Holy Trinity Cathedral

Service of Unction for Archpriest Victor Sokolov

Homily of His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN of Berkeley

Delivered before beginning the Service of Unction, January 9, 2005

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This evening we have come from places near and places far to take part in a sacrament of the Church:  the Holy Mystery of Unction.  From out of our individual love for the Archpriest Victor, we have come together to become something greater than ourselves, something superior, in human terms, to the sum of its constituent parts – the sacramental community of the Church.  We have assembled as the Body of Christ to ask our loving God to do something we cannot do.  We have come to ask God to transform Fr. Victor, to make his infirmity into a sacrament – a means of both his and our salvation.  We have come together to ask for something, that in human terms, is illogical and fantastic.  We ask God to make weakness into strength, defeat into victory, a life-threatening illness into life, what is for us all a cause of anxious concern into a reason for joy and hope.  This is the very heart of mystery, of sacrament.  We come in love, to a God Who loves us, to ask Him to do, out of His love for us, what we cannot do for ourselves.  Simply put:  we cannot, but He can.  As our Lord taught us, we ask:  “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”  And the will of God is that we be saved, that, whatever comes before us in life, be for our salvation. 

We do not create miracles ourselves.  We witness them.  Miracles are, as someone wrote:  “the wonder of the unique that points us back to the wonder of everyday.”  Miracles are connected with mystery – with sacrament.  The very word “mystery” is, in both Greek and Russian, the same word as “sacrament”.  It is only in the Church that disease or illness can miraculously be transformed into a sacrament, into a means of communion with God and a vehicle of salvation.  And, miracles begin when we accept the fact that we are not, ultimately, in control.  God is.  When we stop trying to manage the universe, when we cease trying to be in control, God can and will act.  And, we can marvel and delight in His work.

As Christians, we do not believe in magic.  Magic is the attempt of man to manipulate events and even God Himself.  We know God is in control and He is also uncontrollable.  He gives us all that is necessary for our salvation:  joys and sorrows.  He provides us with whatever it takes to refine us, to purify us.  He gives us each a cross to bear and that cross is as unique and particular as each of us are as human persons.

We, as Christians, must be willing to participate in this process of refinement, of purification, of change and transformation.  God does not accomplish this work in us by Himself.  We must work with Him.  Salvation is brought about through cooperation with God.  So, here we stand today, in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, not telling God what He must do, but ready to work along side Him, open to being transformed and willing to have Him work in our lives through His Holy Spirit.  As frail beings, we ask Him, confident of His love, to make even disease itself into a means of salvation, a sacrament, through this holy oil.

Christ took death, mankind’s ultimate sign of defeat, and made it into Pascha, a Passover, a passage that leads to life.  He can and will do the very same thing for Fr. Victor and for us.  We have just celebrated Christ’s Theophany:  His Nativity in the flesh and Baptism in the Jordan.  By His birth, Christ took our humanity upon Himself.  He became what we are with all our bumps and bruises and he made them His own.  By His Baptism He identified Himself with our fallen and needy state.

Finally, by making illness into a sacrament, by bringing Fr. Victor’s disease to the Church as the body of believers, we make Fr. Victor’s infirmity our own.  We share in his suffering because he is us and we are he.  We are members of the very same body, the body of which Christ is the Head.  Fr. Victor and his family are not alone as they face this cross as long as they are in Christ.  We are here with them.  If we have shared in their joys, will we not also share their sorrows.  Hell is to be alone.  And we are not alone as long as we are members of Christ’s Church, members of His body and members of each other.  We are bound to Christ, to Fr. Victor and to each other by a sacrament of love.  We have faith God will perform a miracle today, that He will transform human frailty and weakness, in the guise of cancer, into life and salvation, through His Holy Spirit, by means of the simple oil that has been set before us in His temple today.

Last modified: January 15, 2005