Holy Unction

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The mystery of holy unction (or Anointing of the Sick) provides both physical and spiritual healing with holy oil blessed by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, the mystery is called Εὐχέλαιον (Euchelaion, from εὐχή, ‘prayer’, and ἔλαιον, ‘oil’) and in Russian соборование (soborovanie), because it is traditionally celebrated by a sobor (assembly) of priests.

In Greek and Antiochian parishes, it is most commonly celebrated during Holy Week on Holy Wednesday evening. However, neither the Typikon of the Great Church (which Greeks and Antiochians follow) nor the Typikon of St Savas (which Slavic traditions follow) provides for its celebration during Holy Week. Celebrations on other days is common. Everyone in the parish in good ecclesiastical standing may be anointed with the holy oil for the healing of spiritual and bodily ills. As this is one of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, it may be administered only to Orthodox Christians.

The oil carries God's grace both to renew the body and to cleanse the spirit. The service follows the apostolic tradition mentioned in the New Testament: "...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 man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15).

Holy unction is a mystery of great comfort to the faithful. It provides uplifting and asks for patience to accept the will of God whatever the physical outcome.

Liturgical service

Services of the Orthodox Church
Eucharist: Divine Liturgy | When the Eucharist cannot be served: Typika
Daily Cycle (Divine Office)
Vespers | Compline | Midnight Office | Matins
Little Hours (Prime,Terce,Sext,None) | Royal Hours | Mesorion
Other Services
Akathist Hymn | Paraklesis | Moleben
Great Blessing of Water | Artoklasia
Baptism-Chrismation Service | Holy Unction
Ordination Service | Marriage Service
Funeral Service | Memorial Service

The full service is composed of psalms from the Old Testament, hymns of direct supplication to God, and prayers to the saints to intercede for the petitioner. In addition, there are seven readings from the Gospels preceded by seven other New Testament writings, notably the epistles of St. Paul and St. James. After each set of scriptural readings, a prayer is offered on behalf of the penitent by the priest asking for forgiveness and the sanctification of the oil. Traditionally, the service is celebrated by seven priests, but where fewer than seven priests are available (which is often the case), it will be served by at least one.

At the end of the service, the priest puts holy oil on the forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, chest, and hands of the parishioners in the form of the cross, saying: "O Holy Father, physician of our souls and bodies, heal Thy servant [name] from every physical and emotional affliction" (Russian tradition) or "The blessing of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ: for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God, [name], always: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen" (Greek tradition). The exact wording varies according to tradition and translation.

When the unction is received privately, the full service is often not performed, but simply the anointing itself is done along with a few prayers.


One of the earliest written records of Holy Unction is recorded in the Euchologion of Serapion of Thmuis, a contemporary of St. Athanasius (ca. 293-373). This document forms the basis for the Alexandrian Rite which differs to the Byzantine Rite and is extant at the Great Lavra of Mount Athos.


  • Paul Meyendorff, The Anointing of the Sick. St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009.
  • Paul Meyendorff, The Service of the Anointing of the Sick. St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009. A new translation of the rite with an abbreviated version suitable for use in a hospital or home setting.