Is any 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 man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5.14–16).
On the afternoon or evening of Great and Holy Wednesday, the Mystery of Holy Unction is conducted in Orthodox parishes. The Sacrament of Holy Unction is offered for the healing of soul and body and for forgiveness of sins. At the conclusion of the service of the Sacrament, the body is anointed with oil, and the Grace of God, which heals infirmities of soul and body, is called down upon each person. The Sacrament is performed by a gathering of priests, ideally seven in number, however, it can be performed by a lesser number and even by a single priest.
Seven local Ukrainian Orthodox clergy of the greater Chicago Metropolitan area, representing parishes of Chicago Deanery, gathered together with the bishop of Western Eparchy, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, for the celebration of the Mystery of Holy Unction at Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Palos Park, IL.
The beautiful, warm and sunny spring evening of the Holy Wednesday began with the gathering of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Parishes of Chicago land as well as Indiana, at the parish temple of Sts. Peter and Paul in Palos Park, IL. People have spent hours in traffic, traveling quite a distance, tired after working day, just to be a part of this unique and powerful healing service.
The Holy Mystery of Unction calls for seven priests, seven readings from the Scriptures, seven prayers and anointing with oil specifically blessed during the service. Although it is not always possible to perform the sacrament in this way, the customary procedure is still to gather together as many priests and people as possible. It was by the Grace of God that seven priest were able to serve this Holy Mystery of the Church: Very Rev. Fr. Vasyl Sendeha – pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Palos Park, IL; Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lymar – pastor of St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL; Very Rev. Raymond Sundland – pastor of Holy Archangel Michael Ukrainian Orthodox Pro-Cathedral in Hammond, IN; Rev. Fr. Walter Hwostik – pastor of Annunciation of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Milwaukee, WI; Very Rev. Fr. Gregory Jensen of Madison, WI Ukrainian Orthodox Mission; Rev. Fr. Silouan Rolando – pastor of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Goshen, IN; Very Rev. Fr. Howard Sloan of Chicago Deanery. The responses and hymns were chanted by Subdeacon George Cepynsky joined by loacal parish community choir chanters and seminarians Subdeacons Mykola Zomchak, Ihor Protsak, Yurii Bobko and Ivan Venhryn.
The mystery of Holy Unction provides both physical and spiritual healing with holy oil blessed by the Holy Spirit, and is usually celebrated during Great Lent, but private services are also common. Everyone in a parish who prepared oneself may be anointed with the holy oil for the healing of spiritual and bodily ills. As this is one of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, it may be administered only to Orthodox Christians.
As one of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, the oil carries God’s grace both to renew the body and to cleanse the spirit. This service follows the Apostolic tradition mentioned in the New Testament: “…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 man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
The full service is composed of psalms from the Old Testament, hymns of direct supplication to God, and prayers to the saints to intercede for the petitioner. In addition, there are seven readings from the Gospels preceded by seven other New Testament writings, notably the epistles of St. Paul and St. James. After each set of scriptural readings, a prayer is offered on behalf of the penitent by the priest asking for forgiveness and the sanctification of the oil. Traditionally, the service is celebrated by seven priests, but where fewer than seven priests are available it will be served by at least one.
At the end of the service, the priest puts holy oil on the forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, chest, and hands of the parishioners in the form of the cross, saying: “O Holy Father, physician of our souls and bodies, heal Your servant [name] from every physical and emotional affliction” or “The blessing of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ: for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God, [name], always: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel addressed the faithful of the Church with his remarks prior to the conclusion of the service, teaching the faithful about the spiritual meaning of this sacred service. Vladyka reflected upon the need of spiritual, physical and intellectual healing of all of us, especially as we faced with so many atrocities around the world, especially the latest tragedy in Sri Lanka, where over 300 people lost their lives due to terrorist attacks against Christian communities.
Moreover, the archbishop shared a narrative about his journey to Munich, Germany where he ministered to the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful of the area and had a chance to visit the remains of the Dachau Concentration Camp (a place of the first Nazi Germany crematorium), where thousands lost their lives while some continue to live with the spiritually and emotional wounds of the painful past. Vladyka Daniel shared with everyone in attendance a story of his encounter with the survivor of the Camp, who asked the archbishop for prayers and who offered to pray for the hierarch himself. While speaking, Vladyka Daniel, held a piece of embroidery in his hands, which read ALLELUIA – a gift from the survivor… a gift and assurance of prayer…
“The express purpose of the Sacrament of Holy Unction is healing and forgiveness… In Holy Unction, blessed oil and wine is mixed. The wine represents the Blood of Christ, spilled on the Cross for the salvation of all people, while the oil is an ancient form of medicine in its own right, and represents the mercy of God...”
Today, Service of the Holy Unction stands as a miracle working Sacrament that has great powers to bring comfort and relief from our physical, spiritual or emotional sufferings. It will work miracles in our lives as long as we believe, as long as we have that little muster seed of faith. I have heard of so many healings from this Sacrament, some so miraculous that they go beyond human understanding. Truly, in faith, with faith, all things are possible through God.
This Sacraments of Holy Unction is a magnificent way to draw near to God together as a congregation of His people. It helps us to commune with Him, to receive His healing power and to worship Him with our whole being.
Today, on this Holy and Great Wednesday we approach the grace of God in His Church as the Church offers us the continuation of the healing ministry of our Lord Jesus. In the Holy Unction service, we come for healing, but not just physical healing, but complete healing of soul and body. This holy oil sacramentally brings us close to Him Who is our healing, but not just healing our physical needs. This healing is meant to “solve” the only poverty that is eternal, and that is a poverty of soul!
All too often we are tempted by magical thinking and think that if I simply go and get the “magic” oil then God is somehow obligated to make me feel better. But this reduction of the divine mystery of Holy Unction can never rise to the lofty reality of the mystery of the Church. This shallow thinking leaves us in our poverty! This shallow thinking makes betrayal of our Lord and His Church possible in our hearts! This shallow thinking leads us to actually give a “kiss as did Judas” and betray our faith for the fool’s gold of temporary riches!
The truth is all the divine mysteries of the Church do only one thing! From the Eucharist to Marriage, to Ordination, to Baptism, to Unction, to Chrismation, to Confession, and to all the other ways God communicates His grace to us; these divine mysteries accomplish one necessary task! They bring us into intimate communion with God Who IS our Healing, our Life, our Salvation, and our only true Lover, and our greatest Treasure! The mysteries of the Church bring us closer to God and it is this closeness, this intimate connection with God that heals, and saves, and gives life to us as we participate in the life of the Church.
TODAY we receive Him Who is our healing in the mystery of holy oil. This isn’t some “magic” formula or rite performed by the tribal medicine man to make your headache go away. This is nothing less than being brought close to Him Whose footsteps in the Garden struck fear in the hearts of Adam and Eve when they disobeyed. But now we are able, by the grace of God, to once again intimately walk with Him in His kingdom and bask in the spiritual riches that make us wealthy beyond measure!
As you approach the Holy Oil today, rejoice that God Himself comes to you to heal all your diseases, especially the ones in our hearts. Blessed Holy Wednesday to you!”
Over 100 faithful approached the clergy in order to be anointed with the blessed oil, while hearing the peaceful prayerful exclamation: “…the blessing of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ: for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God, [name], always: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
Photos by Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak