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Question 69.
Dear Fr Christopher,
your blessing!
I would like some clarification regarding the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, conducted on the Sundays of Great Lent. Is the οπισθάμβωνος ευχή of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil as follows: Ο ευλογών τους ευλογούντας...? According to the texts on Υour website, it is another prayer, but during the past two Sundays, the priests at our churches here in Melbourne, along with those conducting the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil in Athens (broadcast via ΕΡΤ), have been using Ο ευλογών τους ευλογούντας... Is this justified, or are they simply making a careless mistake?

With all due respect,
Evangelos.


 

Answer to Question 69.

Dear Evangelos,
There is no straightforward answer to your question. According to Ioannis Fountoulis (Question 175) neither the one prayer nor the other was written by Basil or Chrysostom. But this is nothing unusual; many prayers written by anonymous writers have been used by the church in various services. The liturgy as we have it today is nothing like the Liturgies of St. John or St. Basil that were used in their days. The antiphons for example were not part of the Liturgy and were added at a much later date.
Up until the twelfth or thirteenth century the Liturgy began with the Little Entrance- that is the entrance with the Holy Gospel and the singing of O Holy God… was the hymn that was sung during the entrance. The antiphons were a separate service and were sung in a procession. For example, back in Constantinople, the main Church, the cathedral Church was Hagia Sophia but throughout the city there were many churches and chapels dedicated to various saints. These were considered as one ecclesiastical whole, in other words all the churches were an extension of the main church Hagia Sophia. When they were to celebrate the feast of a certain saint, the bishop, priests and the people would first meet up at Hagia Sophia and then in procession would make their way to the church where the Eucharist was to be celebrated. The singing of the Antiphons took place during the procession and was completed at the door of the church with the reading of the “prayer of entrance” and only then did the clergy and the people actually enter the church for the performance of the Divine Liturgy.
Another clear addition to the Liturgy is the well known hymn "O only begotten Son..." written by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century; two centuries after both Basil and John Chrysostom who lived in the 4th century.
From these and other differences we see that the Liturgical practice is not supported by the authenticity of the text, in other words, if the texts have been written by one or another author that bears him name, but in the practice and tradition of the Church, which adopted these texts to be officially used in her worship.
Old manuscripts and prints testify that both "Behind the Pulpit Prayers" (οπισθάμβωνες ευχές) were used for St. Basil's Liturgy and in fact the majority testify to "Ο ευλογών τους ευλογούντας..." Many manuscripts written between the 8th and 16th centuries contain many more "Behind the Pulpit Prayers" that were used on special days instead of the usual "Behind the Pulpit Prayers". There are prayers for all the Lord's feasts, the Mother of God's, each Sunday of Lent, Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Great Saturday, Pascha and many more numbering almost a hundred.
Historically, both prayers are supported. Liturgical tradition has associated the prayer "Ο θυσίαν αινέσεως και λατρείαν ευάρεστον..." with the Liturgy of St. Basil and whether it is historically correct or not, it has prevailed being read during the Liturgy of St. Basil always or only on the 1st of January or according to some manuscripts, leaving it to the discretion of the officiating Priest.
Seeing that tradition has given us this option, we should make good use of it. We hear the usual prayer "Ο ευλογών τους ευλογούντας..." throughout the year on a daily basis. If on the ten occasions in the year that we serve the Liturgy of Basil the prayer "Ο θυσίαν αινέσεως και λατρείαν ευάρεστον..." is heard it would give a change to the regular atmosphere which is what the Church is striving for during the days when St. Basil's Liturgy is served.
The way in which the Liturgy is served today by most priests, with the main prayers being read in silence, the people cannot distinguish between the Liturgy of St. Basil or the usual Liturgy of St. John other than for some extended singing to fill up the time needed for the long prayers. Using the "Behind the Pulpit Prayer" "Ο θυσίαν αινέσεως και λατρείαν ευάρεστον...", which is read aloud, at least allows the people to recognize that something different has taken place.
For many years the official publishers for church books in Greece "Apostoliki Diakonia" printed the Hieratikon with both prayers and priests opted for the shorter prayer commonly identified as St. John's οπισθάμβωνος ευχή. In recent years newer publications of the Hieratikon, especially from the monastery of Simonopetra, have printed the Liturgy of St. Basil with only the one οπισθάμβωνος ευχή "Ο θυσίαν αινέσεως και λατρείαν ευάρεστον...". As more and more priests are using these newer publications, the prayer is slowly but steadily taking hold as the preferred οπισθάμβωνος ευχή.

Kalo Stadio

With Love in Christ
Fr. Christopher