Sacrament of Unction
By St Mark’s Youth
Join us as we contemplate on the Unction of the Sick! Read the following Bible passages as you come across them below, to supplement the blog!
The Sacrament of the Unction of the Sick is one of the holy Seven Sacraments of the church (do you know the others?). The sacrament allows the sick who are faithful, to be healed from psychological and physical diseases. The priest anoints the person with the holy oil from which they obtain the grace of remedy/healing from God.
We read in Mark 6, Christ travelling through Nazareth performing miracles of healing. There is something peculiar though… “Now he could do no mighty works there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and health them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief” (Mk 6:5-6). This was Christ’s hometown, and there was something preventing him from performing many miracles there.
St John Cassian reflects on this; “If the faith of those who bring them or of the sick is lacking, it may prevent those who possess the gift of healing from exercising it.” Christ was shocked because of the lack of faith of the people in this hometown!
Origen goes further to take something more beautiful out of this: “Mark presents the all-surpassing value of God’s divine power, even in those who do not believe” – God’s power is stronger than our lack of faith! He continues, “Mark did not deny that grace works even more powerfully among those who have faith. He does not flatly say that Christ could do no mighty work there at all, and stop at that point… but he added that he laid his hands on a few sick folk. The power in him overcame their unbelief.”.
What does this mean for us, and our lack of faith? The Unction of the Sick seems quite abstract… can we gain psychological and physical healing from a simple prayer and anointing with oil? Of course with faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains – and furthermore, God can overcome our lack of faith (as above)! Let us pray to God to strengthen the holes in our faith, so that His grace may work more powerfully in us.
You may have heard of these prayers before as ‘Kandeel Prayers’, where the priests visit your house and light cotton wicks in a bowl of oil. This is indeed, the Sacrament of the Unction of the Sick. In the early Church, Christians used to perform this prayer – it was known as the Sacrament of Lamps.
In the early church, oil in a lamp was lit, from which hang seven other lamps. Each lamp was lit at the beginning of every prayer. This rite now occurs with seven wicks, made from cotton wool, which sit in a plate of oil. The number seven signifies the seven spirits of God, which are mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rvltn 3:1). The Spirit of God dwells and sanctifies the oil in order to heal those anointed by it. The wicks are placed in the sign of the cross, in the plate of oil.
Indeed we see the Biblical mentions of this sacrament, in our reading of James 5:13 “Is anyone among you sick ? Let him call for the elders of the church , and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”. Lent is a time where the Church recommends families to invite parish priests into their homes, and partake of this blessed sacrament!
Here we must remember the definition of a sacrament – these are the workings of God and His grace, through His creation. The priest is the one who prays, but it is God who heals, for the sacrament is not a person’s work but the work of God.
The act of God healing through the prayers of others is seen in our reading of Luke 10:8-9 “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, heal the sick who are there, and say to them, The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” The disciples, similar to modern day priests, enact this sacrament through God’s grace.
Psalm 23 reminds us that the Lord provides healing. This Sacrament has a beautiful value and benefit in our Orthodox church. Let us pray for faith, for our hearts to be opened and experience a direct encounter with the Grace of God.
Glory be to His holy name forever, Amen.