St. Basil the Great


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.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





21 responses to “St. Basil the Great”

  1. Margi Avatar

    It’s difficult to imagine that ordination scene! I suppose once the prayers started St Gregory couldn’t really run away – kind of like the adage about boiling a frog 🙂 I first discovered St Basil through vasilopitta when the Greeks brought it to church; sadly he doesn’t figure much in the Russian “folk” way of thinking, especially following on from St Nicholas.

  2. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    St. Basil the Great’s treatise On the Holy Spirit is one of the most profound writings I’ve read. I return to it quite often. Consider this gem:

    “If baptism is the beginning of my life, and the day of my regeneration is the first of days, it is obvious that the words spoken when I received the grace of adoption are more honorable than any spoken since. How could I be snared by these subtle arguments, and abandon the tradition which led me to the light, and gave me the blessing of divine knowledge? Through this confession I was made a child of God, I, who was His enemy for so long because of my sins.”

    May our gracious and all merciful Lord smile on St. Basil and on all the saints!

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for this. It is so appropriate to consider as we begin a new year.

  3. anonymous Avatar

    I apoligize for getting a bit away from the thrust of the post, but I was hoping I might get some advice. I have a dear friend who has been going to an Orthodox church with her husband for a little under a year. She has told me that she just does not understand the liturgy and while at church she feels lonely and empty, though she wants more than anything to love the liturgy. What can be done to help someone who after many months attending liturgy feels almost as confused and alien as most people do when they attend Orthodox liturgy for the first time?

  4. David_Bryan Avatar

    Happy New Year, Father. And happy anniversary! Many years.

  5. Fr Stephen Avatar
    Fr Stephen

    It is hard to know how to answer the question without knowing the details of the situation. In general, patience, study, speaking to the priest or his wife would be where I would start.

    Sometimes the liturgy seems foreign because we are looking for too many of the same things as we have known elsewhere. The liturgy is directed towards God and not the congregation which is quite the opposite of many protestant churches is takes a while to get accustomed to.

    Oddly, I almost prefer that converts to the Church find the liturgy a bit off-putting at first. Those who immediately love the liturgy will later have other difficulties that may take time to manifest themselves.

    It is good in coming to God that we come to Him for His sake and not for ours.

    I will remember your friend in my prayers!

  6. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Anonymous, I too will pray for your friend. I suspect that anger may be an obstacle to receiving the grace of the liturgy. May God grant your friend a spiritual catharis.

  7. handmaidleah Avatar

    I know that I am heavily into St. Silouan the Athonite, so please forgive me; I have an order in with Eighth Day as I write this and you’ll all get treated to quotes by Mother Gavrilia and Elder Porphyrios, eventually. But in the meantime… “Believe me, brethren. I write before the face of God, Whom my soul by His mercy knew the Holy Spirit. But had not my soul tasted of the Holy Spirit, she could not know the Lord, nor His Love.
    The Lord is gracious and good but we could tell naught of His love beyond what is in the Scriptures, were we not taught by the Holy Spirit. But you, brother, be not troubled if you do not sense the love of God within yourself: think on the Lord, how He is gracious, and keep yourself from sin, and the grace of God will instruct you.”
    Fr. Stephen is, of course, correct and I would add something else-
    God in His mercy often gives us the time to come to terms with the changes that this ‘becoming’ is going to have in our lives. The call to be a Christian is no small thing; the call to ultimate Love. We all process this in different ways and maybe she is attempting to get past what she perceives are externals, smells, bells, etc. Not realizing that everything we do has and is firmly rooted biblically?
    May God bless her on her journey!

  8. Fr Stephen Avatar
    Fr Stephen

    We completed the Liturgy of St. Basil this morning, and then offered a Molieben for the New Year (adds another 30 or so minutes). Good stout prayer, but exhausting.

    Exhaustion, or at least being tired, is a pretty normal experience from Orthodox worship. It is, indeed, hard work. Our culture does not teach anything like this about worship. We are entertained constantly by television, etc. The mega-churches are turning their worship into a television show, in an effort to reached the unchurched. The problem is that having attended a television show, you still haven’t been to Church.

    Depending on the Orthodox Church one is attending can have some effect, admittedly. I think that if there were little or no congregational participation, the liturgy would seem longer and it would be harder for one to hold attention. The essential prayer of the Church is: “Lord, have mercy.” This is prayed by choir and people (most settings for the Lord, have mercies are quite simple and are appropriately sung by the whole congregation). The Deacon, if you have one (I’ve been blessed to have had one now for about 5 weeks) bids the prayers, “Let us pray to the Lord…” the congregation prays: “Lord have mercy.” And the priest adds a final exclamation summarizing the heart of the Church.

    But if something is interrupting this natural flow of worship, many things can creep in and disrupt the heart. “Lord, have mercy,” is the natural, spiritual cry of our heart to God. So many things can interfere that it is hard to know where to start…

  9. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Several unhappy Episcopalians have contacted me in the past year about my decision to turn to the True Faith. I found that for some anger has been an obstacle to embracing Orthodoxy. They are too angry about what has happened to their beloved Episcopal Church to be able to move forward. It is a natural part of grieving and decision-making is difficult when one is grieving. I felt that I should explain my comment above.

  10. Fatherstephen Avatar

    I was completely caught off guard when I converted and discovered how much grieving I had to do – it obviously was not about the loss of something true – it was the loss of a huge part of my life. Perhaps it was many things. I was not angry (I had been before). But I found many who were angry with me for converting (one former Anglican said to me that the only unforgiveable sin was “leaving the club”). That was undoubtedly unkind. It’s finally about God, pure and simple. That was probably the hardest part of converting, was that I had to repent and face God, whom I had been avoiding for a lot longer than I thought.

    I don’t even want to say to somebody that they have to become Orthodox in order to find God – I’ve known far too many people who clearly knew God better than I do who were not Orthodox. But had I not become Orthodox, having come to believe that it was true, then I would not have found God – I would have fled from the truth. And you can’t flee the truth and do good for your soul at the same time.

  11. handmaidleah Avatar

    Amen, to that Fr. Stephen, I experience something similar when my husband and I switched fom one Orthodox Church to another recently for personal reasons. It was hard to leave the community we had converted into, but, we had to… I still feel guilt because of the friends that I have left. We did leave on good terms and can ask the priest’s blessing there anytime, in fact did at the funeral we attended there recently. However, the same issues are there that we left over and, we can never go back. I have had to deal with the anger, dissapointment, feelings of hurt and work through them to get to what is so important about all of this, Jesus Christ. Its unltimately about drawing closer to Him, not about the building or community we are in, though that sense of familiarity can be comforting. Thsoe Lord Have Mercies rise up all the same!
    You are right, Alice, anger is a stumbling block, a big one and it stems from fear, hurt and frustration. These are due to a lack of trust in God, personal pride that one cannot control things and that “my church should be acting this way”. I only say this because that is how I felt, I unltimately wasn’t able to love my neighbor there and accept all things with humility; it came between me and my ability to worship God. I had to move on or make things worse. That would have been a grave sin. I also have had to look hard at my part in all of the goings on.
    St. Anthony the Great says not to move from where you ar easily. It wasn’t easy, believe me. Thank God for my new spiritual father, who has made things better and given me much good reading.
    So its a journey isn’t it?
    Glory to God for all things!

  12. Jonathan Avatar

    I know that when I first started to attend liturgy, I was angry at the things they were saying, and that it was just so strange. I mean, the service itself was nice enough, but the content of the liturgy upset my then-Baptist worldview.

    But, with time, and especially after talking with Fr. Stephen and doing my best to put aside my earthly cares, I came to not only accept it, but to love it.

    She will be in my prayers as well.

    Happy New Year.

  13. Discipulus Avatar

    I have been attending an Orthodox parish for awhile now. I am considering converting. One of the difficulties my family and I are having is accustomizing ourselves to this parish’s lack of participation in the liturgy. No one seems to say the responses. Is this common? It makes things more difficult for the novice.

    I agree with Fr. Stephens comments above: “I think that if there were little or no congregational participation, the liturgy would seem longer and it would be harder for one to hold attention.”

    Any advice?

  14. joe blogg Avatar

    I think St. Basil is my favourite saint.

  15. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Discipulus, I find it helpful to prepare for the Liturgy by attending Orthros. Orthros (Matins) is rich in scripture and prepares the heart.

    Don’t be troubled that others don’t say the responses. Say and sing as the Holy Spirit inspires you from a heart full of love for the Blessed Trinity. You may rouse some of the others from complacent and lazy habits.

  16. anonymous Avatar

    Fr Stephen and Alice and others,

    Thank you for your prayers!

  17. Fatherstephen Avatar


    This really will vary from parish to parish, and from one jurisdiction to another. There are places where the responses are largely done by choir, or chanter, or other places where there is much congregational response.

    I agree with Alice, sing along, even if it’s softly. You should always feel free to discuss these matters with your priest. If he’s going to be your confessor (if you convert) then it’s well to get used to sharing these things now.

    I recall once attending service at a neighboring parish where the chanter did the responses. We were just a beginning mission but with pretty complete congregational participation. The service was a Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers. Near the end, one of the 4 year olds from our mission said out loud (so everybody heard) “When do we get to say something!” I couldn’t help but smile.

    Some of these practices vary from parish to parish, and I would say that it’s part of Orthodoxy coming to grips with its own situation in America. Not everything is ideal (when is it ever?), but pray and pursue the truth, with the priest as well.

  18. Eric Avatar

    As a catechumen having come to Orthodoxy about 2 years ago, from about 10 years in the Episcopal Church (USA, and from a childhood within the Stone-Campbell churches, I still find the Byzantine style of our parish a bit alien, and perhaps always will (we are about 50% ethnic Arab-speakers, 25-30% ‘convert’ and have a few others from Eastern Europe and elsewhere), even though I have studied Arabic and appreaciate the culture of the Levant. I can only imagine what it would be like simply being thrust from, say, a modern Foursquare type of service into a heavy dose of Byzantine chant and liturgical rite without any preparation, although I have know those that have done so.

    At the risk of being overly helpful where I should not be, I found that St. Nicholas Cabasilas’ commentary on the Divine Liturgy (14th c.) to be an affordable and helpful ‘guide’ to orient oneself to what’s going on. The standard English translation (St. Vlad’s, I think) is a pretty easy read, and I bought it used for less than $6. I know that some think he was overly ‘scholastic’ but I would think with proper guidance from your parish priest (as Fr. Stephen suggests) it could be useful. Fr., I don’t know if you have any thoughts about St. Nicolas Cabasilas’ work for such a purpose.

    Also, Fr. Michel Najim in the Antiochian Diocese has written a book available on-line about the Divine Liturgy which might similarly prove useful as an orientation to what is going on, and the why of it:

    Some of the pocket prayer books have the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom printed in it, and simply reading through the liturgy on one’s own could be a good familiarization/orientation. Again, all of this would be subject to the suggestions and guidance of your parish priest and your bishop, but understanding the basic shape of the liturgy would seem to allow us to enter into it. Ultimately books can only help so much, but I found these useful.

    Also extremely helpful is a catechesis class.

    I’ve also noticed that Russian/Slavic settings of music are perhaps easier on the ear for some than hard-core Greek/Antiochian settings of Byzantine chant . . . although I would not advocate parish-shopping on the basis of musical style once you’ve found a parish, for the newcomer to Orthodoxy it may simply be that the music is so alien at one parish that it becomes a stumbling block. Some may only have one parish in the area, however.

    Again, my apologies of this is being ‘overly helpful’ as I’ve little enough knowledge and a long way to go, and still feel like a stranger in a strange land in some ways.

  19. Discipulus Avatar

    Thank you all for your suggestions. I’ll try them. Eric, you were not “overly helpful”. I appreciate the effort. This blog is a blessing. Thank you everyone.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar


    I serve in an OCA parish, so my ear is fairly well tuned to the “Russian” settings, which are certainly more immediately accessible to the Western ear. I have acquired a great appreciation and better understanding of Byzantine chant as time has gone on. Our parish choir “mixes” the occasional Byzantine setting in with our mostly “Russian” music. I have two daughters who are married to Orthodox priests – one OCA the other Antiochian – so my family is “bi-tonal” if I can be so bold as to coin a word. 🙂

    When I first converted, after some 30 years of Anglicanism, I thought I would never get used to the Eastern Liturgy. I’m certain that I feel quite the opposite now. When I visit for a wedding, etc., in a Western Church, the services seem rather bare and flat to me. There is, normally, a depth to the Eastern Liturgy, several things going on at once, not to mention the fullness of the material for the Church year, that are simply not present in the West. They existed here, once, but that baby got thrown out with the bath a long time ago.

    Any sort of study material is helpful. Orthodox worship is “work” and thus it helps to “work” at it.

  21. Meg Avatar

    Father, bless.

    You said, “Those who immediately love the liturgy will later have other difficulties that may take time to manifest themselves.”

    The beauty of the liturgy was what first drew me to Orthodoxy and made it impossible for me to go back to Protestantism. I haven’t yet been chrismated, however. What difficulties have you seen that I should be aware of/prepared for in terms of having immediately loved the liturgy?

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