St. Basil (Vasile), bishop of Caesarea, is one of the most important fathers of the church and a great Christian theologian. He was born in Pontus around 329 and died in Caesarea on January 1, 379. He comes from a well-known Christian family: his father, St. Basil the Elder, was a famous teacher in Pontus, and his sister Macrina and her brother Gregory of Nyssa showed great zeal for the preaching of the gospel and for holiness. St. Basil studied first in Caesarea, and later in Constantinople and Athens, distinguishing himself from a young age by deep knowledge in philosophy, astronomy, geometry, medicine and rhetoric. His teachers were the famous Lebanon, Proheresis and Chimera. In Athens they befriended St. Gregory of Nazianzus, their student life becoming an example to the theologians of all times. It is said that they knew only two paths: that of school and that of the Church.
In the year 355 he returned to Cappadocia, professed rhetoric for a time, but was convinced to join church mission by his sister, Macrinia, entering monasticism after receiving water baptism by faith and making a first division of his fortune to the poor. In order to get to know the monastic life, he undertook a series of trips – to Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia – deciding to become a monk. He established a monastery in Pontus, on the banks of the river Iris, where he invited his friend, St. Gregory of Nazianzus or the Theologian. Here he combined prayer with work, according to the famous principle “ora et labora” and forms the code “The rules of monastic life.” In 364 he was ordained a priest, and later, in 368, during a famine, St. Basil admirably organized social assistance and made a second division of his wealth to the poor.
In 370 he was ordained bishop of Caesarea Cappadocia. For nine years he imposed himself through an enormous theological, pastoral and social activity. He fought against the Aryan heresy, which was widespread in antiquity and whose followers denied the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and thus nullified the value of His sacrifice that was brought to Golgotha for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all men. For this purpose, St. Basil wrote the work “Against Eunomius,” in which he explained the teaching of the Holy Trinity.
The Byzantine emperor, who was an Aryan, sent the patriarch Modestus to corrupt or, if he did not succeed, to threaten St. Basil with threats and thus to make him renounce the truth of the Gospel. The bishop remained strong, and then Modestus said, “I have never seen such a stubborn bishop.” St. Basil replied, “Perhaps because you have not yet seen a true bishop!” Lord, look to our times and give us such bishops and priests, who will stand firm for the truth of the gospel and will not be shaken and frightened by anyone or anything. When Modestus saw that he was doing nothing, he threatened St. Basil with confiscation of property, exile, torture and even the death penalty. Then St. Basil replied: “From me you can confiscate only these old clothes and a few books. You have nowhere to exile me, because wherever you send me I will be a guest of God. As for torture, you should know that I died to myself when I believed in Christ. And death is the greatest good you can do to me because it will soon bring me to God.”
St. Basil fought to alleviate the suffering of many and did not distinguish between people. He set up social assistance institutions: asylum, hostel, home for the rehabilitation of fallen girls, hospitals and technical schools known as “Vasiliada.” He tried to reconcile the Eastern Churches by appealing to St. Athanasius the Great and Pope Damasus. Saint Basil died at the age of only 49, mourned by all and since then called “The Great.” He is celebrated alone, on January 1 (January 14 – old style) every year, and together with St. Gregory of Nazianzus or the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom – on January 30, called by the Church “the three holy hierarchs.”
Characterizing him, Fr. Cayré wrote: “The dominant feature of the character of St. Basil seems to be the harmonious fullness of the most different gifts. The church had few people so complete and balanced. He united to a great degree the genius of Rome with that of Greece. He is at the same time a man of doctrine, whose clear, precise thinking leads an entire generation, and a man of action, with a firm character, who knows what he wants and chooses well the means to achieve the goal. He is a man of faith, but it does not bother the classical culture that marked his preparation. He is a philosopher, when he wants to fight a mistake or define a truth, but his philosophy does not isolate him; he remains a speaker in contact with people, knowing how to speak to them and listen to them. All these qualities made him a man who knows how to lead,” (Precis de Patrologie, Paris, 1927).
St. Basil’s faith was based on the truth of the Holy Scriptures
Despite the Aryan heresy that most of his contemporaries believed and accepted, he believed what the Scriptures say, namely, that the Lord Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” (Colossians 1:15-23 )(NASB)
The deeds of Saint Basil
He was as he learned from the Lord Jesus through the Holy Scriptures, namely:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)( NASB)
The time in which he lived was as it is today, and the people of that time did not differ much from those of today who “all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:21 )(NASB). St. Basil, however, was a special man, even though most believed themselves to be religious, but they did not restrain their tongues, but deceived their hearts, having a vain religion. He taught the church and the faithful to get involved in the problems of society and to give the solution of the gospel. May God help us to understand this and to live like this in our day.
January 1 (January 14 in the old style) is the day when we remember the faith and deeds of this great man of faith. How is your faith? What are the deeds of your faith? What will your descendants say about you after you leave this world? When you pass into the other world, where will you be, what will be your eternal fate, if you think and look at your faith and deeds?
Have you made a covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do not let the whole feast of “Saint Basil (Vasile)” be limited to food and drink, but seek to tell your children about the faith of this man and begin to study and live according to the Holy Scriptures.
Translated by Olya Trikolich