December 18, 2021

Homilies on the Holy Mysteries - The Mystery of Unction (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 The Mystery of Unction

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

One of the ways in which the Grace of God transforms people, my beloved brethren, is the mystery of Unction, which is celebrated every Great Wednesday in the sacred church as the best preparation for the Divine Communion of Great Thursday - which is an important day because then the Secret Supper was given - but it is also performed whenever the believer wishes. For this reason the Christian sometimes invites the priest to his house. It is a sacramental act that shows the love of the Church for man.

The Brother of God James in his Catholic epistle refers to the performance of the mystery of Holy Unction, when he writes: "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, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15).

Analyzing this apostolic verse we observe what is the purpose of the mystery and how it is performed.

It is first performed by the Presbyters of the Church who hold the priesthood. Then it is done mainly for the sick, who suffer from a long-term problem and seek healing from God. Also, the mystery of Unction forgives some unknown sins that we commit every day. These are not great sins, for which Confession is needed, but the so-called pardonable sins, because the mystery of Unction cannot be a replacement and substitution for the mystery of repentance and Holy Confession. Moreover, the energy of the Grace of God through the mystery takes place to the degree of the faith of the one who comes to this mystery. And finally, Holy Unction, as the word for it in Greek, Euchelion, states, consists of prayer and oil. That is, the priest prays to sanctify the oil and then anoints the body of the sick with the oil.

The mystery of Holy Unction reveals the love of the Church for the sick who suffer from various diseases. Disease is a terrible condition in man, a fact that is due to our mortal and impassioned nature. As we know from Orthodox teaching, the human body was not created with disease, but the disease then came as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Our mortal and impassioned nature creates all diseases in the human body. God, of course, enlightens doctors to find ways of healing, but where human science cannot intervene, God intervenes. And many times we see many such miraculous operations.

The Church with the mystery of Unction, as with all the mysteries, aims at the healing and salvation of the whole man, which consists of soul and body. Man does not consist only of soul, nor only of body, but of both, that is, of soul and body. And, of course, there is an interdependence between the two. When the soul is sick, it also affects the body. And when the body is sick, it affects the soul in various degrees and in different ways. Of course, it is possible for the body, as mortal and impassioned, to suffer, but the soul is healthy, and sometimes the greater the physical illness, the deeper the health of the soul. But, of course, in the Church we do not overlook either the soul or the body.

In the prayers of the mystery of Unction there are two phrases that always impress me. One is "and dispel every latent disease". We ask God to cure every disease that we do not know about at that moment. If one understands that cancer is a disease that develops in the body long before it appears, then one understands this phrase. And many times God heals us from such latent diseases, before they manifest, that is why we must thank God for the benefits we do not know. And the second phrase is: "remember not the sins of our youth Lord". There are sins that we committed in our youth and we ignore them because we forgot them. We ask God to heal them so that we do not find them before us at the Second Coming of Christ.

Let us be moved by the love and interest of our Church for both physical illnesses and the illnesses of the soul.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.