From the Life of Saint Basil the Great

The Divine Liturgy

Saint Basil the Great

After the resurrection of Christ, the son of Joseph the Betrothed, Iakovos, who is called Adelphotheos or “Brother of God,”became Bishop of Jerusalem. He wrote in the Hebrew tongue certain prayers and petitions to God, to be used whenever the priests are about to celebrate the divine Mystagogy, which was handed down by our Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostles during that night when He was about to be delivered up. Shortly thereafter those prayers and the rest of the service of the Divine Liturgy were translated into Greek, as we have found it today, by St. Klemes, the disciple of the holy Apostle Peter, who afterwards became Bishop of Rome. He ordained as law that in this way the Christians are to perform the divine Mystagogy.

In such a manner then the Christians conducted the Liturgy for about three hundred and fifty years. However, because the prayers were long and the service lengthy, the priests were negligent, and did not liturgize. Saint Basil urged, “It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ....And who doubts that to share frequently in Life is the same thing as to have life abundantly? I, indeed, communicate four times a week, on the Lord’s day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on Saturday, and on other days if there is a commemoration of any saint.”

Nonetheless the Christians were feeling weighed down and began murmuring on account of the length of the service, and wished to go about their work in the world. The saint, observing this response of the people, was desirous to find a way to relieve their weariness. Wherefore, at the same time he sought enlightenment, he also entreated and besought the Lord to show him a sign that He might know whether his intention was God’s will.

Thus he pondered and supplicated God for many days, with fasts and tears. Then one night, the saint, as one pure and worthy, beheld a wondrous and paradoxical vision, which I, as one unworthy and filled with every uncleanness, shudder to narrate, O blessed Christians. Well then, the Lord with His Apostles appeared to come down to the saint. O Thy condescension, philanthropic Lord! And according to hierarchical order Christ celebrated the divine Liturgy with His Apostles. Yet the Lord was not uttering those prayers which are written in the Liturgy of Iakovos the Brother of the Lord, but an abridgement, which afterwards St. Bash placed in his Liturgy. After seeing this vision, the saint gave thanks to God Who had hearkened to his entreaty. Hence, he composed the shortened divine service, which has come down to us to this day, and which we know as the Liturgy of St. Basil.

After Christ and the Apostles appeared to St. Basil, he uttered the new prayers in the divine service. Evoulos and the clergy of higher rank then beheld a celestial light illuminating the sanctuary and St. Basil. Certain radiant men clad in white shining garments surrounded the saint. The clergy ~S astonished and fell prone to the floor, weeping and glorifying God.

About the same time the holy bishop commissioned a goldsmith to fashion a dove of pure gold, as an image of what took place at the Baptism of Christ, when John the Baptist bore witness, saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending out of heaven as a dove, and He abode upon Him” [Jn. 1:32]. He then suspended it above the holy table as a receptacle in which to store the Mysteries.

Whenever the saint served the divine Liturgy and elevated the holy gifts, that golden dove which was suspended above the holy altar shook thrice by the power of God. However, one day, when St. Basil was serving, the usual sign of the movement of the dove did not take place. Saint Basil pondered why this should have happened now. Then he observed that one of the deacons, who was holding the fans (ripidia), was gazing earnestly at a woman standing in the church. He asked the deacon to step aside and not participate, and again elevated the holy gifts. The dove then shook thrice, as was usual. The deacon was dismissed, and given a penance. He was to pray and fast for seven days, and distribute alms to the poor. As a result of this incident, St. Basil commanded that a veil be hung and a partition constructed before the sanctuary.

Today, the Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated by the priests only ten times a year: the five Sundays of Great Lent, Great Thursday, Great Saturday, the eve of the Nativity of our Lord, the eve of the Theophany, and the feast day of the saint.


Taken from The Lives of the Three Great Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, published by Holy Apostles Convent, copyright 1998, all rights reserved.

Archbishop Gregory
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Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
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