Remember also all who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life. And grant them rest, our God, where the light of Your countenance shines.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 32)
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance, who exult in Thy name all the day, and extol Thy righteousness.
Psalm 89:15-16
Christ is Risen!
One of the first things people ask when introductions are being made is “Where are you from?” Everyone comes from somewhere; everyone has a hometown and a set of parents. The Gospel of Matthew begins with a lengthy genealogy of Jesus and His ancestors. That’s one of the reasons why in God’s plan for salvation, He didn’t just drop Jesus onto earth as a 30-year-old man, because one of the first things people would have asked Him is “Where did you grow up?” Both of my parents are now deceased, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have parents. I still have someone I refer to as my mom and someone I refer to as my dad—I just can’t talk to them face-to-face anymore.
One of the great privileges I enjoy as a priest is to do the service of the Proskomide, the preparation of the gifts, the bread and wine, that will be consecrated into the Body and Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy. During the Proskomide, the priest cuts a cube of bread and places it in the center of the paten, or diskos. This piece represents Christ and will become the Body of Christ. A large triangle is placed to one side of the piece of Christ—this represents the Virgin May. Nine triangles are placed to the other side of the piece for Christ. These are for nine categories of saints—angels, prophets, apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, fathers, unmercenaries, the ancestor of the Lord/saint(s) of the day, and for the saint whose Liturgy we are celebrating (either St. Basil or St. John Chrysostom). To the lower left side of the diskos, below the triangle for the Virgin Mary, the priest remembers people who are living (the church militant) by placing crumbs of bread on the diskos. This part of the service can take a few minutes or a few hours, depending on how many people he commemorates. On the other side, below the triangles of the saints, the priest remembers those who have passed away, again by placing crumbs as he prays for those who have passed.
The offering of the Proskomide is supposed to represent the whole world, so that when the priest says “We offer to You these gifts, from Your own gifts, in all and for all” (Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, p. 29), all are accounted for. And indeed they are—the Lord, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, those who are alive and those who have passed on. I will never again sit at the dinner table with my mom and dad, as I did for so many years. But they are present on the altar table at every Divine Liturgy. When you wish for a priest to pray for your family in the Divine Liturgy, you can write the names of those who are living and those who have passed on a sheet. Make two columns, one for the living and one for those who have passed and label them, so he knows which is which. (In the event that a baby has passed in your family, under age 3, write “baby” next to his or her name. Infants that haven’t reached the age of reason do not consciously sin, so we don’t pray for the forgiveness of their sins but have a separate prayer for them.)
The title of this study on the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is “The Consummate Prayer,” which means the “complete” prayer. The completeness of something involves it’s present and it’s past, with an eye to it’s future. In praying the Divine Liturgy, we pray for past, present and future as well.
In the prayer that follows the consecration, which I have entitled “A Prayer for the World,” it follows the same order as the Proskomide, with one exception. The prayer begins with an exclamation and hymn to the Virgin Mary. Then there is a prayer asking for the intercession of the saints. And the prayer continues with a remembrance for those “who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life.” (Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 32) We not only remember the saints, but we remember our families, we remember where we come from. The rubrics of the prayer indicate that the priest can remember whomever he wishes at this point. Because there isn’t sufficient time to remember as many people as we remember at the Proskomide, I personally limit my remembrances at this point of the Divine Liturgy to the children I have buried (which sadly now number 20) and anyone being remembered at a memorial service that Sunday. In parishes where a deacon serves, the deacon will stand behind the altar table and remember names of those who have passed throughout the prayer, affording him the opportunity to remember more names. It is important to pray for God’s mercies for every soul, whether they believed in God or not, but the prayer is specific in mentioning those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.
When a priest prays for people, whose names have been given to him on a list, he will generally end the list by saying “and those whom each of us is calling to mind,” to cover any person who was not remembered specifically. While the hymn after the consecration is being sung at any Divine Liturgy, whether you hear the prayer audibly from the priest or not, you should know that those who have passed away are being remembered. When people ask what they should being doing during the Divine Liturgy, or complain that they are bored, one very beautiful thing you can do during the service at this point, during this hymn, is to remember your loved ones that have passed away.
After completing the list, the priest prays that the Lord will grant rest to them where the light of his countenance shines.
I mentioned above that this prayer for the world follows the order of the Proskomide with one exception. And this is that we remember those who have passed away before those who are living. And this is because during the rest of the prayer and the rest of this section, the people will be remembered in categories, which is what the next several reflections will cover.