Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Wisdom of Basil the Great

In his treatise On the Holy Spirit, St. Basil the Great, whose feast we commemorated this past week, makes some interesting observations. He notes that the various beliefs and practices preserved by the Church originate in different ways. Some, he says, were handed down in the written teachings, the Scriptures. Others were "delivered to us 'in a mystery' by the tradition of the apostles..." Basil claims that both have the same force, and that it would be detrimental to the Gospel to consider some, "as have no written authority", to be second-class. As an example, he cites turning to the East in prayer. Basil speaks of a certain guarding of "the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad at random is no mystery at all." He distinguishes between dogma, which is observed in silence, one form of which is the obscurity of Scripture; and kerygma, the "kernel" of the faith, which is proclaimed to all the world.

"Thus", he says, "we all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own ancient country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East. We pray standing on the first day of the week, but we do not all know the reason. On the day of the resurrection [Greek ana-stasis, 'standing again'] we remind ourselves of the grace given to us by standing at prayer, not only because we rose with Christ...and are bound to 'seek those things which are above'; but also because the day seems to us to be in some sense an image of the age which we expect. Of necessity, then, the Church teaches her own foster children to offer their prayers on that day standing, to the end that through continual reminder of the the endless life we may not neglect to make provision for our removal thither.

Moreover, all Pentecost is a reminder of the resurrection expected in the age to come. On this day the rules of the Church have educated us to prefer the upright attitude of prayer, for by their plain reminder they, as it were, make our mind to dwell no longer in the present but in the future. Moreover, every time we fall upon our knees and rise from off them we show by the very deed that by our sin we fell down to earth, and by the loving kindness of our Creator were called back to heaven."

(Cited in Readings for the Daily Office From the Early Church, J. Robert Wright, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1991, pp. 272-273)

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