Important information about the Fifth Week of Great Lent and the Sacrament of Anointing with Oil

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The Fifth Week of Great Lent

At 6.00pm on Wednesday 25 March, the eve of the Thursday of the Great Canon, we will have Matins with the reading of the entire penitential Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete and the Life of St Mary of Egypt.  This is a solemn and moving service that, in addition to preparing the faithful for the commemoration of Saint Mary of Egypt the following weekend, focuses one’s attention on the task of repentance.  This service, which occurs just once each year, is a long one, generally ending at around 9.30pm.  Those particularly wishing to hear the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt, read in two parts, may do so between 6.30pm and 7.30pm.  On Saturday 28 March and Sunday 29 March we will have services for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent and in honour of Saint Mary of Egypt, the great model of repentance.

The Sacrament of Anointing with Oil

 In the language of the Orthodox Church, a Sacrament – often also referred to as a “Mystery” – is a sacred act which under a visible aspect communicates to the soul of a believer the invisible grace of God.  There are seven Sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Holy Communion, Marriage, Ordination and Anointing with Oil.

Anointing with olive oil for the healing of sickness is an ancient practice.  With the coming of Christ it gained a new significance.  In the Bible we can read that it was practised by the Apostles: “And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6:13).  In his Letter, the Apostle James said: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15).

Many references to the Sacrament of Anointing with Oil are to be found in ancient Christian literature, and instructions for the blessing of oil and prayers for use in doing this are preserved in the writings of the Holy Fathers from early in the third century AD onwards.  The form of anointing that is now observed throughout the Orthodox Church dates back to the eleventh century AD.

The service for the Sacrament of Anointing with Oil is ideally served by seven priests, but one priest may serve it alone.  Seven candles are lit as the service begins.  It commences with the reading of a canon, a liturgical poem of eight odes with four verses in each ode.  The canon is customarily read by the clergy.  Between each verse the choir sings “O Greatly Merciful Lord, hearken unto us sinners who pray unto Thee”. 

Olive oil is then mixed with wine, calling to remembrance the Good Samaritan who poured oil and wine on the wounds of the man who fell among thieves on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:25-37).  Seven readings of the Apostol, seven readings from the Holy Gospel, and seven prayers follow.  To these is added a final prayer for the forgiveness of sins.  After each sequence of readings and prayers, a candle is extinguished.
The readings are as follows:
Epistle 1: James 5:10-16
Gospel 1: Luke 10:25-37 (The Parable of the Good Samaritan)
Epistle 2: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel 2: Luke 19:1-10 (Jesus comes to Zacchaeus’ House)
Epistle 3: 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, 13:1-8
Gospel 3: Matthew 10:1,5-8 (Sending out the Twelve Apostles)
Epistle 4: 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1
Gospel 4: Matthew 8:14-23 (Peter’s mother-in-law and many others healed)
Epistle 5: 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Gospel 5: Matthew 25: 1-13 (The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins)
Epistle 6: Galatians 5:22-6:2
Gospel 6: Matthew 15:21-28 (A woman of Canaan shows her Faith)
Epistle 7: 1 Thessalonians 5:14-23
Gospel 7: Matthew 9: 9-13 (Matthew the Tax Collector)
The Sacrament of Anointing with Oil may be served for individual Orthodox Christians who are sick or for the general healing of spiritual and physical sickness.  In the Russian Orthodox Church, a general service is always served during Great Lent.  If the service is for an individual, he or she will be anointed with the blessed oil after each set of Bible readings and prayers.  At a general service, those present will generally be anointed at the very end of the service.

As Orthodox Christians we understand that there is a close connection between sickness and sin.  Great Lent is a time during which we strive, with faith and hope, to turn away from sin and draw closer to God.  Together with Confession and receiving Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Anointing with Oil for the healing of soul and body is an important part of this.

This year, the Sacrament of Anointing with Oil will be served in our parish at 5.00pm on Sunday 29 March 2015.

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