Anointment of entire congregation on the day of Holy unction(last friday before Pasca))
Khristos Anesti ! +++
A brief description of my experience during Friday of Holy unction, when entire congregation was anointed.
Holy Unction for the entire Congregation
Sacrament of Holy unction is one of the Seven sacraments of Orthodox Church, through which the sick who are faithful, are healed from psychological and physical diseases. The priest anoints the person with the holy oil from which they obtain the grace of remedy from God. As mentioned in James 5:13
“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 .”
But till now I thought that the sacrament of Holy Unction was done only for sick people. But this year (2015) I experienced an early Christian tradition practiced on Friday before the Passion week (Pasca), in which the entire congregation is anointed with Holy oil. The Friday of Holy unction.
I came to know through Ramy Fausy, one of my Coptic friend, that there is a English service once in a month in St George Coptic Orthodox Church, Heliopolis. I have been to this church for Christmas service. Within this church compound there is a small chapel dedicated to St Pishoy of Egypt. There Abouna Boulos , a young Coptic Priest celebrates Holy Eucharist in English once in a month.
Morning Prayer (Namaskaram) of Holy unction
Early morning at 6:30 I reached the Church. Wearing my white color deacon robe I entered the Holy Altar. The deacon robe of Indian church is fully white unlike the deacon robe of Copts, which have shape of cross on it. I was surprised to see that the prayers were different and there was something kept on the table. Something with oil on it and Seven wicks making a shape of Cross.
Later did I came to know that its Friday before Passion week , the day of Holy unction. It is called the day of Sacrament of Lamps for the early Christians used to place oil in a lamp on this day from which hung seven other lamps. Each lamp was lit at the beginning of every prayer. The morning prayer is divided into seven parts. This rite still exists, however, the seven lamps were replaced by seven wicks, made from cotton wool, which sit in a plate of oil. This prayer is known as Kandeel, same like kandeela Service , termed by Indian/ Syriac Church. After every prayer, priest lit the wick which finally makes a shape of cross(as shown in picture)
This service is same for wnnointment of sick but with some little changes in words like on this day prayers are performed in the plural forms, hence, instead of the priest saying: Lord heal Your servant (…name), he says: Lord heal Your attending servants.
Anointment of Entire Congregation
After the seven prayers and lightening of seven lamp is accomplished , priest anoints the entire congregation , starting with his fellow priest and deacons. I was also blessed to be anointed. The Priest anoints the forehead, down neck and both the hands. Then prayers begin for celebrating the last holy Eucharist in Lent.
Reason why the whole congregation is anointed
Anointing all the believers prior to Passion Week, for it is not permissible to perform the Sacrament of Unction of the Sick during the Holy Week, even funeral rites are not allowed to take place during Passion Week. In the Byzantine and Coptic liturgies, the entire congregation is anointed with oil, usually on the evening of Holy Wednesday in the Byzantine and on the Friday before Lazarus Saturday in the Coptic. In the Coptic Rite this is connected to the idea that these services of Unction and funeral being unavailable in Holy Week.
*Even there is a General Funeral for anyone who dies in Holy Week after the Palm Sunday service (will write about it later).
Ancient Coptic pottery with seven lamps
When I made this pottery I didn’t knew the importance of it . Now I know its meaning and importance. Although the pottery tradition is almost forgotten now seven wicks are used in place of clay lamps. This pottery is entirely made in Brown nile clay. In Byzantine Churches Seven candles are used (as shown in Figure).
Holy unction in Indian Orthodox Church
I am not much aware of how it is done in Indian Church. But I am sure that this sacrament is done only for sick people. The number of lamps is Five and not Seven. Five number signifies the 5 wound of Christ which is also made in Qurbana bread.