As You accepted this true worship from Your Holy Apostles, accept also in Your goodness, O Lord, these gifts from the hands of us sinners, that being deemed worthy to serve at Your holy altar without blame, we may obtain the reward of the faithful stewards on the fearful day of Your just judgment.
Through the mercies 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. 20-21)
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over His household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over his possessions.
Luke 12: 42-44
We are living at some time between the time of the Apostles and the Second Coming of Christ. The time of the Apostles was two thousand years ago. We don’t know when the Second Coming will be. We don’t know if we are in the twilight of Christianity or only its infancy. There are two things we can say for certain. First, an individual end will come for each of us at some point, at which point there will be no further opportunity to repent or serve. Whatever we believe and whatever we have done to that point will be what we will stand before God with at the Last Judgment. Second, we have today and we are supposed to be a steward of today. Even if we weren’t a good steward yesterday, or have never been a good steward of God’s gifts yet to this point in our lives, even if we’ve never truly believed, we have today, this moment that we are in, to believe and to be what God has called us to be.
The story of salvation did not end in Biblical times; it did not end with the Apostles. This story is not like a movie where there is a conclusion, or perhaps the anticipation of a sequel. The story of salvation continues to this day. At the center of everything is Christ, and Christ received by His people in the Holy Eucharist. The prayer concludes by placing us in line with the Apostles, that as the Lord accepted worship from the hands of the Apostles, that He will also accept our worship of Him, in the breaking of the Bread, the Eucharist. And that we can continually come before the Holy Altar without blame, so that having been faithful stewards, faithful worshippers, and faithful Christians, we can obtain the promised reward that God has for all of those He deems worthy.
We will hear the words “Apostles” and “Apostolic” used frequently in these prayers from St. Basil. The Orthodox Church has something called “Apostolic Succession,” which means that not only the church traces its origins to the time of the Apostles, but the leadership of the church, the Bishops, have an unbroken line back to the time of the Apostles. There is no “new and improved” Orthodox start-up churches. If a church breaks away from the main body of Orthodoxy, then they are schismatic, they are not considered Orthodox. Because Orthodoxy, among other things, is about belonging. In my service as a priest, I “belong” currently to the Bishop of Atlanta. I can’t make my church independent of a bishop. I can’t create a new church even with the same set up, same Divine Liturgy, and have it not fall under a Bishop who has Apostolic Succession. This is a comfort to me, that I am not expected to be a trailblazer, but rather to take my place in the line behind the original trailblazers, the Apostles. It is also a comfort to know that we are celebrating Christ in the Eucharist, just as the Apostles did. In Luke 24:35, we hear how Jesus was made known to two of His disciples “in the breaking of the bread.” We still come to know Jesus this way, in receiving Him in the Eucharist. In the time of the Apostles, there was not elaborate ritual of the Divine Liturgy as we know it now. However, what we know and experience now evolved over several centuries. It is now universally codified, in the sense that the entire body of the Orthodox Church accepts how the Divine Liturgy is to be celebrated. It is done virtually the same way (with the exception of language and a few cultural nuances) the whole world over. Historians have documented the way that the service developed from the simple breaking of bread to the elaborate Liturgical rites we now have. And all of it has its foundation with the Apostles, and Jesus sharing Himself with them in the Eucharist, in the same way that He does now.
As we hear in Luke 12:42-44, it is our calling, today, in the 21st century, to be faithful and wise stewards of Christ, His words, as well as Him received in the Eucharist. We are now guarding the household, the Church, taking care of it temporarily, for the duration of our lives, with the expectation that we will hand it over to the next generation. We don’t know when the Master will return, either for the whole world, or for us alone. Therefore, it is the faithful and wise steward who is taking care of what he has received, in our case, the Church, and the Divine Liturgy, passed down from the time of the Apostles. Jesus tells us that the one who is doing this will be “blessed” when the Master comes.
The end of this prayer is the familiar ekphonesis “Through the mercies of Your only-begotten Son”. Following this, the celebrant offers “Peace be with you all,” “Let us love one another” and finally “The Doors, the doors,” (Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 21) that lead us into reciting the Creed.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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