Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Liturgy of St Basil the Great

On Sundays of Lent, and a few other times throughout the year (e.g. on vigils of great feasts like Christmas, Theophany, and Easter) we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great as our Eucharistic Liturgy (ordinarily we use the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom). The Liturgy of St Basil is longer (hence preferred for Lent!), but is also richer in its texts, especially those the priest prays before and after the consecration. For today’s reflection, I’d like simply to offer a few of these texts for your meditation and enjoyment. If we lived in the spirit of such prayers, our vision of life would be elevated out of the self-centeredness, spiritual blindness, or mundane dreariness of much of life in this land of exile.

“O Lord our God, who created us and brought us into this present life, who showed us the ways of salvation, who granted us the revelation of the heavenly mysteries, who established us for this office in the power of your Holy Spirit: deign, O Lord, to accept us as the servants of your New Covenant and the ministers of your Holy Mysteries. Receive us according to your great love when we come to your holy altar, so that we may be worthy to offer You this spiritual and unbloody sacrifice for our sins and the errors of the people, so that receiving it upon your holy, heavenly, and spiritual altar as a perfume of agreeable fragrance, You may send down to us in return the grace of your Holy Spirit…

“O You who are Being, Master and Lord, God, almighty and adorable Father, it is truly fitting and right and worthy of the immensity of your holiness that we praise You, sing to You, bless You, adore You, give thanks to You, glorify You who alone are truly God; that we offer You a spiritual worship with a repentant heart and a humble spirit, for it is You who granted us the grace of knowing your truth. How could anyone tell your might and sing the praises You deserve, or describe all your marvels in all places and times, O Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creatures visible and invisible! You are enthroned upon a throne of glory, You plumb the depths, You are eternal, invisible, beyond comprehension and description and change, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great God and Savior… It is You the Angels and Archangels, Thrones and Dominations, the Principalities and the Virtues, the Powers and the Cherubim of many eyes adore; it is You the six-winged Seraphim surround…and they cry one to the other with tireless voice and perpetual praise: Holy, holy, holy…

“O God, the God of salvation, teach us to give worthy thanks to You for the benefits You have granted us and are still granting us now. O God, who have received these gifts, cleanse us of every pollution, both of flesh and spirit, and teach us to attain perfect holiness through reverence for You, that with the pure witness of our conscience, receiving a portion of your Blessed Gift, we may be united to the holy Body and Blood of your Christ; and that receiving them worthily we may have Christ dwelling in our hearts and may become temples of your Holy Spirit. Yes, O God! And make none of us guilty of these, your tremendous and heavenly mysteries, nor let us be wounded in spirit or body from an unworthy participation in them, but grant that until our last breath we may receive worthily our share of your Blessed Gift for a viaticum of eternal life, an acceptable account at the awesome judgment seat of your Christ, that together with all your saints who have pleased You since time began, we may become partakers of the eternal blessing You have promised to those who love You, O Lord!”

This is the heritage of Christ and the Fathers of the Church. In so many places it has been exchanged for balloons and dancers and insipid songs and feel-good fellowship, the few remaining prayers lacking all poetry, depth, and fire. O Lord Jesus Christ, return to your Church her rightful inheritance, and may she embrace it with joy and fervor—ever standing in awe of You, her mystical Bridegroom and Savior!