“Israel, your head is already covered with wounds, and your heart and mind are sick. From head to foot there is not a healthy spot on your body. You are covered with bruises and sores and open wounds. Your wounds have not been cleaned or bandaged. No ointment has been put on them.”(Isaiah1:5).
This verse from the Bible is not only about the old Israel, but is all about the new Israel also. The world in which we live today is ailing. I think more than 90 per cent of the whole world population is morbid. And I believe the primary duty of the church is to heal this ailing world. The Bible tells us about the question: Who created the world? And it is the Science to describe how the world was created. Both religion and science are two sides of the same coin. It is God who works behind both.
Religion and Science are not to be contradictory but to be complementary. Doctors get the knowledge of medicine from the wisdom of God. It is God who infused healing power or medicinal value into the herbs. The source of all medicine is God.
We see Jesus resorting to many methods to heal the sick who sought his help. He healed many by a single touch (Mark8:25), by a simple word (St. John 5:8, and by using a mixture of saliva and soil (St.John9). He wanted his disciples to use Olive oil as a medium for imparting power of healing (Mark 6:13). I think all the holy sacraments in our church are now rather relevant to the modern humanity than it was before and I believe that it is the mission of the holy church to take this sacraments to the needy and to the deserving.
My humble attempt here is to delve deep into the theological aspects of the healing ministry in the Orthodox Church particularly on the holy healing sacraments-Anointing the sick and Holy Qurbana.
The purpose of the Incarnation of Christ was to redeem the whole humanity from the clutches of Satan and to set the human free from the bondage of sin, disease and death and eventually to place them in paradise by regaining the lost paradise. As part of the economy of God’s salvation, He instituted certain spiritual means to purify the weak and sinful human and to make them holy as God himself has ever been.
The reference to this is seen in Leviticus 20:26 where the Lord has said, “You shall be holy and belong to me, because I am the Lord and I am holy.” This spiritual process of purification and deification is popularly denoted by the word-Sacrament which means that which sanctifies. Though the term is not found in the New Testament, it came into use quite early to describe the visible signs or acts which are means of grace and salvation for the Christians.
‘Salvation’ is probably the most general term used in the Bible for the great gift which men receive by believing in Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:16).
It means not only Freedom from sin and God’s wrath, but also a growth in the knowledge of God (1 Timothy 1:15, Romans5:6, 1 Timothy2:4). The ultimate aim of salvation is nothing but theosis or deification. (Leviticus20:26, 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Deification is possible only by a spiritual defecation or religious refining of the weak and sinful nature of human beings by way of ritualistic performances. A religious ritual becomes a vital activity when it is done scientifically and in all its seriousness but it becomes a meaningless perfunctory act and a farce, if done with laxity devoid of its true spirit.
In order to acquire the divine nature, one needs to be firmly attached to God. (John 15). If one has to bear spiritual fruit, one is to be filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit (St.John16:8, Galatians 5:22).
What are Sacraments?
The sacraments are to be regarded as outward signs through which God makes known His love to us and we pledge ourselves to be His people. Through the sacrament the grace of God is made available to the faithful. We can not dispense with the sacraments because they are commanded by God. They are the ways in which God makes known His salvation for us and we signify our acceptance of His salvation.
Sacraments are instituted by Christ and constituted by the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Church does not limit the number of sacraments but there are mainly 7 in number. Of them, Baptism is the first one. It is through Baptism that a person is initiated into the realm of religious life and Christian faith .But he/she continues acquiring the divine grace as sustenance for the up growing in the Christian life through other sacraments such as Holy Chrism, Holy Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Holy Anointing the Sick. And all these sacraments go hand in hand and are complete in relation to the Holy Qurbana-the Queen of Sacraments – which is popularly eulogized as the ‘medicine of immortality’.
The faith and life of the Orthodox Church is based on Bible but not limited by the written bible alone. Bible is also part of the tradition of the Holy church which has been guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13). There are both written and oral traditions prevailing in our Church. (Ref:-2 Thessalonians3:6; 1 Corinthians 11:23, 34; Philippians 4:9; 2Timothy 1:13, 2:2; Hebrews2:1, 3John13).
How important the sacraments are?
Every sacrament is attached to the body and blood of Christ which has been bequeathed to us as part of imparting His Life into our life since blood is the seat of life. The blood formed in the body of Christ Incarnate by way of metabolic process called sanguification (The formation of blood cells in the living body) was shed on the Cross at Calvary at the time of crucifixion. And this very natural blood in a mysterious way has been converted (made into) the wine – blood (dispensed one) by the spiritual process called sanctification and is given to us through the holy mass to enliven each one of us. (Ref:-St, Matt26:25-28, St.Mark14:22-24, St.Luke22:19-20). The verse 6:6 from the Book of Revelation reads thus: “Do not harm the oil and vine”. This verse implies that sacraments like Baptism, Holy Qurbana and Anointing the Sick will continue till the end, as the oil and vine are the essential objects for these sacraments. Here the consecrated Olive oil represents the whole church and is considered to be medium of transmission of the Holy Spirit.
The sacraments are administered through duly ordained clergy. It is the Holy Spirit who ordains a person enabling him to be the minister in the Church. It is not the merit or personal goodness of the clergy that works in the sacrament but the grace and Holy Spirit. However, this does not mean that the clergy is exempted from personal goodness or quality. We must also realize the fact that the spiritual persons are ordinary people endowed with extraordinary divine power just as St. James attests that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours (James 5:16). The priests along with the faithful (Church) earnestly pray for the sick and administer the sacraments for healing. God answers the prayers irrespective of our failures and weaknesses. The whole faithful community rejoices and praises God for answering their prayers and healing a fellow believer.
The bible says, “The blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a burnt calf are sprinkled on the people who are unclean, and this purifies them by taking away their ritual impurities. Since this is true, how much more is accomplished by the blood of Christ! Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will purify our conscience from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God”. (Hebrews 9:13-14). These verses from the epistle of St. Paul validate the relevance of sacraments of the holy church for the edification of faithful of the present time.
Sacraments as means of healing
All sacraments in our Church are means for healing. The word ‘Sacrament’, derived from the Latin term Sacramentum, originally means that which refines and restores and makes something or somebody sacred or pure. Healing itself forms part of the scheme of God’s salvific work. That is why Jesus, when he came for redemption of humanity, performed miracle healing to all those who sought his compassion and help (St.Matt8:14-17). It was to prove the fact that he himself was the real God who heals everyone as said in Psalms 103:3, Exodus 15:26,St.Matt9:4-7). All prayer healings are and must be for the glory of God.
Some diseases in us are sometimes as a result of our sin. (Ref:-St. Mathew 9:1-8, 1Kings 12:25-13:4) and our illnesses finally lead us to death. Each organ or part in our body is also responsible for our sin and sickness and is liable for punishment. (St Mathew 18:8-9). It was to redeem us from this punishment that Christ, our Lord and Savior, came to the world and bore our sins. “Christ himself carried all our sins in his body to the Cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that we have been healed”. (Isaiah 53:5, St.Matt8:17, I Peter 2: 24) But one must be receptive and must accept this Salvation of God. (Romans10:9) It is with the noble intention of bringing everyone eventually to the feet of Christ and thus saving their souls from eternal perish, even at least at the eleventh hour, that in our Church the Sacrament -Anointing the sick- has been instituted.(Rogikalude Thylabhisheka Shushroosha). Here three sacraments-Holy Anointing the sick, Holy Confession and Holy Qurbana-go together.
It is to be noted that ‘Extreme Unction’ (Andhya Koodasa) is a wrong terminology. This sacrament forms part of the ‘Healing Ministry of Jesus’ that is still continuing through His body- the Holy Church. It plays a vital role in convincing the faithful of the Salvation in Christ and it sets yet another chance for one to repent and to return to God by renewing one’s baptismal faith in Him. It confirms the faithful of the remission of their sins by which they get great solace and hope for the future even beyond death which in a way helps to die in peace. But I have noticed many of the faithful in our church approach this Holy Sacrament with a little bit doubt, fear, anxiety, prejudice, inhibition, and indifference. Sri Nitya Chaithanya Yeti, the great ascetic philosopher and psychologist of India has opined that the rites and rituals have a spiritual tint which plays a definite role in eradicating fear from the mind of a person.
The scriptural references for healing prayers
The anointing of the sick with Holy Olive Oil by an ordained priest is biblically based ( St. Mark 6: 13, St. James 5:13-20) and its efficacy is a proven one. The bible says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders (Kasheeso) 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. Confess your sin to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Through this holy spiritual process, each organ or part in the body of a person is being refined and restored by the healing power of the Holy Spirit. The sick person whether old or young is marked by the priest on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, belly, hands, knees and feet, with the signing of the cross-’the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the symbol of salvation.’ The reference of lengthy prayers for healing on each part of a human body can be seen in the ancient scripture of India – the Rig Veda 10 Mandela 163 Sooktha. We read of similar acts of healing in 1Kings 13:4-6, 2 Kings2:19-22, 5:14-15, and Isaiah 38, 1 Samuel 16: 23 of the Bible.
The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from every sin” and what all we need is to confess our sins (Ref: – 1 John 1:7-9). In the sacrament, the sick is sealed with the charismata of the Comforter Jesus. From the moment of this holy sacrament, divine presence of the Holy Spirit, together with Christ, gets rekindled as a living flame in the inner most shrine of the sick person’s heart. This spiritual act of sealing with the sign of cross is symbolical which implies that the body, soul and spirit of the faithful have been entrusted to the hands of God to be protected from the clutches of Devil by the Guardian Angel. (The epistle of St Jude: Verse 9). The verse 1 Thessalonians 5:23 reads thus: “Now may the God of Peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It is with the same prayer and intention that this sacrament is done to the faithful to have their body, soul and spirit preserved undefiled for the final Judgment. The significance of this Sacrament is clear in the words of St James, ” My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings them back again, remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from his or her wrong way will save that sinner’s soul as well as his own soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins”. (Verse20) Therefore, by doing so, it is, in a sense, the winning of Souls for Christ- the prime goal of Christian mission. This sacrament is designed for the total healing of the body, mind and spirit of a person. It creates in oneself an awareness of one’s follies and foibles which leads one to rely on God as the last resort. It further gives the recipient courage to face the appalling face of death and to enter into the hope of living eternally with God up in the heavenly abode. I have received this holy sacrament several times and have experienced its power effect. The sacrament- holy confession -which forms part of the anointing sick plays a vital role in psychotherapy and the holy Qurbana which follows it, gives out a spiritual therapy as well.
St. Ignatius of Antioch has stated that ‘Holy Qurbana is a medicine of immortality’. No doubt we can vouchsafe to the efficacy of Holy Qurbana. Yet another holy elements that we use for healing are ‘water’ that is blessed on the day of Epiphany (6 January) and the ‘palm leaves’ blessed on Palms Sunday. One can testify to the fact that they are rich sources of blessings, if someone tries to experience it in their life with all love, faith and hope.
I would like to share three of my experiences with you. In 2005 December, my sister Dr. Susan, then aged 35, who had been suffering from S.L.E, a deadly disease, for a long period of 12 years was critically hospitalized in SUT, Thiruvananthapuram. She was terminally ill and was about to be taken to the ventilator for ‘silent death’. The doctors had lost every hope. Her heart functioning was only 25%. At that uncertain moment, I along with the most revered Fr. P.M. Eapen, went to see her in the C.C.U and prayed for her. I thought it would be my last glimpse of her. Fr. Eapen prayed and anointed her with the holy oil. After an hour, by the abundant grace of God, she recuperated herself and came back to life from the verge of death. Indeed it was yet another miracle of Jesus- the Greatest Physician! She is still alive, and has been practicing in her clinic at Kollam as a living testimony of Faith and Prayer -healing ever since her recuperation. Let glory be to God Almighty!
I can testify to the healing efficacy of the Holy Qurbana on the basis of an incident happened in the same year at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Orthodox Syrian Church , Vattiyoorcavu, Thiruvananthapuram, where I was working at formerly. A 50 years old woman called Mariamma Varkey, who had been lame of polio (cripple) from her childhood, got a miraculous healing at the solemn moments of the elevation of the holy mysteries during a holy mass celebrated in connection with 8 days lent in September 2005. Formerly she could walk only with support of crutches and on that day too she came to the church using crutches. When I began to say the prayers, “The one holy Father is with us, who, by his mercy, created the world. The one holy Son is with us, who, by his own precious sufferings, redeemed the world, and the one holy spirit is with us, the perfecter and fulfiller of all that has been and all that will be”, she felt that she was receiving a power in her limbs and thereafter she started standing on her feet and walking without using the stick. I infer that in every holy mass Jesus our Lord- the Son of righteousness- rises with healing in His wings- for it is written in the book of prophet Malachi 4:2: “But to you who fear my name the son of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves”.
Another miracle happened in 2004 had been to a boy called Ansu Samuel, then aged 14, who was partially paralyzed following a surgery for his urinary problem. He was rejected from Sri Chithira Thirunal Medical Institute and Research Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. He was then brought to St. Peter’s & St. Paul’s Orthodox Church, Vattiyoorcavu, Thiruvananthapuram where I was serving at during that time. He was administered the Holy Oil and a special Holy Qurbana was said for his healing. To the surprise of us all, he regained his health in a time of one month. Now as a reciprocation of God’s love and concern, he is serving his Lord at the church as an altar boy (Acolyte). God can work where man fails. Halleluiah! Praise the Lord! There may be a good number of similar experiences for you too have to say as a testimony, haven’t you?
Please do always bear in mind that nothing is impossible to God and everything is possible through Prayer and Faith. If the woman with an issue of blood could get healing by just a touch on the cloak of Jesus as said in St. Luke 8, it is no wonder if one receives healing from holy sacraments. Let us be glad that we have a living and loving God in Jesus Christ. It is God who heals you and me. (Exodus 15: 26). His Spirit is still working through His holy Church which is the mystical body of Christ- the anointed one who was sent to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind.(St. Luke 4:18 b). Bible says, “Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal the sickness and to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” in Lord’s Prayer, it includes the medicine needed for us all. The concept behind running Mission Hospitals by our church is as part of our healing ministry. If you believe in Jesus, you too can be healed. So, there is no need of going here and there for healing. The ‘healing ministry’ is still in our Church. But remember, it is always good to render this Sacrament- Anointing of the sick- when the sick person is in the conscious state. However, anyone can at anytime receive this holy sacrament. Let us pray for all the sick around us and be healed ourselves also. No fervent prayers remain unanswered. We read in the book of Job42:10 ff that when Job, the righteous, did pray for his friends, he regained his health and wealth. See what our ancestors prayed: “Loka Samastha sukhino bhavanthu”! What a broader outlook of the erstwhile people of India was it! Let this same attitude administer us!
Let the invalid world be healed by the grace of God, by the intercession of all saints, and through the sacraments of the holy Church.