The Fellowship of St. James needs at least $74,960 by June 30. I look to the generosity of those who appreciate and support the ministry. Please join with us if you are able with an online donation, or mail a check to The Fellowship of St. James, PO Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641. All gifts, large and small, are welcome and needed.

June 24, midsummer day, is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist in the traditional Calendar of the Christian Year. John’s birth is related only in Luke’s Gospel, which presents us with the theme of God’s mercy. John’s coming, prophesies his father Zachariah, is a vehicle through which the Lord God of Israel will “perform the mercy promised to our fathers.” John will “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of God…” (Lk. 1:72, 77-78)

Mercy is also invoked twice in Mary’s Magnificat, inspired by the Spirit when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child (John the Baptist). At John’s birth, Luke says the neighbors all heard how the Lord had shown mercy to Elizabeth.

Anthony Coniaris cites the book Orthodox Worship on the word mercy (oleos) used (early and often!) in Orthodox worship:

“The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘Kyrie, eleison’ that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Thus mercy… refer[s]… to the infinite lovingkindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.”

I would also add another word to fill out the amplified sense of the petition to say, “Lord, heal me.” I say this because the goal of using oil, it would seem, is also healing:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)

On the Feast of St. John’s Nativity, I am reminded that an icon of John the Baptist (not pictured) in Homer Glen, a far southern suburb of Chicago, has been “weeping” oil since sometime last year. The oil has been used to anoint those seeking healing. I know, because I visited the church shortly after Easter this year.

Ahead of me in line outside was a young woman, Bridget, in a wheelchair, who greeted those around her with a disarming solicitude, complimenting one girl on her beautiful appearance. Bridget exuded warmth and love. I thought, “Her body needs healing, but she may be the healthiest person here!”

What I’ve come to understand is that divine healing is meant for the whole person, body and soul. Sometimes the body itself may not be healed much at all while an inner personal healing we didn’t even know we needed takes place. Such healing of our sinsick spiritual hearts does not happen, usually, all at once.

We are made whole by being joined to Christ, which is a daily experience. The mission of God since the fall has been to restore the human race, to bring us back to the Father. Gabriel said that John “will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God… to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just…” (Lk. 1:16-17)

This turning of the heart, in ongoing repentance, is the cure for our ancestral heart disease. It is a gateway and response to the Good News. It is the forerunner of the kingdom. Gabriel said to Zachariah, “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” Today, we are still rejoicing.