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Author Topic: Holy Unction- Great Wednesday PM or Great Thursday AM?  (Read 1278 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: March 30, 2010, 12:44:49 AM »

While in our parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, the Sacrament of Holy Unction is administered on Great and Holy Wednesday afternoon, our Monasteries all administer it on Great and Holy Thursday morning with Orthros and the Liturgy of St. Basil. I noticed that the same was done on the Holy Mountain. Is this simply a monastic custom or is it in fact an older custom to administer Holy Unction on Holy Thursday?
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« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2010, 03:27:59 AM »

Concessions have for centuries been made to the practicalities of parish worship. During Holy Week, the evening services at parishes are all Matins services, yet they are served in the evening, not in the early hours of the morning, with the Great Doxology being sung around dawn, as would happen at monasteries, which use greater "strictness" in their timing of the various services of the liturgical cycle.
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« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2010, 04:12:25 AM »

While I am aware that there is a Wednesday Orthros of the Bridegroom Service called for on Holy Wednesday evening ( typically omitted in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America), yet, I too am wondering, is the Holy Unction Service during Great Week traditionally considered a Holy Wednesday service or a Holy Thursday service, not-with-standing when it is conducted?
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2010, 06:19:07 AM »

While I am aware that there is a Wednesday Orthros of the Bridegroom Service called for on Holy Wednesday evening ( typically omitted in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America), yet, I too am wondering, is the Holy Unction Service during Great Week traditionally considered a Holy Wednesday service or a Holy Thursday service, not-with-standing when it is conducted?
I wonder whether moving moving Holy Unction to Wednesday in the Parishes was an attempt to associate it more closely with the Anointing of Christ by the sinful woman commemorated the night before?
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2010, 06:36:34 AM »

Somewhere I've read that it is to be associated with a purification prior to receipt of the Holy Communion of the commemoration of the Mystical Supper.

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« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2010, 06:50:13 AM »

Somewhere I've read that it is to be associated with a purification prior to receipt of the Holy Communion of the commemoration of the Mystical Supper.
Thats also what I understand the purpose to be. We also celebrate Holy Unction on Christmas Eve for the same reason. But I wonder whether the Holy Week Sacrament of Holy Unction was moved in Parish worship to Wednesday to also associate it with the Anointing of Christ in the Gospel of Holy Wednesday Matins. Just a thought.
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« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2010, 10:06:47 AM »

While in our parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, the Sacrament of Holy Unction is administered on Great and Holy Wednesday afternoon, our Monasteries all administer it on Great and Holy Thursday morning with Orthros and the Liturgy of St. Basil. I noticed that the same was done on the Holy Mountain. Is this simply a monastic custom or is it in fact an older custom to administer Holy Unction on Holy Thursday?

Very interesting. I wonder if that is what is called for in the Typikon of St. Savas. At what point during the Orthros and Liturgy of St. Basil is Holy Unction administered? Is the entire service, starting with its own "Blessed is the Kingdom" celebrated, or is it some kind of anointing like unto that which one often finds during monastic vigils?

In Greece, Holy Unction is administered on Wednesday afternoon and then the final Service of the Bridegroom occurs in the evening. In the U.S., however, we typically replace the final Bridegroom with Holy Unction. Some parishes have one Holy Unction at, say, 4 p.m. and then a second one at 7 p.m., thereby enabling more people to attend, depending on their work schedule.

As to the history: anointing with oil has many meanings and has had different associations through the centuries. Origen and St. John Chrysostom mention that penitents were received back into the church by means of a public anointing -- something that very likely occurred during Holy Week. So, very early on, it is typically associated with forgiveness of sins and reception into the fold, allowing the person admittance to the Holy Chalice. (This is also why chrismation was a typical way of receiving heterodox into the church). We have a full-fledged unction prayer along these lines as early as the Euchologion of Serapion in the mid 300s.

Very soon thereafter, though, perhaps because of the demise of official roles for penitents, we see the public anointing with oil mainly associated with the healing of sick and forgiveness of sins. Again, it is still always tied in some way to approaching the Holy Chalice -- kind of a double whammy to take care of all sickness, body and soul. It became a pretty elaborate ritual, involving seven priests, and apparently was popular in the many churches that had hospitals attached to them. The sources from the renaissance of the Komnenian period reveal that Holy Unction would take place over a seven-day period. The people would carry the sick from the nearby hospital into the Nave, the seven priests would hold an all-night vigil for seven days in a row, then each would read one of the prayers of blessing of the oil, after which they would concelebrate the Divine Liturgy and anoint everyone laying on the floor of the nave. Even at this late point (11th - 12th century), there was this connection between Unction and Holy Communion. I would guess this is where the Athonite practice comes from, especially since as late as the 1400s, St. Symeon of Thessalonki said that everyone was required to be anointed with holy oil or they wouldn't be allowed to approach the Holy Chalice. Obviously, that element of the Cathedral Rite tradition hasn't persisted, but perhaps the Athonite practice is a little liturgical echo of it. Although, I suppose you could say that having Holy Unction the day BEFORE St. Basil's Liturgy is even more in line with that older understanding.

My feeling is that Holy Unction was to the late antique and medieval Church what Holy Confession became to the Slavic church in the early modern period (after the tremendously influential tenure of the Western-educated Metropolitan Peter Mohyla).

So, according to either the ancient understanding (penitential leading to communion) or the late antique/medieval (healing/forgiveness of sins leading to communion), it makes good sense to have Holy Unction during Holy Week.
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« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2010, 11:27:12 AM »

Back home, in Romania, we usually had the Holy Unction service on the Great Friday, crammed between the Royal Hours and Vespers.
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« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2010, 02:32:26 PM »

In Poland it's done on various days: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (Monday evening, Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening).
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« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2010, 01:48:48 AM »

A little more information on this topic...  I spoke with my parish priest this evening about our discussion herein.  He is very knowledgeable in liturgics and rubrics.  If I am in error in anything I am writing below, it is attributable to my not fully retaining information from our short discussion, and not attributable to my priest's error.

He indicated that in Greek practice, the traditional service called for on Wednesday evening (Holy and Great Thursday morning) is an Orthros, but not of the Bridegroom (Nymphios). The icon of the Bridegroom would be removed and substituted with an icon of the Mystical Supper; that the theme of the service is of the washing of the feet.

The Holy Unction service is not assigned to a particular day, but would be considered associated with the day it is performed.  If it's at 4:00 p.m., as in Greece from what I read above, it is Great Wednesday's Service.  If it is performed in the evening, it would be Great Thursday's service. He also showed me a Greek with an English translation Service Book of this Orthros service, prepared by Fr. Evagoras Constantinides.

Also, several years ago, the bishop of our diocese celebrated at our parish on Wednesday evening, and asked us to conduct the Wednesday evening Orthros, which he indicated he had to conduct "because [he is] a monk."  He allowed us to administer the Holy Unction which had been prepared earlier that afternoon to the congregation, following the Orthros Service.
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« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2010, 03:00:15 AM »

Very interesting. I wonder if that is what is called for in the Typikon of St. Savas. At what point during the Orthros and Liturgy of St. Basil is Holy Unction administered? Is the entire service, starting with its own "Blessed is the Kingdom" celebrated, or is it some kind of anointing like unto that which one often finds during monastic vigils?

It isn't the anointing we have at vigils, but rather the full Holy Unction service (seven candles, seven Epistles, seven Gospels etc).
I waited to respond until today so I could give you accurate information about how it was done. The Service began just before the dismissal of the final Hour before Liturgy. It did not commence with its own "Blessed be the Kingdom", nor conclude with its own dismissal, but was immediately followed by the dismissal of the Hour. With the Liturgy, we actually stood in the Katholikon for 5 & 1/2 hours!
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