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ST. MARY OF ZION

ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH - LONDON

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'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'

St Matthew 28: 19

Charity No. 282910

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The Sacrament of Unction of the sick

I. Definition

 

(1) Unction of the Sick is the Sacrament through which the priest anoints the body of the sick, asking for divine grace to heal both body and soul.

 

(2) The difference between the Sacrament and that of penance is that the latter is administered (a) for all Christians (b) and for healing spiritual diseases; while the first is administered (a) only for the sick (b) and for healing bodily and spiritual diseases.

 

(3) There are some who think that St James mentioned this unction as an ordinary means of healing diseases.  In reply we stay to the following:

 

1. Had it been an ordinary means of healing diseases, it would have been said that anyone could anoints with oil.  But St James says that it is the priest who should anoint the sick.

 

2. And the healing power is not attributed to the oil but to the prayer: "let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick."

 

3. Moreover, it is said, directly after that: "And if he had committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."  This forgiveness can never be granted through mere oil.

 

(4) Others say that it was a healing gift given only to the Apostles.  In answer it is sufficient to say that St. James speaks of this unction not as a special privilege to the Apostles but as a sacrament to be always administered by the priests.

 

(5) The Church of Rome calls this Sacrament "Extreme (or last) Unction" on the basis that it is administered to the sick only when they are at the point of death.  This is utterly wrong because the Bible speaks of this as a means of healing and not as helping the sick at the point of death.

 

 

II. Institution of the Sacrament

 

This Sacrament was instituted by the Lord Himself:

 

(1) Because it was said of the Apostles that "they cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.  (Mark 6:13)

 

It is of course to be understood that they, having been sent by the Lord for that first mission, were instructed by Him to do the same.

 

(2) And St James, in his Epistle, says (5:14, 15) "Is any sick man among you?  Let him call for the elders (priests) of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he had committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."

 

It should be taken for granted that the Apostles did not preach the gospel of their own, but that which they received from the Lord Himself.  "But I certify you, brethren that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither receive it of man, neither was I taught Himself, but by the Revelation of Jesus Christ."  (Gal. 1:11, 12) Therefore, St James must have received that teaching directly from the Lord Himself.

 

(3) Moreover, the Disciples did not pretend to have instituted the church sacraments (mysteries), but they merely called themselves "stewards of the mysteries of God."  (1 Cor. 4:1) and if it was not clearly and definitely mentioned in the Bible that Christ instituted this Sacrament or some other sacraments it was because many things were done by Christ and were not written.  (John 21:25).

 

(4) The Fathers said that it was used as a church sacrament in the first centuries.

 

(5) Even the Protestant historians state that "when the early Christians were seriously sick, they used to call the priest of the church, and after confessing their sins they were anointed with oil by them."

 

 

III. The Visible Sign

 

There are two outward signs in the Sacrament:

 

(1) The Oil with which the sick person is anointed.  Before using it for anointing the sick, it should be consecrated through certain prayers.

 

(2) The prayers which are offered to God for the healing of the sick.  There are certain prayers, seven in number, prepared by the church for the Sacrament.  In addition to these prayers, certain portions of the Bible are also read.

 

 

IV. The Invisible Grace

 

The invisible grace which was granted through this Sacrament is a healing of body and soul.

 

 

V. Who Has the Right to Celebrate the Sacrament

 

Although this right was given to priests, yet of course the bishops can celebrate the sacrament if they like.  But it was given to the priests because they are in direct contact with the congregation.

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