Circumcision of the Lord and Feast of Saint Basil the Great (Part III)

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

CIRCUMCISION OF THE LORD AND THE FEAST OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT (Part III)

"The essence of philosophy," Basil answered, "is the remembrance of death." He pointed out the insubstantiality of the world and its pleasures, which at first seem sweet, but afterward become extremely bitter to the man enslaved to them. "But besides these consolations," explained Basil, "there are others, of a heavenly origin. It is impossible to enjoy both since no "man can serve two masters" (St. Matthew Ch. 5). Our duty is to break the bread of understanding with those whose discernment is faulty and to lead to the shelter of good works those unprotected by the roof of moral excellence, taking pity on their nakedness, for they share the same nature with us."

"...These guide us to salvation in very truth, O Evvulus. We shall all rise from the dead and appear before Christ's judgment seat, some to inherit life everlasting, others to be condemned to eternal torment and shame. The Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and David assure us of this, as do the holy Apostle Paul and the Lord Himself, Who draws us to repentance and rewards for our deeds. He searches out the lost sheep and accepts the prodigal son, embracing and kissing him lovingly, arraying him in splendid apparel, putting a ring on his finger, and holding a banquet for him. He gives equal recompense to those who come at the eleventh hour and those who endure "the burden and heat of the day" (St. Matt., Ch. 20). Upon penitents born of water and spirit, he bestows things which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (I Cor., Ch. 2).

At the Evvulus exclaimed, "O Basil, revealed by heaven! Through you, I have come to believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of all things, I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen! As proof of my faith, I surrender myself to your guidance. I wish to remain with you the rest of my life, after being born of water and the Spirit."

"...In Caesarea Basil became a monk and imitated the manner of life he had observed while visiting the ascetics of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. He was also ordained Presbyter by Hermogenes, who became Archbishop after Leontius died, and he was appointed instructor of all the monks living in the diocese. When Hermogenes departed this world, the people wished the holy Basil as their Prelate, remembering how he has been forechosen and considering him worthy of the Episcopacy, but the Saint, who disliked being held in high esteem, hid from them. Eusebius, a virtuous but poorly educated man, was consecrated instead. Seeing that respect was accorded the wise and holy Basil, and constantly hearing his praises, Eusebius was overcome by envy toward God's favorite. The venerable Basil learned this, and not wishing to be the cause of jealousy, retired into the wilderness of Pontus. The affectionate letters he wrote Gregory the Theologian convinced his good friend to join him there. They lived an angelic life together, and soon numerous monks had assembled at their retreat. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the saints compiled A Rule For Cenobites. The blessed Emmelia, Basil's mother, who resided in a village across the river Iris (the village had belonged to Basil's father), provided their food. She was already a widow and was devoting her remaining years to pleasing God.

The time came when both Basil and Gregory had to leave the wilderness and serve the Church, which was then troubled by heretics. Gregory's father, who was Bishop of Nazianzus (and also named Gregory), was elderly and unable to fend off the wolves vigorously, so he called his son home to assist him. Meanwhile, Eusebius, Archbishop of Caesarea, sent a letter to Basil, asking the saint's help in protecting the Church from the Arians (heretics) and expressing hope for a reconciliation. Seeing the Holy Church in such straits and regarding her well-being as more important than the benefits of living in the wilderness, Basil abandoned his seclusion and returned to Caesarea. He labored greatly there, defending Orthodoxy by his preaching and writings. Before long, Archbishop Eusebius surrendered his spirit into God's hands while resting in Basil's arms. The great Basil was elevated to the Archiepiscopal throne and consecrated by numerous bishops, among whom was Gregory of Nazianzus, father of Gregory the Theologian...Basil governed the Church of Christ well and ordained his brother Peter to the Priesthood. Peter assisted the saint considerably, and eventually, Basil appointed him Bishop of Sevastea. At that time their mother, the blessed Emmelia, departed to the Lord. She was more than ninety years old. Her children were known for their outstanding virtue, especially Basil and Peter, another son, Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, and her eldest daughter Macrina.

Several years passed, and the blessed Basil asked God to send down the grace of the Holy Spirit to enlighten his understanding and give him wisdom so that he might offer the unbloody sacrifice using his own words. Until that time the Greek-speaking Christians had celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Hebrew. (Actually, the Liturgy was celebrated in Greek, but according to usages derived from the Church of Jerusalem. According to Saint Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Basil wished to abbreviate the lengthy ancient Liturgy of Saint James, out of condescension to human weakness.) Saint Basil prayed for seven days; then the Holy Spirit descended and he went into ecstasy. Coming to himself, he celebrated the liturgy daily for some time and prepared for the awesome task of writing the new version of the sacred service. Finally, with prayer on his lips and his heart full of faith, the great hierarch began work. That night he returned to church, and while he was setting out bread and wine on the Table of Preparation, the Lord appeared to him with the Apostles. Basil fell prostrate, but Christ raised him up and said, "In accordance with your supplication, your mouth shall be filled with praise, and you will perform the service using your own words." The Lord shone with glory so bright that Basil, who was shaking with fear, could not endure to look upon Him. When the vision ended, the saint took a scroll and wrote in Greek the following words: "Let my mouth be filled with praise, that I may hymn Thy glory" (Psalm 70). Then he began the service, the Liturgy that came to be known by his name, with such prayers as, "O Lord our God, Who hast fashioned us and brought us into this life," and the prayer at the elevation: "Attend, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, from Thy holy habitation and from the throne of the glory of Thy Kingdom, and come Thou to sanctify us, Thou Who art seated on high with the Father, yet invisibly remainest with us here. By Thy mighty hand vouchsafe to bestow the Holy Things which are for the holy upon us, and through us upon the people." Afterward, Saint Basil recorded these prayers and the others on the scroll. Evvulus and the clergy of higher rank saw a heavenly light illuminating the sanctuary and the Bishop as he offered the Eucharist, and radiant men clothed in white garments surrounding the great hierarch. Awestruck, they fell to the floor, weeping and glorifying God. (Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of The Saints, vol. 5).

(To be continued)

Please note: Next time you are attending the Divine Liturgy remember how the Divine Liturgy was formed and offer thanks to God and to Saint Basil the Great. You see now why it is referred to as "Divine" Liturgy.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George