The prayers of healing in Sacramentary of Sarapion offer a contemporary Christian both problems and possibilities. I have attempted to demonstrate an apocalypticism underlying the prayers of this text. Apocalypticism, however, can be a difficult conception of reality for contemporary Christians to adequately digest, the concept of unveiling often being discarded in favor of an imminent expectation of the end of days. Yet, one cannot help but find some appeal in the bold manner in which the prayers assume the possibility of the Deity exercising a radical display of its power over the created order. The prayers do not ask for comfort to the afflicted or the imprisoned, rather, they seek God’s liberation of those persons with concrete results – the sick will be healed, the imprisoned will be freed. This having been said, what would a contemporary congregation do if the Deity does not exercise its power in such a radical way?
I am reminded of a story conveyed to me by a Franciscan priest some years ago. This priest, now into his sixties, was at the beginning of the first wave of charismatic Catholicism after the conclusion of Vatican II. He used to take part in weekly charismatic prayer meetings during which he and the other participants would ask God for the miraculous, indeed, the impossible. One week the group prayed for one of their own, a blind woman named Carol. In his words, they never had exerted such effort to pray. Three hours in the height of charismatic prayer for the sake of God returning Carol’s sight. At the end, this priest held his hands over Carol’s eyes, removed them and asked, “Carol, can you see?” Carol remind silent for several moments before clearing her throat and then, with a tone of apology in her voice said, “Father, I have glass eyes.”
The story intimates the potential problems with the type of prayers for healing found in the Sacramentary of Sarapion for a congregation. If a congregation utters audible prayers assuming God’s ability to circumvent our physical reality, what happens when these prayers are greeted with a deafening divine silence? In a ritual setting, one would be forced to answer questions of ritual efficacy and ritual honesty. Conversely, the prayers of the Sacramentary of Sarapion demonstrate a nearly fearless conviction in God’s ability to act in the created order. These are bold liturgical prayers that make no apology for the seeming absurdity of faith and at times instill the person who encounters them with confidence that God can indeed fulfill prayers for miraculous intervention.
The fear of ritual failure or dishonesty versus the need for language which demonstrates faith in the impossible, or, at the very least, God’s ability to accomplish the impossible, poses a dilemma for any ritual writing scenario. Should one pray with caution or pray boldly for divine action?