Being now in the Great Lenten season in the Orthodox Church, all the faithful know and those who know certain things about the Orthodox Church would know that during this time of year on the Sundays, as well as on Great and Holy Thursday, the commemoration of the Last Supper, the Mystical Supper of Christ with his disciples, and Great and Holy Saturday, which is actually the vesperal vigil for the Feast of Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, we would know that the Orthodox Church celebrates the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Normally, almost all the time except for ten times a year, the Divine Liturgy is that which is called the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
But ten times a year the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served. It’s served on the five Sundays of Great Lent, it’s served on Great and Holy Thursday, it’s served on the Paschal Vigil on Great and Holy Saturday—both of which are evening services, actually—and then the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is also served at vigils the day before the Great Feast of the Nativity of Christ and the Great Feast of the Epiphany of Christ on the Jordan River, on those eve services: so on Pascha Eve, Christmas Eve, and Epiphany Eve, the St. Basil Liturgy is served in a vesperal liturgy. And then it’s also served on the feast day of St. Basil the Great, which happens to be the first of January, our new year, plus it’s the eighth day of Christmas, which is the celebration and remembrance of the circumcision of Christ. So this Liturgy of St. Basil is served only ten times a year.
Now we are in the Great Lenten season, and it is served every Sunday, so that’s five times. Great and Holy Thursday, Great and Holy Saturday—that’s seven times we will be serving this Liturgy during these days.
The Liturgy of the Word and the Catechumens of the St. Basil is identical to that of the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy. What is different are the prayers at the Liturgy of the Faithful, the second half of the Divine Liturgy. Some of you probably know that I am doing a series on Ancient Faith Radio that’s already started, commenting and reflecting on the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great as they are now served today in the contemporary Orthodox Church. I have actually already recorded 51 such podcasts, and I am only at the singing of the thrice-holy hymn at the Liturgy of the Word. So we’re going through the Liturgies in quite some detail. And, God willing and my health willing and Ancient Faith Radio willing, I will be commenting in detail on all of the prayers and the ritual movements and the activities of St. John Chrysostom Liturgy and St. Basil the Great Liturgy in that special podcast series called Worship in Spirit and in Truth.
My task today, however, what I would like to raise with the listeners of Ancient Faith Radio, is the content of the prayers of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The prayers are different from St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy. As a rule, they are longer, and the eucharistic anaphora, the eucharistic prayer, is really very long. It is a very long prayer. It is like one long prayer of several pages that is a dialogue, an ongoing dialogue, between the celebrant of the holy Eucharist, the celebrant of the Liturgy, and the faithful people, with, of course, the deacon often doing his part in that particular action.
I have to say, with some sadness, that because of the length of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and especially the length of the eucharistic prayer, called an anaphora… “Anaphora” means a lifting up. At the time of holy Communion, you have a prosphora, an offering, and then you have a lifting, an offering to God. That means that we the faithful make a great entrance and place upon the altar table the bread and the wine that will be consecrated, offered to God, and prayed over and consecrated to be the very body and blood of Christ himself. So we have the people offering their gifts to the Lord, the gifts of bread and wine in the New Testamental priesthood according to Melchizedek and the priesthood of Jesus Christ as described and explained in the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament.
And here we can note that at every single Divine Liturgy during Great Lent, which would be every Sunday, every Saturday, and the feast of the Annunciation—Saturdays and the Annunciation would be the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy, and Sundays and the Liturgies of Great Thursday and Great Sabbath, the blessed Sabbath, the Paschal Vigil on Great and Holy Saturday, those are the St. Basil Liturgies—but at all of them, at all of them the epistle reading, the reading from the Apostle, as we say, which is the letter to the Hebrews, it’s read at every single one of them. If a person wants to understand how the New Testamental priesthood in Jesus Christ, the one great High Priest, how it’s to be understood and envisioned, and then why the Orthodox Church does what it does in the Divine Liturgy, you can’t read anything better than the letter to the Hebrews.
I would even suggest that the letter to the Hebrews, because it’s read at every eucharistic liturgy during the lenten period and Holy Week, is something that faithful people might use as their lenten reading, that they would read the letter to the Hebrews several times, perhaps, during Great Lent, not only listening to it in church but also reading it at home, very slowly, and savoring it kind of, as they would sometimes say in the Latin tradition, a ruminatio verbum Dei, that they would chew on it, ruminate on this wonderful letter, which is so important and included in the canonical writings of the New Testament: the letter to the Hebrews. Please try to do that. Give yourself a gift. Give yourself a good present for Lent: read the letter to the Hebrews carefully and you will not regret it.
This Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that is served every Sunday during Lent and on Great Thursday and Great Saturday has this long eucharistic prayer, and this long eucharistic prayer, it seems to me, is quite clearly intended to be not only a prayer but to be a prayerful catechetical contemplation. It’s a kind of a liturgical catechesis. It’s where all the faithful, listening to these words of these prayers, of the eucharistic prayers at St. Basil’s Liturgy, they are given a detailed, a rather detailed synopsis of the Christian faith itself. It’s actually a teaching as well as a meditation. The faithful people are to rethink again, recontemplate again the center of the Christian faith through these prayers at the very center of the Church’s worship, which is the eucharistic canon, the anaphora, of the Divine Liturgy.
Only the faithful are there at that point, actually. The catechumens have been dismissed. But it’s for the faithful to go over again what they have—I’m tempted to say “allegedly”—committed themselves to and claimed their belief in on the day that they were baptized and chrismated and received holy Communion, or from the day that some adults brought the person to the Church as an infant to be baptized, to be sealed with the Holy Spirit, and to participate in holy Communion. In other words, it’s kind of a solemn liturgical review of the faith for the Christian faithful people.
Since I believe this is so, since this is so—some people may not think it’s so, but I think it’s so—and as a hypothesis, let’s say that I’m right, that this is what it is—then we have to take the next step and say: Therefore the eucharistic prayers at the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, during the Great Lenten season, should really be read aloud in a way so that the faithful people could hear what the prayers are saying, can think about them again, can recommit themselves to them, and then, of course, can offer their amen and can offer their part in actually saying this eucharistic prayer, because part of it is done by the people. Nowadays it’s done by the choir, the singers, but it should be done by all the people gathered, and therefore, when their part comes to say what they have to say, the people should have heard everything that the presiding officer, so to speak, the presiding celebrant, namely, the priest or the bishop, is actually praying out loud on behalf of all the faithful, so they can join into it, understand it, affirm it, say amen to it, and be directly involved in it.
I really believe that this is what should be done. In other words, the prayer should be read carefully, not too slowly, but not so fast that you can’t understand it, and the effort should be made to do that, however much time it will take to do it. Hopefully right now we will find out how much time it will take to do it, because I would like to read it through for you, not only so that the faithful people could know what the prayer is and what it says, but that people who are interested in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in how we pray when we go to church, that they can have some idea of how we would be praying in Great Lent and on Great and Holy Thursday, remembering the Mystical Supper of Christ with his disciples in the upper room, and on Great and Holy Saturday, the sabbath day, the eve of Holy Pascha, how we would pray as we enter into the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.
I have another reason for doing this today, and that is another thing which I believe is kind of sad, and that is that, in too many Orthodox churches, the faithful people never hear this prayer. They never hear it because it is read very quickly and very silently if it is even read at all by the celebrant of the Liturgy. That’s a very sad thing that has developed in our Orthodox Church, that the people don’t hear this marvelous catechetical prayer which is being said for their benefit, and the words are being put into their mouth, that through the celebrant the words are given. St. Benedict the Great, he said when a Christian goes to liturgy, we don’t put our mouth where our mind is; we put our mind where our mouth is. In other words, we don’t say what comes to us in our mind, but we put our mind and become mindful on the words that are actually put into our mouths and into the mouths of our bishops and priests when they are celebrating worship in spirit and truth, the very worship of the new covenanted community in Christ, and especially at the holy Eucharist, which is the central act of worship in the Christian faith: the Divine Liturgy.
I have to go further and actually say, so that people would think about this and people would know it, that sometimes that prayer is not even read by the priest. I was in a couple of churches that don’t even use St. Basil’s Liturgy in Lent. When I asked the priests about it, they say, “Oh, it’s too long. It takes too much time. Let’s just do the Chrysostom Liturgy.” Well, if any priests are doing that, they should repent. It’s not for them to decide that they’ll replace St. Basil’s Liturgy with St. John Chrysostom when St. Basil’s Liturgy is prescribed by the holy Church itself through history.
I at least met one priest who told me that he read those long prayers before the Liturgy begins, and that way he doesn’t have to take the time to read them during the Liturgy, but still at least they have been read. Well, I would congratulation that particular fellow for reading them, but they should be read during the Liturgy at the altar at the proper time and not simply be read quietly before the Liturgy even begins. I also have had the experience in some Orthodox churches where the priests does read the prayer, quickly and silently, while the choir keeps singing, kind of background music to fill in the space while the priest is very quickly rushing through the recitation of these prayers.
And one priest I remember actually told me that his bishop insisted to all of the presbyters that when they celebrate the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, they are to say these prayers at the altar during the Liturgy, not skip them and not put them at some other time, but the same bishop said you’ve got to read them quickly and quietly. And in one church where that was being done—I’m a witness of this—the choir kept singing the parts of the eucharistic canon that belong to the people while the priest is saying these prayers. And in one church they actually started singing the hymn for the feast of St. Basil the Great, the Church’s hymn to St. Basil. And when I asked about it afterwards, they said, “Well, we have so much time there because the prayers are so long that we just thought, well, we’ll honor St. Basil whose prayers are being said by the priest—that we can’t hear—and cover over the prayer so that he could read it through quickly and we could”—you might almost say—“get through this as quickly as we can.”
Well, Liturgy is not something you get through. It’s a work that you perform, and it’s a work done by the celebrant and the concelebrants and the deacons and the servers and the singers and the readers. It’s a corporate action of all of us together, and it’s supposed to be done for the sake of the edification, inspiration, sanctification of all the people present. So it just seemed to me that it’s very hard to make a convincing argument that this eucharistic prayer of Basil should be done quickly and quietly and gotten through as quickly as possible.
I have to tell a story here, interrupt myself to tell a story that happened to me once with the present Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church of America. Archbp. Demetrios at the time was a bishop, and he was a member of the faculty at Holy Cross Seminary, the theological seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, and he was also a professor at Harvard Theological School, teaching the New Testament, a very learned man. He was leading a retreat once for college students. This was in the 1970s. And I was participating in that retreat as kind of the pastor of the retreat. I had to arrange for the services, and I had to make sure all that we needed was there, because we were serving in a great hall at a university, not in a church building; make sure we had antimins to serve on, make sure we had the bread and the wine and everything. And then I was involved with hearing the confessions of the young people who were there, and there were a few hundred.
Well, Bishop Demetrios at the time said to me, “Fr. Thomas, we have to serve the Liturgy here tomorrow morning, and we should go over how we’re going to do it, what we’re going to do, because we’re not in a normal place—we’re in this strange place to do this Liturgy—and make sure everything will go okay.” So I said, “Of course, of course, Your Grace. Let’s do that.” He said, “When can we do it?” I said, “Well, why don’t we do it after vespers?” He said, “Fine.” But then I realized that after vespers had been scheduled confessions, those of the young people who wanted to come to confession. So I said to the bishop, “Oh, I have to hear confessions of these young people.” He said, “Go ahead and do that, and then when you’re finished, we’ll go over the Liturgy.”
So the confessions started after vespers, and I actually finished at three o’clock in the morning. I mean, there were so many penitents, young people coming, going to confession, and so on. I was there practically alone. But anyway, I was hearing, doing my duties. But then when finally it was the last student had come, and I turned the lights on in the hall, I saw the bishop sitting there. Well, my first thought was, “Why didn’t he come and help me and hear confessions, too?” But he didn’t; I’m sure he had some reason for that. But in any case, I said, “Oh, Your Grace! You’re still here. Oh, it’s too bad.” Then I said—[Laughter]—the fateful words—I said, “You should have just gone to sleep. You didn’t need to wake up…” And then I said what I really shouldn’t have said; I said, “Because, you know, we can get through the Liturgy. We can get through the Liturgy okay.” And he looked and me and he said words that still ring in my words. He said, “Father Tom, a Liturgy, a Divine Liturgy, is not something you get through.” It’s not something you get through.
So we actually went through what we were going to do, and we had actually a few challenges there. We discovered we didn’t have a proper altar chalice cover, so we had to get those in the morning from a nearby church, and who would bring them over for us. But in any case, Liturgy is not something you get through; it’s worship. And it involves everybody who’s there, from the celebrant—a bishop, a priest—to whoever is there, the smallest child. Liturgy means a common act, and the prayers should be common and they should be heard.
There may be reasons, historically, why some of these prayers were skipped or were done quickly or were practically muttered or silently done, but it’s understandable. You can explain probably why under certain conditions in Church history that would have been the case, but now in America and in most places, there’s no reason why not just to take the time at least ten times a year—ten times a year is not that much, you know—to actually read these prayers. They could be read rather briskly. St. John of Kronstadt, one great priest of the Orthodox Church, said, in general, it’s not good to drag things out in church and read things emotionally and slowly; you read it as you read it, in a dignified manner, but it still should be read and it should be heard and it should be done. So we have this great opportunity during Great Lent—which is called in the Church services a gift given to us by the crucified Christ for the sake of our salvation—we have this chance during Great Lent to actually say and pray and hear and contemplate these marvelous words, which are a synopsis and a summary of the Christian faith itself for the benefit of all the faithful.
So I’m going to read the prayers to you. I’m going to read the prayer of the offering, the prosphora, we might say; and then the prayer of the anaphora, the lifting up, the offering up to God, of the bread and the wine to become, by the Holy Spirit dwelling upon us, the very body and blood of Christ for our holy Communion, for the forgiveness of our sins, for the healing of our souls and bodies, and for the attaining of everlasting life.
The offertory prayer goes like this:
O Lord our God, you have created us and brought us into this life. You have shown to us the ways to salvation. You have bestowed on us the revelation of heavenly mysteries. You are the one who has appointed us to this service in the power of your Holy Spirit. Therefore, Lord, count us worthy to be ministers of your new covenant and servants of your holy mysteries. Through the greatness of your mercy, accept us as we draw near to your holy altar, so that we may be worthy to offer to you this reasonable, spiritual, bloodless sacrifice for our sins and for the ignorances of the people.
Having received it upon your holy, heavenly, and ideal altar above the heavens as a sweet spiritual fragrance, send down upon us in return the grace of your all-Holy Spirit. Look upon us, God, and behold this our service. Receive it as you received the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the whole-burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, the peace-offerings of Samuel. Even as you received from your holy apostles this true worship, so now in your goodness accept these gifts from the hands of us sinners, Lord, that, having been accounted worthy to serve, without scandal, without offense, at your holy altar, we may receive the rewards of wise and faithful stewards on the awesome day of your just retribution.
Through the compassions of your only-begotten Son with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
And then you have the beginning of the eucharistic anaphora. The deacon says, “Let us stand upright. Let us stand with fear. Let us pay attention; let us attend, that we may offer the holy oblation in peace.” And then the people respond: “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” In other words, a mercy-offering, a praise-offering, a peace offering.
And then the celebrant faces the people and says the words of the Apostle Paul that end [the] second Corinthian letter: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” and the people respond, “And with your spirit.” Then the celebrant says, “Let us lift up our hearts,” and the people say, “We lift them to the Lord; we have [lifted] them to the Lord.” Then the celebrant says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord—Evcharistēsōmen tō Kyriō,” in Greek.
Let us offer the eucharistic thanksgiving. Let us lift up our hearts. Let us give thanks to the Lord. And then the response is: “It is meet and right” or “It is proper and right, worthy and right so to do.” And in the Russian tradition, there’s words even added there: “It is meet and right to worship the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” In the Greek practice, the words are only, “It is fitting and proper,” meaning, to make this offering.
Then the long prayer begins.
O Existing One, Master, Lord God, Father almighty and adorable, it is truly proper and right and befitting the magnificence of your holiness to praise you, to sing to you, to bless you, to worship you, to give you thanks, and to glorify you, the only truly existing God, and to offer to you this our reasonable, spiritual worship…
And by the way, that’s a quotation of St. Paul: logikē latreia, from the letter to the Romans
...our reasonable worship with a contrite heart and a spirit of humility. For you have granted us the knowledge of your truth. Who can utter your mighty acts or make all your praises known, or tell of all your wonders at all times? O Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, visible and invisible, who sits upon the throne of glory and beholds the depths, without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, unchanging, O Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself the great God and Savior, our hope, who is the image of your goodness, the very seal of your likeness, showing forth in himself you, O Father, Jesus Christ, the living Word, the true God, the eternal Wisdom, the Life, the sanctification, the power, the true light, through whom the Holy Spirit was revealed, who is the Spirit of truth, the gift of divine sonship, the pledge of future inheritance, the firstfruits of eternal blessings, the life-creating power, the fountain of sanctification, through whom every creature of reason and understanding worships you and always sings to you a hymn of glory, for all things are your servants.
You are praised by angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, and many-eyed cherubim. Round about you stand the seraphim, one with six wings, the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly, crying to one another with unceasing voices and ever-resounding praises, singing the triumphal hymn, the victory hymn, shouting, proclaiming, and saying:
And then everybody sings together:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
Now, we can see that all of these were strings of quotations from the Bible, which I will comment on the other podcast series when we come to it. But here I just want you to hear how this prayer continues. So everybody sings:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
Then the celebrant continues the prayer.
With these blessed angelic powers, O Master, Lover of humanity, we sinners also cry aloud, and we say: You are holy, truly most-holy, and there are no bounds to the magnificence of your holiness. You are gracious in all your deeds, for with righteousness and true judgment you have ordered all things for us. When you created human beings by taking dust from the earth, you honored them with your own image, O God. You set them in a paradise of delight, promising eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of your commandments.
But when man disobeyed you, the true God who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, you, O God, in your righteous judgment, sent him forth from paradise into this present world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in your Christ himself.
For you did not turn yourself away forever from your creature whom you had made, O Good One, nor did you forget the work of your hands. Through the tender compassion of your mercy, you visited him in various ways. You sent prophets. You performed mighty works by your saints, who in every generation were well-pleasing to you. You spoke to us by the mouth of your servants, the prophets, for telling to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the Law as a help. You appointed angels as guardians.
And when the fullness of time had come, you spoke to us through your own very Son himself, by whom you also created the ages, who, being the radiance of your glory and the exact image of your person, upholding all things by the word of his power, thought it not robbery to be equal to you, the God and Father. He was God before the ages, yet he appeared on earth and lived among men, becoming incarnate of a holy Virgin. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being likened to the body of our lowliness, that he might liken us to the image of his divine glory. For as by man sin entered into the world and by sin, death, so it pleased you, your only-begotten Son who was in the bosom of you, the God and Father, who was born of a woman, the holy Theotokos, the Ever-Virgin Mary, who was born under the Law, to condemn sin in his flesh, so that those who were dead in Adam might be made alive in your Christ himself.
He lived in this world, and he gave us commandments of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, he brought us to knowledge of you, the only true God and Father. He obtained us for his own chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Having cleansed us in water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, he gave himself as a ransom to death, in which we were held captive, sold under sin, and, descending through the Cross into Hades, that he might fill all things with himself, he loosed the pangs of death, he arose on the third day, having made for all flesh a path to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible for the Author of Life to be a victim of corruption.
So he became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, the firstborn of the dead, that he might be himself truly the first in all things, and, ascending into heaven, he sat down at the right hand of your majesty on high, and he will come to render to every person according to their works. And as memorials of his saving passion, he has left us these things which we have set forth according to his command.
Meaning the bread and the wine.
For when he was about to go forth to his voluntary and ever-memorable and life-creating death, in the night in which he gave himself up for the life of the world, he took bread into his holy and pure hands, and having shown it to you, the God and Father, having given thanks and blessed it and hallowed it and broken it, he gave it to his holy disciples and apostles, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins.”
And everyone sings: “Amen.”
Likewise, he took the cup of the fruit of the vine, and having mingled it with water and given thanks, he blessed it and hallowed it, and he gave it to his holy disciples and apostles, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you and for the multitude, for many, for the remission of sins.”
And all the faithful sing, “Amen.” The celebrant continues:
“Do this in remembrance of me, for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim my death; you confess my resurrection.” Therefore, we also, O Master, remembering his saving passion and life-creating cross, his three-day burial and resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven and sitting at your right hand of the God and Father, and his glorious and awesome second coming…”
And then the celebrant, or if there’s a deacon, the deacon, [he lifts] up the bread and wine. That’s the anaphora: they raise it up. And then the prayer continues. I’ll go back and show how it continues.
...his ascension into heaven and sitting at your right hand of the God and Father, and his glorious and awesome second coming, offering to you your own of your own, on behalf of all and for all.
And that might be translated, “Offering to you that which is yours, on behalf of everyone and everything.” Then everybody joins in and sings:
We praise you, we bless you, we give thanks to you, O Lord, and we pray unto you, O our God.
And that’s the high point of the eucharistic anaphora:
...offering to you your own of your own, on behalf of all and for all—
We praise you, we bless you, we give thanks to you, O Lord, and we pray unto you, O our God.
Then the celebrant continues:
Therefore, most-holy Master, we also, your sinful and unworthy servants, whom you have permitted to serve at your holy altar, not because of our righteousness, for we have done nothing good upon the earth, but because of your mercy and compassion, which you have so richly poured out on us, we now dare to approach your holy altar, and offering to you the antitypes of your 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 these gifts of bread and wine, now offered to bless, to hallow, and to show this bread to be the precious body of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And we say, “Amen.”
And this cup to be the precious blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And we say, “Amen.”
Shed for the life of the world.
And it’s said: “Amen. Amen. Amen.” And then he continues.
And unite us all to one another, who become partakers of the one bread and the one 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 for judgment or for condemnation; instead, may we find mercy and grace with all the saints, who through the ages have been well-pleasing to you: ancestors, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith, and especially with (we offer this especially with)—our most-holy, most-pure, most-blessed and glorious Lady, Theotokos, Mother of God, and Ever-Virgin Mary.
And then all the people sing the hymn to the Mother of God:
All of creation rejoices in you, O full of grace: the assembly of angels and the race of men. O sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, the glory of virgins, from whom God was incarnate and became a Child, our God before the ages. He made your body into a throne, and your womb he made more spacious than the heavens. All of creation rejoices in you, O full of grace; glory to you.
And then the celebrant continues by remembering the saints of the day and then remembering everything that he can possibly remember for exactly three pages of remembrances. I will not read the remembrances, but there are 16 times in that particular continuation where he says, “Remember”:
Remember all those fallen asleep. (That means the departed.) Remember the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Remember those who offer these gifts and through whom and for whom they are offered. Remember all those who are doing good in your churches. Remember all of those who are in deserts, mountains, caverns, pits of the earth. (That’s the monastics.) Remember all those who live in chastity, godliness, austerity, and holiness of life. Remember this country. Remember all the people dwelling in it.
And it just keeps saying, “Remember… remember… remember…” And then at the end, it’s very even kind of cute. When you say 16 Remembers, then the prayer actually comes to a conclusion where the celebrant says:
And remember yourself, O God, all those whom we have not remembered, through ignorance, forgetfulness, or the multitude of names, since you know the name and the age of each person, even from his mother’s womb. For you, Lord, art the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the savior of the bestormed, the haven of the voyager, the physician of the sick. Be all things to all people, you who know each man and his request, his home, and his need. Deliver this city and every city and country from famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, terrors, invasion by enemies, civil war, and among the first, remember, O Lord, our bishop—
And then the name of the bishop is said, and then there are more remembrances afterwards for the clergy, for everyone gathered, and then the whole thing ends with these words:
Prevent schisms among the churches. Pacify the ragings of pagans. Quickly destroy uprisings of heresies by the power of your Holy Spirit. Receive us all into your kingdom, showing us to be sons of the light and sons of the day. Grant us your peace and your love, O Lord our God, for you have given all things unto us. And grant that with one mouth and one heart, we may praise your all-honorable and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.
Now, my reading of that anaphora prayer, even though I did not read all of the remembrances, took exactly, according to the timer on my recording machine, it took exactly 19 minutes. If those remembrances that I didn’t read even took another five minutes, we would be saying that whole activity, when it would be done out loud, certainly would not take more than 25 minutes. Now, if you compare that to St. John Chrysostom Liturgy, which is much shorter—still there is an anaphora at St. John Chrysostom’s, which certainly takes at least 15 minutes—so what you’re talking about is you’re only adding, in the length of time, clock-time, ten or 15 minutes to the service to have these beautiful prayers read out loud so people could understand them and pray them and get into them and learn from them.
And we saw how those first prayers, leading up to the night when he was betrayed and gave himself up for the life of the world, we saw how that was a synopsis and a summary of the whole Christian faith. It speaks about how we were created and then we fell, and then God didn’t give up on us and he kept sending us angels and prophets and gave the Law and everything, then finally he sends his Son, and we know that these are all strung together from the Scripture: long quotations from the letter to the Hebrews, long quotations from the Philippian letter, long quotations from other letters. It’s such a marvelous, marvelous treasure. Why can’t everybody be given the chance to really get into that treasure and to receive it and to thank God for it?
I think our Church may be the only church on earth that when we finish the Divine Liturgy we actually have a prayer of thanksgiving to God for allowing us to make the prayer of thanksgiving at the Liturgy! We give thanks for the opportunity to give thanks.
Well, St. Basil’s Liturgy is served ten times a year. Can’t we offer God another 15 or 20 minutes, ten times a year, especially during the Great Lenten season, especially on Great and Holy Thursday, especially on the Vigil of Holy Pascha on Great and Holy Saturday, especially on the eve of Christmas and the eve of Epiphany and on the feast of St. Basil? Can’t we, ten times a year, read this marvelously beautiful prayer? Piously, solemnly, not too slowly, not dragging it out, not with kind of theatrics, but just read it. Read it and pray it and worship it, and make it to be that long prayer of the celebrant with the people, in and out, which is so gorgeously, divinely beautiful.
May God help us during this Great Lenten season, and may our bishops and our priests and all of our people really want, with all their heart, to pray and worship God Almighty in spirit and in truth, through the crucified and risen Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to really have true worship—Orthodoxy means true worship—have true worship in all of our churches and monasteries and everywhere. Let’s not just cut things for expediency or hurry through things because they take too long. What is “too long” anyway? People sit at a football game for five, six hours every Sunday, four hours. We can’t give another 15 minutes to this particular beauty, this gift of God, given to us by the crucified and glorified Christ?
O Lord, grant us the grace to accept this gift and to use it properly, to receive it, to do it, to do it all together, the way you, O God, obviously, would really want us to do it.