For those who could not attend the retreat at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Carmel last Saturday, here is one of the talks given by Fr. Basil.
Why “basil” at the Feast of the Cross?
The herb, basil has long been associated with the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The word “basil” is derived from “Vasileios,” the Greek word for a king or person of royal lineage.
According to the liturgical tradition, the Holy Empress Helena, Mother of the Saint and King Constantine, found the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a large growth of basil. Basil plants were reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where the Precious Blood of Christ fell, along with the tears of the Mother of God.
On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it is customary in the East to rest the image of the Holy Cross on a bed of basil before carrying it out for the veneration of the faithful. Also, in some areas, branches of basil are used throughout the temple as a festive decoration as well as to provide a heavenly scent in honor of the Feast. Blessed basil leaves may also be arranged in a bouquet at the foot of the “Golgotha” cross. Dried leaves taken from the feast can also be used by the faithful as a sweet incense to burn at home as a blessing.
ST ANDREW OF CRETE ON THE BIRTH OF THE VIRGIN
Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joachim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joachim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God’s law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless — she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless.
Thus, Joachim and Anna lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition — the all-pure Virgin.
The constraints of infertility were destroyed — prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother.
(+ St. Andrew of Crete, Excerpt from the Sermon on the Nativity of the Virgin Mary)
ST JOHN MAXIMOVITCH ON THE FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
Before the time of Christ, the cross was an instrument of punishment; it evoked fear and aversion. But after Christ’s death on the Cross it became the instrument of our salvation. Through the Cross, Christ destroyed the devil; from the Cross He descended into hades and, having liberated those languishing there, led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. The sign of the Cross is terrifying to demons and, as the sign of Christ, it is honored by Christians.
“O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory unto Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by the virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy community.”
The beginning of this prayer is taken from the twenty-seventh Psalm. In the Old Testament the word “people” designated only those who confessed the true faith, people faithful to God. “Inheritance” referred to everything which properly belonged to God, God’s property, which in the New Testament is the Church of Christ. In praying for the salvation of God’s people (the Christians), both from eternal torments and from earthly calamities, we beseech the Lord to bless, to send down grace, His good gifts upon the whole Church as well, and inwardly strengthen her.
The petition for granting “victory to kings” (Grant victory to Orthodox Christians over their adversaries) (ie: to the bearers of Supreme authority), has its basis in Psalm 143, verse 10, and recalls the victories of King David achieved by God’s power, and likewise the victories granted Emperor Constantine through the Cross of the Lord.
This appearance of the Cross made emperors who had formerly persecuted Christians into defenders of the Church from her external enemies, into “external bishops,” to use the expression of the holy Emperor Constantine. The Church, inwardly strong by God’s grace and protected outwardly, is, for Orthodox Christians, “the city of God.” Heavenly Jerusalem has its beginning. Various calamities have shaken the world, entire peoples have disappeared, cities and states have perished, but the Church, in spite of persecutions and even internal conflicts, stands invincible; for the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18).
Today, when world leaders try in vain to establish order on earth, the only dependable instrument of peace is that about which the Church sings:
“The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the wounding of demons.” (Exapostilarion of the Exaltation of the Cross)
The Dormition fast is brief, but as strict as Great Lent. This “Mini-Lent” also comes with wonderful opportunities to intensify our spiritual life and to partake of some unique services that happen during the two weeks. Tonight, Saturday, August 5th, is the Vigil for the Feast of Transfiguration, followed by tomorrow’s Divine Liturgy. The texts of the services are full of meditations on the uncreated divine energies of God that can be experienced as light. This is not some sort of symbolism, as saints up to the present time have experienced this light for themselves, and in the case of St. Seraphim of Sarov, was able to bring the experience to others. Archbishop Andrei (an American elder and bishop) of blessed memory observed the uncreated light emanating from St. Nectarius of Optina, who was his spiritual father. Fr. George Calciu experienced the uncreated light in the dark prisons and concentration camps of Romania.
The texts of the services are full of meditations on the uncreated divine energies of God that can be experienced as light. This is not some sort of symbolism, as saints up to the present time have experienced this light for themselves, and in the case of St. Seraphim of Sarov, was able to bring the experience to others. Archbishop Andrei (an American elder and bishop) of blessed memory observed the uncreated light emanating from St. Nectarius of Optina, who was his spiritual father. Fr. George Calciu experienced the uncreated light in the dark prisons and concentration camps of Romania.
On this feast, we also bless the new harvest of fruit, bringing baskets to church.
On Tuesday the 8th, we have the vigil and on Wednesday the 9th the liturgy for St. Herman of Alaska, the first (known) saint in America. We get to sing some of my favorite Stichera for this saint:
What is above all,
if not the Lord our Creator,
Adorner of beauty, giver of life,
Maintaner and Nourisher of all things:
is it no Him, that is befitting to love,
as most worthy of love,
and to place one’s happiness in Him,
thus, O Saint, didst thou teach;
likewise, teach us also
with all our heart to love God.
This is followed by the beautiful services of the Feast of Dormition on the 14th (vigil) and 5th (liturgy) when flowers are herbs are blessed.
Traditionally during this fast, when there are no other services, the Paraklesis (canon) to the Mother of God is done. We will be doing this on Thursday the 1oth, but as was mentioned last year, there is no reason that this cannot be done as part of prayer in the home on other evenings. This post on the importance of prayer in the home also includes the text of the service that you can download and use.
“Jesus tells us that His holy Disciples will be more courageous and more understanding when they would be, as the Scripture says, Endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49) He tells us also that when their minds would be illuminated by the torch of the Spirit they would be able to see into all things, even though no longer able to question Him bodily as when He was present among them. The Saviour does not say that they would no longer as before need the light of His guidance, but that when they received His Spirit, when He was dwelling in their hearts, they would not be wanting in any good thing, and their minds would be filled with most perfect knowledge.”
+ St. Cyril of Alexandria, On Luke
“‘And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:3-4). They partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives luster to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift.”
+ St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 17.15, Catechetical Lectures