The mystery of Your dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected as far as it is in our power. We have had the memorial of Your death. We have seen the typos of Your resurrection. We have been filled with Your unending life. We have enjoyed Your inexhaustible delight which in the world to come be well pleased to give to us all, through the grace of Your holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 49)
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
I Timothy 3: 16
For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
After the conclusion of the Prayer of the Ambon, the people sing the hymn, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and the priest goes towards the Prothesis, the table of preparation which is to the left of the altar table and offers one inaudible prayer before the Dismissal Prayer of the Divine Liturgy. While the Prayer of the Ambon is the last audible difference between the two Divine Liturgies, this prayer is the last inaudible difference. This prayer “puts the cherry on top” so to speak, for what we have done in celebrating the Divine Liturgy.
I would humbly submit that there are five goals in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy:
1. To bring the Kingdom of God to the present reality. We don’t think or talk enough about heaven. It remains this elusive, other worldly concept. The Divine Liturgy (both of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom) bring the Kingdom into focus in the here and now. We get to step out of our lives for an hour or so and step into God’s Kingdom, right in the midst of this busy, stressful life.
2. To remember what Christ did for us. In both Divine Liturgies, but especially in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, as we have reflected, we hear the entire history of salvation told through the prayers and actions of the service. In a world where so much is thrown at us, it is easy to forget what Christ did for us in dying on the cross and being Resurrected, and how that fits into history, coming after the Creation and the Fall and before the Second Coming, as well as reflecting on where we take our place in the story in contemporary times.
3. To pray for the world. Both Divine Liturgies offer prayers for the entire world and every need in it. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil goes into meticulous detail. It really is the consummate prayer, the most complete collection of prayer ever written.
4. To commune with Christ. At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the Eucharist as a means by which He followers could become one with Him. No longer would they need to sacrifice animals and shed blood to “commune” with God. Bread and wine would become the Body and Blood of Christ through the descent of the Holy Spirit, and through these elements, we can partake of Christ on a continuous basis.
5. To take one more step on our path to salvation. For the Orthodox Christian, salvation is a process. There is no once-saved, always-saved thought in our theology. The journey to salvation is a life-long journey. And through the Divine Liturgy, we receive sustenance and encouragement for the journey.
This final prayer reflects all of these points. For in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, (as well as that of St. John Chrysostom) we take part in the “mystery” of Christ’s death and Resurrection. In Luke 8:10, Jesus said to His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parable, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” These mysteries of God, the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, are revealed in the Divine Liturgy, especially to the one who approaches with a humble heart. The word “mystery” in Greek is “mysteria” and is also translated as “sacrament.” In other words, the “sacrament” of Holy Communion, which celebrates and makes real the dispensation (work) of Christ has now been accomplished in the best way we can accomplish it. The Divine God has been celebrated and received by fallen human beings.
In the Liturgy, we have the “memorial” of Christ’s death, in other words, we remember what He did. We see the “typos” (type) of His Resurrection. We see through the Resurrection how we as fallen and sinful people can be saved, redeemed and perfected. We have been filled with Christ through the Eucharist, as He is the “unending life.” We have enjoyed the “inexhaustible delight”, partaking and uniting with Christ, in this world and we pray that the fullness of Christ is something we will partake of completely and constantly “in the world to come.” We pray that what we have done has been pleasing to God and that He will be pleased to offer us the full measure of this joy for eternity. The Divine Liturgy, on whatever occasion it is celebrated, is a reminder of this hope.
This prayer is addressed to Christ, but ends with a reference to the Holy Spirit. Because it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which makes this all possible.
In his letter to Colossians, St. Paul told the early Christians that they should be “knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ.” (Colossians 2:2) In the fourth century, St. Basil wrote a service we now called the Divine Liturgy (and later in the same century, St. John Chrysostom would edit the service, giving us two slightly different Eucharistic service) so that we can experience the knowledge and mystery of Christ through prayer and through Holy Communion. Hopefully in this study on his Divine Liturgy, you have taken some steps in your understanding of not only the mystery of Christ, but in history, in prayer and in the many other things St. Basil so eloquently weaved into this powerful service. It continually amazes me that in a world that is in a state of continuous change, that the Divine Liturgy has remained constant for nearly 1,700 years.
Our purpose, our destination and our means to getting there do not change either. The Divine Liturgy is a reminder of this. The words of this last prayer remind us of this in a way more succinct and more powerful than anyone could ever write better.
And with that, we close this study on the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil. Many times when I finish the Divine Liturgy (I wish I could say every time, but in my fallen humanity, not every Liturgy is as uplifting as it should be), I remove my vestments with a sense of joy and relaxation. I have had the privilege of stepping outside of my world and into heaven for a few moments. Rather than feel sad that I now have to return to this world, I feel encouraged because the next celebration of the Divine Liturgy is never more than a few days away. And I imagine the thought of this feeling never ending, because in heaven, the celebration of Christ will never be interrupted by a sinful temptation or an earthly concern. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, it’s beautiful prayers, are a reminder of what was, what is and what it to come for those who believe in God, those who live for God, and those who place their hope in Him.
To Him be the glory to the ages of ages. Amen.