He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Priestly Prayers: St. Basil the Great

For the past two years, I have attended an Antiochian Orthodox parish about once a month.  For most of that time, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was prayed every Sunday, and I grew accustomed to praying it with them.  Recently, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great began to be prayed there instead, and it seemed to correspond with their Lenten observance, which for those who don't know works a little differently than Roman Rite Lenten observance, partially because of the differing liturgical calendars, differing cultural contexts, and also because of disciplinary changes made to the Roman Rite by the Popes.

One thing I was told to pay attention to while reading the text of the liturgy is the prayers which the priest is charged with lifting up to the Lord on behalf of all the flock.  So I did.  I read all of the priest's and deacon's parts for the Divine Liturgy.

I paid special attention to the anaphora, the Eucharistic prayers which correspond to the Canon of the Mass in the Roman Rite.  And for those who are accustomed to the Roman Rite liturgy, the structure of the following prayers from the anaphora should seem very familiar, though the prayers are not exactly the same in every way.

One thing I noticed about the priest's prayers in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is that they are quite long.

Priest: Master, Lord, God, worshipful Father almighty, it is truly just and right to the majesty of Your holiness to praise You, to hymn You, to bless You, to worship You, to give thanks to You, to glorify You, the only true God, and to offer to You this our spiritual worship with a contrite heart and a humble spirit. For You have given us to know Your truth. Who is worthy to praise Your mighty acts? Or to make known all Your praises? Or tell of all Your wonderful deeds at all times? Master of all things, Lord of heaven and earth, and of every creature visible and invisible, You are seated upon the throne of glory and behold the depths. You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, beyond words, unchangeable. You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the great God and Savior of our hope, the image of Your goodness, the true seal of revealing in Himself You, the Father. He is the living Word, the true God, eternal wisdom, life, sanctification, power, and the true light. Through Him the Holy Spirit was manifested, the spirit of truth the gift of Sonship, the pledge of our future inheritance, the first fruits of eternal blessings, the life giving power, the source of sanctification through whom every rational and spiritual creature is made capable of worshiping You and giving You eternal glorification, for all things are subject to You. For You are praised by the angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, and the many eyed Cherubim. Round about You stand the Seraphim, one with six wings and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces; with two they cover their feet; with two they fly, crying out to one another with unceasing voices and everresounding praises:
Priest: Singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:
People: Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.

The length of the prayers is quite noticeable not just when looking at the text, but also when attending the liturgy.  I'm really not sure how the priest makes it through without a couple of bottles of water to help, but he does.  Maybe the fact that these prayers are so beautiful in the way they present a sacrifice of praise to God helps him to keep going.

Priest: Together with these blessed powers, loving Master we sinners also cry out and say: Truly You are holy and most holy, and there are no bounds to the majesty of Your holiness. You are holy in all Your works, for with righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. For having made man by taking dust from the earth, and having honored him with Your own image, O God, You placed him in a garden of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when he disobeyed You, the true God who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, You, O God, in Your righteous judgment, expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ. For You did not forever reject Your creature whom You made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but because of Your tender compassion, You visited him in various ways: You sent forth prophets; You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation have pleased You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants the prophets, announcing to us the salvation which was to come; You gave us the law to help us; You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through Your Son Himself, through whom You created the ages. He, being the splendor of Your glory and the image of Your being, upholding all things by the word of His power, thought it not robbery to be equal with You, God and Father. But, being God before all ages, He appeared on earth and lived with humankind. Becoming incarnate from a holy Virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, conforming to the body of our lowliness, that He might change us in the likeness of the image of His glory. For, since through man sin came into the world and through sin death, it pleased Your only begotten Son, who is in Your bosom, God and Father, born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever virgin Mary; born under the law, to condemn sin in His flesh, so that those who died in Adam may be brought to life in Him, Your Christ. He lived in this world, and gave us precepts of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He guided us to the sure knowledge of You, the true God and Father. He acquired us for Himself, as His chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Having cleansed us by water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the cross, that He might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the bonds of death. He rose on the third day, having opened a path for all flesh to the resurrection from  the dead, since it was not possible that the Author of life would be dominated by corruption. So He became the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first born of the dead, that He might be Himself the first in all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of Your majesty on high and He will come to render to each according to His works. As memorials of His saving passion, He has left us these gifts which we have set forth before You according to His commands. For when He was about to go forth to His voluntary, ever memorable, and life-giving death, on the night on which He was delivered up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy and pure hands, and presenting it to You, God and Father, and offering thanks, blessing, sanctifying, and breaking it:
Priest: He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles saying: Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you and for the forgiveness of sins.
People: Amen.
Priest: Likewise, He took the cup of the fruit of vine, and having mingled it, offering thanks, blessing, and sanctifying it.
Priest: He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles saying: Drink of this all of you. This is my blood of the new Covenant, shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.
People: Amen.

Part of the reason for the length of the prayers is that they are an elucidation of salvation history, weaving together Old Testament and New Testament in such a way that it is clear how they both find their fulfillment in the Gospels, specifically the crucifixion, descent into Hades, and resurrection of Christ.

The Divine Liturgy is kerygmatic; one cannot attend it and actually pay attention without hearing anew the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Priest: Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim my death, and you confess my resurrection. Therefore, Master, we also, remembering His saving passion and life giving cross, His three; day burial and resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and enthronement at Your right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and awesome second coming.
Priest: We offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all.
People: We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.
Priest: Therefore, most holy Master, we also, Your sinful and unworthy servants, whom You have made worthy to serve at Your holy altar, not because of our own righteousness (for we have not done anything good upon the earth), but because of Your mercy and compassion, which You have so richly poured upon us, we dare to approach Your holy altar, and bring forth the symbols of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. We pray to You and call upon You, O Holy of Holies, that by the favor of Your goodness, Your Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon the gifts here presented, to bless, sanctify, and make this bread to be the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
(He blesses the holy Bread.)
Deacon: Amen.
Priest: And this cup to be the precious Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
(He blesses the holy Cup.)
Deacon: Amen.
(He blesses them both.)
Priest: Shed for the life and salvation of the world.
Deacon: Amen. Amen. Amen.
Priest: And unite us all to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and the Cup in the communion of the one Holy Spirit. Grant that none of us may partake of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ to judgment or condemnation; but, that we may find mercy and grace with all the saints who through the ages have pleased You: forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.
Priest: Especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary.
People: All of creation rejoices in you, O full of grace: the assembly of angels and the human race. You are a sanctified temple and a spiritual paradise, the glory from whom God was incarnate and became a child; our God, existing before all ages. He made your womb a throne, and your body more spacious than the heavens. All of creation rejoices in you, O full of grace. Glory to you.
(The Priest censes.)

While the Divine Liturgy contains a re-enactment of the Last Supper, the prayers make obvious that this is not only a remembrance, but also an entrance into the the Holy Sacrifice on the cross.  In the Divine Liturgy, we cannot help but feel our own humility before the glory of God when we listen closely to the humility of the priest's prayers and remember our own sinfulness as we contemplate Christ's sacrifice.

And while my post-Reformation Christian friends may find the prayers directed at Mary, the Mother of God to be unnerving in the honor they give to her, I am astounded by their beauty and enjoy seeing the love my brothers and sisters in the ancient churches have for our adopted mother, the Queen of Heaven who became our mother when (as the Scripture says) we became adopted sons and daughters of God through the blood of Christ.

Priest: For Saint John the prophet, forerunner, and baptist; for the holy, glorious, and most; honorable ; apostles; for Saint(s) (Name;s), whose memory we commemorate today; and for all Your saints, through whose supplications, O God, visit us. Remember also all who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life (here the priest commemorates the names of the deceased) . And grant them rest, our God, where the light of Your countenance shines. Again, we pray to You, be mindful of Your holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is from one end of the inhabited earth to the other. Grant peace to her which You have obtained with the precious blood of Your Christ. Strengthen also this holy house to the end of the ages. Remember, Lord, those who have brought You these gifts, and for whom and through whom and the intentions for which they were offered. Remember, Lord, those who bear fruit and do good works in Your holy churches, and those who remember the poor. Reward them with Your rich and heavenly gifts. Grant them in return for earthly things, heavenly gifts; for temporal, eternal; for corruptible, incorruptible. Remember, Lord, those who are in the deserts, on mountains, in caverns, and in the chambers of the earth. Remember, Lord, those living in chastity and godliness, in asceticism and holiness of life. Remember, Lord, this country and all those in public service whom you have allowed to govern on earth. Grant them profound and lasting peace. Speak to their hearts good things concerning your Church and all your people that through the faithful conduct of their duties we may live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness. Sustain the good in their goodness; make the wicked good through Your goodness. Remember, Lord, the people here presented and those who are absent with good cause. Have mercy on them and on us according to the multitude of Your mercy. Fill their treasuries with every good thing; preserve their marriages in peace and harmony; nurture the infants; instruct the youth; strengthen the aged; give courage to the faint hearted; reunite those separated; bring back those in error and unite them to Your holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Free those who are held captive by unclean spirits; sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; defend the widows; protect the orphans; liberate the captives; heal the sick. Remember, Lord, those who are in mines, in exile, in harsh labor, and those in every kind of affliction, necessity, or distress; those who entreat your loving kindness; those who love us and those who hate us; those who have asked us to pray for them, unworthy though we may be. Remember, Lord our God, all Your people, and pour out Your rich mercy upon them, granting them their petitions for salvation. Remember, O God, all those whom we have not remembered through ignorance, forgetfulness or because of their multitude since You know the name and age of each, even from their mother's womb. For You, Lord, are the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the savior of the afflicted, the haven of the voyager, and the physician of the sick. Be all things to all, You who know each person, his requests, his household, and his need. Deliver this community and city, O Lord, and every city and town, from famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, invasion of foreign enemies, and civil war.
Priest: Above all, remember, Lord, our Archbishop (Name) and our Bishop (Name): Grant that they may serve Your holy churches in peace. Keep them safe, honorable, and healthy for many years, rightly teaching the word of Your truth.
Deacon: Remember also, Lord, those whom each of us calls to mind and all your people.
People: And all Your people.

Many of the petitions contained in the prayers are common to all the Christian liturgies with which I'm familiar, such as prayers for the saints we remember on particular feast days, prayers for the Church, prayers for those in need, and prayers for the Bishops and the rest of the clergy.  These particular prayers of petition just happen to be very lengthy and eloquent while having the great theological depth we see in other ancient Christian liturgies.

Priest (in a low voice): Remember, Lord, all Orthodox bishops who rightly teach the word of Your truth. Remember Lord, my unworthiness according to the multitude of Your mercies; forgive my every transgression, both voluntary and involuntary. Do not take away the grace of Your Holy Spirit from these gifts presented because of my sins. Remember, Lord, the presbyters, the diaconate in Christ, and every order of the clergy, and do not confound any of us who stand about Your holy altar. Visit us with Your goodness, Lord; manifest Yourself to us through Your rich compassion. Grant us seasonable weather and fruitful seasons; send gentle showers upon the earth so that it may bear fruit; bless the crown of the year of Your goodness. Prevent schism in the Church; pacify the raging of the heathen. Quickly stop the uprisings of heresies by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Receive us all into Your kingdom. Declare us to be sons and daughters of the light and of the day. Grant us Your peace and love, Lord our God, for You have given all things to us.
Priest: And grant that with one voice and one heart we may glorify and praise Your most honored and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
People: Amen.
Priest: The mercy of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ be with all of you.
People: And with your spirit.
Deacon: Having remembered all the saints, let us again in peace pray to the Lord.
People: Lord, have mercy.
Deacon: For the precious Gifts offered and consecrated, let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord, have mercy.
Deacon: That our loving God who has received them at His holy, heavenly, and spiritual altar as an offering of spiritual fragrance, may in return send upon us divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray.
People: Lord, have mercy.
Deacon: Having prayed for the unity of the faith and for the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commit ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.
People: To You, O Lord.
Priest (in a low voice): Our God, the God who saves, You teach us justly to thank You for the good things which You have done and still do for us. You are our God who has accepted these Gifts. Cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach us how to live in holiness by Your fear, so that receiving the portion of Your holy Gifts with a clear conscience we may be united with the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. Having received them worthily, may we have Christ dwelling in our hearts, and may we become the temple of Your Holy Spirit. Yes, our God, let none of us be guilty before these, Your awesome and heavenly Mysteries, nor be infirm in body and soul by partaking of them unworthily. But enable us, even up to our last breath, to receive a portion of Your holy Gifts worthily, as provision for eternal life and as an acceptable defense at the awesome judgment seat of Your Christ. So that we also, together with all the saints who through the ages have pleased You, may become partakers of Your eternal good things, which You, Lord, have prepared for those who love You.
Priest: And make us worthy, Master, with confidence and without fear of condemnation, to dare call You, the heavenly God, FATHER, and to say:
People: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Priest: For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
People: Amen.
Priest: Peace be with all.
People: And with your spirit.
Deacon: Let us bow our heads to the Lord.
People: To You, O Lord.
Priest (in a low voice): Lord Master, the Father of mercies and God of every consolation, bless sanctify, guard, fortify, and strengthen those who have bowed their heads to You. Distance them from every evil deed. Lead them to every good work and make them worthy to partake without condemnation of these, Your most pure and life-giving Mysteries, for the forgiveness of sins and for the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Priest: By the grace, mercy, and love for us of Your only; begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
People: Amen. 
Priest (in a low voice): Lord Jesus Christ, our God, hear us from Your holy dwelling place and from the glorious throne of Your kingdom. You are enthroned on high with the Father and are also invisibly present among us. Come and sanctify us, and let Your pure Body and precious Blood be given to us by Your mighty hand and through us to all Your people.
Deacon: Let us be attentive.
Priest: The holy Gifts for the holy people of God.
People: One is Holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Eventually, the prayers do get shorter and quieter.  But they are no less beautiful or potent.  The priest continues to pray with humility, both for himself and for us all so that we might not be condemned by eating and drinking unworthily of the Body and Blood of Christ.

And in the midst of these prayers, the Our Father is of course present, because in any any liturgy we should pray as Jesus has taught us to pray through the oral traditions handed on to us by His disciples and their successors, later recorded in the Sacred Scripture which suffuses the liturgical prayers.

St. Basil the Great may have reformed the liturgy of his time, but it has certainly not been decreased by the reforms.  He is said to have given it a more penitential character, which is perhaps why it was used during Great Lent.

Any reform of the liturgy which can help draw us more deeply into the Repentance of Love is a worthwhile reform indeed.  St. Basil, ora pro nobis!

By Meister der Sophien-Kathedrale von Ohrid - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155191

Note: The above is a fresco depicting St. Basil the Great celebrating the divine liturgy.

No comments:

Post a Comment