The Mysterion (Sacrament) of Holy Unction (Efchelaion)

Jesus Washing the Disciples Feet

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Kalo Pascha and Kali Anastasi!


Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the midst of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be born down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and lest thou be shut out from the Kingdom. Wherefore rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, our God, through the power of Thy Cross save us.



O God Great and Supreme, Who are adored by all creation, Fountain of Wisdom, Abyss of unfathomable goodness, and boundless Gulf of Loving-kindness: do Thou, the same Master Who lovest mankind, the God of things eternal and of wonders, Whom none among men by taking thought can conceive, look down and hear us, Thine unworthy servants, and wheresoever in Thy Great Name we shall bring this Oil, send Thou down the gift of Thy healing, and remission of sins; and heal them in the multitude of Thy mercies. Yes, O Lord Who are easy to be entreated; Who alone are merciful and loves mankind; who repentest Thee of our evil deeds; Who knowest how the mind of man leans towards wickedness, even from his youth; Who desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn again and live; Who for the salvation of sinners did become Incarnate, being God, and did, Thyself become a created being for the sake of Thy creatures; Thou has said: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Thou did seek the wandering sheep; Thou did diligently seek out the lost piece of silver, and having found it, Thou did say: "He that comes unto Me I will not cast out;" Thou did not abhor the sinful woman who washed Thy precious feet with her tears; Thou did say: "As often as thou fall arise, and thou shall be saved"; Thou are He Who did say: "There is joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents." Do Thou, O merciful Master, look down from above, and bring us, Thy sinful and unworthy servants, to the shadow of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, in this hour, and take up their iniquities, and draw near unto Thee in faith; and accepting them because of Thy Love towards mankind, forgiving them whatsoever they have done amiss, whether by word, or deed, or thought, cleanse them from every sin; and abiding ever present with them, preserve them all the remaining years of their life; that, walking ever in Thy statutes, they may in no way again become an object of malignant joy to the Devil; so that Thine All-Holy Name may be glorified in them.
For it is Thine to show mercy and to save us, O Christ Our God; and unto Thee do we ascribe glory, together with Thy Fathers, Who is from everlasting, and Thine All-Holy, and Good, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Unction is a Mysterion (Sacrament), and so it is given only to the Orthodox Christian faithful who have been baptized and chrismated in our Holy Church.

In receiving the sacrament of Holy Unction on this, the eve of Holy and Great Thursday, we do much more than petition God to heal us of body and soul that we may enjoy the good things of this worldly life. We are beseeching Him to heal us of body and soul in such a way that the vesture of our soul will be enlightened and that our body will be raised up in spiritual wholeness that we may walk in His ways, that we may eat the divine words of His teaching which are sweeter than honey and be nourished in the life of His Holy Spirit. We are therefore asking the Lord to do for us whatever He sees that we need that we might be healed in such a way that we might live in the life of the Eschaton.

According to Saint Gregory the Theologian, the human person 'put on the garment of sin, which is our coarse flesh, and became a body-bearer'. Illness and disease became a part of human life. The root of all infirmity, according to the Church's teaching, is a human sinfulness: sin entered the human person in such a way that it polluted not only his soul and intellect, but also his body. If death is a consequence of sin (cf. St. James 1:15), an illness may be seen as a situation between sin and death: it follows sin and precedes death. The real issue concerns the root of all illness, namely, human corruptibility. As Saint Symeon the New Theologian remarks, 'doctors cure human bodies...but they can never cure the basic illness of human nature, its corruptibility. For this reason, when they try different means to cure one particular illness, the body then falls prey to another disease.' Human nature, according to Saint Symeon, needs a physician who can heal it from its corruptibility, and this Physician is Jesus Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies.

During His earthly life Christ healed many people. Before healing someone, He often asked him about his faith: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" (St. Matthew 9:28). As well as healing the body, Christ also healed the human soul from its most severe disease, unbelief. He also pointed to the Devil as the origin of all illness: of the bent woman He said that she was "bound by Satan" (see St. Luke 13:16).

The Holy Orthodox Church has always considered its own mission as the continuation in all aspects of Jesus Christ's ministry, including healing. Thus, from Apostolic times, a sacramental action existed which would later receive the name of Anointing with oil. It is found in the New Testament: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the Presbyters 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 man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (St. James 4:15-16). It is clear that the question here is not of a normal anointing with oil, which in ancient time was used for medical purposes, but of a special sacramental action. Healing qualities are ascribed here not to the oil, but to the "prayer of faith," and physician is not a Presbyter (Priest or Bishop) but the Lord.

According the practice of our Holy Orthodox Christian Church, the Mysterion [Sacrament] of Anointing has preserved all the original elements described by Saint James the Holy Apostle: according to Our Holy Tradition the Sacrament should be conducted by Seven Priests (in practice, often by one, by three or two), there are seven prayers over the holy oil, seven epistle lessons and seven Gospel lessons.

Holy Unction begins with the chanting of hymns knows as 'troparia', and the priest pleas: "O Lord Almighty, Healer of our souls and bodies, Who puts down and raises up, Who chastises and heals also, visit now in Your mercy our brother or sister, (name), who is ill. Stretch forth Your arm that is full of healing and health, and raise (name) up form this bed and cure this illness. Put away the spirit of disease and every malady and pain and fever". "And if (name) has committed sins and transgressions, grant remission and forgiveness, because You love mankind."

As Orthodox Christians we pray, neither commanding God to heal nor doubting His ability to heal, but pleading for His promised mercy upon all who are ill physically and spiritually.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit or the miracles of Christ have always been active in the ministry of the Orthodox Church. The Church never regards the gift as 'passed away'. Saint Ireneaus during the end of the Second century speaks of the miracles in his day: "Some drive out devils...some have foreknowledge of the future...others heal the sick through the laying of hands...and even the dead have been raised up before now and have remained with us for many years".

Later, in the 4th century, there are clear testimonies of it in Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom who have given us prayer for healing which are used by the Church in the Sacrament of Holy Unction.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to the world to "bear our infirmities." One of the signs of His Divine Messiahship was to heal the sick. The power of healing remains in the Orthodox Church since Christ Himself remains in the Church through the Holy Spirit.

It is the clear intention of the Sacrament of Holy Unction that through the Anointing of the sick body the sufferings of the person should be sanctified and united to the sufferings of Christ. In this way, the wounds of the flesh are consecrated, and strength is given that the suffering of the diseased person may not be unto death of his soul, but for eternal salvation in the Resurrection and Life of the Kingdom of God.

It is indeed the case that death inevitably comes. All must die, even those who in this life are given a reprieve through healing in order to have more time on the earth. Thus, the healing of the sick is not itself a final goal, but is merely "instrumental" in that it is given by God as a sign of His mercy and as a grace for the further opportunity of man to live for Him and for others in the life of this world.

In the case where an Orthodox Christian is obviously in the final moments of his earthly life, the Church has special prayers for the "separation of soul and body." Thus, it is clear that the Sacrament of Holy Unction is for the sick-both the physically and spiritually sick-and is not reserved for the moment of death. The Sacrament of Holy Unction is not the 'last rites' as is sometimes thought (or practiced in the Latin or Roman Catholic Church). The ritual of anointing itself in no way indicates that it should be administered merely in "extreme" cases. Holy Unction is the Sacrament of the spiritual, physical and mental healing of a sick person whatever the nature or gravity of the illness may be.

Please note: I would like to remind all of you again that all the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are only for Orthodox Christians in good standing. Your Roman Catholic or Protestant spouse is not eligible to receive any of the Sacraments of the Church. Please do not encourage your non-Orthodox spouse to participate in the Sacraments when he/she have decided to retain their Roman Catholic or Protestant faith. The responsibility falls on the Orthodox spouse who must respect and be obedient to the teachings of our Church.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George