Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring and offering, and come before Him!
Worship the Lord in holy array.
I Chronicles 16: 28-29
Saint Basil lived from the year 330 to 379. He was one of the leading church figures of the 4th century. He is commemorated together with St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian as the Three Hierarchs. He was friends with St. Gregory the Theologian.
Saint Basil was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia. His family included a number of people who eventually became saints—his mother St. Emily, his grandmother St. Macrina, and his brothers St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Peter of Sebaste.
Saint Basil is remembered for many things—First, he was a bishop. Second, he was a defender of Orthodoxy against certain heresies of the fourth century. Third, he was a monastic. He wanted to live in solitude and eventually founded monasteries and monastic rules of life. Fourth, he was a philanthropist. He is the founder of what is today the Philoptochos Society of the Orthodox Church, with Philo-ptochos literally meaning “friend of the poor.” Saint Basil is known for baking money into bread and throwing it through the windows of widows and orphans. This bread is now called “Vasilopita” in honor of St. Basil, and is cut with prayer for God’s blessings at the beginning of the calendar year. A coin is baked inside the bread, and is said to bring luck to the one who receives it. Finally, St. Basil took the Divine Liturgy of St. James, which was written about 70 A.D. and edited is significantly. St. John Chrysostom would later edit the prayers of St. Basil’s Liturgy. Saint Basil died peacefully in the year 379 A.D., on January 1, now commemorated as his feastday, at the young age of 49. Yes he is recognized as one of our most prominent saints.
Why this unit, “The Consummate Prayer: Reflections on the Divine Liturgy of St. James”? First, we celebrate his Divine Liturgy ten times per year and seven of those occurrences happen during Great Lent. Second, as the title of the unit indicates, the prayers of this Divine Liturgy are so unique and complete, they comprise the consummate prayer. As one hierarch once told me, if one were to memorize the anaphora of St. Basil (a certain part of the Divine Liturgy from just after the Creed until just before the Lord’s Prayer), he would have all the theology of the Orthodox Church and would have mentioned everything by prayer that it is possible to mention.
I have had the privilege to pray them for over twenty-five years as a priest. Many of you, however, have never heard these beautiful prayers, as they are offered “inaudibly” in the altar, and do not appear in most of the liturgical books that we keep in the pews. As we continually seek to understand what we believe and how we are to live out our faith, these prayers and the reflections on them will help us again understand the basics.
It is amazing that these few thousand words composed by St. Basil capture not only the entire history of the church, from the creation to the Second Coming of Christ, they also include any prayer request we might think of.  Prayers in the Orthodox Church, just like the hymns, are both supplicatory and informational. They petition God for things but they also inform the faithful on theological and Biblical truths. This is why the Liturgy of St. Basil, specifically it’s prayers, are the consummate prayer—because they include everything. The other thing that is remarkable about the Liturgy of St. Basil is that it has remained for 1,700 years. No one has been able to improve upon it.  There has been no need.
Finally, a comment on how the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great are different. The petitions of the service (what is heard out loud) is virtually the same in both Divine Liturgies. The differences in the two Liturgies are as follows:
~The second prayer of the faithful (right after the Gospel reading)
~The prayer of the Proskomide (shortly before the Creed)
~The thanksgiving prayer, which follows the exclamation “Let us give thanks to the Lord.”
~The Prayer offered during the chanting of “Holy, Holy Holy”
~ The Words of Institution are changed slightly (these are offered audibly)
~The Prayer of Consecration
~The hymn which follows the Consecration. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, this hymn is “It is truly right” or “Axion Esti” in Greek. In the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, the hymn is “Epi Si Heri” or “All of Creation.”
~The prayer offered during this hymn, Epi Si Heri
~The prayer which follows the exhortation “Remember those whom each of us called to mind.”
~The prayer before the Lord’s Prayer
~The prayer after “Let us bow our heads to the Lord.”
~The thanksgiving prayer after Holy Communion
~The prayer of the Ambon (this prayer is offered audibly)
~The prayer after the prayer of the Ambon
As you can see, with the exception of three changes that are heard audibly, the rest of the prayers are generally offered “inaudibly” and probably not heard by the people. These reflections are not offered in order to “disclose secrets” but rather to share with the reader a treasury of prayer that is unknown to most of us.
Unlike other units on the Prayer Team, the reflections will begin with prayer, quoting something from the Liturgy of St. Basil. The prayer may be several sentences or only a few words. We know that even a few words can be a prayer, when offered with a soft and humble heart. The prayer will be followed by a Scripture passage relating to the prayer. Because everything we do has its foundation in Scripture. The reflection will follow, the customary ending prayer now appearing at the beginning as quoted from St. Basil’s Liturgy.
Every Divine Liturgy begins with the priest offering a silent prayer to the Holy Spirit, which is what we will offer as an ending to this reflection.
Glory to You, O Lord, Glory to You.
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, present everywhere and filling all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, Gracious One.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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 multiple books, you can view here:


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