The Sacrament of Holy Unction and the Care of the Sick

The Most Reverend Ioan Cassian
Auxiliary Bishop
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas

The year 2012 has been dedicated by the Romanian Patriarchate to the Sacrament of Holy Unction and the Care of the Sick. Just as last year we concentrated on the two Sacraments of Baptism and Crowning seeking to discern their meaning, effects, and their ethical-moral repercussions in the life of the Christian believer this year we will examine another Sacrament: Holy Unction with one of the subjects related to it: illness, which has always been a concern to the human spirit with regard to understanding the profound reasons for its existence.It is not surprising that the first Gospel Reading from the Holy Unction service has a dual focus: the motive or profound rationale for the Christian ethos, which is love for God and one’s fellow man, reflected in the dialog between the lawyer and the Savior, and illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Through all this we realize that, in fact, the essence of the Sacrament (and I would add, of each of the Sacraments) is love; the love that is the essence of the entire message of the Holy Scriptures. The sum total of the Law and the Prophets, of the Holy Scriptures, is love for God and one’s neighbor. What follows in the manifestation of the Christian ethos is nothing other than the making visible of the law of love in the actions we undertake. St. John the Evangelist puts the problem this way: how can someone show his or her love for God, whom he has not seen, if he does not prove it through his love for his brother or sister whom he has seen (I John 4:20)? In fact, care for one’s neighbor is the visible or concrete expression of one’s love for God.
The word love is thus visibly incarnated in our life and our actions, continuing to manifest the love of the Son of God and of the Trinity felt by the Holy Apostles, who then endeavored to put it into words and deeds as an eternal witness to all ages. It is the central and eternal message of the true Church, which remains a partaker in the presence, ministry, and grace of God that creates it and sets it as a sign and reality of His existence and economy.
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