TOPIC: Theology of Liturgy
By Len Mier
Thy Kingdom Come: Social Justice and Salvific Outlook in the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great Part 2
Salvation as Theosis
The essential act in the celebration of the holy mysteries is the transformation of the elements into the Divine Body and Blood; its aim is the sanctification (salvation) of the faithful. (Cabasilas, Hussey, & McNulty, 2010)
Salvation is the mission of all mankind, its goal is to become one again with the Holy Trinity. This state is best described in the beginning of the book of Genesis that we are to be once again in the perfect image and likeness of God, or deification. This is also found in the writings of St Basil. “Through the ‘soul’s operations’ of ‘man,’ it is possible to deploy this potential and to develop it into likeness of God when ‘man’ becomes what he/she was supposed to be from the beginning of the world.”(Druzhinina, 2016)
Olga Druzhinina in her book Ecclesiology of St. Basil the Great: a Trinitarian Approach to the Life of the Church states clearly:
‘The mystery of salvation’ in St Basil’s thought is perceived as the gradual process of human education in which they are brought to perfection in their training for godliness where godliness is always connected to the love toward others.(Druzhinina, 2016)
Another dimension to Theosis and salvation is, “a life in communion with Jesus Christ will be characterized by generosity to the needy human beings in whom the Lord is present.”(LeMasters, 2015)
The anaphora: the basis for Philanthropia (Φίλάνθρωπίά)
St Basil’s liturgy as taken in my local parish setting does not do justice to the beauty and nature of this anaphora. Because of its length, many of the prayers are said in a quiet voice by the priest while the congregation sings their part of the liturgy, rendering the worshiper to read the anaphora to themselves or reading it outside of the actual liturgy in order to appreciate the meaning.
Paraphrasing Fr Schmemann, the predominate practice of the priest reading the prayers secretly in a voice inaudible to the people, often with the doors closed and curtain drawn, has the practical effect of the prayer being dropped from the church service. (LeMasters, 2015) It was only when reading the whole anaphora outside of the liturgy do you see the philanthropic and salvific themes emerge.
Liturgy in general tends to be separated from daily life for most Christians. We see liturgy as the work of the people only to worship God. This narrow view of liturgy can be reversed if we look at one line from one prayer in the liturgy. The line I am talking about is from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It has been stated, “There is a certain social ethic that is loaded into that phrase, when we remove the social aspect from liturgy we see a, ‘failure of correspondence between liturgy and ethics which amounts to an understandable separation between the sacred and the secular’. It is all too often true of Eastern Orthodoxy.”(LeMasters, 2015) This can be said of most liturgical Christian experiences.
Philanthropia is what St Basil was preaching in his homilies on social justice, the work of the people to see and care for the poor. The English word philanthropy is derived from this word and its understanding is clear to the modern reader. This Philanthropia is the strong social ethic that we as Christians must have for each other. This is the merging point of Christian ethics with that of liturgical theology.
Christian ethics is an ethics of the Great Supper because it is in eucharistic assembly, not in private prayer or study, that judgment, repentance, reconciliation, and God’s love are experienced in their full Kingdom signification.(LeMasters, 2015)
Beside St Basil, St John Chrysostom also spoke in terms of Philanthropia in his homily on Matthew 25:31-46, the last judgment, and in his homily on Second Corinthians, “The Hungry”.
It is a social order of simple living and care for one’s fellow man that St Basil envisioned in the Basiliad, his monasteries. Basil incorporated these themes into his anaphora, Petitions and prayers are not meant to be rhetorical exclamations poetic romanticisms, or supplications for God alone to hear; they are meant to penetrate man’s heart and mind and become impetus for agape in diakonia – love in practice. An invitation to the metamorphosis of the congregation as well as society.(LeMasters, 2015)
In the liturgy of St Basil he “unites thanksgiving and supplication throughout the liturgy in a way that proclaims God as supreme benefactor of the human race.”(Cabasilas et al., 2010)
From the very start of the anaphora we hear that we will “recount all your (God’s) mighty deeds in every age”(Catholic, Byzantine Liturgical, & Intereparchial Commission for Sacred, 2006) Basil in the anaphora elaborates God’s philanthropy to mankind in a recounting of those things He has done for us. Here is but a small list that St Basil gives us: the gift of filial adoption, the pledge of our future inheritance, and the First-fruits of eternal blessings given to us.
We are told that taking man from the earth formed him and honored him with your own image and placed him in paradise with the promise of immortal life and eternal blessings. God showed us the ultimate mercy after our own transgression of disobedience, and His banishing us from paradise and returning us to the earth from which we came. He provided us with salvation and rebirth in His Christ, not forsaking the work of his hands.
St Basil goes on to tell us God gave us the Law as an aid, and sent us servants and prophets to tell us of the salvation of which was to come.
(To be continued)