The Mystery of Holy Unction – the mystery of spiritual and bodily healing

Just as our body suffers and seeks healing when it is gripped by illness, our soul likewise, when it suffers, seeks healing. The Mystery of Holy Unction is a mystery of healing and of restoring well-being for both soul and body.

When man’s soul allows itself to be overcome by sin, then it deteriorates, it grows aloof from its goal, and it becomes poor in the living water which is the grace of the Holy Spirit. The fact that effort is required to protect the soul from illness and that health is the ideal state of the inner man, of the soul, is made clear throughout the teachings of our Lord, of the saints, and of the Church, as is expressed in the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures as well as in the writings of the saints and other profound Christians.

We don’t see what our soul looks like because we cannot transcend the barrier of matter, and so we don’t fully know ourselves, much less others. We have easy access to our body, but we always need to remind ourselves that we are not only carnal, but also spiritual. And if the Apostles saw beyond the Lord’s body, having a glimpse at His glory at the Transfiguration, as much as their eyes and senses were able to perceive, then let us realize that each of us bear the image of God, an image of glory, which we are responsible to keep clean, to make beautiful, and to grow more and more in our likeness to Him.

The seeking of bodily health was validated by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Apostles – in the New Testament, there are many miracles performed as well as advice encouraging the preservation of health. Yet our mind always needs to be directed toward our soul as well. So, just as we guard ourselves against bodily illnesses, we should plan, strive, pray, and seek advice from the proper people, all in order to guard ourselves against spiritual illnesses.

Regardless of whether man is aware or not, his body deteriorates due to illness, both known and unknown; there are many circumstances that harm our body, whether we seek them out or they come to us. It is the same also with spiritual illnesses, which are caused by passions. Our soul can be affected in many ways – for example, when are friends are not appropriate or when we do inappropriate things – and such situations are clear. But our soul can also be affected when unnatural things come upon us and we don’t know how to endure them, even if we neither wanted them nor asked for them. Since these things can cause our soul can be disordered – to use a term from the prayers of Holy Unction – we are responsible to seek healing even in such cases. Even if we don’t bear the blame of a specific sin that overcame us, such as an abuse, we are responsible to seek healing.

This consideration for spiritual healing is never and in no way understood as a disdain for the joy that accompanies our health and the health of others. Rejoicing in health is a gift from God and we are responsible to protect it always. In the Old Testament, there is a word which urges the people to appreciate their doctors, because sometimes the grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out through their hands. God gives inspiration to those who heal the body because the ultimate healing is from our Heavenly Father, Who ordains everything for man’s spiritual benefit: “And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him. There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians, for they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life” (Wisdom of Sirach 38:12-14).

If we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that, when we compare the joy of the body, when it enjoys good health, with the joy of the soul, which essentially is when it is nourished by the grace of the Holy Spirit, most of us tend to prioritize the exterior, bodily joys over the interior joys. There are others, very few, who are inclined to disregard our human nature as God ordained it and to consider that they should preoccupy themselves exclusively with the spiritual life.

God calls us to rejoice in this world with all its beauty, which does not exist for itself, but is for the pure refreshment of man’s body and soul. The world’s beauty is an image of the beauty of the Heavenly Kingdom. If we taste with discernment of this joy over visible things, including bodily health, and if we work with discernment in visible things, including our search for restoration of bodily health, then all of these become occasions for the health and joy of our soul.

May God help us to avoid disassociating, in our thoughts and actions, the visible joys of bodily health from the invisible joys of spiritual health. The things pertaining to our soul will illumine those pertaining to our body. Our Heavenly Father created us body and soul and He created the visible and invisible realms to be together. Only sin fractured the visible from the invisible and continues to fracture within us the holy unity between soul and body. The Mysteries of the Church have the role of uniting the person with God and with his fellow people, but they also have the role of restoring within us the unity of our being. And in this unity, we will be able to receive and experience God truly. In the Heavenly Kingdom, the transfigured bodies of those who attain salvation will be united with their resurrected souls. We arrive at that goal by traversing the path to unity between the visible and invisible, which corresponds, in the case of the Mystery of Holy Unction, to receiving spiritual and bodily health.

Archimandrite Dosoftei Dijmărescu