The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent; but they cried out the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
We have already discussed that the Biblical Greek word for “oil” is “eleon.” This is closely related to the word for “mercy” which is “eleos.” There is a connection between oil and mercy. Oil is one of the signs of God’s mercy, as we have mentioned already, since oil was used for reconciliation, chosenness, and healing, all tangible signs of God’s mercy on His people.
The word “mercy” means to not give someone the thing they deserve. For instance, a criminal commits a crime and deserves to go to prison. However, a judge decides to be merciful, and rather than sending him to jail as he deserves, the judge sentences him to probation; he gives him another chance.
God’s mercy works in the same way, especially in our spiritual lives. We all dirty our souls with sins. We all do this every day. In Romans 6:23, Saint Paul writes that “The wages of sin is death.” In other words, the rightful punishment for our sins is death, permanent estrangement from God. Yet, we petition God to be merciful to us, to not give us the thing we deserve. And God is merciful. Rather than smite us each time we sin, God is patient and gives us innumerable chances, and days and years to get it right. When we come to God in repentance, God is merciful and forgives our sins.
The word “mercy” figures prominently in our worship services. Most often it is heard in the responses given by the people, many of which are “Lord, have mercy.” I remember a sermon where the priest told the congregation that when petitions are being offered in a service, they are merely prompts, and the prayer is the response of the people, who pray/sing “Lord, have mercy.” In other words, when the priest is offering a petition, “For our country, the president and all those in public service, let us pray to the Lord,” he is telling the congregation, “Hey, now we are going to pray for our country, the president and those in public service.” To which the people are responding, “Lord, have mercy, on our country, the president and those in public service.”
Our worship services contain a number of petitions on behalf of all kinds of people and needs in the world. We pray for peace, for our community, for our country, for those who are sick, for deliverance from wrath, danger, and necessity, and many other things. We ask God to have mercy in all kinds of situations.
In the Sacrament of Holy Unction, there are many petitions offered, and the response to all of them is “Lord, have mercy,” in other words, “Lord, give us Your mercy, even though we don’t deserve it, give it to us anyway.”
Seven times in the sacrament of Holy Unction, between each of the seven Gospels and each of the seven prayers, there are two petitions that are offered:
Have mercy on us, O God, according to Your great mercy; we pray to You: hear us and have mercy.
Furthermore we pray for mercy, peace, life, health, salvation, visitation, and protection of Your servants, who have come for this Holy Sacrament, and for the forgiveness of their sins, both voluntary and involuntary.
The first of the petitions merely asks for God’s mercies. Lord don’t punish us as we deserve, but from Your reserves of great mercy, hear us and extend mercy to us.
The second petition asks for specific things for the people who are present. We ask for mercy again. We ask for peace, because a peaceful countenance will give us the eyes to see our own need for healing. When we are not at peace, our primary thought is to defend ourselves. It is when we are at peace that we can look within ourselves.
We ask for life, because life affords us the opportunity to repent and to do the works of faith. Once life ends, we have lost the opportunity to repent.
We ask for health, both physical health and spiritual health. The human being is comprised of body, mind, and spirit. A healthy spirit will help maintain a healthy mind. A healthy mind will help maintain a healthy spirit. All of these are intertwined. Thus, we pray for our overall health.
We ask for salvation, because this is the primary purpose and goal in life. God’s creation of us, His sending of Jesus Christ to open the path to Paradise, and His mercies to not reject us, among so many other things, lead us to this ultimate goal: salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
We ask for visitation, in other words, to not feel lonely and estranged from God. We ask for Him to visit us, by sending His Spirit on us, and by sending others to us to encourage us and to help us heal.
We ask for protection. No one goes through life unscathed by sin, or sickness, or setback. These things continually wound us. We ask for protection to avoid pitfalls and to be healed from them when they befall us.
And finally we ask for forgiveness of our sins, the ones we did voluntarily and even the ones we did unintentionally or unknowingly. Much of our spiritual anxiety (and anxiety in general) comes from guilt and anger over past failings, or because others have failed us. In praying for forgiveness of sins, we are asking God to mercifully wipe away all that we have done wrong towards Him or towards one another.
In praying “Lord, have mercy”, not only are we comforted by the thought of God having mercy on our lives, we are reminded that we are to have mercy on one another. If we expect God to forgive our voluntary and involuntary sins, then we should be willing to forgive one another in the same way.
As we prepare to receive the Holy Unction (eleon), we should also be asking for the mercy (eleos) of God.
Lord, have mercy!
Lord Jesus, have mercy on Your servants.
Ask God for mercy. Show mercy to others.
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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