The healing of the sick holds a central place not only in the Divine Liturgy, but also in the communal spiritual life of the faithful. After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father …”), and before the sanctification of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, the celebrant Priest offers this prayer: “Oh Master … heal the sick, You, the physician of our souls and bodies.” There is also a repeated petition, prayed for all Christians: “For … (their) health and for (their) salvation …” In addition to these brief petitions, which we hear throughout the holy Services (in particular the “Supplication Service for the Sick”), there is also the Sacrament of Holy Unction, which the Church reserves for serious situations. St James, the Brother of the Lord, gives us encouragement: “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” (James 5:14-15). This does happen! The Lord brought healing to those who came to Him with faith (like the paralytic in today’s Gospel reading), and continues to do so today through Holy Unction. It has been confirmed by the countless cases of sick people who received healing through the Sacrament. I can also personally testify to this, as I too was saved with Holy Unction.
Usually, when we get sick, we go see a doctor. We then follow their directions, and take whatever medicine they prescribe for us. This also is in accordance with the word of God: “Honor the physician with the honor due him … as, indeed, God created him. Healing comes from God the Most High through him” (Wisdom of Sirach 38:1-2).
Some people make the claim that they have no need for a doctor, because “they will pray and God will heal them.“ This reveals a dangerous pride, and can lead a person to think that they are superior to everyone who visits the hospital, condemning others for “weak faith.” They then believe that God will heal them, because they are “truly faithful.” When these people realize their mistake, it is often too late. Such a mentality can only worsen their condition.
Of course, we will always pray for our health, as well as ask others to pray for us. St. James urges us to “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). This does not mean that we passively and arrogantly wait for God to do something, as it is wrong to expect or demand miracles. We do what we can, with the help of physicians and medicine. God intervenes when we have reached the limits of human effort.
In the case of especially serious illnesses, let us not hesitate to turn to the Church as well as medical science. As we heard St. James tell us, we can call the priest to our home (or the hospital, if possible) to offer the Sacrament of Holy Unction. The priest will know what to do in each case.
The question arises: “Is every sick person healed through prayers and Holy Unction?” It is important to remember that not all healing is physical. We do everything possible, and leave it in God’s hands, trusting in His love. All we know is that someday (we do not know when), we will depart from this life. What we can do is submit ourselves to God’s will. In this we imitate St. Paul the Apostle, when he suffered from an illness that was tormenting him. He begged the Lord to free him from this affliction, and he received the answer: “My grace is sufficient for you” (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God did not heal him physically, but the Saint revealed that he profited spiritually from God’s will.
Saint Paisios, a saint of our times used to say the same thing. He suffered from a number of serious illnesses, finally reposing at the age of seventy due to cancer. What was he saying in his last days? “My illnesses have benefited me more than all of the prayers, fasting, vigils, and other spiritual exercises I have done throughout my life.”
This shows us that when we face sickness and pain with patience, and trust in God’s providence, His grace will pour down on us. The Lord said so: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
My beloved brothers and sisters! After the sanctification of the Precious Gifts, our Lord Jesus Christ is fully present, with His Sacred Body and Blood on the Holy Altar. This is the most appropriate moment for everyone to pray, by name, for the health of those who are close to them. We can not only pray for those we love, but for the recovery of all people who are sick, and in special need of prayer. This is why, after the celebrant Priest concludes his prayer for the various needs of the faithful, the Deacon recites aloud: “Lord, also remember those whom each of us calls to mind and all Your people.” It is in this way that the priest includes in his prayers all those for whom the faithful are praying at that moment.
Let us participate whole-heartedly in what is happening during the Divine Liturgy, so that we may receive spiritual and physical health (in addition to every other blessing). Amen.