Great and Holy Wednesday ~ The Unction Service

Holy Unction-St. Ekaterini6a

The Mystery of Holy Unction that we celebrate tonight is established upon the words and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ. It embodies, extends and continues His healing ministry. It is the sign of His transforming presence in a bruised and hurting world, and the emblem of His promise to deliver us from sin and corruption. It is the manifestation of the kingdom and the sign of what God has in store for the world when it reaches its state of ultimate completion.Sickness and death are inescapable indignities resulting from the Fall. These indignities are not forms of divine retribution, but the result of the world’s deep alienation from God. He allows death to terminate graceless life, not as punishment, but so that it may be restored to its fullness in the resurrection.

St. Matthew quotes the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 8, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.” He overcame the world and has given humanity access to imperishable life. The sacrament of Holy Unction places the sick person into this eschatological reality, where suffering, corruption and death are overcome.

Holy Unction is a sacrament of faith. In the Epistle of St. James we read, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15) It is meant for any sick person and is always celebrated in the hope that it will bring healing. While this certainly is the desired effect, it is not the indispensable condition of the sacrament. The essential purpose of the sacrament is to allow the person to share in the victory of Christ and to raise him into the realm of God’s Kingdom. It communicates spiritual power so that the trials of sickness may be borne with courage, hope and fortitude. The sacrament is not a substitute for medical treatment. In time of illness, we are guided by the words of Scripture: From Sirach we read “When you are sick do not be negligent but pray to the Lord and He will heal you … And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him” (Sirach 38.9-10).

The Sacrament may be celebrated at any time for the sick. When the faithful are ill or facing an operation they should seek the Sacrament from the priest as St. James reminds us to call the elders of the Church. It is celebrated with special solemnity on Great Wednesday for the entire community for the healing of the spiritual and bodily infirmities of the faithful. Through the prayer of its priest, in one of the most intimate actions of the priest and his congregation, the congregation asks God for forgiveness, help and deliverance from the cycle of sin and suffering. The borders between the -sickness of the body and the sickness of the soul are not always strictly defined. Because we cannot draw a sharp distinction between bodily and spiritual illness, the Church confers Holy Unction upon all the faithful whether they are physically ill or not.

The solemn celebration of Holy Unction on Great Wednesday serves to remind the faithful of Christ’s power to forgive and liberate the conscience from the blight of personal and collective sin. Thus, it helps emphasize the glorious expectation of Pascha: the resurrection, redemption and sanctification of all life. In addition, it helps the faithful to realize how fragile human life really is and how dependent we are on God, if life is to have any true meaning and purpose. The sacrament also helps us to know that the integration of the human personality and the restoration of interior justice and holiness are basic presuppositions for healing. The corporate celebration should remind us also that caring for the sick and the afflicted, and comforting them in their distress and plight is both a personal as well as a communal responsibility. Finally, the sacrament helps us to recall that the defeat of suffering, sickness and death – the indignities of the ancestral sin – can be understood only in the light of Christ’s own death and resurrection.

By the streams of Your mercy, O Christ, and through the anointing by Your Priests, wash away, as a Merciful Lord, the pains and wounds, and the sudden assaults of suffering of those, tormented by passions, that they may be healed through Your cleansing.


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