The Mystery of Healing and Forgiveness
So they (the Apostles) went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them (Mark 6: 12–13).
Is anyone 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, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5: 14–15).
Christ as Saviour and Healer
Christ came into the world for the salvation of all. One of the signs of His divine ministry was the healing of the sick. He healed those who were blind, paralysed, possessed, crippled, deaf and dumb, and, in general, all types of physical infirmities. The power of healing remains in the Church since Christ Himself remains in the Church through the Holy Spirit. The power of healing was given to the Holy Apostles and through them to the bishops and priests. One of the ways that healing was done was through the anointing of the sick with blessed oil.
The Purpose of Holy Unction
The Mystery of Holy Unction is a service of the anointing of the sick with blessed oil. It is the Church’s specific prayer for the spiritual, physical, and mental healing of a sick person, whatever the nature or seriousness of the illness may be–and there is not one of us who does not need healing for some physical, mental or spiritual illness. However, not only is Holy Unction for healing, but, as Saint James says in his Epistle, it is also for the forgiveness of our sins.
Holy Unction and Confession
Orthodox Christians who confess on a regular basis and are struggling for their salvation are able to participate in the Mystery of Holy Unction. The proper order is:
1. Repentance and Confession
2. Holy Communion
3. Holy Unction - anointing with Holy Oil
Holy Unction and Fasting
In general, one does not need to fast when receiving Holy Unction.
Homily On the Mystery of Holy Unction
By Saint Nikolai Velimirovich
‘... and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them’ (Mark 6:13)
The Holy Apostles did this, and we are commanded to do likewise. The Apostle James wrote for us: ‘Is anyone 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, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven’ (James 5: 14–15). One must call no-one but the priest, the elders of the Church, and they must anoint him in no-one’s name (so that it be not diabolical) but that of the Lord. No-one but the Lord will raise him, neither can anyone but the Lord forgive him his sins. But why with oil, and not by some other means? Because it is so commanded; and it is for us simply to show our obedience and faith. Why is it commanded that we be baptised with water, chrismated with myrrh and communicated with bread and wine? These things are God’s choice and God’s business, and it is for us to be obedient and to believe. The elements used in the various Mysteries differ, but the grace is one even as the Lord is one, and everything is from the Lord. Why does the Lord use material means to pour His grace upon us? The Lord does not need these material things, but rather we, as long as we are material, need them. In condescension to our weakness, the Lord makes use of matter. To the immaterial angels, He gives grace by immaterial means.
Of itself, the oil is powerless, as is every material thing on its own, but God’s grace is all-powerful. God gives His grace through the oil, and it heals the sick, raises the weak and restores the insane to sanity.
Oh, my brethren, how ineffable is God’s goodness! What has the Lord not done for us? What more could we desire? He has foreseen all our needs and provided medicine for them in advance. He only seeks from us that we believe in Him and fulfil His commandments. Is it not blind of us, and shameful, that we often carry out the directions of doctors, mortal men like ourselves, more carefully and conscientiously than we do those of God immortal?
O all-gracious Lord, shatter the stone of our hearts with the power of Thy grace; that we may, before our last hour, show Thee the gratitude we owe Thee, O our gracious and most wise God. To Thee be glory and praise for ever. Amen.
The Prologue from Ochrid by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich