On this fourth Sunday of the Great Fast we commemorate St. John Climacus, a great ascetic and the spiritual writer of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, about which I’ve spoken in the past.
This year I direct your attention to the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. It makes a grand sweep of the whole history of salvation, from Adam and Eve to the Lord’s resurrection. It’s purpose is to give praise to God for our salvation but it also instructs us. Even though it is longer than the St. John Chrysostom anaphora, it deserves our attentive listening and reflection, especially during the Great Fast.
Another prayer, this one very short, and which is not heard by the congregation, is the prayer the priest prays while he incenses the Gospel book and the people sing the alleluia. It also instructs us.
Here’s the prayer:
Loving Master, let the pure light of your divine knowledge shine brightly in our hearts. Open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the proclamation of your Gospel. Instill the fear of your blessed commandments in us so that, having trampled all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life both thinking and doing everything to please you. For you, O Christ our God, are the enlightenment of our souls and bodies, and we give glory to you, with your eternal Father and your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.
Father Stefanos Alexopoulos, who teaches liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America, has noted four key points in this prayer: inspiration, comprehension, transformation and action.
We first ask the Lord to shine in our hearts and open our minds. This leads us to comprehension and understanding, which, in turn transforms us. This transformation results in action.
What inspires us; what do we comprehend? Of course it is the message of the Gospel that does that. We comprehend Christ as proclaimed in the Gospel; we understand God’s role in our lives and we understand our purpose in life as related to the Gospel.
The transformation that results from our having a proper reverential fear of God’s commandments makes us able to reorder our carnal desires so that we can think and do everything that pleases God. Our comprehension of God’s will for each of us compels us not just to avoid sin – violation of God’s will – but, more importantly, to live according to that divine will. This is how we live spiritual lives.
Not only the Gospel, but all of Sacred Scripture as well as all of our liturgical services, transform us to live spiritual lives, to live Christian lives. The call to action that is in the Gospel prayer is a call to live as true Christians.
Our faith must be one that results in the action of living out that faith in our daily lives. When we make God’s will our own we comprehend it and it guides us to make conscious decisions about what we do.
The transformation is one that take place within ourselves. Another word for that is repentance – a change in our way of thinking and acting. It means letting God take over our lives rather than wanting to have control ourselves.
Since the Gospels – in fact, all of Sacred Scripture – guide our lives, we need to implement its teachings in how we treat our families, spouses, children, parents, relatives, friends, fellow parishioners, neighbors and co-workers. The Gospel should define our lives and our choices. Our meditation on the Gospels should open us to God’s inspiration, understanding, transformation and action.
During what remains of this Great Fast season, meditate on the Sunday Gospel reading. Your church calendar gives the readings for each Sunday and weekday. Use it to read and reflect on the Scripture readings for each day.
Be inspired. Understand. Be transformed and take action to think everything and do everything to please God.