Gospel over it. At the end of cooking, on Holy Thursday, a Patriarch consecrates the myrrh.

A little old oil is always added to the newly brewed myrrh – this is how continuity has been observed since apostolic times.

And How Else Do Orthodox Christians Use Holy Oil? 

The olive oil, which is part of myrrh, is also used to pour out divine grace on the parishioner. The priest, when anointing, depicts the sign of the cross on his forehead. This rite is called chrismation.

Chrismation is also mentioned in the New Testament (James 5:14) as a rite performed by an elder of the church over a sick person: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Often in the Orthodox Church, chrismation is performed on Sunday or festive matins after reading the Gospel.

Final Thoughts

As can be seen from the article, Holy Oil can be of several types and is important in Orthodoxy for the union with the Holy Spirit and Its descent.

The oil is used in Sacraments, rituals, and in lamps with a candle. Myrrh is prepared according to a recipe that was said by the Lord to Moses back in the XIV—XIII century BC. And to this day, the Holy oil has a special meaning in the Orthodox Church.


Charalampos is an Orthodox Christian who wants to help others learn about Christianity. His main goal is to help people understand the Bible and how to apply its teachings in their everyday lives. He also enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, and hiking.

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