I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
O Lord, Who are without beginning, eternal, Holy of holies, Who sent down Your only-begotten Son to heal every infirmity and every wound of our souls and bodies, send down Your Holy Spirit, and sanctify this oil; and cause it to be for Your servants, who are about to be anointed with it, unto complete remission of their sins, and unto inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. For You are a great and marvelous God, who keeps Your covenant and Your mercy to them who love You; Who grants remission of sins through Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ. You gave us a rebirth from sin; You give light to the blind and raise up the fallen; You love the righteous, and show mercy to sinners; You renew us from darkness and the shadow of death, saying to those in captivity, “Come forth!” and to those in darkness, “Uncover your eyes!” (From the 1st Prayer)
There are many things that come to mind when we hear the word “grace.” If a bird is flying “gracefully” right above the water, the word “grace” means effortless. If someone is dancing gracefully, the meaning of “grace” is doing something smoothly. It is not choppy or jumpy. In contracts, there is sometimes a “grace” period, whereby if a bill isn’t paid on time, there is some extra time given before a late fee is imposed.
When people ask for “grace”, they are asking for understanding, such as asking for extra grace in a relationship, they are asking for understanding and patience, usually in a time of stress. In other words, if a person says or does something wrong, under duress, there is a little more latitude given before someone gets upset with them.
Then there is Divine Grace, the grace that comes from God. Grace comes predominantly from the Holy Spirit, who affects and perfects our sacraments. Grace is this Spiritual quality that heals what’s infirm and completes what is lacking. Grace raises what has fallen back up. And grace makes the ordinary become extraordinary.
Grace is what makes the sacraments in the Orthodox Church. In baptism, an ordinary person becomes a child of God. And ordinary water is sanctified into saving water. In the sacrament of Chrismation, an ordinary person becomes imbued with the seal of the Holy Spirit. A person who comes to confession feels infirm and incomplete. The grace of the Holy Spirit comes down on that person to loose and forgive their sins and make them feel whole again. In the sacrament of marriage, two ordinary people walk into the church, and they leave extraordinary because they leave yoked together, as a family. In the sacrament of ordination, an ordinary man becomes extraordinary. He becomes blessed to stand and serve at the altar of God. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, ordinary substances of bread and wine become extraordinary, they become the Body and Blood of Christ, through the descent of the Holy Spirit on them, and ordinary people are supposed to become extraordinary because they receive Christ within them.
The sacrament of Holy Unction is also an act of grace. Ordinary oil is brought to the church. And through the descent of the Holy Spirit, it becomes Holy Unction. Ordinary people, even extremely wounded people, are anointed with the oil, and through the grace imparted through the oil are either healed or strengthened.
Grace comes in other forms as well. When people are patient with one another, when they overlook what is lacking and give restoration, when people forgive one another, there is grace there. When a person prays and opens themselves completely to God, His grace gives direction and comfort. When a person has a longing for God, His grace can come on them and fill them with spiritual joy.
The first prayer of Holy Unction asks for God to send down the Holy Spirit and to sanctify the oil. In other words, to take this ordinary substance of oil and make it extraordinary. The prayer then asks for the oil to bestow an extraordinary gift to those anointed with it, to remit their sins and direct them to the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. This prayer is very similar to the prayer offered when one receives Holy Communion, which is also offered “unto remission of sins and life everlasting.”
These are two ultimate goals in life—for God to forgive our shortcomings that we have amassed in our earthly lives and to grant us everlasting life. In fact, the ultimate grace that can be shown to a human being is when God takes the ordinary person on earth, where there is sin and suffering, and makes them extraordinary, when He allows them to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is no sin or suffering. The Christian life, and the granting of grace through the sacraments of the Church is a practice, if you will, for the ultimate grace, entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Because our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is not a goal to be attained or even a mountain to be conquered. Ultimately it is a gift granted by God, a gift for which we need to be prepared to humbly receive.
The prayer references the Holy Trinity, first addressing the Lord as eternal. It references the sending down of the Co-Eternal Son, Jesus Christ, whose purpose was to heal every infirmity and wound by dying on the cross for our infirmities and wounds. The Holy Spirit comes now through prayer and the sacraments in order to sustain us until the Second Coming of Christ.
The ultimate hope for us is for the remission of sins and life everlasting. If this is the ultimate goal and hope in our lives, we need to think of what we are doing in relation to these things. What does that mean? God provides a path for each person to salvation. There is no one who does not have a path. Some may choose not to walk down their path. However, a path is there for everyone.
Each person’s path to salvation is a little bit different. Some may be longer, and some may seem harder. One person may live a long life with perfect health, while another person may struggle with health their entire lives and pass at a young age. Does that mean that God loves some people more than others because some paths appear longer or easier? Rather than focus on the paths of others, it is more beneficial to focus on our own path and ask God for the strength to walk the path He has set for each of us.
I remember a sermon I once heard where the priest said that if a person walked up to the hill of Golgotha two thousand years ago, and saw Jesus, a young man Who was so filled with goodness being executed in the most humiliating and painful way, they might have thought that this was pointless. We know now, that what might have appeared pointless changed the world. And similarly, it may seem pointless that people suffer from cancer or are the victim of a crime or have other misfortunes happen to them. While the misfortunes do not necessarily come from God, they are not necessarily pointless either. For God is at work constantly, even in difficult circumstances.
This is why a difficult but spiritual beneficial exercise is to embrace, in all circumstances, a mantra of “unto the remission of my sins and life eternal.” If, Lord, this trial that You are allowing me to go through leads unto the remission of my sins and life eternal, then this trial is not pointless.
In beginning our prayers to the Lord in this Holy Sacrament, the first thing that has been done is to call the grace of the Holy Spirit down to sanctify the ordinary oil and make it extraordinary. And the second thing that has been done is to call our attention to the top goal of life, remission of sins and life eternal. The prayers of this Sacrament will continue and ask God for the healing and strengthening of soul and body, so that this goal may be attained.
Have mercy on us, O Lord, for in You we have trusted; do not be very wrathful with us, neither remember our iniquities; but even now, look down upon us, inasmuch as You are of tender compassion, and deliver us from our enemies; for You are our God, and we are Your people; we are all the work of Your Hands, and we call upon Your Name.
May whatever happens to us today, whether it’s good or it’s bad, may it be unto the ultimate goals of remission of our sins and life eternal. And may God grant us His Grace so that the path is smooth, that it is filled with understanding and patience amongst one another, that it completes what is lacking in each of us, and that it helps transform us from ordinary to extraordinary.