“For which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He then said to the paralytic—“Rise, take up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.
We thank You, Lord, our good and loving God, Physician of our souls and bodies, Who painlessly have borne our infirmities, and by Whose stripes we all have been healed. You are the Good Shepherd, Who came in search of the wandering sheep. You give consolation to the fainthearted, and life to the brokenhearted. You healed the flow of the woman, having an issue of blood for twelve years, and freed the daughter of the Canaanite woman from the cruel demon; You forgave the debt of the two debtors and forgave the sinful woman. You healed the Paralytic along with the remission of his sins; You justified the Publican with Your word, and received the Thief at his last confession. You took upon Yourself the sins of the world, by being nailed to the Cross. We pray to You and entreat You: in Your goodness, loose, remit, forgive, O God, the sins of Your servants and their iniquities, whether voluntary and involuntary, whether of knowledge or of ignorance, whether of excess of disobedience, whether of the night or of the day; whether they be under the ban of a priest, or the curse of father or mother; whether thought the sight of their eyes, or their sense of smell; whether though adultery, or fornication, or through whatever impulse of the flesh and of the spirit, they have alienated themselves from Your will, and from Your holiness. If we also have sinned, in like manner, forgive; forasmuch as You are a good God, Who remember not evil, and loves mankind, permitting us not to fall into the unclean life, neither to follow in wayward paths. Yea, Lord and Master, hear me, a sinner, in this hour, on behalf of these Your servants. Overlook all their trespasses, as a forgiving God. Deliver them from eternal punishment; fill their mouths with praise of You; open their lips that they may glorify Your holy name; stretch forth their hands to execute Your commandments. Direct their feet aright, in the way of Your Gospel, strengthening all their members and their thoughts by Your grace. For You are our God, Who through Your holy Apostles gave us a commandment saying: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” And again: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And as You hearkened to Hezekiah in the sorrow of his soul, at the hour of his death, and did not overlook his prayer, in like manner hear me, Your humble, sinful, and unworthy servant, praying to You at this hour. (From the 6th Prayer)
The Sixth Prayer of Holy Unction gives several Scriptural examples of how Christ can heal us. It begins with a reference to Isaiah 53: 4-5, which reads:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed.
Christ can heal us not only because He is God, but because He became a man, because He became one of us. He understands us, He understands our pain, because He lived a human existence. He has the power to heal us because He took on our transgressions and infirmities and our Spiritual healing is made possible because of His sacrifice on the Cross.
In Luke 15, as we have already discussed, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd that went looking for the lost sheep. And in John 10:11, Jesus reveals Himself as the good shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus is our Shepherd. We are His sheep. He cares for each of us. He will search for us when we are lost and will rejoice when we are found.
The prayer refers to the healing of a woman who was hemorrhaging blood, and the Biblical account in Mark 5 and Luke 8 where Jesus healed the woman merely because she touched His garment. Jesus healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman, which was discussed in the previous reflection.
More healings are mentioned in the prayer. In Luke 7, the story is told about two debtors who were forgiven by their master. In John 8, Jesus forgave a sinful woman caught in adultery, by not only sparing her from being stoned to death, but telling her to sin no more and go in peace. In Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5, Jesus not only healed a Paralytic but also forgave his sins.
In Luke 18: 9-14, we hear the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who both went to the temple to pray. The prayer of the Pharisee was one of self-aggrandizement. The prayer of the tax collector was one of humility and repentance. It was the tax collector who received mercy from Christ.
Finally, reference is made to the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. The response of Jesus was that the repentant thief, that very day, would be with Jesus in Paradise. (Luke 23:42-43)
The prayer references a great number and variety of sins, in order to reinforce for us that Jesus can forgive many kinds of sins. The prayer then lists some of the kinds of sins we commit: sins committed voluntarily and involuntarily; sins committed in knowledge and ignorance; sins committed by directly violating a commandment and sins committed by failing to obey. The prayer covers sins committed during the day and the night. If someone has transgressed either a parent or a priest, this also is to be forgiven. Our senses get us in trouble and the prayer covers these as well. Sins committed with our eyes and our sense of smell. Sexual sins are mentioned. Adultery, as most people know, is sexual transgression after one is married. Fornication, which is not spoken of often enough, is sexual transgression before marriage.
The celebrating priest also acknowledges his own sins, asking God not only to forgive the people, but him as well.
The prayer doesn’t end only with a request for forgiveness. It asks for help in living appropriately. This is because life is not about avoiding what is bad. It is about doing what is good and Godly. The prayer asks for our hands to be blessed, in order to do the commandments of God. It asks for our feet to walk in the right direction. It asks for our thoughts to be governed as well.
The prayer reminds us that Christ gave His Apostles a commandment in John 20:21-23, which He said to them, on the evening of the Resurrection:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when He has said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This commandment establishes the authority of the Apostles to loose sins. This authority has been passed down from the Apostles to the Bishops and through them to the priests, something that continues to this day, when a Bishop grants the priest the blessing to hear confession and loose sins of those who come to confession. The Prayer of Absolution not only frees someone from sin. It frees them from the guilt, shame and anxiety associated with sin. This is why Holy Unction doesn’t take the place of the Sacrament of Confession. Holy Unction offers prayer for healing and forgiveness, while Confession offers a person the chance to be released from guilt and anxiety, the chance to express a desire to repent and a dialogue where one can receive guidance.
The prayer concludes with a reference to Hezekiah, the King of Judah from 715-687 BCE. Hezekiah was sick and was even told by the Prophet Isaiah that he would die. In II Kings 20, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Thy sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (II Kings 20:3) Isaiah was then sent by God to Hezekiah to tell him that indeed his prayer would be answered and that he would live fifteen more years. This is further confirmation that God hears prayers and does as He wishes, despite outward appearances. God can forgive and heal, even in the most dire of situations. The priest asks God to hear the prayer of the people and his own prayer, even in his and their sinful state.
If God can hear the prayer and forgive the sins of so many that are mentioned in the Sixth Prayer, certainly He can hear our prayer and forgive our sins as well.
And as You hearkened to Hezekiah in the sorrow of his soul, at the hour of his death, and did not overlook his prayer, in like manner hear me, Your humble, sinful and unworthy servant, praying to You at this hour. (From the 6th Prayer)
God’s power to forgive knows no boundaries!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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