The Mystery of Anointing of the Sick

During his earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ healed those who came to him of every illness and disease, as a sign of the appearance of the Kingdom of God, and out of his great love. He sent his apostles to do the same, and the Apostle James wrote, "Is any among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:13-15).

Oil, the Symbol of Healing

In Judaism and early Christianity, oil (generally olive oil) was a potent symbol. It could soothe wounds, cleanse, and soften; athletes poured oil upon their body before competing, and the anointing of a man as priest or king often made use of oil as well.

Christ himself was called the Messiah, or "anointed one of God", and the descent of the Holy Spirit was seen as a further anointing. Thus, the Church, following the instructions of Saint James, anoints the sick for healing and forgiveness, in the Mystery of Holy Oil (also called Unction, or Anointing of the Sick, all of which have the same basic meaning).

The Rite of Anointing

Texts and sources

The official order of the Mystery of Holy Oil in Slavonic can be found on pages 126-157 of the Malyj Trebnyk (Small Euchologion), printed in Rome in 1952.

An 80-page service book in English, titled Office of Holy Oil for the Anointing of the Sick, was published by the Byzantine Seminary Press in 1973. It includes the orders of Confession and Holy Communion as well as anointing, along with other prays for those who are ill.

The anointing of the sick

In the rite of anointing, oil is blessed, and the sick person is anointed on the forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, chest, hands, and feet, while a priest says the following prayer:

Holy Father, physician of souls and bodies, you sent your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal every infirmity and to deliver us from death. Heal your servant Name of the spiritual and bodily ills which afflict him (or her), and restore him (or her) by the grace of your Christ, through the prayers of our most holy Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, and through the prayers of all your saints.

For you, our God, are the fountain of healing; and to you we give glory, together with your only-begotten Son, and your consubstantial Spirit, now and ever and forever.

The full service of anointing of the sick includes up to seven Gospel readings, each read by a different priest; as a result, this form of the anointing service is generally restricted to major gatherings such as pilgrimages.

A shorter form of the rite of anointing can be used in hospitals or homes.

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