Easter and the Sacrament of the Sick.

The Armenian Church like all the ancient churches from Rome to all of our sister Orthodox churches of the east have seven official sacraments. The eastern churches call these sacraments the mysteries of the church. Therefore while we have seven official mysteries there are many other rituals which themselves compromise part of the incarnational ministry of Christ who ministers to his church in many and various ways. The seventh so called sacrament or mystery is referred to as the sacrament of the sick. Many people particularly of the Western church refer to this as the last rights or extreme unction. The eastern churches have never referred to the sacrament of the sick as the last rites. The reason for this is quite simple and has more recently been adopted by the Catholic Church in there modern vocabulary. Sacrament of the sick points to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the life of the faithful through the administration of grace by the hands of the ordained clergy who themselves are appointed and set apart for Healing and safeguarding for eternal life and resurrection.
The context of the sacrament includes two vital and complementary effects which are The healing of body, soul and mind as well as forgiveness of sins. These two cannot be separate from each other. As death and suffering came into the world through Adams sin so through Christ’s death comes the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. One easily therefore sees that healing means absolutely nothing apart from the forgiveness of sins. Our aim as a church is to vouchsafe the forgiveness of sins in order to attain the blessed life in Christ both now and in eternity.
The sacrament of the sick begins at the bedside of the sick person with the proclamation of the gospel of St. Mark. In this gospel reading found in Mark 11:22-26, we here how our Lord calls us to Faith saying that “if we do not doubt in our heart we will receive whatever we ask.” He goes on to say that “when we are praying we should forgive anything that we may have against anyone in order that our Father in heaven will forgive also our sins.” He ends with a warning saying “that if we do not forgive others neither will our Father in heaven forgive our sins.” Clearly we see here that what we ask in Christ’s name will be given to us fully within the context of the forgiveness of sins. I have had many experiences where people have asked me to visit hospitals to pray for healing. Understandably most people just want their loved one to be well. I’m not sure that many of them ever considered the need for the forgiveness of sins. I’ll never forget one experience where a gentleman caught up at the mercy meal following the funeral in the church hall and in his words said only that he prays that God forgive his sins and that God also forgive the sins of his departed wife. Some people were taken aback by this statement and even questioned why he would say such things. I explained that to me this was one of the most beautiful and perfectly Christian responses to death. After all How are assurance of heaven and eternal life is only attainable through the forgiveness of sins purchased by Christ himself. Apart from Christ and the anointing of his spirit, transferred through the hand of the priest and the application of the holy anointing, there is no assurance.
Healing is dependent upon the belief that the absolution spoken and applied is true and avails much.
Again, one is inseparable from the other in a fully apostolic Christian understanding. The priest visiting the bedside of the sick person is never merely pleading for healing nor is he there to somehow give permission for the person to die. The priest always goes to the bedside of the sick person in order to appeal to Christ’s mercy for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of both soul and body. What God does for us is unfathomable and hidden within the mercy and mystery of his love for us.
There are many examples in the gospels where our Lord physically touches the sick person and heals them through the power of his personal presence. What he is doing is not only sharing in their suffering but taking upon himself the sin of the world ultimately revealed in his true human death on the cross where he offered his blood and his life and sacrifice. A true incarnation and the fulfillment of God becoming man in order for men to become God. The prayer includes the words which remind us of this stating “Lord you came to this earth and spread your boundless grace upon your creatures and sent your blessed disciples empowering them to heal the infirmities and sickness of your people and saved the universe from sin and healed all the ailments and diseases of your people. He destroyed death and led us to life and immortality .”
The prayer goes on to say that “you O Lord are the physician of soul and body.” This mystery of healing is then transferred by our Lord to his holy apostles and through succession to the entire priesthood until this age. We see this in the second part of the prayer where it states “you sent your holy disciples empowering them to heal all the infirmities and sickness of your people.”
The prayer ends with the laying on of hands by the priest upon the patient who appeals to Christ’s awesome divinity saying “send your almighty power and he’ll be infirmities and illness of this your servant by the sign of your all conquering Cross through which you removed the weakness of men and condemned the enemy of our life and salvation. For you are our God and the physician of souls and bodies and the dispeller of all our infirmities.“
The final prayer to conclude the rite has the words “grant to all perfect recovery by the sign of they all conquering and Victorious Cross through which you removed the infirmity of mankind and condemned the enemy of our life and salvation. You are our life and salvation most merciful God who alone are able to forgive our sins and to dispel disease and sickness from among us.“
We clearly see that in the rite, the mystery of Christ’s own suffering and death, completed through his resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate and contemplate this Holy Week, that our Lord safeguards and insures our place in heaven and the hope of eternal life for the sake of Christ.
My prayer for each and everyone of you this season of resurrection is that you join me and contemplating the great mystery of God’s love for us through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ which in the completion of his earthly ministry has given us the hope of resurrection and eternal life. Christ is risen from the dead, Blessed is the resurrection of Christ. My prayer for each and everyone of you this season of Resurrection is that you join me in contemplating the great mystery of God‘s love for us through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ which in the completion of his earthly ministry has given us the hope of resurrection and eternal life.
Christ is risen from the dead, Blessed is the resurrection of Christ, Amen.
Prayerfully
Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor

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Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

One thought on “Easter and the Sacrament of the Sick.”

  1. Amen! Interesting connection between Easter and Odzoum Hivantats…we cannot separate sin from sickness. Sin permeates everything in this world, including our own physical bodies.

    Maybe we can also think about the expensive fragrance/oil that was poured on Jesus before his burial as relieving the ‘sin’ that was done to Him by his own Creation — much in the same way that Odzoum Hivantats would have been done? ” For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5.21)

    Like

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