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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part II: Faith and Worship
    • Orthodox Worship: The Sacraments
      • The anointing of the sick
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The anointing of the sick

This sacramentknown in Greek as evchelaion, ‘the oil of prayer’ — is described by

Saint James: “Is any sick among you? Let him send for the presbyters of the Church, and let them

pray over him. The prayer offered in faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him

from his bed; and he will be forgiven any sins he has committed(James 5:14-15). The sacrament,

as this passage indicates, has a double purpose: not only bodily healing but the forgiveness

of sins. The two things go together, for man is a unity of body and soul and there can therefore

be no sharp and rigid distinction between bodily and spiritual ills. Orthodoxy does not of course

believe that the Anointing is invariably followed by a recovery of health. Sometimes, indeed, the

sacrament serves as an instrument of healing, and the patient recovers; but at other times he does

not recover, in which case the sacrament helps him in a different way, by giving him the spiritual

strength to prepare for death (‘This sacrament has two faces: one turns towards healing, the other towards the

liberation from illness by death’ (S. Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, p. 135)). In the Roman Catholic Church

the sacrament has become ‘ExtremeUnction, intended only for the dying (A change has now been

made here by the second Vatican Council); thus the first aspect of the sacramenthealing — has become

forgotten. But in the Orthodox Church Unction can be conferred on any who are sick,

whether in danger of death or not.

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