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March 12, 2010
Brooklyn, NY: The sacrament of Holy Unction in the Church of our Lady the "Inexhaustible Chalice"

"...to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith..."
(1 Thess. 3:2)

"Repentance opens the heavens for man, takes him to Paradise, overcomes the devil."
- St. John Chrysostom

bklnunct.lg.jpg (35525 bytes)"Open unto me, O Christ, Giver of life, the gates of repentance." Thus prays every Christian soul during these holy days of Great Lent. And the Church, our caring mother, hurries to provide us healing in the sacrament of Holy Unction. "What if we have forgotten some past sin?”, She frets. In the 4th Century, St. John Chrysostom said thusly, "Great then is the power of repentance, at least if it makes us as snow, and whitens us as wool, even if sin have first got possession and dyed our souls."

Having just finished attending to the most critically important work of the three-day Pastoral Conference of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad in Mayfield, PA, Metropolitan Hilarion arrived in Brighton on March 4, to the Church of Our Lady the "Inexhaustible Chalice," to perform the sacrament of Holy Unction for the brethren-residents of the Mercy House of St. John of Kronstadt, yesterday’s homeless, and all those awaiting salvation in Christ. Despite the fact that it was a weekday and the hour was late, Orthodox people not only from Brooklyn, but from Manhattan and Queens, as well, came to greet the First Hierarch. Greeting His Eminence, rector Priest Vadim Arefiev put it plainly: "As I was traveling here, Holy Master, I thought about how every child delights in telling others who his father is. 'My father is a builder, he builds such big houses!' We all, your children, can joyously say today, 'Well our father is a doctor, he grants us healing from above.'"

Metropolitan Hilarion was co-served by Archpriest Petre Kruashvili (rector of the Georgian Orthodox Church of St. George the Trophy-Bearer in Philadelphia, PA), Priest Paul Ivanov (senior cleric of New Martyrs & Confessors of Russia Church on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn, NY), and, of course, Fr. Vadim. The service was adorned by the service of Deacon Nathan Mousselli (cleric of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Lakewood, NJ). Thanks be to God, the Lenten visit of the First Hierarch to the orphans of Brighton is becoming an annual tradition. Last year, on Passion Week, Vladyka also led Unction service for a multitude of Orthodox believers.

On the eve of the service, I was asked, "The Church Abroad is so huge! Why does His Eminence pay heed to our tiny community?" The inquirer did not realize that the Church is one body, and if one is ill, then all are ill; our homeless brethren are as important for the Head of the Church as his visit is for them. After all, how important it is for one who has forgotten himself to realize that he is not forgotten, as he thought! Be sure that he is truly priceless in the eyes of the Lord and for the First Hierarch of the Church!! That for the sake of his soul every matter is set aside!!! The Metropolitan has hurried to his side! He arrived to search out his precious soul, like the simple lamb and, hoisting him on his shoulders, he returns him first to the herd, then to the Master. We are all in need of healing, we all need the one doctor… if we are not plagued by drug addiction or alcoholism, then certainly the abscesses of our gluttony or envy or greed stink, or we are suffocated by the desire to gossip… It is impossible to list every terrible dependence, the ailments of our souls!... But what of our bodies??... How can we not recall once more the words of Chrysostom? "If we have any bodily ailment, we do and contrive everything to be rid of what pains us; but when our soul is indisposed, we delay, and draw back. For which cause neither from the other sort are we delivered: since the things that are indispensable are becoming to us secondary, and the secondary indispensable."

Nowhere is the "Spirit of the Publican" present as it is in the "Inexhaustible Chalice." No pretense resides here! For only those who have admitted to themselves that they are wretched sinners are drawn with all their hearts to church, to the priest, who teaches them to lift themselves up, to climb, to stretch forth their hands to those who are weaker… and who at the same time crawls in the dirt, searching for the Lord’s "lost drachmas." It is likely that His Eminence, feeling this in his heart, hurries here again and again, that hope might not dry up, that the faith o the newly enlightened might be fortified.

The Holy Unction continued late into the night. Girding the church with a live ribbon, the people came in slowly from outside, as the little church could not contain them all. Eventually Metropolitan Hilarion sat down in a chair, anointing those who came and fell to their knees. The faces of the people shone! Now no one pushed; quite the opposite: people politely gave way to one another. "Hearken unto us, O Master," sang not only the choir, but the whole church, as well. A spreading, prayerful cover could be felt, stretching over the vast expanses of the universe… A church considered by all to be miniscule was praying. It was praying for all and for each… the present and the absent, imploring the All-Merciful Lord to pity and heal the whole of this direly ill world and even those who, suffering, know not to Whom to turn. Completing the sacrament, His Eminence turned to the flock and said joyous it was for him to serve! And all of his words were about "establishing and comforting in the faith" (according to the words of the Apostle Paul).

Taking an interest in the life of the brethren, Vladyka asked to watch the film "Arise," produced a year ago by talented Ohio State University graduate Chad Barlet, about human weakness and the power of prayerful faith, which works wonders and in our days lifts up men otherwise presumed lost by modern medicine. The protagonist of the film is a resident of the Mercy House who was dying of cirrhosis and was miraculously healed and bears witness that for God, everything is possible! Despite the late hour, after watching the film, the sisterhood and brotherhood of the Mercy House offered a Lenten dinner. The theme of the movie continued in a dinner conversation about alcoholism, drug addiction and other deathly dependencies. The rector of St. George’s Church shared his own experiences of working with suffering heroine-addicts. Fr. Vadim bitterly reflected on the widespread ailment of gambling addition, that monstrous passion that holds man on the verge of obsession. "One addicted gambler shared with me how he was held back from suicidal thoughts by the eyes of the icon of the Mother of God of the 'Inexhaustible Chalice'!" Here is what St. Theophan the Recluse said: "The enemy has no power over the soul; he can but frighten it with illusory horrors. Do not give in, bear it, go boldly forward, saying to yourself: 'Faced even with death, I refuse nonetheless to quit, and will bravely persevere, going with a spirit of repentance where the Lord of Mercy calls me'…" Only at one in the morning did everyone depart. And no one felt tired! "Hearken unto us, O Lord! Have mercy on us, O Master"…, the heart continued to pray, filled with the oil of prayer, faithfully believing in the prayerful help of the Church!

Tamara Nazarova

Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese