Holy Unction (2017)

“…there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”  (Psalm 38:3)

On Holy Wednesday evening in some Orthodox traditions, the service of holy unction is offered. Throughout Lent we were called to repent of our sins, to receive the healing forgiveness of Christ. On Holy Wednesday we experience that forgiveness and healing through the sacramental oil of unction.  Confession, Holy Communion and Unction are all Mysteries in which we received healing from Christ.  They are all means for us to experience the salvation which Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, made possible for all humanity.   All three Mysteries become available to us during Holy Week.

Here is one of the prayers the priests say at the service:

“For you are great and wonderful God: you keep your covenant and your mercy toward those who love you, granting forgiveness of sins through your holy Child, Jesus Christ, who grants us a new birth from sin, who gives light to the blind, who raises up those who are cast down, who loves the righteous and shows mercy to sinners, who leads us out of darkness and the shadow of death, saying to those in chains, ‘Go forth,’ and to those who sit in darkness, ‘Open your eyes.’

You made the light of the knowledge of his countenance to shine in our hearts when for our sake he revealed himself upon earth and dwelt among us. To those who accepted him, he gave the power to become children of God, granting us adoption through the washing of regeneration and removing us from the tyranny of the devil. For it did not please you that we should be cleansed by blood, but by holy oil, so you gave us the image of his cross, that we might become the flock of Christ, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and you purified us with water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit…

Let this oil, O Lord, become the oil of gladness, the oil of sanctification, a royal robe, an armor of might, the averting of every work of the devil, an unassailable seal, the joy of the heart, and eternal rejoicing. Grant that those who are anointed with this oil of regeneration may be fearsome to their adversaries, and that they may shine with the radiance of your saints, having neither stain nor defect, and that they may attain your everlasting rest and receive the prize of their high calling.” (Paul Meyendorf, The Anointing of the Sick, p. 82)

Throughout Holy Week we encounter our Lord, God and Savior Jesus, the Messiah, who comes seeking us, who heals us, who gives us His Body and Blood for our salvation.  Sin is another illness which affects our souls and bodies.  In unction we come like so many did in Christ’s own lifetime to be healed by Him of our physical and spiritual infirmities.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”    (1 Peter 2:24)




Holy Wednesday (2017)

8508303611_afc7c30ae6_nThroughout Holy Week, the Scripture readings are also reminding us of the Passover story in the book of Exodus. That first Passover and Exodus serve as a prefiguring of Christ’s own life, death and resurrection. Those ancient events help us understand the events of Holy Week, and what transpires in Holy Week reveals the true meaning of the original Exodus and Passover.

In the Gospels, the Evangelists intentionally remind us of the Passover narrative – by remembering the events of the Exodus, we come to understand the Christian life as being revealed in the Old Testament.   Holy Week reminds us that as Christians we are sojourners on earth – in exile from our true home in Paradise – we should have a sense that there is something more to life than than which we experience daily.

“In the missionary account in Matt. 10, Jesus forbids his disciples to take several items: on their way they should not take gold, silver, copper, wallet (for bread), two shirts, sandals, or staff. Mark 6 allows the staff and sandals and says that the disciples should not take bread, wallet, copper, or two shirts. Luke 9 and 10 together disallow taking staff, wallet, bread, silver or purse. Now it is intriguing that most of the items in Matt. 10 and its parallels famously appear in the exodus from Egypt. Exodus 12 tells us that Moses commanded the Israelites to eat the Passover hurriedly, with sandals (12:11) on their feet and staff in hand, and that they went forth on their way (12:39) with bread, with silver (12:35), with gold (12:35) and with clothing (12:35-36). Deuteronomy 8:4 and 29:5, moreover, relate that the Israelites’ garments were indestructible, so that they only needed one pair of sandals and one set of clothes. Is it just coincidence that Jesus’ disciples are similarly in a hurry but still more so, and that they accordingly take even less than the fleeing Israelites? Maybe Matt. 10 and its parallels are drawing some sort of analogy or contrast. Certainly elsewhere the Synoptics draw analogies between the history of Jesus and the history of the exodus.” (Dale C. Allison Jr., Studies in Matthew, pp. 120-121)


As we sing at Pascha, the new Passover of Christ takes us not from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, but from death to life and from earth to heaven. We are the new sojourners, God’s people sojourning toward God’s kingdom.  Fasting reminds us that this world, no matter how much we love it, is not our permanent home, nor our final destination.