A Prayer from Long Ago
By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
For the past two weeks I feel as if I have been steeped in prayer. On Sunday, September 18 I began the Upper Room Five Day Academy at St. John xxiii Retreat Center in Charleston, WV. This Five Day Academy was the second one in which I have participated. Modeled on Benedictine Monastery life, the rhythm of the day centers around gathering for prayer 4 times—morning, evening, afternoon Eucharist, and night. In addition to prayer and worship there are lectures, but for me the most transforming part of the retreat is the twelve hours of daily silence that participants keep. Part of the silence is while sleeping, but the other part is scattered throughout the day.
In my busy life, I crave silence. I feel at peace in silence. I am most aware of the presence of God in silence. And it is in silence when I am most aware of what God wants me to know. Silence is a gift. So, in the five day academy, I welcomed the silence.
My view of the sky during a silent afternoon at the Five Day Academy
After that retreat experience I spent the next week thinking about Corporate prayer or leading prayer in worship settings. I thought about this type of prayer because I was teaching a class in leading prayer at the Lay Servant Academy in the MonValley District. Most of this class centered on how to construct and pray in the midst of worship, so it included many different types of prayer such as collects, prayers of confession, pastoral prayers, and others. I even got to talk about silent prayer.
So, for two weeks my mind has been on prayer.
In my readings during the five day academy and for preparation for the Prayer class I came across a prayer that I had first discovered long ago and had forgotten. Finding this prayer again was a joy as it is a prayer that expresses much of what is on my heart on a daily basis. It is a prayer that was written by St. Basil the Great in the fourth century.
Basil the Great was born around 330 CE in Caesarea, Cappodocia in what is now modern Turkey. There is much that can be said about Basil’s life, but what is most important to know is that Basil was raised by devout parents and devout grandparents. In fact, his grandfather was martyred for the faith. Basil receive an education and practiced law and taught rhetoric.
An icon of St. Basil (image in public domain)
After Basil met Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop, his life changed. He abandoned law and his teaching career and devoted his life to God, eventually becoming ordained and elected a bishop. In a letter describing his spiritual awakening Basil said:
“I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.” (Quasten, Johannes (1986). Patrology, v.3. Christian Classics.)
Basil is remembered for many accomplishments, but he is especially remembered for his ministry to the poor and for a vast body of prayers that he wrote which are still in existence. Basil died somewhere around 379 CE. Even though he lived long ago, in a time that most of us cannot imagine, his prayers are still powerful today. So this week I share with you one of my favorites.
A Prayer from St. Basil the Great
“Remember, O Lord, this congregation present, and those who are absent with good cause.
Have mercy upon them and upon us, according to the multitude of your loving kindness.
Fill their garners with good things.
Preserve their marriages in peace and love.
Take care of their little ones;
Lead their youth;
Give strength to the aged.
Comfort the timid and afraid.
Bring home the scattered.
Restore those who have erred.
And unite them all in your holy Catholic and apostolic church.
Heal those who are vexed with unclean spirits.
Go with all traveling by sea or by land.
Protect the widow;
Shelter the orphans.
Deliver those who work in mines, and those in exile;
Those in distress or poverty, or any kind of trouble.
Remember all who stand in need of your pity:
Those that love us; those that hate us;
Those who desire our prayers, unworthy though we be to offer them to you.
Remember, O Lord, all of your people, and pour upon them in abundance
Your goodness, granting all their prayers unto salvation.
All those whom we have not remembered through ignorance or forgetfulness
Or through the multitude of their names,
Do yourself call to mind, O God;
For you know the name and age of each, even from our mother’s womb.
For you, O Lord, are
The helper of the helpless;
The hope of the hopeless;
The savior of the tempest-tossed;
The harbor of the voyager; and
The physician of the sick.
Be all things to all people.
For you know them all, their petitions, their dwellings, and their minds.”
(found in Laurence Hull Stookey’s book, Let the Whole Church Say Amen!, pg 29)
May all our prayers be this earnest and include all of God’s children as does this prayer by St. Basil.
To God Alone be glory!
Beauty in the silence around me!