As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.  But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation.  Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.  Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders 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 man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
James 5:10-16 (1st Epistle)
Today we begin our journey through the seven Epistles, seven Gospels, and seven prayers of Holy Unction, which will comprise the main focus as we reflect on the healing of soul and body. The first Epistle is from Saint James. There are many takeaways from these verses, including one of the Scriptural bases for anointing with oil.
Unfortunately, in our fallen world, suffering is part of life. There is no one who will live and not suffer in some way, just as there is no one who will live and not sin in some way. In every generation, there have been people who have stood out in their example of suffering. Before Christ, those people are called prophets. And after Christ, they are called saints. The prophets foretold of the coming of the Messiah, imploring the people to remain patient and not lose hope no matter what trials they were suffering. The saints witnessed for Christ, spreading the Gospel, and often suffering martyrdom as a result. Like the prophets, the saints encourage us to remain patient and not lose hope, instead looking forward to salvation and the Second Coming of Christ.
The story of Job is referenced in James 5:11. Job was a man who was wealthy and who had a beautiful family. One day, Satan went to God and challenged God that Job was only loyal to God because Job was blessed, that if Satan were allowed to afflict Job’s life with evil, that Satan thought surely Job would turn against God. God granted Satan’s wish and told him he could afflict Job with all kinds of evil, only telling him to spare Job’s life. In short order, Job lost his fortune, his family, and his own health. Job lamented his suffering. However, Job never cursed God or lost faith. In the end, Job was rewarded with seven sons and three daughters, and double the fortune he had before. The Epistle James references the steadfastness of Job, and how God’s purpose worked through him. Likewise, we are to be patient in our sufferings, trusting that God will reward us for our steadfastness and faith, by bestowing on us compassion and mercy.
James 5:12 contains two pieces of advice that challenge many of us regularly. First, he tells us to not swear oaths, or make promises by heaven or by earth. It is our works that we should focus on rather than our words. Because many times we promise things that we cannot fulfill, and many times we know that at the moment we make the promise. Rather than make empty promises, we should focus on working consistently, rather than promising things we can’t or won’t deliver on.
Today’s world is becoming more and more lukewarm. When people speak with conviction, it is generally an angry conviction. We are encouraged to be people of conviction, to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” “Maybe” is a very discouraging word and it seems that we are tempted to use it more and more. Our souls are wounded when others treat us with lack of conviction. We hurt others with our lack of conviction. I’ve had several experiences in speaking with people about the need for honesty in conversations with doctors. It seems that people are hesitant to hear the truth about the seriousness of the diagnosis and doctors seem reluctant to give the truthful scenario, when it is dire, for fear of being accused of not trying hard enough. And so, many times patients live in denial or with false hope and doctors encourage treatments that bring unnecessary pain and discomfort. This is not to disparage doctors, not at all. Teachers do the same when they can’t be honest with parents about children who aren’t doing well in school, and parents discourage honesty by wanting only good news. Even priests have a hard time being honest. When a person dies who has never expressed any interest in faith or in a church community, a priest may still choose to paint a person like this as an outstanding Christian. In this age of litigation and political correctness, our answers are often lukewarm, because we feel we can’t afford to speak with conviction. James tells us to speak with conviction, letting our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be no.”
Saint James directs those who are suffering to pray. Rather than lash out in anger or live in frustration, he tells us that anyone who is suffering should offer up their suffering to God through prayer. He directs those who are cheerful to sing praise to God. Oftentimes, when we are cheerful, we forget to go to God in gratitude. We seem to remember Him only when the chips are down.
For those who are sick, Saint James directs that the elders (in Greek, presbyters, which is actually the word for priests) come and anoint the person with oil. This is also further Scriptural basis for the sacrament of Holy Unction, as well as the reason why it is administered by the clergy and not by the laity. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, though not necessarily from sickness. The prayer of faith in time of sickness is proof that one can be faithful even when things are going right. After all, faith is not just believing when things are all going right but when they are all going wrong. The prayer of faith, continuing to go to God in faith in good times and challenging ones, will save the sick person. Our faith in God’s mercies and forgiveness are what will cover our sins. God is merciful and forgiving when we are faithful and repentant.
In James 5:16, we are directed to confess our sins to one another. In a small community, (whether it is a small church, or a family) going to one another and owning up for sins and forgiving one another can actually bring people much closer together. In the early Church, when people lived almost equally in their communities, the regular public confession of sins was common. So was public reconciliation, embracing one another with forgiveness. As churches became larger, reconciliation was done privately through the sacrament of confession, the priest not only taking on the role of Spiritual Father but also representing the community. One of the reasons the confession is offered in the presence of a priest (and not directly to God privately) is not only the absolution that he has been gifted to bestow on the person confessing, but also to meet this Biblical teaching of sins being confessed in the context of community.
Finally, the prayers of righteous people have great power, we are told in James 5:16. This doesn’t mean that we should not be praying ourselves. It means that throughout the centuries, the Church has encouraged people to pray for one another, and to seek out people to pray for them.
It always amazes me how many nuggets of inspiration can be taken out of only a few verses of Scripture, which is the case with this passage as well. So, let us be patient in our sufferings, keep trusting in God even when things are going well, have conviction in our beliefs, be honest, pray in suffering, praise God when we are not cheerful, utilize our church and the clergy to pray with us, anoint us and hear our confessions, and seek out righteous people and ask them to pray for us.
The Only-Begotten Word of God the Father, Who in these latter days sojourned among us, ordained You, O James divine, to be the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem, and a faithful steward of spiritual mysteries. Wherefore, O Apostle, we all honor you. (Apolytikion of St. James)
Being patient, cheerful, trusting, convicted, honest will go a long way toward us being faithful, consistent and ultimately reaching the Kingdom of Heaven.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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 multiple books, you can view here:


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