The Anaphora of St. Basil: The Glory of our Lord
The Anaphora of St. Basil is a complete proclamation of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are three components to this profession. The first is the mystery of the incarnation, that the Son and Word of God chose to take on the human nature for our salvation. The meaning of this mystery was expressed by quotations from Hebrews 1:3, the Letter to the Philippians 2:6 and the Old Testament prophecy of Baruch 3:38. Therefore, the Son of God becoming a human being was seen as an act of divine humility, for God became man, suffered as any mortal, to redeem us by his death on the Cross. This first component was then underlined by further quotations from Philippians 2:7 and 3:21; the Letter to the Romans 8:29 and 5:12; and the Letter to the Galatians 4:4. The Anaphora makes a beautiful case for how God loves us, weaving together passages from Scripture in a wondrous way.
The second component was the proclamation of the meaning of the Gospel, of Jesus’ “good news,” how he taught us the will of God, and the truth of his being, in contrast to our human tendencies to idol worship. His message was “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Knowing that we could not keep this sublime law by our own human powers, he gave us the mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, “cleansing us with water and sanctifying us with the Holy Spirit,” and leaving “us the memorial of his saving passion, which we have prepared according to his command,” that is, the Eucharist that is now being celebrated.
There is no doubt that we can be true followers of Christ only by imitating his way of salvation. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). The Letter to the Philippians, as we have seen, is an important source for the Anaphora of St. Basil. Again, the Gospels tell us, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). We might ask, then, is this what our faith brings us: humility and servitude? St. Paul meditates on this mystery and asks a very practical question: “If for this life only we have hoped but now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). Just as the glory of Jesus was his death on the Cross, which was the way to his glorification, “because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (Philippians 2:9-10) so we, too, share in his glory through our humility, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
This is the third component of the story of Christ in the Anaphora of St. Basil. Though the mystery of his love manifested for us, Christ entered into glory. As one without sin, he could not be held fast by corruption, but, instead, became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born of the dead, so that in all things he might have pre-eminence overall,” quoting 1 Corinthians 15:20 and Colossians 1:8. Jesus died on the Cross, showing his infinite love, but “rose on the third day, preparing the way for the resurrection of all flesh from the dead.”The Anaphora, quoting Hebrews 1:3 and Romans 2:6, then proclaims the mystery of the Ascension, the glorification of Jesus after his resurrection, “Ascending into heaven, he has taken his seat at the right hand of your majesty on high, and will come to reward everyone according to his works.” Truly, it is Christ alone that we glorify as our Lord and Savior, and we have the common greeting, arising out of the Scripture and our worship, “Glory to Jesus Christ.”
As we celebrate the Divine Liturgy and hear these words of the Anaphora of St. Basil, we might yet ask the question: “What does this truly mean for us?” Do we not yet have to suffer and die in this world? Where is this glory? Note carefully what the Anaphora teaches, “corruption could not keep the Author of Life in its clutches” (Cf. Acts 3:15). Because The Son and Word of God was without sins, he could not remain in the corruption of death, but we, still struggling against the power of sin in our lives through the virtues of faith and hope and love, possible only by the grace of God, must still die like Christ, and await the resurrection only in the fullness of time. The Anaphora observes this subtly, “descending by the cross into Hades to fulfill all things in himself, he freed us from Death’s despair.” Therefore, we no longer live in despair, but in hope, and profess in our Creed, “I expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Truly, therefore, the Anaphora is a proclamation not of death, but of hope and life and glory. It is the proclamation of God’s infinite love for us, and a pledge of our love for him with our whole heart and mind and soul.