Saint Basil

Saint Basil the Great
Born: 330 Caesarea
Died: 379 Caesarea
Feast Day: 2nd January (other dates in some calendars)
Patron Saint: Orthodox Monks, Monastic Life, Russia, Cappadocia, Hospital administrators, Reformers, Education, Exorcism, Liturgists
Symbols in Art: book, dove, fire
Writings: numerous but include Asceticon, On the holy Spirit

Saint Basil was born in 330 in Caesarea, one of 10 children to Basil and Emilia. They were a pious family. His father’s parents had hidden for seven years during the Diocletian persecutions and his mother (Saint Emilia) was the daughter of a martyr.  Basil’s father (also called Basil) was a lawyer and renowned speaker.

Basil was educated initially by his father and then under great teachers in Caesarea, later transferring to a school in Constantinople, where he listened to eminent orators and philosophers.  He moved to Athens to complete his education.  Within five years Basil had mastered philosophy, Philology, Oratory, law, nature, astronomy, Maths, and medicine.

It was in Athens that his friendship developed with Saint Gregory (the Theologian) and they remained friends for the rest of their lives.  In his eulogy to Basil, Gregory said “Various hopes guided us, and indeed inevitably, in learning... Two paths opened up before us: the one to our sacred temples and the teachers therein; the other towards preceptors of disciplines beyond.”

Around 357 Basil returned to Caesarea, despite many requests for Basil to teach the local children, he decided to lead an austere life.  He was baptised by the Bishop of Caeserea – Dianios and became a reader.  After some while “wishing to acquire a guide to the knowledge of truth” Bail went to Egypt, Syria and Palestine to meet other Christians.  He returned to Caesarea and sold his goods, distributing the proceeds to the poor, then moved close to his mother and sister who were also leading ascetic lives.  He established a monetary and was soon joined by monks.  He was also joined by Saint Gregory and the pair toiled hard in manual labour.

In their solitude, Basil and Gregory studied the scriptures and wrote Philokalia, an anthology. The monks requested Basil write rules for a virtuous life.  During this time Basil evangalised many and monasteries were established for both men and women under his guidance. By 364 Basil was ordained into the priesthood.  However, Emperor Valens who was in power, was a convent to Arianism and on the suggestion of Bishop Eusebius, Basil headed back to Caesarea, where he took over church governance.  Here Basil wrote several theological books including 3 against Arianism.

Saint Gregory the Theologian, speaking about the activity of Basil the Great during this period, points to “the caring for the destitute and the taking in of strangers, the supervision of virgins, written and unwritten monastic rules for monks, the arrangement of prayers [Liturgy], the felicitous arrangement of altars and other things.”   When Eusebius died in 370, Basil became Bishop.  He continued to fight Arianism, wrote more books, established a hospital and converted many.  Eventually Emperor Valens sent a prefect Modestus to Saint Bail who threatened to take away his land, beat him and put him to death.  Modestus reported back to the Emperor that Basil was not intimidated.

In Caesarea, Basil built two monasteries, one for women and one for men as well as a church in honour of 40 Martyrs whose relics were buried there.  He had strict rules and was constantly vigilant to ensure the rules were followed.  He used all his wealth and money for the church for the poor ad destitute building several poor houses.

Sickly since youth, the toil of teaching, his life of abstinence, and the concerns and sorrows of pastoral service took their toll on him. Saint Basil died on January 1, 379 at age 49. Shortly before his death, the saint blessed Saint Gregory the Theologian to accept the See of Constantinople. One of St. Basil the Great's great miracles was rendering a manuscript totally illegible. He was able to ruin all but one reading in this manuscript during his lifetime, and he obliterated the last stubborn reading as his first posthumous miracle.

References: Saints, Robbie Blake, HarperCollins