The Orthodox Church offers a number of different liturgies during the year – mostly St. John Chrysostom’s and, during Lent St. Basil’s, as well as on a few other occasions. The Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, attributed to St. Gregory the Great is used on weekdays during Lent.
But every priest I know has a special love for St. Basil’s Liturgy. I was ordained at the Liturgy of St. Basil, and my first Liturgy was St. Basil’s. I like to say that there is nothing that Chrysostom can’t say in three words that Basil can’t say in eight. But his wordiness is a fullness, a repetition of synonymns, that with each change rung, offers a fuller understanding of what cannot be understood.
I am particularly devoted to one of his pre-communion prayers:
I know, O Lord, that I have communion unworthily of Thy most pure Body and Thy most precious Blood, and that I am guilty and drink condemnation to myself not discerning Thy Body and Blood, O my Christ and God. But daring upon Thy generous loving-kindness I come to Thee Who hast said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”
There is the stark reality that confronts me: I simply am unworthy. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t make a good preparation for communion, but that having done all I can it is not enough. Only the mercy of God is enough. That St. Basil knew that and lived that is why he became the great saint we know.
I love the fact that he tricked St. Gregory of Nazianzus, his best friend, into coming to his bedside (having feigned a fatal illness), and then ordained him bishop because he needed him. It was a lousy trick and Gregory barely forgave him, but I love the story because of its humanity and because even such trickery was only for the good of the Church.
I think of the trickery we all stoop to, and for nothing good – but our own selfish ends. May we learn to pray like St. Basil. May he pray for us. And may we have friends who will forgive us even when we’ve pushed them past the limit.
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