Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

Today, we began our preparation for our Lord's coming with the chanting of the Royal Hours, each with their three psalms and Scripture readings from the Old Testament, an Epistle of St. Paul to either the Galatians or Hebrews and the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth.. Anyone who dares think that we Orthodox don't reverently treat or read Scripture within our own services doesn't know what he is talking about. Then we proceeded into the Vesperal Liturgy, which I never had the privilege to chant before. It was glorious. The history of our creatin, decline and the prophecy of our salvation rang through the eight selections from the Old Testament. Then we moved to the Liturgy.

The feast of the Nativity is odd, at least liturgically. Only on Nativity and on Theophany can a Liturgy be celebrated twice (once as part of Vespers and then following the Orthros) for the same Liturgical day. It is magnificent. What is even more magnificent is that the Liturgy following Vespers is not of St. John Chrysostom, but that of St. Basil the Great. St. Basil's Liturgy is only served about ten times a year (Vesperal Liturgy on Nativity Eve, Vesperal Liturgy on Theophany Eve, on St. Basil's Day, the five Sundays of Great Lent, Holy Thursday and Great and Holy Saturday). It is rather unfortunate that we as Orthodox, especially who are not clergy do not to get to hear and pray the wonderful anaphora of this liturgy because it is served so seldom.

Here is the prayer of the Anaphora following the Sanctus:

With these blessed powers, O Master and Lover of Mankind, we sinners also cry out and say: "Holy are You, truly all-holy!" There is no limit to the majesty of your holiness. You are revered in all your works, for in righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. When You created man and had fashioned him from the dust of the earth and had honored him as your own image, O God, You set him in the midst of a bountiful paradise, promising him life eternal and the enjoyment of everlasting good things by keeping your commandments.

But when he disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was led astray by the deceit of the serpent, he was made subject to death through his own transgressions. In your righteous judgment, O God, You exiled him from paradise into this world and returned him to the earth from which he had been taken. But You provided for him the salvation of rebirth which is in your Christ Himself.

For You did not turn Yourself away forever from your creation whom You had made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of your hands, but You visited him in different ways. Through the tender compassion of your mercy, You sent forth prophets. You performed great works by the Saints who in every generation were well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us through the mouths of your servants the Prophets who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the Law to aid us. You appointed angels to guard us. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through your Son Himself, through whom You had created time.

Being the Brightness of your Glory and the Stamp of your Person, and upholding all things by the power of his Word, your Son did not think of equality with You, Who alone are God and Father, as something to be grasped. And so, although He was God before time began, He appeared on earth and dwelt among us. He was incarnate of a holy virgin and emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant and being conformed to the body of our lowliness so that He might conform us to the image of his glory. Since sin entered the world through a man and death through sin, so your Only-begotten Son, Who is in your bosom, our God and Father, was well- pleased to be born of a woman, the holy Birth-giver of God and ever- virgin Mary. He was born under the Law, so that He might condemn sin in his own flesh, so that those who died in Adam might be made alive in Him, your Christ.

He lived in this world and gave us commandments for salvation. He released us from the delusions of idolatry and brought us to the knowledge of You, true God and Father. He procured us for Himself as a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Having purified us with water, He sanctified us with the Holy Spirit. He gave Himself as a ransom to death by which we were held captive, having been sold into slavery by sin. He descended into the realm of death through the Cross, that He might fill all things with Himself. He loosed the sorrow of death and rose again from the dead on the third day, for it was not possible that the Author of Life should be conquered by corruption. In this way He made a way to the resurrection of the dead for all flesh. Thus, He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born of the dead, that He might be first in all ways among all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of your Majesty on High, and He shall come again to reward each person according to his deeds.

Where else is the Gospel so well expressed in our liturgies or prayers? Where else is the history of our salvation so laid out with such optimism and trust in an ever compassionate and loving God? Where else do we hear such profound depth as shown by the emptying of our God to become as we are? The answer is: no where, or at least I can't find it.

I love this prayer of the Anaphora of St. Basil. The opportunity to offer this prayer to God in behalf of all the people is almost enough to make me want to be priest save for the fact that I am unworthy to even consider such a calling in life.

Glory to God for all things! Christ is Born!

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