Holy and Great Thursday

14Are any among you sick? Let them call for the presbyters of the Church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the Name of the Lord.15The prayer of faith will heal those who are sick and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed sins, they will be forgiven. 

(James 5:14-15)

You will recall from yesterday’s email that we discussed the theme of oil which runs through the Bridegroom Matins services of Holy and Great Tuesday and Wednesday. On Monday evening we focused on the Parable of the Ten Virgins and on Tuesday evening we focused on the Anointing of the Lord by the penitent harlot. On Wednesday Evening (i.e. Holy and Great Thursday), we normally perform the Sacrament of Holy Unction – Euchelaion in Greek (Prayer of Oil). As can be seen from the quotation from the Epistle of James (believed to date to A.D. 47), above, this sacrament was being performed from the very earliest days of the Church. It is performed for the healing of both soul and body.

The Euchelaion Service consists of seven epistle readings and seven Gospel readings largely focussing on oil, mercy, and healing. By partaking of this Holy Mystery, we are reminded of the intimate union of soul and body and of how each miracle of healing wrought by our Lord was accompanied by a pronouncement of His forgiveness.

Just as sickness in the body is caused by a type of corruption of the flesh, so too is the sickness of the soul. The sickness of the soul is caused by the disease of sin and this sickness can only be cured by cleansing through forgiveness.

Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee…

(Psalm 50)

To sin is to betray the truth and, hence, to be cleansed we must confess to the truth Himself. If we do not confess our sins and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness, the disease of sin festers, grows, and infects everything around us – our neighbours, our brothers and sisters, and even the very creation itself! If we confess that which is false about ourselves (rather than attempt to cover our own sins) and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness, we may become truthful human beings – children of God – once again.

Though it is not possible for us to partake of this sacrament with one another at the present time, we must remember that the Lord Himself is not in ‘lockdown’ and the Spirit of Truth remains everywhere present. He is and always will be with us even to the end of the age. This is the great saving message of our Church. One can continue to fast – to the best of one’s ability – both bodily and spiritually as we approach Pascha. We can still use this time to examine our consciences, to reflect on our sins, and to seek the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. It is indeed painful to be separated from one another at this time – in the bodily sense at least – but perhaps this period we find ourselves in, during which we cannot come together within temples built by hands, may help us to reflect on the far greater pain that is permanent separation from Christ our Lord. Our bodily separation from one another is temporary and, yet, we are not separated from one another in the Spirit and we must not forget this! We must continue to pray together and for one another as best we can amidst the prevailing circumstances and, if we do this, we will be together again.

The whole earth is full of Your mercy, O Master. Therefore, as we are mystically anointed with holy oil this day, in faith we implore You that we may be shown Your mercy, which is beyond understanding.

(Canon of the Service of Holy Unction, first ode, Great Wednesday evening)
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