>U is for Unity and Unction

>[Scroll down to read about
the letters A-T as
“A Sinner’s Lenten Alphabet”

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”
(Matthew 12:25)

When Jesus spoke these words, he was being challenged by the Pharisees concerning the powers he used to cast out demons—specifically the healing of a man who was blind and mute. The “kingdom” or the “city” or the “house” divided against itself is said to mean the person, or the mind, or the nous. If we are divided in our person, we will not stand. We will be unhealthy. Most of us suffer this dividedness to some degree. In its most extreme, it can take the form of a psychotic event or even long-term schizophrenia.

Spiritual health begins with healing the split—uniting the parts of us that have been broken. The Orthodox teaching is that we become a person when we unite with God. Metropolitan Hierotheos addresses this in his book, The Person in the Orthodox Tradition:

“He will become a real man when he partakes of the uncreated energy of God. As God is Person, it means that man becomes a person when he unites with God…. The person is the inner core of his existence, and is connected with his impulse towards God and his union with Him.”

So how do we heal the brokenness and move towards union with God? The season of Great Lent offers us a great venue for moving towards that healing, with its emphasis on repentance, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and the other tools, services and sacraments of the Church that are available to us. I didn’t write about repentance when I got to the letter “R,” but I think it’s interesting that when the prodigal son repented, the words that Saint Luke used to describe that action was this: “But when he came to himself….” (Luke 15:17) His return “to himself” was the first step towards healing his person.

One of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church that is offered to parishioners on an individual basis whenever it’s needed throughout the year is Holy Unction. But on the Wednesday of Holy Week, it is offered to the church at large. It’s also called the Sacrament of Healing, and it involves anointing with oil, and seven readings from the Epistles and seven readings from the Gospels. Certain prayers and hymns are also offered, invoking God’s healing power.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2001, I went to my pastor and asked for this anointing with oil and for the prayers of healing before my surgery. Although I don’t believe that my cancer was a direct result of some specific sin on my part, I wanted spiritual healing to accompany the physical healing I would be seeking from the physicians. It brought me great peace, and yes, I was healed of the cancer at the hand of the surgeon.

When the church receives Holy Unction together—as members of the Body of Christ—on Holy Wednesday, I pray that it will bring healing not only to each member individually, but to the Church as a whole. Our parish here in Memphis is part of the Antiochian jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in this country, and we’re struggling with “issues” that threaten our unity, as churches often do.

I’ll close with this prayer for the Unity of the Church, asking that anyone who reads this and feels so inclined will join me in this prayer. (One year ago today I did a short post about these issues, and included the prayer in that post.)

Click on the Prayer to enlarge the text so you can read it, or save it and print it if you’d like. And then last summer I did a couple of follow-up posts, so you can read them here if you missed them:


I Need a Hero

Reminder: tonight, at St John and many Orthodox parishes throughout the world, the Fourth Salutations to the Theotokos will be prayed. (6:30 at St. John.)

P.S. If anyone has any suggestions for what I should write about for the letter “X” next week, I’d appreciate your sending them my way☺

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