Dear brothers and sisters,
Travelling to Cardiff, now, it is with great anticipation that I look forward to serving the Mystery of Holy Unction with Father Luke this evening, and it is precisely because it is a Holy Mystery that we approach it with compunction and repentance.
In all of the Holy Mysteries, we draw near to Christ in repentance as He, like the father of the prodigal, journeys toward us in a reciprocal movement of love, and just as the deacon calls us to approach the chalice with the fear of God and faith in the Liturgy, so do we equally approach the Mystery of the Oil, knowing that through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, our Great High Priest, Christ Himself acts as the Divine Physician in this Holy Mystery.
It is He who anoints us through the hands of his bishops and priest. It is He and not men Who confers the healing power of Grace upon both soul and body and Who forgives sins. This vicarious action of the priests, on behalf of our High Priest is made clear in the prayer that will be pronounced before anointing, as the faithful kneel beneath the Gospel:
“O Holy King, deeply- compassionate and greatly-merciful Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Word of the Living God, Who desirest not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn back and live: I lay not my sinful hand upon the head of them that come to Thee in sins and ask of Thee, through us, for remission of sins, but through Thy hand, mighty and powerful, which is in this, Thy Holy Gospel which my fellow ministers hold upon the head of Thy servants, and I pray with them and entreat Thy merciful love for mankind which remembereth not evil, O God, our Saviour, Who by Thy prophet Nathan didst grant remission of his iniquities unto the repentant David, and didst accept the prayer of repentance of Manasses. And do Thou Thyself, in Thy customary love for mankind, accept Thy servants, who repent of their sins, overlooking their transgressions. For Thou art our God, Who hast given command to forgive even seventy time seven times them that have fallen into sins. For as is Thy majesty, so also is Thy mercy, and unto Thee is due all glory, honour and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, amen.”
As a sign of this repentance, we prayerfully approach the anointing with the oil of God’s mercy having made a recent confession, desiring repentance and amendment of life, and we seek to commune of the Holy Mystery of the Saviour’s Body and Blood, in Holy Communion, as soon as possible.
There can be nothing casual about this Holy Mystery, and no-one can simply approach as their ‘right’. As such, those who are under a penance, those who have excluded themselves from the worship of the Church, and anyone who is excommunicated or live a life incompatible with the teaching of the Church may not partake of this Holy Mystery, just as they may not commune until they have corrected what is amiss in their lives.
Holy Unction and the healing it confers, can only make sense in lives that are actively dedicated to God and open to Grace through prayerful and conscious regular participation in the mysteries and divine medicine of repentance and Holy Communion, which the Saviour has bequeathed as the abiding signs of His love and mercy:His sacramentalindwelling in His Church and the lives of His children.
Sadly, in many parishes, parishioners do not understand the difference between Holy Unction and the other anointing that take place during vigils and other services. This is NOT the same, but one of the seven Holy Mysteries of the Church, so only Orthodox Christians (and not catechumens) may partake of anointing.
And… as this is a Holy Mystery, it is a priestly action, on behalf of the Great High Priest, within the liturgical life of the Church. The oil is the vehicle of God’s Grace, and therefore the Holy Church and the clergy have custody of it, as with all of the the Holy Mysteries. Therefore, despite some local customs, oil is not taken by the faithful after the service, so please do not make this request. Just as we no longer take Holy Communion to our houses (despite ancient Tradition), we neither do so with the Oil of Unction in ROCOR.
Some parishioners have already confessed, and are blessed to receive the Mystery of Holy Unction, some will confess in the mid-afternoon, and other during the ‘open’ two hours before the beginning of the service. Once again, we ask all those confessing to mindful of others and to limit confession at this time to five minutes, as there may be a considerable number of penitents – particularly in in the last forty-five minutes before Holy Unction. We should also remind parent, that Unction is only for those who are confessing before the Holy Mysteries, so children below the age of seven years do not partake. Those who have already partaken of this mystery during the Great Fast, do not approach anointing again.
There will be open time for confession from 17:00 to 19:00, though I have asked some people to come at specific times, and Holy Unction will commence at 19:00 with an explanation of the Holy Mystery before it commences.
If needed there will be additional confessions and anointing after the service.
May God bless you all.