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Saint Basil the Great

by Catherine Fournier

Saint Basil the Great
Father of Eastern Monasticism / Greek Doctor of the Church / Father of the Church
Feast Day: January 2
Patron of: hospital administrators, reformers, Russia
Symbol: supernatural fire, often with a dove present

Young Families

Saint Basil came from a very holy family. His parents and four of his nine brothers and sisters are saints too. His grandmother is Saint Macrina the Elder (one of his sisters is Saint Macrina the Younger.) Growing up in this kind of family, you might think that it would be easy to be good and simple to follow God's will in all things. But everyone has to struggle to follow the Lord, everyone has to overcome sin and temptation, even Saint Basil.

Basil studied in all the famous schools of the day, in Caesarea, Athens and Constantinople. He was very smart and well respected. When his schooling was finished, he opened a school himself, teaching 'oratory' (public speaking) and became a lawyer. He was so successful, and so popular as a speaker that he soon found himself becoming proud of his abilities.

His family did teach him that pride was a danger, because it takes our thoughts away from God Who gave us our talents and abilities, and makes us think that our success is only due to our own efforts. Pride makes us think that we are smart, or strong, or pretty all on our own without any help from anyone else, or from God Who made us. Saint Basil decided that his love for God was more important that his success as a speaker, so he sold all that he owned and became a monk.

As a monk, he wrote a set of 'rules' for monastic life that are still used today, 1600 years later. He continued to teach, and speak. Only now all his efforts were for God's church, not for himself. It was because of this work for the Church, his speeches, and his great learning that we now call Saint Basil the Great a Doctor of the Church.


Practiced Families

Saint Basil the Great was born is 329 in Caesarea, Asia Minor in what is now known as Turkey. His name means 'kingly' and he did, in fact, come from a noble family. Both is parents, a grandmother and several of his siblings are honoured among the saints. After attending school and receiving and education befitting his station in life, he opened a school of oratory and became a lawyer. He became well known for his teaching and speaking abilities.

Eventually, however, he turned his back on public speaking and teaching, and dedicated his life in the service of God as a monk.

Speaking and teaching did not leave him, however. Saint Basil founded a monastery in Pontus and directed it and his fellow monks for five years. He wrote a monastic rule - rules, and guidelines for the organization, prayers schedule, discipline, and administration of the monastery. These rules are still in use in monasteries today, some 1600 years later.

Circumstances requiring his talents and skills continued to arise. After founding several other monasteries, Saint Basil was finally ordained as a priest and made Bishop of Caesarea. In this post, he spoke and taught against the heresy of Arianism, restored and protected the beliefs of the people of his diocese, and taught most persuasively about the faith. He was a man of great learning, ceaseless activity, eloquence and charity. Admired and respected in his life time as a representative of God's Truth, he was called 'Great' and named a Doctor of the Church after his death. He died in 379 at the age of 50.


Experienced Families

St. Basil the Great was born at Caesarea of Cappadocia in 330. He was one of ten children of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. Several of his brothers and sisters are honored among the saints. In his lifetime, he was a successful orator and lawyer, a monk, the head of a monastery, a priest and eventually Bishop and then Archbishop of Caesarea. His contributions to the Church were many, and he is one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church.

Accounts of his life from the time describe him as a tall, thin, almost gaunt man, with thick black hair and beard. Even towards the end of his life his beard showed only the slightest bit of grey. His eyes were deep-set and piercing, his nose long and straight. He made an imposing figure. This combined with his obvious wisdom, intelligence, energy and dedication combined to create an influential and memorable figure in Church history.

Basil is one of the giants of the early Church. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Oriental Church against the heresies of the fourth century. He, his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, were known as "The Three Cappadocians". Basil far outclassed the other two in practical genius and actual achievement.

He was responsible for the victory of Nicene orthodoxy over Arianism in the Byzantine East. The denunciation of Arianism at the Council of Constantinople in 381-82 was in large measure due to his efforts. Basil fought simony, aided the victims of drought and famine, strove for a better clergy, insisted on a rigid clerical discipline, fearlessly denounced evil wherever he detected it, and excommunicated those involved in the widespread prostitution traffic in Cappadocia.

He was learned, accomplished in statesmanship, a man of great personal holiness, and one of the great orators of Christianity.


Prayer for a Deeper Sense of Fellowship with All Living Things

(Written by Saint Basil the Great: O God, grant us a deeper sense of fellowship with all living this, our little brothers and sisters to whom in common with us you have given this earth as home. We recall with regret that in the past we have acted high-handedly and cruelly in exercising our domain over them. Thus, the voice of the earth which should have risen to you in song has turned into a groan of travail. May we realize that all these creatures also live for themselves and for you - not for us alone. They too love the goodness of life, as we do, and serve you better in their way than we do in ours. Amen.

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