Unction Service

I got back from Nikozi and immediately curled up in bed, at around seven, and spent all the night feverish, trying to drink enough to re-hydrate, but not too much. I got back up some twenty hours later, and still stayed in bed, dreaming of warm sunlight. Since then I’ve pretty much been sitting by the stove, drinking tea.

In Nikozi this time, instead of hanging out with the children at their English lesson, I went to church for an Unction service. Of all the Orthodox sacraments, Unction is probably the one I understand the least. There are seven candles, each of which is lit after reading a selection from the Epistles, Gospel, and a prayer. In the churches I’ve been to — American Greek, Antiochian, and Alaskan/Russian, there was a little bottle of thick oil, like chrism, and they would apply it with a q-tip, and perhaps wrap it in foil and give it to you if you want. There could be seven priests if there are that many in the area, but usually there aren’t, so I’ve only seen it done with one priest. He rubs the oil, in the shape of the cross, on the person’s forehead, cheeks, hands — perhaps ears and throat? I can’t quite remember. In Georgia they mix jars of oil and wine, put cotton on the ends of three candles, and people are anointed three times by each priest (there was a bishop and a priest in our case, and we were already dripping), with each candle. It’s like the parable of the Good Samaritan, where he pours wine and oil onto the wounds of the person who was beat up by the side of the road. It’s a lovely service, and I love Meopeh Isaiah, but at the same time it seems a bit odd. It’s a healing service, but I can’t imagine standing in a cold stone church for three hours if I were actually sick. If the long, cold, bumpy bus ride there, the service itself, and the ride back is enough to make someone who’s a little unwell — or even who isn’t yet unwell — feverish and unable to work the next day, I don’t see what someone would do if they were actually sick. This is a little perplexing, but I can’t say any more about it without knowing what thoughtful people who grew up in this church think. Then, when I asked my friend, who gets motion sickness from the bus, the cold, and dehydration, why she wouldn’t take a thermos of herbal tea (especially ginger tea) with her, and she said that it’s because Georgians simply don’t do that, she doesn’t know why.


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