Saint Basil the Great


Born in 330 AD, Saint Basil (in Greek: Ἅγιος Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας and in Coptic: Ⲡⲓⲁⲅⲓⲟⲥ Ⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲓⲟⲥ) was the son of a wealthy family in Cappadocia Caesarea. His parents instill a deep love of piety and Christian faith and his maternal grandfather was was a Christian Martyr. His grand mother Macrina raised Saint Basil and his siblings - Saint Macrina the Younger, Saint Nauratius, Saint Peter of Sebaste, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa.


Saint Basil left home and received a formal education in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia around 350 AD and met with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. When Saint Gregory went to Alexandria, Saint Basil went to Constantinople for a time - the two would soon be reunited in Athens and would immediately became close friends. After travelling to Egypt and Syria, he returned home to Caesarea and taught rhetoric and practiced law. Everything in his life took a radical change though when he met Saint Eustathius of Sebaste (A Bishop of Sebastia in Armenia and a devoted ascetic monk; though in agreement with Arianius, he signed the Nicene Creed and was one of the few Patristic authors to endorse total bans of Slavery). This meeting so radically changed him that he abandoned his legal career and devoted his life solely to God. He would later write on this meeting:


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.

Saint Basil got baptized and immediately set off for Palestine, Egypt, Syia and parts of Mesopotamia to study monasticism and gave away his fortunes completely to the poor. He initially lived alone near Neocaesarea of Pontus, but realized left when he realized he was not being called into the solitary life. Together with his brother Saint Peter and other like-minded disciples, Saint Basil founded a monastic estate near Annesi on his family's estate. It was here that his monastic life writings were written (and would later form many of the monastic traditions in the Eastern Orthodox Church). Saint Gregory of Nazianzus joined him for sometime here and the two together wrote Origen's Philocalia, a collection of Origen's works. Saint Basil also attended the Council of Constantinople in 360 AD and was a strong and staunch supporter of the Nicene Creed.


In 362 AD, Saint Basil was ordained a Deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch and then was summoned by Saint Eusebius to Caesarea where he ordained him a presbyter of the Church in 365AD. Saint Basil and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus then spent the next few years as close friends combating the Arian heresy though several public debates presided over by Emperor Valens. Just a few years later Saint Eusebius died and Saint Basil was elected to succeed him - he was consecrated as a Bishop on June 14, 370 AD as the Bishop of Caesarea. His time as Bishop was famous - he personally organized a soup kitchen during a famine, continued to give away his family's fortunes for the poor, reformed thieves and prostitutes, and was very careful in selecting candidates for Holy Orders.



Saint Basil and Saint Gregory


When Emperor Valens sent his prefect Modestus to try and have a compromise with the Arians, Saint Basil gave such an adamantly negative response that the Modestus exclaimed that no one has ever spoken to him in such a way. Saint Basil famously replied:


"Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop."

Saint Basil's contributions to the liturgy can not be understated as a vast amount of prayers attributed to him has survived in the Eastern churches. The Eastern church still uses three of his prayers of exorcism, several morning and evening prayers, and the Prayer of the Hours. Saint basil was also a prolific writer with many writings having last impressions. Many of his homilies have been preserved including his Lenten lectures on the Hexaemeron (six days of creation), homilies honoring martyrs and relics, and some against usury and the famines during 368 AD. Saint Basil also wrote several writings on Origen. In total, over 300 letters are available today for reading.


Saint Basil spent the rest of his life combating the Arian heresy. Before the heresy was ended though, the extreme ascetic life Saint Basil had practiced took a toll on his body and he began to suffer from liver disease. Though the exact date is disputed by historians, Saint Basil is generally recognized to have died on either January 1st or January 2nd 379 AD.


In recognition for his massive contributes to the debates of the Arian controversy, defining the terms ousia (essence/substance) and hypostasis (person/reality), the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature and the insistence of the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, Saint Basil was named a Doctor of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church. Originally, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated his feast day on traditional date of his death (Jan 1) but moved it to June 14th, the day of his ordination as Bishop in the 13th century. It was moved again in the 1969 revision of the calendar - placing it a day after on January 2nd instead of the 1st due to a conflict with the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.


Saint Basil's head is preserved at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mouth Athos.



Relic of Saint Basil

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