The Anaphora of Saint Basil the Great

The anaphora is the central prayer of the Divine Liturgy or Eucharist, a thanksgiving sacrifice in which bread and wine are offered to God, and these gifts are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be shared in Holy Communion.  In the Byzantine Rite, two forms of the anaphora are commonly used. This article describes the Anaphora of Saint Basil the Great.

The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, of which this Anaphora is the heart, was at one time the ordinary Sunday Divine Liturgy in Constantinople. Eventually, it was replaced by the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom on most Sundays, but continued to be used on the Sundays of the Great Fast, on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, and at the feasts of Christmas and Theophany. On these feasts, its rich theology of the history of salvation is presented to remind us of the wonder of God's works.

The introduction to the Anaphora

The anaphora follows the Great Entrance,  the Kiss of Peace, and the Symbol of Faith (Creed).  The gifts of bread and wine have been brought to the holy table;  the clergy and faithful have affirmed their love for one another, and their acceptance of Christ's teaching as it has been passed down through the Church.

The dialog that introduces the Anaphora is extremely ancient. The deacon announces what is about to happen:

Let us stand aright; let us stand in awe; let us be attentive to offer the holy Anaphora in peace.

and the faithful sing a response to show that they understand what is being offered and received:

Mercy, peace, a sacrifice of praise.

Then the priest (who will offer the sacrifice) turns to bless the faithful, saying:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

and the people respond, "And with your spirit."  Then the priest turns to the holy table, lifts his hands, and exclaims:

Let us lift up our hearts.

And the faithful give their assent:

We lift them up to the Lord.

The priest then summons the faithful to thanksgiving before God - the central theme and message of the Eucharist:

Let us give thanks to the Lord.

And the faithful acknowledge that it is completely appropriate to do so:

It is proper and just.

At one time, the next section of the prayer was said silently by the priest. Since the prayers of the Anaphora of Saint Basil are significantly longer than those of the Anaphora of Saint John Chrysostom, the melodies for singing the faithful's responses also became quite long. Today, these melodies continue to be sung in a slightly shortened form, as a mark of the solemnity of the occasions on which the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil is celebrated.

The reasons for thanksgiving

In the first part of the anaphora, the priest states our reasons for giving thanks to God:

O Eternal Being, Master, Lord, God, Father almighty and adorable
it is truly proper and just and befitting the magnificence of your holiness
to praise you, to sing to you, to bless you, to worship you,
to thank you, to glorify you, the only true God,
and to offer you this, our spiritual worship with contrite heart and humble spirit;
for you have granted us the knowledge of your truth.

Who is able to proclaim your might, to make known all your praises, or to recount all your mighty deeds in every age?

Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation both visible and invisible,
enthroned in glory yet fathoming the depths,
eternal, invisible, incomprehensible, boundless, and changeless,
Father of our great God, Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ,
you are revealed through him who is our hope,
the image of your goodness, and the seal bearing your likeness.

He is the Living Word, True God, Eternal Wisdom,
Life, Sanctification, Power, and the True Light through whom the Holy Spirit has been revealed:
the Spirit of truth, the Gift of filial adoption, the Pledge of our future inheritance,
the First-fruits of eternal blessings, the Life-creating Power, the Wellspring of sanctification
through whom every rational and intelligent creature is empowered to worship you,
and to offer you an unending hymn of praise;
for all creation serves you.

Then, just as in the Great Entrance, he mentions the holy angels:

Angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities,
virtues, powers, and the many-eyed cherubim praise you.
You are surrounded by the six-winged seraphim;
two wings cover their face, two their feet, and with two they fly,
and they call one to another with never-ending and never-silent hymns of praise,
singing, shouting, crying aloud, and saying the triumphal hymn:

And then the faithful sing the triumphal hymn of the angels: first the part heard by Isaiah in his vision ("Holy, holy, holy..."), and then the words of the Psalmist announcing the coming of Christ. (The word "hosanna" means, roughly, "praise God.")

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.  Heaven and earth are filled with your glory; hosanna in the highest. 
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.

The priest concludes by once more praising God:

We sinners also cry out with these blessed powers, O loving and kind Master,
and say: Holy are you; truly, all-holy. Immeasurable is the majesty of your holiness.

The anamnesis: recalling God's works on our behalf

Now the priest moves from praise to a remembrance of God's saving work in Jesus Christ.  In Greek, this is called "remembering", or anamnesis. Where the Anaphora of Saint John Chrysostom describes the ministry of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in a few words, the Anaphora of Saint Basil takes us all the way from the creation of man, to the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in a veritable poem of theology.

You are revered in all your works;
for with righteousness and just judgment you have ordered all things for us.

Taking clay from the earth, you formed man
and honored him with your own image, O God.
You placed him in a delightful paradise
and promised him immortal life and the enjoyment of eternal blessings
through the observance of your commandments.

But man disobeyed you, the true God who created him;
he was led astray by the deceit of the Serpent,
and by his own transgressions was subjected to death.
In your righteous judgment, O God, you banished him from paradise into this world
and returned him to the earth from which he had been taken,
but provided for him the salvation of rebirth in your Christ.

For you did not turn away from your creature forever, O Good One,
nor forget the work of your hands;
rather, you intervened in various ways because of your merciful loving-kindness.
You sent prophets and performed mighty deeds
through your holy ones who have pleased you in every generation.
You spoke to us through the mouth of your servants, the prophets,
who foretold the salvation which was to come.
You gave the Law as an aid,
and appointed angels as guardians.

When the fullness of time had come,
you spoke to us through your own Son,
the very one through whom you created the ages.
Although he is the reflection of your glory and the express image of your person,
sustaining all things by his powerful word,
He did not deem equality with you, God and Father, something to be grasped;
rather, while remaining everlasting God,
he appeared on earth and lived among men.

In becoming incarnate from the holy Virgin,
he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
conforming himself to the lowliness of our body,
that he might conform us to the image of his glory.

For since, through a man, sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
so it pleased your only-begotten Son,
who is in your bosom, God and Father,
to be born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary,
to be born under the Law,
to condemn sin in his flesh
so that those who are dead in Adam might be brought to life in him, your Christ.

Living in this world, he gave us precepts for salvation,
turned us away from the deceit of idols,
and brought us to know you, true God and Father.
He purchased us for himself as a chosen people,
a royal priesthood,
and a holy nation,
cleansing us with water and sanctifying us with the Holy Spirit.
He surrendered himself as a ransom to Death
by which we were held captive, sold into slavery under sin.
Descending by the cross into Hades to fulfill all things in himself,
he freed us from Death’s despair,
and rose on the third day,
preparing the way for the resurrection of all flesh from the dead.
Since Corruption could not keep the Author of Life in its clutches,
he became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep,
the first-born of the dead,
that in all things he might have pre-eminence over all.

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.

But he left us these memorials of his saving passion,
which we have prepared according to his command.
For, when he was about to go forth to his voluntary, ever-memorable, and life-creating death,
on the night when he surrendered himself for the life of the world,
he took bread into his holy and all-pure hands,
and presenting it to you, God and Father,
he gave thanks, blessed, sanctified, broke,
And gave it to his holy disciples and apostles saying:

Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins.

And the faithful respond, "Amen", while the clergy make a profound bow.

Likewise, taking the chalice of the fruit of the vine,
he mixed it, gave thanks, blessed, sanctified,
And gave it to his holy disciples and apostles saying:

Drink of this all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.

And the faithful respond, "Amen", while the clergy make a profound bow.

Do this in remembrance of me,
for as often as you eat this bread and drink this chalice
you proclaim my death and profess my resurrection.

Therefore, O Master, we also remember his saving passion,
the life-creating cross, the three-day burial, the resurrection from the dead,
the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at your right hand, God and Father,
and his glorious and fearsome second coming:

Offering you your own from your own, always and everywhere:

And the faithful sing:

We praise you, we bless you, we thank you, O Lord, and we pray to you, our God.

This hymn is sometimes called the "anamnesis acclamation," which simply means "what we shout out at the end of the remembrance of God's works."

The epiclesis: Asking for the descent of the Holy Spirit

Now that the clergy and faithful have praised, remembered, and thanked God, the priest asks Him to send his Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine. In Greek, this is called the "sending down", or epiclesis.

All-holy Master, since you have allowed us sinners and unworthy servants to minister at your holy altar —
not because of our righteousness, for we have done nothing good on earth,
but because of your mercy and compassion so richly poured out upon us —
we have the courage to approach your holy altar.
As we offer you the holy body and blood of your Christ in this form,
we pray you and beseech you, O Holy of Holies, that, according to your kind favor,
your Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon these gifts here offered;
and bless and sanctify them and show this bread to be truly the precious body of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ
and this chalice to be truly the precious blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ
shed for the life of the world
so that all of us who share this one bread and chalice may be united with one another in the communion of the one Holy Spirit,
and that none of us partake of the holy body and blood of your Christ for judgment or condemnation.

Prayers for those who have died

Now, in the presence of the bread and wine which have become the Body and Blood of Christ, the priest asks God to give us mercy together with the saints in heaven:

Rather, may we obtain mercy and grace together with all the saints who have pleased you since time began: the forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, teachers, and with every just spirit brought to perfection in faith , especially with our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

And the people interrupt him to sing a hymn of praise in honor of the Mother of God. (This hymn corresponds to "It is truly proper" in the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, but is much longer.)

In you, O Woman Full of Grace,
all creation rejoices:
the angels in their ranks
and the human race.
Sanctified Temple and Rational Paradise,
Boast of Virgins
from whom our God took flesh and became a child
while remaining God from before all time.
He made your womb a throne,
setting it apart,
a room more spacious than the heavens.
In you, O Woman Full of Grace,
all creation rejoices.
Glory to you!

As they sing this hymn, the clergy pray silently for those who have died.

Prayers for the living

The clergy continue to pray silently for the needs of the Church, concluding with a prayer for its leaders:

Among the first, O Lord, remember our holy father (Name), Pope of Rome, our most reverend Metropolitan (Name), our God-loving Bishop (Name).  Preserve them for your holy churches in peace, safety, honor, and health for many years as they faithfully impart the word of your truth.

And the faithful add their prayers in turn for one another:

And remember all your people.

The priest continues the prayers for the living:

Remember, O Lord, the entire episcopate of the true believers who faithfully impart the word of your truth. Remember also my unworthiness, O Lord, according to the abundance of your mercies. Forgive me every transgression voluntary and involuntary; and despite my sins do not withhold any grace of your Holy Spirit from these gifts offered here. Remember, O Lord, the presbyterate, the diaconate in Christ, and every holy order; let none of us who surround your holy altar be put to shame.

Visit us in your goodness, O Lord. Reveal yourself to us in your rich compassion. Grant us a healthful and agreeable climate and gentle showers upon the earth that it may be fruitful, and crown the cycle of the seasons with your kindness. By the power of your Holy Spirit, bring an end to schism in the Churches, extinguish the raging of the nations, and quickly put down the upsurges of heresy. Accept us all into your kingdom, showing us to be children of the light and of the day. Grant us your peace and love, O Lord our God, for you have given us everything.

And grant that with one voice and one heart we may glorify and praise your most honored and magnificent name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

And the faithful seal this prayer by saying:


The anaphora is concluded, and we begin the preparation for Holy Communion.

Recommended Reading