Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Mysterion Of Unction

That was the name for this evening's service which was absolutely beautiful. For those in the charismatic circles, that's a healing service folks - although it didn't look anything like any healing service I'd ever attended before. The focus of the service was a table which replaced the icon in the aisle area for our little church space. On the table was a bowl of sand with a jar of oil in the middle which was surrounded by 7 plain beeswax candles. The service involved the chanting of psalms and a long prayer as each of the 7 candles was lit. The final part of the service was the actual administering of the sacrament of unction for all the faithful (Orthodox, that is). Two men held up the gospel book over the heads of the people as they came forward and had the oil painted onto their forehead and each hand with a little paintbrush the priest held.

It was a lot of prayers and thoughtful reflection on the state of our souls. The aim is repentance and the actual anointing with oil is a sign of the greatest healing the Great Physician can give us - that of the forgiveness of the sickness of sin. There were no guitars and nobody singing verse after verse of praise choruses. People were anointed but the prayer was short and simple, no catchers necessary - no praying in tongues, no laying on of hands - just plain, simple, humble prayer. I noticed that about the house blessing also when Fr. Greg came to our house. It was so straight forward. He walked through the house, he prayed, he splattered holy water on every possible surface (the dog and the bird weren't all that thrilled about being considered a possible surface) and then he expected that the house would be clean, free from bondage, protected by our Lord and His angels. It's the simple expectation that grabs me about the Orthodox. They pour out their souls into psalms, scriptures, chants that walk them through the gospel truths and then they simply expect that God will do what He says He's going to do. The reflection is on the worshiper. It is my job as I worship to inwardly draw myself closer to the Lord. It is God's job to show up. I don't have to invoke His presence, wave my arms until I "feel" Him draw near, pronounce visions of angels and saints (heck, look around you - everyone can see the angels and saints all over the place!) and then be disappointed when what *I* did wasn't enough. My only job is to turn a penitent heart to my Lord and expect Him to be the Living Word, a God of His Word.

After that service tonight I finally understood the times Christ said that it is more difficult to forgive sins than to heal. Not that I didn't understand the basic concept but I didn't get what one had to do with the other. I realized after this evening that sin *is* the sickness. Physical ailing is only a secondary condition to the separation of our souls from our Lord. All the gyrations we did in the charismatic church to "get" the Holy Spirit, to "call Him down" I think were part of the sickness, a spiritual pride that we actually had anything to do with the movement of God according to His word and His promises already made. It seems the Orthodox spend a lot of time looking inward and in the process find Christ already dwelling within them. It is a simple expectation, then, that Christ, once discovered in the beating of our own heart, would spill out His love to all those around us.

This had to be hardest thing we've done yet as catechumens. We showed up with the whole family and we all had broken hearts. If ever we needed unction - healing - it was tonight as we grieve the loss of Noah. But it was denied to us since we have not yet professed the Orthodox faith. I know that Fr. Greg was similarly grieved to be the hand that issued denial. But I'm hoping to use it as an opportunity to continue to place my mind within my heart and seek out Christ there. All it requires is simple expectation that God will be God and Redemption is coming...

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