Our God, the God Who saves, You teach us justly to thank You for the good things which You have done and still do for us. You are our God who has accepted these Gifts. Cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach us how to live in holiness by Your fear, so that receiving the portion of Your Holy Gifts with a clear conscience we may be united with the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. Having received them worthily, may we have Christ dwelling in our hearts, and may we become the temple of Your Holy Spirit.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 37)
He was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught His disciples.”
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breath and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Christ is Risen!
As we have mentioned several times, it is the priestly prayers that make the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil different than the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is also important to remember that St. Basil authored his liturgy first, and that it was St. John Chrysostom who shortened the prayers, rather than St. Basil lengthening them.
After the aforementioned blessing “The Mercy of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all,” There are several petitions that are common to both Divine Liturgies. These end with the Lord’s Prayer. Right before the Lord’s Prayer, there is a prayer at both Divine Liturgies, St. Basil’s of course being a little bit longer.
This prayer shifts focus from remembering the world, as was done in the previous prayer, to remembering us as an individual church, as well as us, the individual worshippers in it. This prayer is more personal. Whereas the former prayer asked God to remember and bless certain segments of the world, this prayer asks God to do specific things for us.
First, it asks God to “cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit.” We are coming to the climax of the Divine Liturgy, the reception of Holy Communion. No one is worthy to receive Christ. We receive Him through His grace and mercy. We cannot cleanse our own sins. He cleansed our sinful nature by dying on the Cross. He continually cleanses our repeated sinful doings by His grace and mercy which we once again call for as we prepare to receive Holy Communion.
Next, we ask God to “teach us how to live in holiness by Your fear.” We not only want to be cleansed on a particular day so that we can receive Holy Communion. We want to live in holiness, to be set apart for God on a continual basis, even after the day we receive Holy Communion has come to an end. One of the most beautiful lines of Scripture is in Luke 11:1, when the disciples said to Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught His disciples.” They knew that it was not enough to just be around Jesus. They wanted more. They wanted to pray as John and ultimately as Jesus did. And so should we.
By asking for cleansing of sin, and by striving to live in holiness, we hope now to be able to receive “the portion of Your Holy Gifts with a clear conscience.” The experience of receiving Holy Communion should not (and is not) an empty ritual, but a uniting of our human selves, with all of our joys and challenges, to the Divine Christ. We don’t think of that often enough. I don’t think of that often enough. The ritual of Holy Communion is important—we offer and received in a specific way, surrounded by the beautiful Divine Liturgy. However, we don’t worship ritual, we worship Christ. And we don’t receive a ritual. We receive Christ.
And the experience doesn’t end (or shouldn’t end) with the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. Having Christ “dwelling in our hearts” we are supposed to “become the temple of Your Holy Spirit.” The church sanctuary is a place set aside for worship. It is purposefully kept clean and immaculate. I joke with people that the altar in my parish is immaculate, even though my office is not. Our lives are supposed to resemble the church sanctuary and not my messy office. When we receive Christ, we are supposed to advance in our faith, not regress to who we were before. The journey to salvation, aided by the Eucharist, is supposed to have us advancing in progress towards the Kingdom.
One of the temptations of Christianity today is to fit it into a compartment, to “do church” for two hours on Sundays and sort of check a box. Christianity is not something we do. It is something we are. It is an identity that doesn’t just turn on and off. We are supposed to be “the temple of Your Holy Spirit” at all times and in all circumstances. That’s the ideal. As Saint Paul writes in Ephesians 3:19, he exhorts us to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” We pray to the Lord to teach us how to have this fullness and to live as temples of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, and to inspire others to do the same through our witness.
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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