April 7, 2022 - “Our planet, our health”

April 7, 2022 - “Our planet, our health”

World Day of Health
April 7, 2022

The World Council of Churches (WCC)
is dedicating this week (April 3-9) to the
“World Day of Health”
“Our planet, our health”

At the invitation of the WCC, on the 4th of April, the Coordinator of the Patriarchal Network offered the “Reflection” at the morning prayer service of the WCC, which was viewed online at the WCC Chapel in Geneva.

The reading of the day was from John 12:1-13. The speaker remarked on the passage:

Mary took a pound of costly myrrh made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the myrrh.


Reflection - Fr. Stavros Kofinas,
Coordinator, Network for Pastoral Health Care of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

“Mary took a pound of costly myrrh made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the myrrh.” John 12:3. 

From the root of a plant called nard, a fragrant oil is made which, in Hebrew tradition, was used, amongst other things, to anoint the dead. Anointing with different oils, depending on the region, is found in many traditions for medical and symbolic purposes. In Christian tradition, the Greek work for oil (έλαιον) is associated with the word mercy (έλεος). This is also associated with the olive branch that the dove brought to Noah after the Great Flood as a symbol for peace and reconciliation and the renewal of creation. 

Perhaps the most familiar use of oil is referred to in the Epistle of St. James, where he says that “if any amongst you are sick, go to the elders and have them anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord”, establishing the Sacrament of Holy Unction. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, the anointing of oil, Holy Unction, is not a substitute or replacement for medical remedies. The liturgical service is the reinstatement of the sick into the Body of Christ, into the life of the Kingdom of God. Suffering, sickness and death are the consequence of the disruption of the catholicity of creation that once existed from the beginning of time; a disruption that was caused by human greed, unthankfulness, pride and a misuse of nature created by the Creator. Thus, when we suffer illness of any sort, we are brought to face the reality, that we live in a world that has been distorted because it lacks the catholicity – the total harmony – that once existed when it was created; the harmony that exists in the catholicity of God’s being that was given to us, who were created in His image and after His likeness. In facing this disharmony, we are called to recognize the way we, as human beings, have distorted God’s creation on all the levels of its existence. We also are called to acknowledge God’s endless love for us by offering ourselves, and what He has given us – His creation – to Him, in love and in humility, allowing Him to restore His image in us and sanctify our world. 

Today, we see Mary anointing Christ before His crucifixion. “She who was engulfed in sin found You, the haven of salvation, and she poured out myrrh with tears, and cried to You: Behold Him Who bears the repentance of those who sin; do You, O Master, of Your great mercy, rescue me from the tempest of my sins”.[i] This woman recognizes and acknowledges Christ’s divinity and shows her love for Him by adorning Him, anointing Him, as her glorified Master and Creator, and caring for Him in humble self-abandonment, wiping the myrrh that ran down on to His feet. In one act, she glorifies the Divine Creator and Saviour of the world while caring for all creation and humanity by ministering to the Son of Man. And when she did this, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”. Mary’s humble offering and Christ’s Divine presence, joined together in a compassionate relationship, filled the entire world with the gladness of light, the joy of salvation, the abundance of love. In this relationship, everything was renewed. Everything became a new creation.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away!” for he has given us the “ministry of reconciliation”.[ii] He has given us the responsibility to re-establish the harmony that first existed at the beginning of time: the harmony between God and Creation, of all matter and all relationships.

During this year’s celebration of Holy Week, the Myrrh that is used for Holy Chrismation in all the Orthodox Churches will again be made and blessed by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Patriarchal Church in Constantinople. It is a service that takes place almost every 10 years. This is an age-old process whereby a special mixture made up of 57 ingredients of various fragrant oils, spices, plants and a few animal product extracts are blended together and sanctified. In this symbolic service, creation becomes renewed and made holy. Everything is restored, reshaped and reconciled into perfect harmony, into a new creation.  All those anointed with this myrrh receive the charisma that illumines and sanctifies every man that comes into the world and thus can partake in the thanksgiving of God’s love, in the fulness and joy of His creation.

Today’s WCC worship service is the first service of the week that coincides with the World Day of Health that will be celebrated this coming Thursday, April 7th, dedicated to 'Our planet, our health'.  Questions will be raised as to how we can re-image our world, focus on health and well-being, and make our cities and environment respectful of all life that God has created.

In our discussions, we must remember that the first step in achieving these goals is to acknowledge that God has given us the “ministry of reconciliation”. We have been given the responsibility to exclaim the joy found in the God’s new creation, the gladness that is found when all are gathered together in harmony by His grace. To do this, each of us must strive to live in purity of heart and mind. Each of us must strive to grow in knowledge of how the Holy Spirit works through us and in us, to come to know God’s presence in everything and in everyone. This will require that we learn to be patient, to radiate kindness, to be truthful and to foster genuine love. Thus, we will be bearers of His grace and sanctification.[iii] Like Mary in today’s reading, we will be able, in thanksgiving, to offer Christ the fragrance of our faith, to offer Him the creation that is His, as we say: We offer You your own, from what is your own, in all and for the sake of all. By doing this, we will allow Him to re-image and sanctify our world, to designate what “well-being” is and we will allow Him to shape a world community and an environment that allows relationships to grow in the freedom to love. Amen. 

[i] The Praises, Now and Ever, 2nd Plagal Tone, Matins Service of Holy Wednesday 
[ii] 2 Corinthians 5:17-18
[iii] 2 Corinthians 6:6-7