Liturgy of St. Basil

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St. Basil the Great

The Liturgy of Saint Basil or, more formally, the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, is a term for several Eastern Christian celebrations of the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), or at least several anaphoras, which have been attributed to St. Basil the Great, who was Bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia from 370 to 379.


That St. Basil composed a Liturgy, or rather reformed an existing Liturgy, is beyond doubt, since besides the constant tradition of the Byzantine Church there are many testimonies in ancient writings to establish the fact. In a treatise on the tradition of the Divine liturgy attributed to St. Proclus, Archbishop of Constantinople (434-446), it is stated that when St. Basil noticed the slothfulness and degeneracy of men, how they were wearied by the length of the liturgy, he shortened it in order to cure their sloth[1]. More certain testimony to the existence of a liturgical text which went under the name of St. Basil is given in a letter of Peter the Deacon, one of the Scythian monks sent to Rome to settle certain dogmatic questions. Writing about the year 520 to the African bishops in exile in Sardinia, Peter, an Oriental, mentions a Liturgy of St. Basil, which was known and used throughout the entire East, and even quotes a passage from it: "Hence, also, Blessed Basil, Bishop of Cæsaria, in a prayer of the holy altar, with which almost the entire East is familiar, says among other things: Grant us, O Lord, Thy strength and protection; make the evil good and preserve the just in their righteousness. For Thou canst do all things and there is no one who may oppose Thee; for when Thou desirest, Thou savest, and no one resists Thy will."[2]

Leontius of Byzantium, writing about the middle of the sixth century, censures Theodore of Mopsuestia because he was not content with the liturgies handed down by the Fathers to the churches, but composed a Liturgy of his own, showing thereby no reverence either for that of the Apostles, or for that composed in the same spirit by St. Basil[3]. The Quinisext Council, or "Council In Trullo" (692), in its thirty-second canon draws an argument from the written Liturgy of the archbishop of the church of the Cæsareans, St. Basil, whose glory has spread through the whole world[4]. Finally, in the Barberini library there is a manuscript of the latter part of the eighth, or the early part of the ninth, century which contains a Greek Liturgy entitled the "Liturgy of St. Basil".

History and use

It is not known precisely just what the nature of Basil's reform was, nor what liturgy served as the basis of his work. Very probably he shortened and changed somewhat the liturgy of his own diocese, which would have been akin to the Liturgy of St. James. In later times it underwent further development, so that with our present knowledge of its history it would be almost impossible to reconstruct it as it came from the pen of the Bishop of Cæsarea.

Over time, of crucial parts of the anaphora were expanded by inserting credal statements. In particular in the prayer after the Sanctus, but also in the expansion of the Anamnesis, which was influenced by the Christological debates of that period. These changes appear to have been influenced by the dogmatic definitions of the Synods of Antioch in 341 and 345.[5]

According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, their Liturgy is practically the work of St. Basil, due allowance being made for changes and amelioration in the course of time. This is older than either of the other two Byzantine Liturgies (Chrysostom and the Presanctified), and is mentioned under the name of St. Basil in ancient times as if it were then the normal Liturgy.

The various extant anaphoras attributed to St. Basil in the various Eastern Christian rites may may be classified into two families: Caesarian (or Byzantine)[6] and the Alexandrian (or Coptic). The Syriac and Armenian are probably derived from the Byzantine Greek with some modifications. The Ethiopian is a translation of the Coptic, while the Coptic, Arabic and Greek Egyptian liturgies are substantially the same. These Egyptian anaphoras of St. Basil are different from the Cæsarean or Byzantine liturgy, and do not possess all the characteristics of the standard Alexandrian Rite, but appear rather to be modelled on the Syrian type, so they are probably an importation into Egypt. The Greek Egyptian contains several prayers (identical with those in the Byzantine liturgy) expressly ascribed to St. Basil, and from these it may derive its title.

The Byzantine Liturgy is used in the countries which were evangelized from Constantinople, or which came under its influence for any considerable period. Since the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has become the normal liturgy of the Byzantine Church, that of St. Basil is now used only ten times a year:

  • The five Sundays of Great Lent
  • On Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday
  • On the Eves of Nativity (Christmas) and Theophany. However, if the Great Feasts of Nativity or Theophany fall on a Sunday or Monday, the Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on the day of the feast, and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated on the Eve.
  • On the feast day of St. Basil, which in the Byzantine calendar occurs on the first of January (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, January 1 falls on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar).


The Liturgy, as it is currently celebrated in the Rite of Constantinople differs very little from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (see article on Divine Liturgy for outline); the primary difference being in the silent prayers said by the priest and the hymn All of Creation which replaces the usual Axion Estin. In general, the prayers of St. Basil are more penitential, and therefore lend themselves to the Church's liturgical preparation for important holy days; hence, their use during Great Lent and on the eves of Nativity and Theophany (both of which are strict fast days, known as Paramony). The service may be divided into the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful (the following paragraphs describe only those parts which are specific to the Liturgy of St. Basil):

Liturgy of Preparation (Prothesis)
  • Mention of St. Basil instead of St. John Chrysostom at the removal of particles and at the dismissal
Liturgy of the Catechumens
Liturgy of the Faithful
  • First Prayer of the Faithful
  • Second Prayer of the Faithful
  • Prayer of Fervent Supplication
  • Anaphora (see details, below), ending with All of Creation and its prayer
  • Prayer for the Church, ending with the priest's ekphony, "And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and praise..."
  • Prayer at the Ektenia of Supplication
  • Prayer at the Bowing of Heads
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving after communion
  • Dismissal (mentioning St. Basil instead of St. John Chrysostom)
  • During the Prayers After Communion, the troparion and kontakion chanted are those to St. Basil.

The Anaphora proper begins after the kiss of peace and the Symbol of Faith (Nicene Creed). It starts with the Eucharistic Preface followed by the Sanctus, the silent prayers for which are quite a bit longer in St. Basil's Liturgy.

While the actual Words of Institution themselves are the same for both Chrysostom and Basil, Saint Basil precedes each exclamation with the ekphonesis: "He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying".

The Epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit to perfect the Consecration of the Gifts) differs in that Chrysostom says "Make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ" and "Make that which is in this chalice the precious Blood of Thy Christ", while Basil says "This bread is in very truth the precious Body of our Lord, and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ" and "This chalice is in very truth the precious Blood of our Lord, and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ … which was poured out for the life of the world." So for Saint John Chrysostom, the transformation is taking place in the present, whereas for Saint Basil it is already an accomplished fact.

The Great Intercession for the living and the dead is much longer in St. Basil.

Because of the longer prayers that make up the Anaphora of Saint Basil, the musical settings for the hymns chanted by the choir during the prayers are longer and often more ornate than those used during the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.


  1. Patrologia Graeca, LXV, 849.
  2. Patrologia Latina, LXV, 449.
  3. Patrologia Graecae, LXXXVI, 1368.
  4. Mansi, Coll. Conc., XI, 958
  5. citation needed
  6. However, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan lists the Caesarian and Byzantine as two different types of liturgical traditions, with the Caesarian being the one from which the Armenian Liturgy is derived. (Analysis of the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Retrieved on 2007-12-31)

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