Christ Visits Us
We pray in the Trisagion prayers, “Holy One visit and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake.” Here it is our sickness that is the place of visitation.
In the litanies: “Again we pray mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, visitation and forgiveness of sins for the servants of God here present, and that they may be pardoned every offence both voluntary and involuntary.” Here it is our sin and repentance that causes this need for visitation.
In the fourth prayer of the Unction service we ask God also to visit and to heal:
Yes, Master, Lord our God, we beg you, O all powerful, to save us all. Only physician of souls and bodies hallow us all. You heal every disease, heal your servants also; raise them from their bed of pain through the mercy of your goodness; visit them with your mercy and acts of pity. Drive from them every ailment and infirmity, so that having risen by your mighty hand they may serve you with all thanksgiving, in order that we also, who share in your ineffable love for mankind, may now praise and glorify you whose actions are great and wondrous, glorious and transcendent.
Christ visits homes, the places where the sick lay, the streets where the sick are spread out in misery. Zacchaeus, Bethesda, the streets where the lepers lay. Sickness and affliction are special times of God’s visitation.
The special divine blessing, care and protection on the sick is recognized in the canonical tradition:
If any of the clergy mock the lame, or the deaf, or the blind, or him who is infirm in his legs, let him be excommunicated. In like manner any of the laity.
If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, when any of the clergy is in want, does not supply him with what he needs, let him be excommunicated; but if he persists, let him be deposed, as one who has killed his brother. (Apostolic Canons, 57 and 59)
They are special cases of sin against the image, where even a small neglect is considered murderous.
A prayer before an operation expects the patient to share in the cross. No “making it so” on the part of the priest, it is just recognized:
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who did patiently endure the scourging and wounding of Your most holy Body, that You might save the souls and bodies of Your people, look graciously, we beseech You, upon the suffering body of this Your servant (Name) and give him (her) strength to endure patiently whatsoever You shall see fit to lay upon him (her). Bless the means employed for the working out of his (her) cure, granting that he (she) may so endure his (her) sufferings in the flesh that the wounding of his (her) body may be to avail for the correcting and salvation of his (her) soul…
The crucified Christ is mystically present to the sick person whether they recognize or not. It is either unmitigated random pain and bitterness, or it is a mystical participation if we recognize it.
Another prayer for the sick talks about the hand of God stretched out for healing
O Lord Almighty, the Healer of our souls and bodies, You Who put down and raise up, Who chastise and heal also; do You now, in Your great mercy, visit our brother (sister) (Name), who is sick. Stretch forth Your hand that is full of healing and health, and get him (her) up from his (her) bed, and cure him (her) of his (her) illness
In fact when sickness increases, the prayer that is given clearly recognizes that it is not in the words that the priest prays but in the actual experience of drawing close to death that we must recognize that there is a sacramental mystery. We do not “make it so:” with or without words and gestures, it is happening that Christ is visiting, as he has in ways that were hints and warnings to us before:
O Lord Jesus Christ, our God and our Savior, for our sake You were born; and for our sake You were hungry and thirsty; for our sake You were mocked, scourged and crowned with thorns; for our sake You suffered and died on the cross, offering up Your divine life for our salvation: as You now grant Your servant (name) to share in Your sufferings, grant him (her) also to share in Your grace. May Your wounds heal the wounds of his (her) sins. May Your precious Blood wash away the stains of his (her) sins. May Your divine righteousness purge from him (her) every iniquity. Look upon his (her) faith in You, and the faith of us who pray, and do what is best for him (her) according to Your mercy, rather than our merit. As sickness increases in him (her), so likewise increase in him (her) Your power and strength. Let not his (her) faith waver or his (her) hope fail, or his (her) love grow cold. Let not the fear of suffering and death cause him/her to cast away his (her) hope in You, or to lose courage and the will to fight every sickness and sin. Let him (her) rather look always to You even to the very end, and cry out, as You Yourself cried from the cross to God: “Into Your hands, Good Father, I commend My spirit.” Bless him (her) to enter Your everlasting Kingdom, where all the saints continually shine with Your divine glory. For You have suffered that we might be healed, and have died that we might live…
The blessing is there for the sufferers to receive if they know that they are being conformed to Christ in death, as they were also in sickness, or in the weakness that the formerly blind St. Paul boasts of. St. Paul was visited by the blindness and learned that God’s Glory was upon earth, Jesus Christ. The dying person cries with the voice of Christ, and can call God Father at the moment of death. Fundamentally we are calling God Father to receive the pity and mercy that a Father has for a dying child. We should learn this every time we are sick or weak. We should learn this as a society to treasure the experience of weakness as a place where the veil is pushed aside and we see the heavens opened and “see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Now I will give a small personal note.
When I, as a small and foolish person, think upon the times when I have begun to be serious because of some trouble, weakness, or even the penitent realization of a fall through sin, I feel a strange affection and even longing for the sense of God’s power and his peace that was marked upon those times, when I could not be my normal sinful self. These times are like a moment when that life dies, and without any special liturgical event (though clearly in dialogue with such liturgical experiences), I felt the mystery of communion and a Life that passes this so-called life. A Life which redeems and resurrects what this life truly is meant to be. These are our visitations, where we don’t even call on God, as if He were at a distance. Christ is here, the distracting veils have fallen and we see, we don’t have to cry at some distance—the distance produce by our lack of awareness and foggy minds.