Holy and Great Wednesday: Mysterion of Holy Oil (Holy Unction)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

HOLY AND GREAT WEDNESDAY EVENING MYSTERION (SACRAMENT) OF HOLY OIL (HOLY UNCTION)
4th Prayer

Priest: O gracious and loving, compassionate and ever merciful Lord, plentiful in mercy, and rich in beneficence, the Father of bounties, and God of all comfort, who through, Thy Holy Apostles has empowered us to heal the infirmities of Thy people by Oil and prayer: Do Thou confirm this Oil unto the healing of those who shall be anointed therewith; unto relief from every ailment, and from every malady; unto deliverance from evils of those who in firm hope await salvation from Thee. Yes, O Master, Lord our God, we beseech Thee, O Almighty One, that Thou will save us all. O Only Physician of souls and bodies, sanctify us all. O Thou, Who heals every infirmity, heal also Thy servants. Raise them up from their sickness, through the mercies of Thy Goodness. Visit them with Thy mercies and Thy bounties. Cast out by Thy Mighty Hand every sickness and malady so that being raised, they may serve Thee with all thanksgiving; and that we also, who now do share Thine inexpressible love towards mankind, many sing praises and glorify Thee, Who performs deeds, great and marvelous, both glorious and transcendent.

For it is Thine to show mercy and to save us, O our God; and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the Ages of Ages.  Amen.
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THE MYSTERION (SACRAMENT) OF HOLY OIL (HOLY UNCTION): HOLY AND GREAT WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING

Introduction

On the afternoon or evening of Great and Holy Wednesday, the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Holy Oil (Holy Unction) is conducted in Orthodox parishes throughout the world. The Mysterion of Holy Oil (Euchelaion) is offered for the healing of soul and body and for forgiveness of sins. At the conclusion of the divine service of the Mysterion, the body is anointed with sanctified oil, and the grace of God, which heals all infirmities of soul and body, is called down upon each Orthodox Christian believer. The Mysterion is conducted by a gathering of a gathering of priests, traditionally seven in number, however, it can be conducted by a lesser number and even by a single priest out of necessity.

Holy Oil (Euchelaion) or Holy Unction

The Mysterion (Sacrament) of the Anointing of the Sick, or Euchelaion as it is also known, reminds us that when we are suffering and in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through our Holy Church to grant us comfort and healing. The Mysterion of Holy Oil is a Mysterion of faith (St. James 5:14-15). This Mysterion also allows the believer to share in the victory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to raise him into the realm of God's Heavenly Kingdom. It communicates spiritual power so that the trials of illness may be borne with trust, faith, courage, hope and fortitude.

As with the Mysterion of Chrismation, oil is also used in this Mysterion (Sacrament) as a sign of God's presence, strength and forgiveness. Following the reading of Seven Epistles, Seven Gospel Lessons, and the offering of Seven Prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil. Orthodoxy does not view this Mysterion as available only to those who are near death (i.e., Roman Catholic "extreme Unction). It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, spirit, throughout the ecclesiastical year. The Mysterion of Euchelaion can be conducted at home as church.

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

The Biblical basis for the Mysterion (Sacrament) is found in Saint James 5:154-16: "Is any among you sick, let him call for the presbyters (priests) 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. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."

In ancient Christian literature one may find indirect testimonies of the Mystery of Holy Unction in Saint Irenaeus of Lyons and in Origen. Later there are clear testimonies of it in Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom, who have left prayer for the healing of the infirm which entered later into the rite of Holy Unction; and likewise in Saint Cyril of Alexandria. In the 5th century, Pope Innocent I answered a series of questions concerning the Mysterion of Holy Unction, indicating in his answers that:

a)     it should be performed "upon believers who are sick";

b)     it may be performed also by a bishop, since one should not see in the words of the Apostle, let him call for the presbyters, any prohibition for a bishop to participate in the sacred action;

c)     this anointment may not be performed "on those undergoing ecclesiastical penance, 'because it is a "Mysterion", and those who are forbidden the other Mysteries, how can one allow only one?

The express purpose of the Mysterion of Holy Oil (Holy Unction) is healing and forgiveness. Since it is not always the will of God that there should be physical healing, the prayer of Christ that God's Will be done always remains as the proper context of the Sacrament. In addition, it is the clear intention of the Sacrament 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 a person is obviously in the final moments of his earthly life, the Holy 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 mentally sick-and is not reserved for the moment of death. The Sacrament of Unction is not the "last rites" as is sometimes thought; the ritual of the anointing itself in no way indicates that it should be administered merely in "extreme" cases. Holy Unction is the Mysterion of the spiritual, physical, and mental healing of a sick person whatever the nature or the gravity of the illness may be.

Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Mysterion of Holy Oil (Euchelaion) or Holy Unction

The Sacrament itself calls for seven priests, seven readings from the Epistles and Gospels, seven prayers and seven anointings with holy oil specifically blessed during the divine service. Although it is not always possible to perform the Mysterion in this way, the traditional procedure is still to gather together as many priests and Orthodox Christians as possible.

At the end of the divine service the priest anoints the faithful as he makes the sign of the Cross on the forehead, chin, cheeks and hands while he says, "O Holy Father, Physician of our souls and bodies, have mercy, forgive, save and heal Thy servant (Orthodox baptismal name)".

The basic items of the Mysterion as it developed were:

Oil-the means through which God grants His blessing upon us;

Seven candles-the Light of Christ our Lord in our midst;

A bowl of flour-which would be kept after the service and from it would be baked a loaf of "Prosphora" for use as the bread for the Mysterion of Holy Eucharist on Holy and Great Thursday.

The Priest(s)-assembled together as vehicles of God's grace and as ones who intercede for the faithful, asking Almighty God to bless and lift up him/her who is in need of healing before God;

The readings and prayers-a service of being obedient to the Lord, for the grace which He gives to us and our response to Him, in humility, faith and love.

The blessing and anointing with Holy Oil-the bestowing of God's blessing to all of those present.

Order of the Divine Mysterion and Service

  1. Introductory Prayers and Psalms 143 and 50/51: In these Psalms we confess our sinfulness before God and ask Him to cleanse us and make a "new and right spirit within us" (Psalm 50/51:10).
  2. Canon: In this series of verses that are read or chanted, we ask God to show mercy upon us and cleanse our souls, to drive away all evil powers, to grant salvation to those who are sick or suffering, and to grant us the healing of our souls and bodies. At the end of several sets of verses, we ask Almighty God to renew our lives so that we may bless, thank and glorify Him forever.
  3. Short Prayers or Troparia to the Saints: We pray to the Saints - especially those who have helped the sick and suffering, and to those who have been martyred for the Glory of God-and to the Theotokos (Mother of God) to intercede for us for the salvation of our souls.

4. Epistle and Gospel Lessons and Prayers:

a.      James 5:10-16; Luke 10:25-37

b.     Romans 15:1-7; Luke 19:1-10

c.      I Corinthians 12:27-31; 13:1-8; Matthew 10:1,5-8

d.     II Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1; Matthew 8: 14-23

e.      II Corinthians 1:8-11; Matthew 25:21-28

f.      Galatians 5:22-6:2; Matthew 15:21-28

g.     I Thessalonians 5: 14-23; Matthew 9: 9-13

Each of the seven prayers asks for the remission of our sins, for the healing of our souls and bodies and for life everlasting.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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GLORY BE TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS!

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

+Father George