Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Sickness, Anointing, and the Healing of Soul and Body

Dear Parish Faithful,

Presvytera and I returned late last night from Louisville, where we particpated in the Anointing Service on behalf of Fr. Alexander Atty. Fr. Alexander is the head priest at St. Michael the Archangel Antiochian Orthodox Church. Roberta and Scott were also there, so Roberta was anointed as were many others who were ill. As I informed everyone yesterday, Fr. Alexander is suffering from stage four colon cancer, so he is fully aware of the battle ahead of him. His surgery is scheduled for next Tuesday, February 2, the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord. There were two presiding hierarchs at the service and fourteen priests, all of which served.

Bishop Mark of Toledo (Antiochian Archdiocese) said something at the end that we should all reflect upon: If we did not get sick and die not many people would believe in God. This is not true simply because people would believe out of fear and desperation. Rather, human beings are so self-reliant, egotistically independent, and blindly self-absorbed, that if we had no reason to rely on God then we would totally ignore God. Bishop Mark further said that it is when we are ill that we realize how dependent we are upon God. We are always dependent, but it is only illness that gets that point across very strikingly. "Pain is the megaphone of God" according to C.S. Lewis. That is why the Fathers teach that God was acting mercifully and providentially when He "gave" His creatures over unto the anxieties and fear that accompany the reality of death; so that in full consciousness of our mortality and finitude we could realize our dependency upon God and turn to Him in humility. Fr. Alexander did humbly acknowledge this in his own comments made to a parish that has known him as its priest for over thirty years now. To the inevitable question - usually asked with more than a touch of self-pity - "Why me?" Fr. asked another question of more-than-equal validity: "Why not me?" (When you ask the question, "Why me?" you are in effect saying that it should be someone else - and who should that be?!).

The Sacrament of Anointing is administered for the "healing of soul and body." We pray to God for a complete healing and we believe that that is possible. We do not offer up vain prayer for its psychological and emotional impact alone. But if our bodily afflictions are not healed - and here I am speaking about adults and not the sufferings of innocent children - our "soul" may be, beginning with the sins of arrogance, pride, self-importance and the rest of the dreary soul-destroying afflictions from which we need to be purified, so that we can eventually draw close to God: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

It is important that those who are ill are surrounded by support, care and concern, but especially by love. The ill and the afflicted should never be alone in their suffering. That love begins in the Church where the love of God in Christ Jesus is most fully manifested and presented to us through every aspect of the Church's existence, beginning with the Mysteries/Sacraments of the Church. Then the members of the Body of Christ, the men and women who are the Church need to manifest that love as well as possible to those sufferiing from affliction. That is how we "bear one another's burdens" according to Apostle Paul. This is the co-suffering love that is the deepest expression of Christianity and the Christian believer. This type of love is most fully understood, developed and encountered in the Church where each believer draws upon the love of Christ which is the life-flowing blood of the ecclesial organism that we call "Church." Fr. Alexander was blessed to be able acknowledge such love and support.

Please add Fr. Alexander Atty to your prayer list as he enters into this long, hard battle.

Fr. Steven

Webservant's Note: Updates on Fr. Alexander's condition will be posted on

1 comment:

  1. CHRIST IS RISEN! Brothers and Sisters:
    I have put Father Alexander's name on
    my "prayer list" in front of my icon
    of Grand Duchess Elizabeth: New Martyr
    of the Communist Yoke. She was Glorified
    ("Cananized") a Saint in the Holy Russian
    Orthodox Church. God be praised for His mercy!

    I had a "colonoscopy" late last summer; I had
    three (3) pallops; no cancer found!!!

    Yours in Christ,
    Troy J. Heffernan
    (Convert to Holy Orthodoxy)


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