Lord Master, the Father of mercies and God of every consolation, bless, sanctify, guard, fortify, and strengthen those who have bowed their heads to You. Distance them from every evil deed. Lead them to every good work and make them worthy to partake without condemnation of these, Your most pure and life-giving Mysteries, for the forgiveness of sins and for the communion of the Holy Spirit. By the grace, mercy, and love for us of Your Only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 39)
When the cares of my heart are many, Thy consolations cheer my soul.
And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
After the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer, with the concluding ekphonesis “For Thine is the Kingdom. . .” the priest says “Peace be with you all,” and then “Let us bow our heads to the Lord.” (Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 39) The prayer of this reflection is the prayer that is offered at the bowing of the heads, which also differs from the prayer at the same spot offered at the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
When this prayer is offered at the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, it doesn’t mention Holy Communion, making it somewhat oddly placed, though the prayer itself is beautiful.** This prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil does in fact mention the “Mysteries” (another term for Holy Communion).
Because Holy Communion is something we are encouraged to do often, in some instances, it has become so commonplace that we forget, perhaps, the magnitude of what we are actually doing—touching the Divine Christ in our state of sinfulness. I don’t want to judge anyone on this, so I’ll just speak for myself. I wish that every time I held the Body of Christ in my hands, or lifted the chalice to receive the Blood of Christ, that this was a mind-blowing experience as it should be. Many times, I am distracted at this moment. And many times I am not, I am fully concentrating. However, even fully concentrating, I fail to appreciate the magnitude of what I am actually doing.
This prayer from St. Basil helps to refocus us, to get us back to attention before this awesome encounter with the Lord. First, we address this prayer to God as our Lord and Master. He is the “Father of mercies” which is really important at this moment, that His mercy is enough to cover our sinfulness and our wandering attention-spans. He is the “God of every consolation” meaning that He is an aid in meeting us in wherever we are at this very moment. If we feel close or distance, whether we are focused or distracted, He is the God of all circumstances.
Next, we ask God to do eight things for us in the span of only a few phrases. We ask Him to “bless” us—a blessing is a gift, in this case, the kind of gift that can only come from God. We ask Him for a blessing on ourselves, our lives, and to be with us in the very moment we are offering the prayer, regardless of what we feel in that very moment.
We ask God to “sanctify” us—which means to make us “holy”, to set us apart, to make us, in essence, like God, and like the saints. This is a request to elevate us from sinfulness to holiness, to enable us, even in our ordinary sinfulness, to partake of the extraordinary Christ in the Eucharist. And to be worthy to carry Him within us long after the service has ended.
Every Christian is like a fortress under assault. Within the fortress of our lives is our soul, the sacred treasure of God placed in each of us. And like the medieval fortress, we must defend ourselves, specifically our souls, from the relentless attacks of the devil and sin. We pray then for God to guard us, to help us to preserve our souls and grow them so that they honor Him and are ready to return to Him.
Continuing with the analogy of the fortress, we ask God to “fortify” us, to make our bodies and our minds strong, as we seek to protect our souls. This includes providing us with soldiers—friends, priests, others—who will encourage us to fight the good fight in protecting our souls and guarding our faith.
Jesus, in His humanity, became weary in His journeys. He asked the woman at the well in John 4 for a drink of water because He was tired in His journey. Likewise, we also become tired, and sometimes bored, distracted and any number of other conditions that take our focus off of Christ. Thus, we need strength and endurance when we become fatigued in our journey.
During the pandemic, “social distancing” became a thing, putting a certain distance between ourselves and other human beings. People were deliberate, intentional, and sometimes even over the top about social distancing. This prayer calls for us to practice “sinful distancing,” to purposefully and intentionally distance ourselves from sin. Remembering back to those terrible initial days of the pandemic, people were scared of other people, they were not complacent at all. This prayer makes me wonder what it would be like if we were scared of sin in the same manner. Rather, we become complacent around sin.
As we strive to “sinful distance”, we should be deliberate about doing the opposite of sin, which is running towards good works. The prayer asks for us to be led to every good work. And finally, the prayer asks for us to be made worthy to partake without condemnation of the Holy Mysteries of God—the Eucharist—and to do so for the forgiveness of sins and for unity with the Holy Spirit.
The prayer ends with the ekphonesis common to both Liturgies—By the grace, mercy and love for us of Your Only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
The preparation to receive Holy Communion then commences, with pre-Communion prayers, Communion of the clergy, and Communion of the laity, all of which is identical in both Divine Liturgies.
**We give thanks to You, invisible King, Who by Your boundless power fashioned the universe, and in the multitude of Your mercy brought all things from nothing into being. Look down from heaven, O Master, upon those who have bowed their heads before You; for they have not bowed before flesh and blood, but before You, the awesome God. Therefore, O Master, make smooth and beneficial for us all, whatever lies ahead, according to the need of each: Sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; heal the sick, Physician of our souls and bodies. (Prayer at the Bowing of the Heads, Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, p. 65)