From the days of the apostles, the Church has always asked the Lord to heal its sick, anointing them with oil and laying hands on them with prayer, even as St. James directs in James 5. The Lord never fails to respond to the prayer of faith, bringing His power upon those who humbly seek Him, whether for the healing of physical or spiritual ills.
Following the directions St. James gives (which presuppose a many presbyters in the local church), the Church’s service books envision seven presbyters gathering together for this service. Now that the Church (with its presbyters) is more spread out, it is not always possible for seven presbyters to gather together for this service, and the service books recognize this also, allowing the rite to be used by a single presbyter (the norm in most parishes), in an abbreviated rite.
The Anointing Service can be served anytime. Recently it has become customary to have the service on Holy Wednesday, where it (sadly) functions as a kind of substitute for sacramental confession. The typikon knows nothing of this custom, which must be considered a liturgical aberration, especially since it interrupts the flow and progress of the Holy Week services, in which we journey with our Lord from Palm Sunday to the Cross. (It is for this reason that Archbishop Seraphim once directed his clergy not to serve the Anointing Service on Holy Wednesday, but at other times.)
We will serve the Anointing Service several times during the Church year. We serve it now in response to the request of Bishop Irenee, who has discerned a need for healing in the parishes of the archdiocese at this time.