I’ve just read a book of interest by Paul Meyendorff, from the Orthodox Liturgy Series titled, The Anointing of the Sick. The author breathes life into the ancient ritual of laying on of hands and anointing the sick with oil. Most common in days of old, the oil of choice was olive oil, found abundantly in the Mediterranean. And notably, these practices predate Christianity as evidenced by Jewish as well as pagan customs. What makes these sacraments distinctly Christian is “their integration with prayer and thanksgiving, their inclusion in the life of the Church and of each of her members.” - Paul Meyendorff, The Anointing of the Sick, pg.32
I picked up this book from our church library, not on a whim, but because my niece, Izzy, has been anointed in several churches within the past year. She is battling a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma and for those of us in the believing community, laying on of hands and anointing her with oil is an appropriate form of “medicine” for her mind, body and spirit.
This isn’t to say she evades modern medical practices. Izzy is well acquainted with chemotherapy, radiation, MRIs and PET scans....blood tests, immune-boosting shots, surgery and splints. She is familiar with the hum of machines, the beep of monitors and the myriad of distractions the friendly staff uses to divert her attention away from it all.
God does use doctors and modern medicine to heal us, without a doubt. I am thankful for them. It is the spirit, however, that suffers so much in our modern world of life-saving machines and, at times, conveyor-belt care. That essence within us that communes with the Almighty is often neglected when the body is suffering in an extreme way. Medical practices in the United States are advanced in extending the life of the body, in anesthetizing our pain, but true healing involves all three of our components: mind, body and spirit. It is toward this holistic healing that Paul Meyendorff focuses in his excellent book.
Through this reading and with godly counsel, I’ve been encouraged to do my part in the healing process, for all of us, not just clergy alone, bear responsibility in caring for the Body of Christ. A small bottle of holy oil was given to me in order that I, too, could anoint the sick and suffering. The oil is holy because it was consecrated as a prayerful offering, burning in the vigil lamp at the shrine of St. Panteleimon.
Izzy seems to be intrigued, but usually remains quiet during the times she has been anointed and prayed over. It’s a beautiful thing when congregations come together in a unified faith to pray over a child of God ...a sacred moment when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted.
Thank you, dear readers for your prayers for my niece. She continues her journey which began in December 2009. The most recent news is her surgery from a few weeks ago, performed in order to remove what the doctors thought was an ‘abnormal lymph node’, but turned out to be a recurring tumor. This was devastating news for the family, as she has been on a regular protocol of chemo with radiation for nearly a year. Her situation is rare, as this type of cancer is usually conquered after the course of chemo. She has wonderful doctors caring for her and several other specialists have been consulted to formulate a new protocol. She is now receiving a new type of chemo... and amputating her leg is now strongly suggested by several of the specialists. Her parents covet your prayers.
As November is fast approaching, it seems fitting to mention the Holy Wonderworkers and Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian, whose feast day is celebrated on November 1st. Like St. Panteleimon, they are called “unmercenary” because they received no payment for their services, taking to heart the Lord’s command, “Freely have you received, freely give.” (St. Matthew 10:8) Although their father died when they were quite young, their Christian mother raised them with love of God and by her example they grew to be virtuous men.
Icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor
May we all be of such example and by our deeds serve God in healing and edifying the Body of Christ. †