Friends, this is Fr. Thomas Hopko, reflecting on the Divine Liturgy as celebrated today in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in some of the Greek Catholic churches that use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and also the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. In the Liturgy of the Faithful, as we mentioned already several times, once we come to the Liturgy of the Faithful, you have two sets of prayers. The prayers differ between the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great; they are not the same. During the Liturgy of the Word, everything is the same, but in the Liturgy of the Faithful, the prayers are different. The actions are pretty much the same, but the prayers, as we will see, are quite different. Generally, they are longer in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.
As we mentioned also earlier many times, the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served ten times in the liturgical year. It is served on the eve of Pascha, Christmas/Nativity, and Epiphany, and it is served on the feast of St. Basil the Great; it is served on Great and Holy Thursday, and it is served on the Sundays of Great Lent. This Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, it seems to me that it’s pretty clear that these prayers are intentionally catechetical in the Liturgy of St. Basil, much moreso than in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. In other words, you have many more references and repetitions of the economy of salvation in the St. Basil Liturgy. You have practically the retelling of the holy oikonomia of God in the eucharistic anaphora there.
This would make an argument, at least to me, that these prayers, especially the anaphora prayer, was meant to be read out loud for everybody to hear as a way of checking their fidelity to the Orthodox Christian faith. Don’t forget that Lent was a period of accepting one’s baptism. It was a time for training catechumens, but it was also the time where the faithful of the Church would be checked by the clergy to see: do they really accept their baptism, do they really follow what they promised or what someone promised in their name on the day of their baptism and chrismation and the first holy Communion as a member of the body of Christ? In fact, the practice of making confession, having confession, during a lenten period was not only because it was a period of repentance, a time when people would check their life and repent of their sins and come and ask to be forgiven, but it was also a time where they would actually reaffirm their faith.
Sometimes it’s said that in the Orthodox Church there is no service of reaffirming one’s faith as a member of the Church, but in fact that is not true. That is a regular part of the Divine Liturgy all the time, including the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. As we’ll see when we come to the recitation or the singing of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, it seems pretty clear that that was an official and formal acceptance of one’s baptism and of the faith of the Church. If a person did not know what that faith was and did not commit to it totally, then that excluded them from Communion, unless they admitted that they were struggling with it, that they were trying to understand, they weren’t picketing against it or whatever. But to know what the faith is substantially and to accept it is absolutely essential to the Christian life, and we find that constantly affirmed in the liturgical worship of the Orthodox Church.
So the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, especially the long eucharistic prayers, where everything is kind of repeated and quoted from the holy Scriptures… So many references to the Scripture; we will show that. But here we see that the references to the Scripture are to the preparation to the final and great sacrifice of Christ on the cross to God the Father by taking upon himself the sins of the world and that all of the sacrifices of the old covenant are fulfilled in the once-and-for-all only sacrifice of Christ himself of his own life, his own flesh, his own blood, in human flesh upon the cross for the sake of the life of the world.
In the Torah of Moses, we know that there was a whole system of sacrificial offerings that were made by the priests. There was a formal Levitical priesthood whose task it was to make offerings on behalf of themselves and on behalf of the ignorance or the unwittingness of the people. Here I just have to remark: once I met a priest who would never say that [part] in the prayer where it says, “For my ignorance and the ignorance of the people,” because he said it sounds like you’re putting the people down, offering prayers for the ignorance of the people, but that’s what the priest is doing, but he’s one of the people himself. The Old Testament priests had to offer the sacrifices for themselves, and there were even special sacrifices that they had to offer when they sinned in particular ways.
If we would just look even at Leviticus or Numbers, we see all the different kinds of offerings that there were and sacrifices, and what they were. There was the guilt-offering, there was the sin-offering, there was the peace-offering, there was the thank-offering, there was the praise-offering. There were all these different kinds of offerings that were made. And then there were the offerings and the sacrifices that were made when some person had been in a direct and conscious touch, so to speak, contact with an activity of God himself among his people. So everything that had to do with birth and death and life put a kind of hex on a person, because they had been in the presence of God and had touched something divine, and therefore they had to offer a sacrifice.
For example, anything that had to do with menstruation and bearing of children, or with the emission of semen on the part of the man, when those things happened, then special sacrificial offerings had to be made so that they could be kind of forgiven, whatever sins they had, because they had been included in a very holy act, touching something holy. Blood was this way. Any time you were in touch with blood, the blood wasn’t touched; the blood was belonging to God. The life of every creature is in the blood, and this is why it’s so amazing when Christ says, “Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood.” Well, the high priest didn’t drink the blood, and nobody drank the blood in the Old Testament. You couldn’t even touch it. If you bled, you were somehow in a situation of uncleanness. If you were sick, if you had boils, if you had leprosy, if you had these kind of things, it meant God was directly acting in your life and there were sacrificial offerings to be made so that one could remain in communion with God. There was a whole system about that and what needed to be offered at every one. So when a woman had a baby, a particular offering had to be made. When someone was in touch with death, a particular offering had to be made.
So there were these offerings and sacrifices in the old covenant and with the old covenant priesthood, but we say again and again and again once again that all this is fulfilled in the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ of his own life, his own flesh, his own blood, his own self to God the Father through his passion and death on the cross. Without blood there is no redemption, according to Scripture. The life has to be given; it has to be poured out. This is why, of course, when the question was made about the Christians, what would be their relationship, let’s say, to pagan meals and so on, well, it was said, “We live by faith, by grace now, and all this has been fulfilled in Jesus, but still we cannot eat the animals that have been strangled or the animals with their blood.” That was one of the things that was not allowed to the Christians even then in the New Testament, and of course [to] not be involved in the sexual orgies of the unbelieving Gentiles, the so-called spiritual part of the law of God: loving father and mother, loving neighbor as oneself, helping the poor and the needy. So there are these different aspects of the Torah, and they’re all fulfilled in Christ.
The Christian people had to be reminded of all of that, and of course one big thing about Christianity is it completely and totally accepts the Old Testament, the activities of God in Israel, the intervention of God in the life of the world through his people, completely, because there were Christians who said the God of the Old Testament was a God of vengeance and judgment and wrath and was not even the same God as the God of Jesus; there were those kind of teachings. But the Christians said no, and then the Christians interpreted all of the sacrificial acts of the old covenant, all of the acts of worship, as well as all of that particular history, all of that warfare and the enemies of God and God’s people having to conquer the other enemies because there were wars between the gods to show who was the true and the real God. Well, the true and the real God, the Christians claim, is the Father of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s why even the Creed will speak about the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophets. We know that there were certain people, like the Samaritans; the Samaritan teaching was that they would accept the Torah but not the prophets’ teaching.
But for the Christians as for the mainline Jews, the Torah and wisdom writings and the prophetic writings were all considered to be inspired by God Almighty as pedagogical and foreshadowing the ultimate fulfillment of all things in Jesus Christ. So that’s why the new covenant worship, the worship in spirit and in truth, it gathers together, so to speak, and fulfills all of the activities of worship that is in the old covenant, and it has just one High Priest according to Melchizedek, and that is Jesus. The old priesthood is done away with, and you have the new priesthood of the new covenant. But there is still a continuity with the Old Testament. St. Basil’s Liturgy is showing that in its prayers quite profoundly. The creation stories, the Old Testament oikonomia, the Incarnation of Christ: that’s all in the prayers of the Church, and the connection is made.
Here we have at the offertory, when the bread and wine is brought to the altar, placed upon the altar with the particular prayers, which are exactly the same for St. Basil Liturgy and for St. John Chrysostom, placing the bread and the wine upon the altar, saying the prayer of the Noble Joseph, having laid down his life and descended into death. All of that is there as well as the completion of the 51st Psalm; it’s there. That ritual part is the same, but the actual offertory prayer itself is what is different; otherwise it’s the same.
We commented last time on the offertory prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Now I’d like just to read and comment very briefly, because it’s pretty straightforward, on this very same prayer in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Here we also want to mention that in these prayers which we see are longer and more extensive, you have this very particular catechetical dimension that is showing what the faith of the Church is. In the translations into English that we have and that we use, are commonly used, I believe that I could not find a translation into English of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. I’m sure it exists there, but the translation done in England by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the translation done at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, do not include the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. It’s just simply not included in the service book; it’s not there. But in the Antiochian Liturgikon and in the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) service book, you do have the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and you do have the English translations of these prayers.
First let me read the offertory prayer sometimes called the prayer of the proskomidia—proskomidia means the offering—that is said in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. In the Antiochian prayer book it even says that it is done while the litany is going on, silently by the priest, and basically it seems to be a meditation for the priest himself. When the Gifts are placed upon the holy table, then he, the priest, says aloud only the ending, the ekphonesis, the completion of the prayer. That is what is said. In the Slavonic service book, it says exactly the same thing that that prayer is done while the litany is being chanted by the deacon or by another priest; that prayer is read. But again, I would like to say that, since we have such different conditions today and that the people in the churches, in America, at least, are smaller, the people are more informed, they have the texts of the services in front of them, especially in the OCA—and that includes the Romanian translation as well, the translation of the Romanian Episcopate. It also has a translation of the St. Basil prayer, and the Liturgikon has it as well.
Let me begin by reading the prayer as it is found in the Liturgikon, with the instruction that says it is read by the celebrant while the litany is going on. This is what it says.
O Lord our God who hast created us and has brought us into this life, who hast shown us ways of salvation, graciously bestowing upon us the revelation of heavenly mysteries, thou art he who hath appointed us to this ministry by the power of thy Holy Spirit, graciously grant us therefore, O Lord, to be servitors of thy new covenant, ministers of thy holy mysteries. Receive us who draw near to thy holy altar according to the fullness of thy mercy, that we may be worthy to offer unto thee this rational and bloodless sacrifice, for our sins and for the ignorance of the people, which do thou receive upon thy holy, heavenly, and spiritual altar as a savor of sweetness. Send down upon us in return the grace of thy Holy Spirit. Look upon us, O God, and behold this our worship and receive it as thou didst receive the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the burnt-offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, the peace-offerings of Samuel. Even as thou didst receive at the hands of thy holy apostles this true worship, so also do thou, in thy goodness, O Lord, receive from the hands of us sinners these gifts, that, having been accounted worthy to minister at thy holy altar, we may receive the recompense of wise and faithful stewards in the fearful day of thy just requiting. Through the compassions of thine only-begotten Son, with whom thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
I’ll read the same prayer as it’s translated in the service book of the Orthodox Church in America, the offertory prayer of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. This is how it is rendered in that book.
O Lord our God, who hast created us and brought us into this life, who hast shown us the ways to salvation and bestowed on us the revelation of heavenly mysteries, thou art the one who hast appointed us to this service in the power of thy Holy Spirit. Therefore, O Lord, enable us (or count us worthy) to be ministers of thy new testament and servants of thy holy mysteries. Through the greatness of thy mercy, accept us as we draw near to thy holy altar so that we may be worthy to offer to thee this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice, for our sins and for the errors of thy people. Having received it upon thy holy, heavenly, and ideal altar as a sweet spiritual fragrance, send down upon us in return the grace of thy Holy Spirit. Look down on us, O God, and receive this our service; receive it as thou didst receive the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the whole-burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace-offerings of Samuel. Even as thou didst receive from thy holy apostles this true worship, so now in thy goodness accept these gifts from the hands of us sinners, O Lord, that having been accounted worthy to serve without offense (without shame) at thy holy altar, we may receive the reward of wise and faithful stewards on the awesome (or dread) day of thy just retribution. Through the compassion of thine only-begotten Son, with whom thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
What can we notice here that we should notice? First of all, it begins with creation. It’s a kind of a very important point, especially in St. Basil Liturgy. It all begins with God creating the world and bringing us into this life. It’s all about God showing to us through his activities among his people Israel the ways to salvation. It’s all about God bestowing on us the revelation of the heavenly mysteries. That’s very important, because some people, they interpret the Old Testament as “Well, that’s one particular people’s version about God.” Well, one of the things that the Jews and the Christians—Orthodox ones, anyway—really affirm is that the holy Scripture, the word of God, the old and new covenant Scriptures, they’re God’s version of us! They’re God’s revelation of himself to us. They are not our understanding of God; they’re God’s understanding of himself and the giving of that understanding to those who are prepared and who are ready to receive it and to obey it and to follow it. Here it is that again it’s the Lord our God who is the main actor here in the worship in spirit and in truth, and it is here as a gift of God.
Then you have in this prayer the affirmation that it is God who has appointed us—and that means the bishop and the priests, I think, first and foremost, but together with all the baptized and chrismated members of the Church who are participating in the Divine Liturgy and the holy eucharistic worship—God has appointed us to this ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it’s no longer the case of a tribal priesthood, a Levitical priesthood, that you become a priest by flesh and blood: if your father was a priest, you’re a priest, and there’s a priestly clan in the Church—there is not. Now, we notice when we’re even reflecting on the priesthood in the Orthodox Church, there developed a kind of priestly caste, especially where we have married priests.
For example, in main countries like Greece and Russia and the Middle East and in Romania, so many priests are the sons of priests or the nephews of priests or are in families that have priests. So that’s there, but it’s not a necessity and it’s not automatic. There has to be a calling from God, a personal calling of God to the exercise of the Christian priesthood, the episcopate. It’s a calling which may be given to anyone in the Church who qualifies and has the qualities necessary to exercise this function.
When I mentioned the ordination of the presbyter at the Great Entrance in a recent podcast, I pointed out from the Scripture what is required of those who can serve as bishops and presbyters and deacons within the Christian Church. There are very, very specific requirements that are made, which would be a really good idea if we would follow; they’re followed practically nowhere and they’re broken everywhere, and it’s all some kind of explanation. We should really be much stricter about preparation and testing of those who are ordained. I quoted Chrysostom in that particular podcast, who said every cause of disruption and schism in the Church, besides being the ignorance of the holy Scripture, is the irresponsible way in which hands are laid upon men to become clergy, priests and bishops. It’s a very serious business.
Here this prayer affirms that it is God who appoints the clergy to their ministry, and it’s done by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then the prayer is made: “Grant us graciously, therefore, O Lord, to be servitors of the new covenant (or the new testament), ministers of thy holy mysteries. Receive us who draw near to thy holy altar according to the fullness of thy mercy, that we may be worthy to offer unto thee”—and then you have this famous phrase from the letter to the Romans that I’ve commented on and will continue to comment on—“that we may offer to thee”—it says in the OCA translation—“this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice.” In the Liturgikon of the Antiochian Church it says, “this rational and bloodless sacrifice, for our own sins and for the ignorance of the people.” That is the famous logikē latreia.
Here we will again quote St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. He said, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters. I beg you to offer to yourselves to God as a spiritual sacrifice, and not only yourselves but your bodies, to offer your bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice, which is our Christian logikē latreia.” So the Christians’ worship in spirit and in truth is the offering of themselves, together with Christ, to God the Father in Jesus Christ by the calling and the power and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, a matter of calling. This is extremely, extremely important. I don’t think we could really say anything that’s more important than that.
I’ll read that sentence from Paul from the RSV: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren”—that means “brothers and sisters”—“by the mercies of God—you see, it’s God’s mercy, it’s God’s gift, it’s God’s grace—“to present (or to offer) your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” That term, logikē, which is translated “rational” or “reasonable” or “spiritual” (and then latreia means “worship”), I already mentioned that I simply think it means “human.” It’s what Christians offer. It’s the ultimate sacrifice.
It’s no longer cows and bulls and goats and birds. It’s ourselves, together with Christ who offered himself, fulfilling all of these Old Testament sacrifices, like of Abel, which was the sacrifice acceptable, and then Cain kills Abel because his sacrifice is not. Then you have Noah making sacrifices. You have Abraham making burnt-offerings. You have Moses and Aaron in an officially established priestly office. You have Samuel continuing the peace-offerings. Then when it says, “Even as thou didst receive them from the holy apostles, this true worship…” So this “true worship” is received from the holy apostles. They did the same thing, offering the logikē latreia, offering their bodies as a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord.
Here I once heard a priest say to people that the apostles celebrated the Divine Liturgy in exactly the same way we do today. It says in the Scripture, in the Liturgy itself of St. Basil, that “receive from us as you did from the holy apostles this true worship.” Well, that does not mean the text of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. It means the content of their true worship, the worship in spirit and truth, was the offering of their own bodies, together with Christ. And that bread and wine stands for their body and blood, it stands for Christ’s, it stands for ours. It’s our food, it what makes us to be what we are, and this is mentioned here in the Basil offertory prayer. It’s not in the Chrysostom offertory prayer, but it is in the Basil offertory prayer.
So it says—again, I’ll read the translation from the Liturgikon: “That we may be worthy to offer unto thee this rational and bloodless sacrifice.” You see, the sacrifice without blood, without the shedding of blood of bulls and calves and goats. Of course, here the epistle to the Hebrews is really important, because it shows how all this is fulfilled in Christ and how this is what we do in the Christian Church. The letter to the Hebrews is probably the most important liturgical book in the New Testament collection, canonical New Testament collection of writings—that, and the Apocalypse in its own way—to show how the priesthood of Christ is acting in the Church of Christ, and how it fulfills everything from the Old Testament, all the sacrificial rituals of the old covenant.
And it’s for our sins and for the ignorance of the people. Christ’s sacrifice was not for his own sins—he didn’t have any—but it certainly was for the errors and ignorances of the people. Christ did that for all people, including all the Gentiles. It’s a completely covering sacrifice that covers all of the offerings of the human race to God and fulfills them all so that then we could really be who we are created to be by God from the very beginning, which he has prepared through the whole Old Testament history and finally fulfilled in the person of the Messiah, the messianic Suffering Servant, the messianic High Priest, with the priesthood according to Melchizedek, who is Jesus Christ himself.
You have here also a direct reference to the letter to the Hebrews. It says, “to offer this spiritual worship,” your body as a living sacrifice which is our spiritual worship, “which do thou receive upon thy holy, most-heavenly, and spiritual altar,” and you could say above the heavens or in the heavens, “as a savor of sweetness. And then send down upon us in return for our offering the grace of thy Holy Spirit.” The OCA translation puts it this way: “Having received it upon thy holy, heavenly, and ideal altar as a sweet spiritual fragrance, send upon us in return the grace of thy Holy Spirit.” So as we offer ourselves together with Christ together with God, that’s inspired by the Spirit, and then the result of it is the participation in the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Then the prayer continues: “Look down on us, O God, and receive this our service,” receive this our latreia, our worship. And then it goes through: “as you received the gifts” of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Aaron, Samuel, and then ultimately the holy apostles themselves in Christ, as is shown from the earliest time in the letter to the Hebrews, understood and shown.
Then the prayer continues: “And so now”—this is the OCA. “And so now, in thy goodness, accept these gifts from the hands of us sinners, O Lord.” So: accept these gifts, this bread and this wine that stands for ourselves and puts us together with Christ and makes us be brought by Christ into thy divine presence above the heavens, on the altar above the heavens.
Then it says, “And having been accounted worthy to serve without offense” or without defilement or without shame—they could have different translations there—“at thy holy altar, we may receive the reward of wise and faithful stewards.” That’s, of course, a New Testament expression about the bishops: the stewards of the various graces of God. And steward is the one who does the work of the master but is not the master himself. And then it says, “that we may receive the reward of being wise and faithful stewards, wise and faithful servants, on the awesome day (or dread day, fearful day) of thy just retribution.” That, of course, means the final judgment at the end of the ages. In the Liturgikon it says, “that, having been accounted worthy to minister at thy holy altar, we may receive the recompense of wise and faithful stewards in the fearful day of thy just requiting,” when we give an account of our ministry to God.
And then it ends with a doxology, and it’s a Christocentric doxology this time: “Through the compassions of thine only-begotten Son,” so the focus there is right on Jesus, the High Priest, and the offering, “with whom thou art blessed, O God and Father, together with thine all-holy, good, and life-created Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” It’s exactly the same in the Liturgikon: “Through the compassions of thine only-begotten Son, with whom thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
That kind of shape of a prayer, that form of a prayer that rehearses the economy of God in history, beginning with creation and then affirming the Old Testament as the intervention and activity of the one, true, and living God in the affairs of men through the election of Israel, and then bringing it all to its completion in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the Anointed One, who is the ultimate Priest, the only High Priest, and then the only Teacher, the only Prophet, and the only King that there is. Christ then becomes everything. And then it brings it to its what you might call in technical language Christocentric completion.
And that is what we have in the Church of Christ: the completion of the partial and fragmentary and foreshadowing worship of the old covenant, now brought to its fullness and completion—the old being a shadow, the new being the reality; the old being a pedagogy, the new being a fulfillment of the pedagogy; the old being a prefiguration, and the new being the actual presence—this is what the Christians believe, and this is how we interpret the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets of the Old Testament, and we affirm them. That’s why the risen Christ even opens the minds of his apostles to understand how the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets all refer to him and to his death and resurrection and glorification and his cession at the right hand of God in the kingdom of God as the Savior of the universe. And then we participate in all of that in the Divine Liturgy, and we pray that it will be acceptable, that God will give us the grace to do this, that we won’t be put to shame by doing it, that we won’t blaspheme it in any way, we won’t take it for granted, so to speak, we won’t do it perfunctorily or whatever but really do it seriously, which leads to my last point for today.
I’m afraid that in many Orthodox churches this is done very perfunctorily. I have a hunch that in many of them it’s not even read, because it’s long. Or if it’s read it’s read so very quickly during the litany when the deacon is chanting the litany. If there’s no deacon, then I don’t know how the priest reads it, because he cannot possibly read that with care and attention if he’s doing the litany himself and is not referring to it or mentioning it at all when he comes to the final completion of the prayer. In other words where, at the end of the litany, you just say, “Through the compassions of thine only-begotten Son…” and nobody hears the prayer that that is the ending of, it’s very sad.
I know one priest, very famous priest who did wonderful work, who never even served the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. He said, “It’s just too long, too repetitious, and our people get tired of it and then they get bored, and why even necessarily do it? We don’t really need to do it.” So he took it upon himself to not even to celebrate the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which in my opinion is a very awful thing. We have to do it, and we have to do it with love and attention and care, and take whatever time is required to do it, and it’s only ten times a year. But it’s really important for our salvation that the Church of Christ, the Church of God that we believe in, the household of God, has us use these particular prayers at very certain times of the year on very certain occasions: on holy Pascha, on Christmas, on Epiphany, the feast of St. Basil, the Great and Holy Thursday—that’s very important—during the Sunday Liturgies of Great Lent. That’s for a purpose, and we have to be obedient, and we have to do it and take the time to do it well and not just breeze through it or skip it completely.
I know some priests who’ve said, “Oh, I read it before the Liturgy began because it’s too long, and so when I come to it, I can say: Well, God, I already read it. You already heard the prayer. Just place it in here and let us keep on going.” That’s not very nice. I mean, that’s not convincing at all. In fact, I think that almost verges on blasphemy in some way. You’ve got to say the prayer when it comes in the Liturgy and do it as it is given and make whatever effort is necessary. Probably from the point of view of a clock, the matter of time, to read those long prayers of St. Basil’s Liturgy probably does add maybe ten, maybe fifteen minutes to the Liturgy, but if we can’t make that additional offering, even on the greatest feastdays and through the greatest lenten season, then what kind of Christians are we, anyway?
But this is how we learn; this is how our mind is done. I love that sentence of St. Benedict, who said, “When we go to the liturgy of the Church, we don’t put our mouth where our mind is. We don’t say what we’re thinking about. We put our mind where our mouth is.” God gives us these us inspired words, and we say them and try to make them our own. We try to understand them so that we can understand deeper and better who our God is and how our God acts and what we are called to and how all this great mystery of God works together. That’s what the liturgy is for in its, you might say, its didactic dimension, in its place as a teaching office.
It seems to me that there is no doubt at all but the Liturgy of St. Basil is definitely a teaching office in the sense that it is reminding us in some great detail what the Christian faith really is all about. We’ll see that again at the actual prayers of the anaphora, which are in the St. Basil Liturgy really quite long. But for today, let’s just notice how different this offertory prayer is in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great from how it is in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. There’s a real difference here, and I would say undoubtedly for good reason. It’s for good reason; it’s for our edification, our instruction, our consolation, our information, our illumination. All these things are extremely, extremely important.
So we have the offertory prayer completing the act of the offertory procession that began when the Gifts are picked up from the altar of oblation and carried through the church around the whole congregation and placed upon the altar, and then we end with this prayer that kind of sums up everything that we have done and allows us to carry on the Divine Liturgy in an appropriate and comprehensible manner.
We’ll continue with that in our next podcast where we will begin to show, or we will show, that the condition for offering this spiritual worship in spirit and in truth, that there are two conditions that are absolutely essential, and if they are not there, then the liturgy is being celebrated—well, if you put it more starkly—unto condemnation and judgment. And those two conditions would be the love that we Christians have for God and one another and our enemies and for everyone and everything without qualification—the love—which then opens our understanding of God, and then it is our faith. One of the first definitions of the katholikē ekklēsia, the catholic Church, found in the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, was: The Church is the henōsis agapis kai pisteiōs. The Church is the unity, or the community, of love and faith. So love and faith are the conditions of the Divine Liturgy, and the Christian must be in a state of desiring love and faith in order to participate properly and to discern the Lord’s body and to celebrate the liturgy as it is intended to be, as the ultimate worship of human beings in spirit and in truth. So we’ll move into that in our next podcast.