Liturgy of the Kingly High Priest
by Rev. Romanos V. Russo
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great lies at the very heart of the spiritual life of the Byzantine Christian. It prepares him for the greatest feasts of the Church year. The searing strains of this eucharistic prayer usher in the vigils of Christmas and Theophany (Epiphany) and sanctify Holy Thursday and Great Saturday. In addition, it is the liturgy that nourishes the faithful during the Lenten struggle on the Sundays of the Great Fast. No wonder, then that this cherished rite is served on the heavenly birthday of its author, January 1. A happy coincidence has it occur on the feast of the Circumcision. The day on which the kingly High Priest shed His first drops of blood to redeem His people also sees the commemoration of the high priest Basil, whose name means king and whose words to this day accompany the hallowing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
St. Basil has many claims to honor. He was born into a remarkable family. His father, also named Basil, was a bishop. After the elder Basils death, his mother Emilia joined his sister Macrina in the desert to lead a monastic life. His younger brother Gregory did not enter the monastery but rather chose marriage as the path of salvation. He became bishop of Nyssa. All are revered as saints!
St. Basil is one of the greatest of the Greek fathers of the Church being ranked with Sts. John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian. He was a prolific author and is especially remembered for his peerless treatise On the Holy Spirit. Few have influenced religious life as much as he by his Rule for Monks. In addition, he was an exemplary bishop of one of the major sees of the Christian East, Caesarea in Cappadocia.
St. Basil enjoys high esteem even among children, for his name figures in so many Greek Christmas carols. On January 1st a great treat called the vasilopita (St. Basils cake) is blessed and served up at a party. A coin has been blended into the batter. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will have an especially blessed new year and will be responsible for throwing the next years vasilopita party. A cynic once suggested that many coins have been swallowed so as to avoid the expense and fuss involved in hosting the New Years party. We can rest assured that the Great Cappadocians memory suffers no tarnish on this account!
If you ask the average lay Byzantine Rite Christian (Catholic or Orthodox) why he honors St. Basil so greatly, he will without hesitation tell you it is because of the sublime liturgy that bears his name and which, in all probability, at least in its central prayer (the anaphora) is the work of his hands.
This solemn doxology includes a long series of petitions begging the All-Mighty to remember the needs of all the faithful. As you read the excerpts from this masterpiece of exalted prayer reflected in the stunning photographs illustrating the apostolic endeavors of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association you will learn why Byzantium sings of her Great St. Basil:
You became for the Church a solid foundation, and for all mankind strengthened by your teaching, you became a harbor of refuge, O Venerable Basils who reveal heavens mysteries!
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Father Romanos is a frequent contributor on matters liturgical.
Tags: Catholic Orthodox Church Prayers/Hymns/Saints Byzantine Catholic Church