St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Holy Wednesday Evening - Service of Holy Unction

God is the only existing one.  Only God exists in the true sense of that word.  Everything else that exists, exists by participation in God.  That is, He lends His being and His well-being to created things.  Only God is eternal, immortal, unchanging, incapable of decay.  Because it does not share in the Essence of God, everything in the created universe is temporal, and subject to change and corruption.  If mankind, through the power of his and her God-given freedom had remained in Communion with God, as they were in the Garden of Eden, they would have participated in His life, in His immortality and incorruptibility. Instead they preferred and chose to go their own way.

Jesus calls the serpent the Father of lies; as the father-of-all liars the serpent is very good at what he does.  An outright lie is easy to detect; a good liar takes a truth and twists it into a lie; a good lie is one that is very close to a truth.  And so it was in the Garden that the serpent lied to Eve and said, in effect, "if you disobey God, you will become like Him."  First of all, Eve was already like God since she had been created in His image and likeness.  But, some Holy Father's teach, God had a plan for mankind that they would participate in His life to an even greater extent than they did in the Garden; but they needed time to mature.  

The Church teaches that a human being can be deified that means we may be like God to the extent that that is possible for a created being; this is the truth the serpent twisted into a lie because deification does not happen through disobeying God's will but through cooperating with it.  The serpent promised a shortcut to deification brought about outside of God's plan, whereas deification is only possible through a freely-chosen and loving obedience to His will.

And so, turning their back on God's way mankind fell from a state of incorruption and became subject to pain and sickness and death.  Fearing death, that great unknown, the human race fell from one evil to another; deluded by the lie of the serpent that immortality could still be had apart from God, they created false, faux, cheap knock-off versions of immortality placing their vain hopes in piling up riches and possessions; or in fame; or in identification with family, tribe, and social class such that they despised their neighbor; they became divided into nations and fearing that they would die by being deprived of the necessities of life, they began to fight over natural resources; they became so attached to their now tenuous existence that they deified the means they used to preserve their earthly lives by worshipping the sun, and the earth, and fire and water; and they became subject to psychological pains, to phobias, obsessions, and depression; and they became hypnotized by the pleasures of the body - all of this in an empty attempt to respond to the gnawing anxiety of mortality. 

But like the sun that always pours forth its rays, the compassion and mercy of God never failed the human race; without ceasing He pours forth the Uncreated Energies of His love and mercy, but the blind human race couldn't see it, nor would they hear the words the Healer spoke through the prophets and laws divinely traced.  But at last the Healer Himself came.  Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ the Divine Incarnation came to bind up our wounds.  Christ, as the Liturgy says, is the Physician of our souls and bodies, and I defy you to name one thing that the Lord Jesus Christ did that was not intended to heal.  He healed every disease and disability; he drove out the demons curing the passions of the human heart; he healed us from sin and ignorance by giving us His life-saving teaching and example; even when he reproved the Scribes and Pharisees it was to heal them of the diseases of vainglory and self-righteousness; and he administered the Medicine of Immortality, feeding us with His own body and blood. 

And, at last, in His great and final healing operation He took all the suffering of the world on Himself not to assuage the wrath of an angry God but out of pure, boundless compassion.  He, the Creator of All is insulted, humiliated, suffers and dies with us and for us.  And on the third day He shows Himself triumphant over evil and death and in his glorious resurrection He heals the greatest wound, the source of all wounds, the wound of mortality itself. 

But with all of this I fail to let go and allow the Lord to heal my wounds.  I hate to be misunderstood; particularly if I speak in public and I feel it's been misunderstood I take that very personally.  But one day it occurred to me: who could have been more misunderstood than the Lord Jesus Christ?  He suffers with us and for us.  Even in our parish with this beautiful temple and all the love and good-will in our community sometimes people say and do things and we become offended and sometimes it's hard to let that go.  But when I don't let it go who am I hurting? 

Roman soldiers drove the nails into the hand of Christ, but we will drive a nail into our own heart over and over again.  Why do we do this?  Perhaps because we don't know anything different; or perhaps because our heart is so insensitive and half-dead already that we do it just to feel something; and perhaps because we still in our heart accept the lie of the serpent that we can protect ourselves and preserve our subjectivity by our own efforts, apart from the Grace of God.

But some people suffer such trauma that it is stored in their bodies and they suffer terrible pain and it won't go away just because they wish it to.  Such cases require our united prayers and special care but sometimes it helps to remember that all suffering and violence and human evil isn't even a drop in the ocean of God's love and mercy, which swirls like a hurricane, a vast vortex of love that's all around us and through us and in us.  And you will say, "that's easy for you to say you don't know how I've suffered with my illness, or the violence I've experienced, or about my childhood trauma, or how I've been insulted."  No I don't.  But the Lord Jesus Christ does. 

And because He knows all about you and your pain He didn't leave us orphans but He founded a Church and He sent the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father to continue His mission of Healing.  This House of Healing, the Church dwells in a New Creation, that God will reveal to all on the last day; the Church is the New Jerusalem whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.  It is the redeemed creation broken through into history, the eternal broken through into the temporal, the immortal into the mortal.  And sanctified by the Holy Spirit with the cooperation of our prayers and our faith, this Holy Unction reveals a new creation where the head of the invisible serpent is crushed underfoot, and the promise of Adam and Eve is fulfilled; through the anointing with oil we are restored to the primeval Paradise, we eat from the Fruit of the Tree of Life.  Through this oil we participate in the reality of the Incarnation where our human nature is healed and united to the Divine nature in a union without confusion that can never be taken away. 

May Christ our God accept an unworthy prayer from impure lips that through the Intercession of His Most Pure Mother, all of us may open the doors of our hearts and be healed of every bite of the serpent through the Holy Unction as we travel the road to His glorious Resurrection.  Amen.