Lenten blessings be upon you! Nowadays many Christians prefer going for pilgrimage to the holy land and they find gratification by walking through the soil where our Lord Jesus walked on some 2000 years ago. But only the affluent people are afford to have such a pilgrimage though everyone is desirous of. Here is a God sent opportunity for each one of us to make a pilgrimage through the life- events of Christ incarnate. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, we are going for a pilgrimage in a peculiar way.
As we meditate upon the life stories of Christ especially his passion, crucifixion and resurrection through the liturgies on the holy week, in an experiential realm, we feel the very presence of Christ amidst us and are able to imbibe the grace of healing.
On Palm Sunday, we are called to sing Hosanna like the large multitude did on the street of Jerusalem glorifying Jesus while on His arrival mounted on a colt (Mat21:9). Let us pray Hosanna meaning ‘Save us’ so that our present world may be saved from eternal perish.
On Maundy Thursday, let us come close leaning on our master Jesus for holy supper(Holy Qurbana) and receive his holy body and blood not as Judas Iscariot did (Mark 14:20) but as his favourite disciple Saint John did (John21:20).
On Good Friday, when we participate in the procession of the way of cross around the church , let the same attitude of Simon Cyrene reign over us in carrying the Cross of Christ (Mark15:21). And while we chant lengthy prayers and hymns, let us cry aloud like the women of Jerusalem did by lamenting of our sinful lives and of our children. Let us kneel down on the floor of the Church as if we were at Calvary. Let us bring myrrh and frankincense with all devotion and sincerity to the holy altar for the burial service as a mark of paying homage to our Lord as Joseph and Nichodimus did for the burial of Christ (John 19:39).
On Gospel Saturday, let our memorial service for the departed souls go deep down into the Sheol heralding the joy of victory of our Lord over death as our out- reaching mission in tandem with that of Christ (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6).
On Easter Sunday, let us run like St.Peter and St. John to the tomb of Christ (The Holy Altar) so as to make us believe that indeed ‘Christ has risen’ (John20:3-8).
One of the greatest prophetic themes of the old testament concerning the promised Messiah is that the Father would send His son “to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (Isaiah 49:8; 61:1) and we read in the gospel of St.Luke 4:18 that it was fulfilled in Christ Incarnate. The ministry of Christ was one of numerous healings of “all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of disease” (Mat 4:23). In addition, Jesus healed darkened hearts and minds as he released people from demonic oppression.
Like their Mater before them, the early apostles participated in God’s work of healing as well, attributing their miracle to the risen and ascended Christ. “Jesus the Christ heals you, “Peter told a newly restored man who had been bedridden for eight years (Acts9:34).St.Paul identified healing as a gift of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:9). Thus, the New Testament foundation was established for the healing ministry to be a part of the sacramental life of the Church (James 5:14-15). The Orthodox Church has never believed or behaved as though the gifts of the spirit or the healing miracles of Christ have somehow passed away. Did not Jesus promise, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my father (John 14:12). As we do the prayer of healing, it doesn’t mean that we are commanding God to heal nor doubting His ability to heal, but pleading for His promised mercy on all who are ill.
In the book of the Acts of the Apostles 3:1-10, we see that the apostles participate not only in preaching and teaching but in healing as well. The sacrament of healing manifests God’s presence in the Church and confirms the message of the gospel.
Let me quote some verses from the holy Bible which throws a light into the importance of having the holy service of the anointing of the sick. “My son, do not be negligent when you are sick, but pray to the Lord and He will heal you. Depart from transgression and direct your hand aright, and cleanse your heart from every sin. Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice and a memorial of the finest wheat flour; and pour oil on your offering, as if you are soon to die. And keep in touch with your physician, for the Lord created him; and do not let him leave you, for you need him. There is a time when success is also in their hands, for they will pray to the Lord to give them success in bringing relief and healing, for the sake of preserving your life” (Wisdom of Sirach 38:9-14).
The sacrament –healing prayer and service of anointing the sick– known in Greek as evchelaion (the oil of prayer), is intended for all who suffer from any physical and mental illnesses. In many orthodox parishes and monasteries of the Eastern Orthodox Churches it is the custom to celebrate the evchelaion in Church on holy Wednesday evening or Maundy Thursday morning during holy Week, and everyone present is invited to approach for anointing, whether physically ill or not; for, even if we don’t require healing of the body, we are all of us in need of healing for our soul. All too often in orthodoxy the anointing of the sick has become a forgotten sacrament: we orthodox need to make far greater use of it.
In tandem with the present need, I feel it necessary to have a special healing service on the eve of Maundy Thursday in our church as well. Let us pray for all the sick around us and submit ourselves before God to be healed. When we pray for others, it is true that we also get healing. 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. The prayer of the erstwhile people of India had been: “Loka Samastha sukhino bhavanthu”! See what a broader outlook was it that of our forefathers! Let this same attitude reign over us! No fervent prayers remain unanswered. God bless us.