My life, by any standard, has been very fruitful and blessed. Ten years ago, I was moved by God to marry and start a family. With full faith that this was possible, I found my wife, (actually she found me) and had two beautiful children, a girl and a boy. I have been part of the Christian Church since birth, but became an Orthodox Christian only 7 years ago. Since that time, I have received the Holy Sacraments of Chrismation, Marriage, Confession, and the Eucharist. The sacrament of Marriage was the happiest moment in my life, chrismation was the most awe-inspiring and communion always brings fulfillment. However, the receiving of Holy Oil was an experience of Grace that was given during a very sacred, silent and sad time in my life.
Two years ago my family and I moved very far from our home in Florida to start a new life in Seattle with a new job and two young children. Not long after the move I began to feel weak and tired. I attributed this sudden feeling of lethargy to the late night calls of a baby and living in a strange new climate. The Doctors I visited had no answers except for me to get more exercise. Only after six month of pain and having a broken arm for no reason did someone come up with the diagnosis of having a rare bone cancer. As any sentence with the word “rare” in it, the prognosis and treatment prospect did not look good. After much poking, prodding and testing, they told us that it was a very rare type of cancer called Multiple Myeloma. They also confirmed that the testing up to that point indicated that my cancer was in a very aggressive (advanced) state. Statistically, unless the last battery of test showed something different, they gave me a little more than 15 months to live. The last tests did come back and it was not “the worst” possible state, but they were still not encouraged as to the final outcome. The time had come for me to prepare for my physical and spiritual passage even though I had many great blessing in my life and had a bright future with my wonderful wife, children and church.
Bone cancer is extremely painful and can capacitate you very quickly, however, with two beautiful children and a wonderful wife, I continued to move though the pain and to live, pray and participate in life in every possible moment because I had so few moments left. I am and always will feel grateful for having a blessed life and prayed unceasingly to God for “grace not for me, a sinner, but for them, thy children, your gift to me.” I had no fear of death, but rather great sadness in leaving my very young family so soon. The simple task of holding my child in my arms or lying down with my wife was soon out of my reach, but love was not absent from our lives during that dark time for we had our faith at home and our church close to us. Praise be to God that we did have a church because it was at church that God answered my unspoken prayer.
I am a recent convert to Orthodox Christianity who is still amazed at the authentic and unchanged practices that make for a powerful experience during worship. I am also strengthened in my faith with those who are able to receive the gifts of grace in the church and know though prayer and supplication that they are moving towards Theosis. I understand for many of us, that the sacraments and acts of grace often “feel” theoretical. The more time I spent in church, the more I felt this sense of mystery following me everywhere. At times, I have to admit the pain was so distracting during my activities that the awareness of grace was lost in the moment. While being in severe pain I understood that the gift of grace was occurring, only that I did not perceive its blessing. Only at the end of the day, after everything was said and done, could I perceive a sense of grace and gratitude in moments of silence.
Of course, not all experiences through my new church have been earth-moving moments, but what happened after months of pain and loss was profound and subtle at the same time. The pain rose to such a level that I could understand that there are certain types of pain in this world in which death would be a welcomed gift. My primary emotion was sadness that I would not be able to raise my children the way my heart was moved by God to fulfill. My wife’s primary emotion was undirected anger, yet she became more steadfast in her faith and more faithful to me. I did feel as if we were being tested like Job, but we did not know why. I found the only source of comfort to my mind and soul was constant prayer and long periods of silence. My wife and I made the necessary arrangements with wills, trust and guardianship with many tears, but never any regrets. They finally decided on and started a treatment protocol at the beginning of April 2017 and I continued to pray without expectations beyond what was told to us by our doctors.
It was then, after only two weeks of treatment, at a Wednesday vespers service and confession that my experience of receiving Holy Oil from Saint Sava Monastery in the Holy Land took place in the silent sanctuary of our family church. The act of blessing performed by my priest was not theoretical but rather very visceral. Even more important was the subsequent act of grace.
I told him that I needed to tell him something before my confession began. Up until then, thinking of death and my family’s future had a theoretical feel to it; however, once I began to speak about it to our priest, everything became real. The gentle demeanor of our priest allowed me to open up about everything. I expressed that dying was not the issue for me, for I felt close to Christ, rather my prayers were for my children. The idea that they would be raised without a father was heartbreaking for me. My only prayer was that I could remain as long as possible for their sake.
After Confession my priest and confessor asked if I was open to receiving a blessing of Holy Oil from the Saint Sava Monastery in the Holy Land and I said “yes.” I spent a few moments in prayer and waited for father to return from behind the Iconostasis. As I walked forward I could see and feel the space around the Iconostasis become light. My heart was lighter, I felt comforted even through the pain of my broken arm. I could feel a sigh of relief rising and falling from my body. It was the same lightness I felt during my chrismation a few years before, but at that time, my life was a filled with happiness of a pending marriage and a new faith! This was a much different time, shrouded with the texture of death and departure. However, in that moment the same luminesces was upon us. As father performed the blessing and anointing with Holy Oil, it was a moment of stillness, and a sense of grace descending upon me. I was not aware of any words spoken only that the sign of the cross was made and the oil that touched my skin had a weight of intent and a fragrance that transported me out of the mundane. I dared not speak because of the flood of emotional gratitude for a simple act of kindness.
As I walked away from the steps of the Iconostasis, it was as if a cloud of witnesses from within the Icons moved with me. In my heart I felt tenderness bestowed by the eyes of angels and the Theotokos watching in full awareness of the grace given to this servant. I was also aware that this moment of mercy was not just about me, but my family and the church that I now had become part of in the last days of my life.
It is very true that this was my perception as guided by senses and intuition. However, less than a week later, I was tested to see if the medical treatments had any positive effect on the progression of the cancer. The tests could not find any trace of cancer in my blood. This was not expected by any of our physicians, but it still, was great news to hear at the start the treatment protocol! We held our collective breath and finished the first series of treatments. We then waited for subsequent bone biopics and molecular testing to confirm what each blood test showed, which was no traces of cancer in my body. Long before one complete treatment series was fully administered, the testing confirmed that I was in full remission. After speaking with the top experts in the field of Multiple Myeloma there was an agreement that the only thing different that we did from all other patients was the stated use of prayer and Holy Oil.
The results of the testing were remarkable but what was most miraculous was the change in pain. During the long winter of physical dissolution I had lost my left ninth rib, right 12th rib and my right upper arm. Within six week they showed remarkable signs of returning and all need of surgery was eliminated. I went from only sleeping upright in a chair to finally lying down in a bed. I was most grateful for the ability to hold my children in my arms and carry them while they slumbered or in fun. I found myself able to sleep through the night, which was not possible for at least 2 years.
The indisputable fact that there was an unexpected healing of body, confirmed by physicians, has lead our family to give thanks and praise to God and offer our lives to the service of the church. It is fair to say that the healing was a combination of spirit and science but the praise and Glory is given to God. It can be said that God’s Grace of healing was able to work though our local priest and allowed the mystery of God to work within, as the Fathers of the Church had intended.
Christ is in our Midst,