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The Image Restored

by Rev. Romanos V. Russo
photos by Milton Baroody


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“To restore the Image in Fallen Adam.” This is how the Eastern Church Fathers conceive of the act of redemption. Christ established the Church as his living Body on earth, and instituted the sacraments – or holy mysteries – to vivify his Body’s members. While the three sacraments of Christian initiation are the chief means by which a member is grafted onto the Mystical Body, the two sacraments of restoration – Repentance and Holy Anointing – are the channels of grace which restore, heal, and refresh the Christian heavily burdened and sorely tried by sin.

Eastern Christians are encouraged to confess their sins at least four times a year during the four “lents” or fasting periods of the Eastern Rite: the Great Lent before Easter, the Apostles’ Fast before the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), the Theotokos’ Fast before the feast of the Dormition (August 15), and the Christmas Fast before the feast of the Nativity. More frequent confession is, of course, preferred to this minimul standard.

In the Byzantine Rite, the penitent stands beside a priest who is vested in an epitrachelion (a long stole), and in front of a crucifix, an icon of Christ, or the Holy Gospel Book. The penitent confesses his sins, after which he receives spiritual instruction from the priest – who acts more like a physician than a judge. As the priest recites the prayer of absolution, the penitent bows his head so it may be covered with the epitrachelion. This is a symbolic and tangible sign that God’s grace has overshadowed the penitent and restored him to a state of friendship with God.

In the East, whenever a member of the faithful is over burdened by spiritual or physical ills, he can avail himself of the power of the healing Christ in the mystery of Holy Anointing or Prayer Oil. The Churches of Byzantine-Greek tradition preserve a beautiful custom. All who celebrate the Holy Resurrection on Easter are invited to be anointed with Christ, so that they might be buried and rise with him.

On Holy Wednesday evening, the Sacrament of Prayer Oil is solemnly celebrated for the benefit of the entire community. Seven epistles and seven gospels are read, proclaiming the healing power of Divine Grace. To the accompaniment of a hymn, a floating wick is lighted in a bowl of purest olive oil, to which a few drops of wine have been added. At the conclusion of the service, the priests anoint the foreheads, cheeks and hands of each of the faithful, recalling Christ’s anointing by the sinful penitent woman prior to his passion. Later, the remaining oil is poured into small bottles for the faithful to bring home for use during times of illness or temptation.

In the following photographs, the reader is invited to contemplate the drama of restoration as the Christian soul is purified. In this way, the soul can fulfill its vocation – which is to be a living icon manifesting God’s glory to all the world.

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Father Russo is rector of St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Chapel on Mulberry Street in New York City.



Tags: Eastern Christianity Reflections/Inspirational