Non-Chrismation Anointing in Liturgy?

Hope this isn’t a silly question, but I remember attending Divine Liturgy many years ago, and from what I recall, there was a part of the Liturgy (or maybe it was Vespers/Vigil) where the parishoners received an anointing on their hands and forehead? Am I remembering correctly? If so, what is that called, and what is it’s purpose? This was an Orthodox parish, however I’m assuming that the same practices would be found in Eastern Catholic churches. Thanks!

Although I’m not greatly versed in specifically Byzantine ritual (which is what I assume the context is), I can say “sacramental” oils are the equivalent in the East of holy water in a way. When you go to a holy site, instead of a bottle of holy water you pick up perhaps a cloth with blessed oil. This has, at least, been my experience in the Middle East :shrug:.

Sorry I couldn’t be of too much help. I do recall, however, a Byzantine telling me of a sort of sacramental anointing with oil using a key for one feast; it’s essentially the same as being sprinkled by holy water. We, likewise, of the Maronite Church have anointing in oil on Wednesday of Passion Week (although that is taken from our old rite of unction).

At any rate, it certainly is not a silly question :).

The same practice is found in ECCs, yes.

In Holy Unction all our senses are anointed so you may be talking about litiya/artoklasia which is part of a festal vigil.

There’s a table set out with 5 loaves of bread, wheat berries, wine, and oil. The priest prays, kissing a loaf as he prays over it:

“O Lord Jesus Christ our God, who didst bless the five breads in the wilderness, and didst satisfy the five thousand therewith, thyself bless these breads, this wheat, wine and oil, and multiply them in this city, and in all thy world; and sanctify the faithful who partake of them. For it is thou who dost bless and sanctify all things, O Christ our God, and unto thee do we send up glory, together with thy Father, who is without beginning, and thine all-holy, and good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.”

We were anointed at a service for the Feast of St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and SF and I don’t recall what it was but maybe a moleben. We were anointed with oil from lampada over his relics, another way oil becomes blest, taken from oil lamps burning in holy places, where saints and holy persons are buried, and in front of miraculous icons.

Hands and foreheads would almost certainly be Holy Unction.


It’s a blessing with oils for the faithful.

Normally just the forehead, tho’ ISTR reading that it’s occasionally the hands as well.

AFAIK, it’s a Byzantine custom (I know that it’s done among the Slav Byzantines, but I’m not sure about the Constantinopolitans their Antiochian sub-group, and I really have no idea if it’s used by the Copts or Armenians). It’s been a long time, but while I don’t recall the name of the rite in staroslavenski, I do seem to recall a very dear friend of mine (a very un-latinized Ruthenian priest whom I unfortunately haven’t seen in years) telling me that it’s prescribed at the end of DL on certain feasts and commemorations, (including, I think, the first 3 days of Passion Week, perhaps after Matins?), but I don’t really know if it’s done more often or regularly. IIRC. he also noted that it is akin to sprinkling with Holy Water. (Again, IIRC, the oil used is blessed for the purpose, but is NOT the Oil of Unction or the Oil of Baptism.) Lay folk are anointed on the forehead, while clerics, it seems, are anointed on the pate (i.e, the place of tonsure). I recall nothing about the hands being involved. Nor, actually, do I recall the specific word in staroslavenski he used for the anointing.

DIAK, please correct me if my memory is faulty on any of this. :slight_smile:

Inserting the Rite of the Lamp there is one of the Byzantinizations that has crept into to neo-Maronite usage. :mad: I don’t have anything against the custom itself, but in that context it really has no place in the Maronite Church. :shrug:

Thanks for all the replies, they are very helpful. This was at an OCA parish if that makes a difference.

Ok thanks. Are there specific feast days throughout the year that this is done, where it’s received by parishoners in general (I assume an individual can request this when they’re ill as well)?

Thanks. So is this blessing the same as Holy Unction, which I’m assuming is similar to Anointing of the Sick in the West?

It is generally done late in Lent, I believe the tradition is Holy Wednesday (Wednesday before Pascha), but I know at least where I am because of the number of priests ideally involved the parishes take turns having the service.

It can also be done at other times in the year, and of course the rite can be done for specific individuals as it may be needed (for example one person received it at my parish just last week).

Thanks. So is this blessing the same as Holy Unction, which I’m assuming is similar to Anointing of the Sick in the West?

Parishioners are usually anointed with oil at the end of a Vigil service. This is distinct from Holy Unction, usually it is just the foreheads that are anointed in this case, although it wouldn’t surprise me if some parishes went a bit farther.


So at the end of a Vigil liturgy, there’s an anointing? I’m pretty sure I went to a Vigil way back then, and I think I also went during Holy Week, so maybe I saw both. What’s the significance of the anointing at the end of Vigil? Maybe I just need to read more about anointing oil in general :).

Holy Unction includes much more than hands and forehead, at least in my experience, including the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, and chest.

I have had both forehead and hands anointed in Vigils, and the priest was anointing both at that service, I believe a Moleben, for St John the Wonderworker.

LivingWaters7: Holy Unction is intended to be served by seven priests, tho I doubt that happens many places. There are in the service however 7 readings from the Gospels and a number from other New Testament books, and the prayers with those make clear the penitential aspect of the Mystery, as compared to the fairly simple prayer over the wheat, wine and oil in a Vigil service. Holy Wednesday is the usual time Holy Unction is offered, after Holy Communion at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

I think wikipedia actually has a lot of very good information. Try looking there as well for information. OrthodoxWiki sometimes has different information, sometimes credits wikipedia with the information there.

No. It’s a significant blessing, but not the sacrament of unction. That’s a much more involved prayer, also traditionally done at the same point in the liturgy if done at liturgy. I’ve received it before surgery on a few occasions.

Aramis the prayers on Holy Wednesday if done in their entirety are EXACTLY the same as Holy Unction (anointing of the sick). Both services call for 7 priests, but this seldom happens nowadays. The prayers are the same.

It is traditional among Romanians to do it at the end of all 4 fasting periods.

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