Sacrament of Unction of Sick
“Is anyone among you sick? 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, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (Jam 5:14,15).
One of the great prophetic themes of the Old Testament concerning the promised Messiah is that the Father would send His Son “to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind” (Lk 4:18; see also Is 49:8, 61:1). The ministry of Christ was one of numerous healings of “all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of disease” (Mt 4:23). In addition, Jesus healed darkened hearts and minds as He released people from demonic oppression.
Like their Master before them, the early apostles participated in God’s work of healing as well, attributing their miracles to the risen and ascended Christ. “Jesus the Christ heals you,” Peter told a newly restored man who had been bedridden for eight years (Acts 9:34). St. Paul identified healing as a gift of the Holy Spirit (1Co 12:9). Thus, the New Testament foundation was established for the healing ministry to be a part of the sacramental life of the Church (Jam 5:14,15).
Healing throughout history. The Orthodox Church has never believed or behaved as though the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the healing miracles of Christ have somehow passed away. Did not Jesus promise, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (Jn 14:12)?
St. Ireneaus, writing at the close of the second century, speaks of miracles in his day: “Some drive out devils… some have foreknowledge of the future… others heal the sick through the laying on of hands… and even the dead have been raised up before now and have remained with us for many years.” The writings of other Church Fathers speak often of miracles within the Church.
Quite widely known are the supernatural healings Christ performs through Pope Kyrillos VI of Alexandria, a 20th century Coptic Pope, as well as, St. Seraphim of Sarov, an eighteenth-century Russian monk. They were blessed with the gift of healing during their lifetime, and even after their departure many people have been restored to wholeness at their graveside.
The practice of the Church today. To this day, the Orthodox practice of prayer for the sick follows the New Testament instruction of St. James. The Orthodox Church has a special service of healing, which may be performed at any time. The presbyter prays for the ill person, annointing him with oil and saying, “O Lord Almighty, Healer of our souls and bodies, who put down and raise up, who chastise and heal also, visit now in Your mercy our brother or sister, N., who is ill. Stretch forth Your arm, which is full of healing and health, and raise (him/her) up from this bed, and cure this illness. Put away the spirit of disease and every malady and pain and fever. And if (he/she) has committed sins and transgressions, grant remission and forgiveness, because You love mankind.”
As Orthodox Christians we pray, neither commanding God to heal nor doubting His ability to heal, but pleading for His promised mercy on all who are ill.
Quotation from The Orthodox Study Bible, p.1679, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology