For You, Lord, are the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the Savior of the afflicted, the haven of the voyager, and the physician of the sick. Be all things to all people, You who know each person, his requests, his household, and his need. Deliver this community and city, O Lord, and every city and town, from famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, invasion of foreign enemies, and civil war.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 34)
Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
Christ is Risen!
This prayer of St. Basil, where we have remembered everyone and everything, is about to come to an end. And it has a message that is both heavy and joyful. First the heavy part.
Many people feel hopeless these days. They are filled with doubt, anger, anxiety and insecurity. These things are reaching almost epidemic proportions it seems. We thought the pandemic a few years ago was dangerous. The percentage of people afflicted with doubt, anger, anxiety and insecurity, at least one of them, is probably near 100%–just about everyone has at least one, if not more, of these maladies. That’s heavy. When we pray this part of the prayer, we are really praying for everyone, at least at some points of their lives. It’s hard to hear words like “helpless” and “hopeless” because we, most of us anyway, want to not feel either of these things. And most of us are sad to know that there are people who feel this way.
Yet the prayer puts a joyful angle on these things. Because in the prayer, we refer to the Lord as the one who brings help to the helpless and hope to the hopes. He helps the ones who feel like they are beyond help. He gives hope to the ones who think they are beyond hope. Most important, He does not give up on the ones who think that are beyond His grasp.
The “haven of the voyager” makes me think of the safe harbor for those who traveled long distances by sea—we don’t really do that much in our world now. But there are plenty of people whose lives resemble a storm, who are looking for a safe place to feel protected. And as for the “physician of the sick”, Christ is the physician, those who practice medicine are merely His hands. Just like Christ is the High Priest, and those who serve as priests are really His representatives, His mouthpiece.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 have always been like balm on a sunburn—“come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (11:28) There are prayers which add “with iniquity,” to the phrase “heavy laden,” that the Lord gives rest not only to those who are borne down with fatigue from work, but even to those who are tired from the fatigue of failure, especially that of their own doing. Jesus assures us of His gentleness. He wants us, however we are, however messed up we are. He wants to give us that rest for our souls that we all so desperately need.
Again, going with images of the farm that He used so often, Jesus compares Himself to the yoke that holds two animals together and forces them to go in one direction. The yoke of the animal is not easy, it is forced, it forces them to pull heavy wagons. But the yoke of Jesus is different—the burden is light, not heavy, and He walks right with us, helping us to pull whatever burdens we have. Yes, I know there are people who are reading this message who have heavy burdens that it seems like God will never make easier. I even feel that at times, lots of the time actually. But this is where real faith comes in, to stay yoked even when it’s hard, to keep pulling, even when the burden is heavy.
The prayer builds to a climax as it asks God to “be all things to all people,” to each person in their uniqueness—their unique requests, their homes and their needs. God knows what we need. The prayers are heard, and they will be answered, not in our way and our time necessarily, but in His way and in His time. Again, this is where faith comes in, when we keep walking even when we don’t understand why, or how far, or where we are going.
The prayer concludes by turning attention to things that are more specific and of more immediate concern—personal safety. Even though we don’t think of the word “famine” in our country of plenty, there are still people who do not have food to eat. We experience supply chain shortages. We’ve had “plague” with Covid-19. Some parts of the country and world experience earthquakes—I grew up with them in California. Flooding happens when there are hurricanes. Forest fires imperil parts of our country each year. It’s more guns than swords but we read about killings on a daily basis. There is always war in some part of the world. And civil war seems like a real threat these days as people are lining up against one another on so many issues. These threats, put into words so many centuries ago, still threaten us today. I’m relieved we have a place to offer them in prayer.
There is no one who is hopeless. Christ is the great hope for everyone. Christ is the harbor for anyone who needs a safe haven. He is all things to all people if we allow Him. And that’s what faith is—to allow HIM to be at the center of all, rather than ourselves, to give Him the wheel of our lives.