Project Canterbury

An Aid for Churchmen Episcopal and Orthodox
Toward a Mutual Understanding, by Means of a Brief Comparison of the Rites and Ceremonies of the Orthodox Church
with those of the Episcopal (Anglican Church)

By the Rev. H. Henry Spoer, B.D., Ph.D.
Sometime Lecturer at the Lichfield Theological College, England

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Morehouse, 1930.
London: Mowbray, 1930.

Chapter VIII. Unction of the Sick

The Mystery of Holy Unction, called evchelaion, i.e., Prayer Oil, should be administered, if possible, in the church, in the presence of the congregation, but it may take place, in case of severe sickness, in the home of the patient, in the presence of his friends. As it is regarded as remedial for body and soul (St. James 5: 14, 15), it may be repeated as often as desired," and differs therefore from the unction in extremis, the sacramentum exeuntium of the Roman Church.

The use of anointing as a part of the Service for the Visitation of the Sick was omitted from the Anglican Prayer Book in 1552. It was revived for a time by the "nonjuring" bishops and priests in 1717, was employed by their successors, and has been in use sporadically ever since. An edition of the Rite was printed at Shrewsbury as late as 1797.

The Service for the Visitation of the Sick in our revised Prayer Book now makes provision by a rubric, collect, and declaration for the "ministry of healing through Anointing or Laying on of Hands."

In the Orthodox Church seven priests, vested in chasuble and stole, are ordinarily required for the performance of the Rite, but one suffices in case of necessity, in which event, the Service, which is somewhat long, is curtailed. The recipient of the Mystery must have already made his confession, and received Communion, or intend to do so, after the Rite of Holy Unction.

The Rite opens with ascriptions of praise, the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 143, a short litany, and Psalm 51. Then follows the Kanon, the subject of which is the Oil of Compassion, setting forth the whole intention of this Rite, as expressed in the opening stanza:

"O Master, who with the Oil of Compassion always exhilarates both souls and bodies of mortals, guarding the faithful with oil, have pity upon those who are approaching Thee through the oil."

The Kanon forms an acrostic which, translated, is "A Prayer of Oil, a Psalm of Arsenius." In the third ode of the Kanon occurs the following prayer, invoking Christ's help for those who suffer:

"O Physician! Helper of those who are in suffering, the Redeemer and Saviour of those who are in sickness, Thou, O Master and Lord of all, grant healing to Thy sick servants, be compassionate and merciful to those who have many times failed; and deliver them from their stumblings, O Christ, so that they may praise Thy divine power."

The ninth ode opens with a canticle, exaposteilarion, beseeching a blessing upon all who have come together to participate in the Mystery of Holy Unction.

"In mercy look down with Thine eyes, O Good One, upon the prayers of us who have gathered in Thy Holy Church today to anoint with Thy Divine Oil Thy suffering servants."

Then follow the ainoi, praises, prayers for those who have come to be anointed that they may be restored to health of soul and body, so that they may glorify God.

"Thou, O Lover of Mankind, who by Thy clemency through the apostles hast given Thy grace to heal the calamities and sicknesses of all by means of Thy Holy Oil, sanctify those who, believing, approach Thy Oil, have mercy and cleanse them from every kind of illness and make them worthy, O Lord, of Thy incorruptible pleasures.

"Look down from heaven, O Incomprehensible One, who hast so mercifully sealed our senses with Thy invisible hand, upon those who hasten to Thy Divine Oil, believing and imploring the forgiveness of their transgressions, give healing of body and soul so that with eagerness they may glorify Thee and magnify Thy power.

"Through the anointing of Thy mercy and the touch of priests, O Lover of Mankind, sanctify Thy servants from above; deliver them from diseases, cleanse the defilement of the soul and wash away, O Saviour, and remove from them manifold intrigues, assuage their pains, banish their afflictions, and remove their tribulations forasmuch as Thou art merciful and compassionate."

The following troparion closes the Kanon:

"Thou alone, O Christ, art quick in succor; manifest from above a speedy visitation upon Thy suffering servants; deliver the sick and those in bitter pains, raise them up again . . . that they may hymn and glorify Thee without ceasing, O Thou who alone lovest mankind." [For a versified translation of this troparion see John Brownlie, Hymns from the Greek Office Books, p. 19.]

A litany is said by the deacon which contains, as do the Liturgy, Hesperinos and Orthros, a suffrage for the Union of the Churches of God, besides special suffrages referring to the oil and those to be anointed. The Prayer of the Oil, which now follows, is repeated in turn by each of the seven priests, standing before the lamp containing the oil.

"O Lord, who through Thy mercy and compassion dost heal our broken souls and bodies, Thou, O Master, sanctify this oil, that it may be to those anointed with it for the healing and the removal of all suffering, of defilement of flesh and spirit, and of all evil; that by this also Thine All-holy Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost may be glorified now and forever. Amen."

In the prayers which follow reference is made to St. James, "the brother of God," "the divine James." The Epistle and Gospel are read, different portions by each of the seven priests in turn, the first being, for the Epistle, St. James 5:10-17, the authorization for the Mystery of Unction; and for the Gospel, St. Luke 10: 25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan.

A litany is followed by a lengthy prayer asking for the descent of the Holy Spirit to sanctify the oil (cf. Epiklesis in the Liturgy) and for "grace in this Thy ministration" that "this oil be an oil of gladness and sanctification" and that "those who are anointed with this oil of regeneration may be an object of fear to their spiritual opponents and shine with the radiance of Thy saints, not having spot or wrinkle."

A similar prayer is said after the Gospel, invoking special blessings upon those to be anointed.

The Anointing: The anointing takes place at the end of each section. The forehead, lips, ears, nostrils, hands, and breast are touched with cotton fastened to a thin, short stick and dipped in the oil. It suffices, especially if there be only one priest, to make the sacred sign on the forehead only.

The following prayer is repeated by each priest as he anoints in turn.

"O Holy Father, Physician of souls and bodies, who didst send Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal every kind of sickness and to deliver from death, heal this Thy servant of bodily and spiritual suffering which may be upon him, and quicken him by the grace of Thine Anointed. . . .

"For Thou art the Source of healing, O Christ our God, and to Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, now and forever. Amen."

After each priest has performed his part, the chief of the priests holds a copy of the Gospel on the head of him who has been anointed, all the other priests putting their hands upon it, symbolizing that it is through the Holy Gospel, i.e., through Christ, that the healing is procured, not through the hands of the priests, who act only as ministers. This is expressed in the prayer which ends the Rite and is recited by the chief of the priests, in a loud voice:

"O Holy King, O Merciful One, O Much Compassionate One, O Lord Jesus, O Son and Word of the Living God, who does not wish the death of a sinner but that he should turn and live, I lay not my sinful hand upon the head of him who approaches Thee in sin, and is entreating Thee through us for remission of sins, but stretch Thou forth Thy strong and mighty hand, which is in this Holy Gospel, which my fellow-ministers are holding over the head of Thy servant A., and I pray together with them and implore Thy compassion and benevolent forgiveness, O God, O Saviour, who through Thy prophet Nathan didst grant remission to David, when he repented of his sins and didst receive the prayer of Manasseh upon repentance, that Thou mayest also receive with Thy accustomed loving-kindness, Thy servant N., who has repented of all his failings, overlooking all his transgressions; for Thou art our God, who hast commanded to forgive those that fall into sin even seventy times seven; for as Thy majesty so is also Thy mercy; and to Thee belong all glory, honor, and worship, now and forever. Amen."

The one who has been anointed now kisses the Book of the Gospel. The Service closes with the Dismissal.


The Oil. The oil must be pure. Wine is sometimes added in reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan. The oil used is commonly taken from the shrine-lamp, but any pure oil will suffice. The rubric in the mikron evchologion says, "Be it known that in the Great Church [i.e., the Patriarchal Church in Constantinople], instead of water, wine is poured into the lamp of the evchelaion.

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