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
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” John 13: 3-8 (From the Gospel of the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Thursday Morning) Holy Wednesday
Good morning Prayer Team!
The focus of Holy Wednesday is spiritual cleansing that we will receive through the Sacrament of Holy Unction. Holy Unction is one of the sacraments that we are supposed to receive on a frequent basis, like Holy Communion and Confession. Because there wasn’t a set time for Holy Unction to be offered during the Church year (some churches had it once a month, others once a week, others once a “blue moon”), the Church decided that Holy Unction should be put on the liturgical calendar on Holy Wednesday, to make sure that each Orthodox Christian received Holy Unction at least once a year. Holy Unction is connected closely with the Institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday morning, since Christ washed the feet of the Disciples shortly before instituting the Eucharist with them.
Ritual washing of feet was a common practice of the Jews at the time of Christ. Because most people wore sandals and because the roads were dirty, it was a ritual to wash the feet upon entering into a home. Many Jews had servants, some even had slaves, so most certainly the master of the house would not be washing the feet of the guests. In the case of the Last Supper, Jesus was the host, the Disciples were the invited guests. Most certainly the host would not have performed this duty. So Jesus again went against the grain of conventional behavior, stopping to wash the feet of the Disciples in another example of humility and servitude. It is interesting to note the sheer number of these humble acts, as well as teaching on love, offered by the Lord to His followers, to leave no doubt that the two greatest expressions of faith are humility and love.
Peter initially resisted this act of the Lord. Jesus reassured Peter that it was okay not to understand, but that He needed to participate. This is perhaps the most poignant thing to take away from not only this scripture reading but from the sacrament of Holy Unction in which we will participate today.
Holy Unction is offered for the healing of soul and body. However, Holy Unction is not going to heal a broken leg. That’s why we have medical doctors. However, with every physical injury, there is a spiritual challenge. When we are wounded in body, many times we are wounded also in spirit. A broken leg at an inopportune time may cause us to feel despondent or hopeless. Just ask the athlete who breaks his leg before the Superbowl. Holy Unction helps to heal a wounded soul that is beaten down by the unrelenting battle of temptations that are part of life. Holy Unction helps to cleanse a soul that has been tainted by sin. And Holy Unction helps to soothe the pain of a mind that often times is filled with sadness and doubt.
There is certainly a ritual aspect to Holy Unction, in that we are anointed with oil, but it is not just the oil that has the healing power. It is the praying over the oil which is where this sacrament derives its power. The Sacrament of Holy Unction consists of seven Epistles, seven Gospels, and seven prayers. Done properly, it is celebrated by seven priests. After each Gospel, there is a prayer that is offered. I sometimes imagine what it must be like to have seven priests offer this service, and in small groups, for the faithful to kneel under the stole of a priest seven times. What a comforting scene that is, like the father who embraced the Prodigal Son, to be embraced under the stole of the priest.
The words of the prayers are very powerful. They ask for those “who are about to be anointed with it, unto complete remission of their sins, and unto inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (First Prayer) They remind us that “Yea, O Lord, Who are easy to be entreated; You alone are merciful and loves mankind; you are sorrowful for our evil deeds. . .You do not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should repent and live.” (Second Prayer) They ask the Lord for “cleansing and deliverance form every infirmity, illness, malady, and every defilement of God and soul.” (Third Prayer) They remind us that the Lord is “plentiful in mercy, rich in beneficence, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (Fourth Prayer) They entreat the Lord to “remember not the sins of our youth,” (Fifth Prayer) not only those made with the immaturity of age, but the mistakes we make because we are still spiritually immature. We are comforted with the thought that “You are the Good Shepherd, Who came in search of the wandering sheep; You give consolation to the faint hearted and life to the broken-hearted. (Sixth Prayer) And finally that “You have not created man for destruction, but for the keeping of Your commandments and for the inheriting of life incorruptible. (Seventh Prayer—All Prayers are quoted from the Holy Unction Service, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
These prayers are all offered over the oil, now sanctified into Holy Unction and given to us through anointing. As you pray this service, identify the things in the prayers that speak directly to you, and after you are anointed with the oil, sit for a few minutes in the pews and rub it into your skin, praying to God that as the oil goes into you, that the thoughts of these prayers will also come into you, healing the specific illnesses of spirit that you suffer from.
It has been said that the Church is a spiritual hospital. There are two kinds of people in hospitals—the ones who need healing and the ones who offer the healing. At some point, we will all be patients in a hospital. So, come to the church for Holy Unction, as a patient, who honestly affirms the need for healing in your life and humbly receives the Sacrament of Holy Unction. And as you find healing in your life, become a healer yourself, aiding in the cure of God’s people who suffer from hardship.
Christ told His Disciples as He washed their feet, that today the Master would stoop to wash the feet of His servants. But that tomorrow, they would wash the feet of one another, and wash the feet of others. Tonight, allow the Master to cleanse you by Holy Unction. And tomorrow, bend your knee to wash the feet of another, by humbly serving those around you.
With washed feet, and they themselves purified by participation in the Divine Mystery, Your servants, O Christ, now come together from Zion to the great mount of Olives, and praise You, O Merciful Lord.” (From the 5th Ode of the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Accept healing tonight! Seek to be a healer tomorrow!
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