The Church performs this sacrament on the evening of Holy Wednesday, but she hopes that it will be practiced over and again, and that every ill person would receive it at all times, especially when there is need.
It is considered a sacrament of the Church mysteries and is called the Sacrament of Holy Unction. It is always performed in hope of healing the soul and the body.
2- Testimonies from the Gospel about this sacrament:
Mark the Evangelist:
Mark The Evangelist (Mark 6:7-13) relates how the Lord Jesus called the twelve disciples, sent them two by two, and gave them authority over unclean spirits. They went out and taught those who accepted the Gospel, preaching the Lord Jesus to them. They called them to confess their sins and repent to be saved.
And the Evangelist continues to say: “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them (Mark 6:13).
Let us note the main points in these biblical verses:
-The disciples preached the word of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven, and eternal life.
-There is a close connection between accepting the Lord Jesus and His teaching, on one hand, and sincere repentance, confession of sins and refraining from them, on the other hand.
- Living the word of Christ, in reality, in deed and not just words. This is the meaning of the word "preaching" which comes from the Greek “Kerygma”.
The right preaching, when accepted in the heart, gives birth to a new life in the Lord Jesus. Their fruits are the recovery of the soul before the body. This is what the Lord Jesus focused on and intended in the incident of healing the Paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven.”
It is true that when we pray on oil, or on water, they become holy, but accepting grace is the motive for spiritual combat unto salvation. God works on the one hand and man on the other hand, and this is what the Orthodox Church means by teaching about the synergy between the work of grace and the effort of man to acquire salvation.
The salvific work of the disciples was not individual but rather collective and flowing directly from the Lord Jesus. In this matter, we find a clear reference to the ecclesial community.
The Lord Jesus was keen from the first moment to establish a coherent community based on the faith which the gates of Hell are not capable of conquering. In His farewell sermon in the olive grove, He declared clearly in his prayer: "That they be one."
Saint James the Apostle wrote in his universal epistle: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 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. 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 5:13-16).
In these verses, Saint James the Apostle focuses on the following:
- Prayer with a spirit of faith in the Lord Jesus.
- Summoning "church elders", meaning the priests.
- Healing in Jesus' name.
- Confessions of sins for recovery.
Hence, we notice that there is absolutely no separation between the community, the church and the Lord Jesus, nor is there any separation between the healing of the soul and the body. The grace of the Holy Spirit is accepted in the human being as one indivisible whole.
This is exactly what every prayer in the Church connected to healing brings about. The Bible readings on this day indicate the close connection between the Sacrament of Holy Unction and the mystery of repentance. This is indicated by the prayers which are said by the priest, invoking the Lord to heal the sick.
Testimonies from early Christianity and the holy fathers:
* 1- The Book of the Twelve Apostles (Didache):
This book, which dates back to the end of the second century AD, contains a text about the use of oil in the church: “O Lord our God, do Thou sanctify this oil and instill in it the gift of sanctification to those who distribute it and those who accept it. Thou hast indicated that kings, priests and prophets of old be anointed. Grant us also to be anointed for the healing of the soul and body. "
Many Church Fathers and teachers mention this sacrament: Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Origen, and Eusebius of Caesarea.
St. John Chrysostom recommends that Holy Unction be used in all sickness cases, not limiting it to extreme illnesses, when the sick is in agony of death ... In fact, this is not the sacrament of the "last rites", as commonly believed, but is accepted by those who did not lose their hope in the salvation of Christ.
3- The Service of the Sacrament:
The order of the sacrament of Holy Unction mentions that it takes place in the church among the community of the faithful, and in the event that the patient cannot attend the church, the sacrament is performed at home.
The service includes seven epistles, seven gospel readings, and seven prayers to bless the oil. Thus the service is held by seven priests who represent the universal Apostolic Church. However, the Church has authorized that a smaller number of priests or even one priest hold the service.
Originally, the priest would anoint the faithful in oil seven times to indicate that the Church expresses her complete affection for the patient by this sacrament, but then a measure was taken to anoint the faithful only once in the church.
After the seventh Gospel, the first among the priests takes the Holy Gospel and raises it open above the heads of those present, and the rest of the priests lay their hands on the Gospel, and a prayer to the Lord Jesus is read.
All this indicates that we are children of the Lord Jesus, by adoption. The Gospel is the constitution of our lives.
4 - Mercy and Oil:
The word "mercy" in Greek is έλεος and the word "oil" is έλαιον, and it also refers to "anointing." This expresses the phonetic and semantic correlation between the two words.
The sacrament of unction with oil is the prayer of divine mercy. Just as mercy is an attribute of God, His children should also have this quality, as Jesus said: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
How many times did the Lord Jesus say, "Your faith has healed you"?
The Lord is always ready to enter our heart, but are we ready to open our heart to Him? This is the fundamental question that every human being must ask himself while being anointed with Holy oil: do I accept the Lord as a true Savior? Do I keep his commandments and put them in practice? Do I confess my sins and prepare myself fully to repent sincerely and with no return to sin? If I ever go back and fall into weakness, am I ready to repent again? Am I aware of my condition? Do I truly believe in the Lord Jesus as my God and Savior of my life? Do I believe in the efficacy of every word in this blessed prayer?
Let us put forward our hearts and souls together with our forehead, to be anointed with the oil of joy, that we may heal from our psychological and physical diseases, and become a vessel that emanates the fragrance of Holy Spirit.
The Book of the Didache - The Orthodox Munition (Zad Al Orthodoxiya) – Raiyati (Bulletin 1997)