The Catholic Defender: Saint Basil the Great
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.
He attended school in Caesarea, as well as Constantinople and Athens, where he became acquainted with St. Gregory Nazianzen in 352.
In this post until his death in 379, he continued to be a man of vast learning and constant activity, genuine eloquence and immense charity. This earned for him the title of "Great" during his life and Doctor of the Church after his death.
Basil was on his way to becoming a famous teacher when he decided to begin a religious life of gospel poverty. After studying various modes of religious life, he founded what was probably the first monastery in Asia Minor. He is to monks of the East what Saint Benedict is to the West, and Basil’s principles influence Eastern monasticism today.
After founding several other monasteries, he was ordained and, in 370, made bishop of Caesaria.
Basil was one of the giants of the early Church. He was responsible for the victory of Nicene orthodoxy over Arianism in the Byzantine East, and the denunciation of Arianism at the Council of Constantinople in 381-82 was in large measure due to his efforts.
He was ordained a priest, assisted the archbishop of Caesarea—now southeastern Turkey—and ultimately became archbishop himself, in spite of opposition from some of the bishops under him, probably because they foresaw coming reforms.
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.
Arianism, one of the most damaging heresies in the history of the Church which denied the divinity of Christ, was at its height. Emperor Valens persecuted orthodox believers, and put great pressure on Basil to remain silent and admit the heretics to communion. Basil remained firm, and Valens backed down. But trouble remained.
When the great Saint Athanasius died, the mantle of defender of the faith against Arianism fell upon Basil. He strove mightily to unite and rally his fellow Catholics who were crushed by tyranny and torn by internal dissension. He was misunderstood, misrepresented, accused of heresy and ambition. Even appeals to the pope brought no response. “For my sins I seem to be unsuccessful in everything.”
In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labor. Together with Pachomius, he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity.
Basil was tireless in pastoral care. He preached twice a day to huge crowds, built a hospital that was called a wonder of the world—as a youth he had organized famine relief and worked in a soup kitchen himself—and fought the prostitution business.
On this day also is the commemoration of the great miracle performed by St. Basilius, Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia.
A young man, who loved his master's daughter, Satan, his enemy and the enemy of the human race, deceived him. Satan made him resort to a magician who made him write a covenant to deny the faith and to surrender completely to Satan, so that Satan might grant him his wish. Satan kindled lust in the heart of the girl, and she loved the young man exceedingly. She asked her father insistingly not to object to her marriage to that young man. Eager for his honor and fearing for her life, he married her to him.
When she had spent with him a long period of time, she noticed that he did not enter the church or partake of the Holy Sacraments, or make the sign of the Holy Cross over himself. She revealed to him her doubt about his faith and his love of God. He told her what had happened to him, and how he had written to Satan a covenant of obedience till death.
She cried much and rebuked him for his deed. She took him to St. Basilius, Bishop of Caesarea. He listened to the confession of the young man and saw his grief and desire to go back to the life of worship, fellowship, and righteousness. St. Basilius comforted him and asked him to stay with him for a while in seclusion, fasting and praying. He shut him up in a nearby room for three days. On the third day St. Basilius visited him and the young man told him that the evil spirits had not ceased disturbing and fighting him in many ways. He strengthened him, calmed him down, gave him food and prayed for him. St. Basilius asked him to remain in seclusion, praying and fasting.
After a few days, he came back to visit him again. The young man told St. Basilius that he did not see the devils any more, but he still heard their cries and threats. St. Basilius fed him again and prayed for him and left him to the life of seclusion to fight and pray, and the bishop went to pray on his behalf also. And this went on until 40 days were completed. When the Saint came to him and asked him about his state, he told the Saint that he saw him (the Saint) fighting against Satan on his behalf, and he vanquished him and finally was victorious.
The Bishop gathered all the priests and the monks and prayed for the young man all that night. On the following morning he led him into the church while everyone was crying, "Lord have mercy on us," and they continued to cry out until that writing, which the young man had written as a covenant to deny the faith and to surrender to Satan, fell down in the midst of all the people. The Bishop, the young man and his wife, and all the people rejoiced exceedingly. The Bishop blessed that man and administered to him the Holy Sacraments. The man and his wife departed to their house full of joy for the peace and repentance they received. They praised God and thanked St. Basilius by whose prayers they were saved.
The blessings of his prayers be with us all, and Glory be to our God forever. Amen.
Basil was best known as an orator. Though not recognized greatly in his lifetime, his writings rightly place him among the great teachers of the Church. Seventy-two years after his death, the Council of Chalcedon described him as “the great Basil, minister of grace who has expounded the truth to the whole earth.”
On the order of Prefect Agricola, the torturers flayed him with iron combs used for combing wool and they hung a millstone around his neck with the intent to drown him in the lake, but with the help of God, Blaise endured all of this torture (hence he is also the protector and shepherds and wool combers).
Words from Saint Basil the Great
“When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”
“A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
“The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.”
“Words are truly the image of the soul.”
“I know many who fast, pray, sigh, and demonstrate every manner of piety, so long as it costs them nothing, yet would not part with a penny to help those in distress.”
“Preserve gratitude like a precious deposit within your soul, and from it you will receive a double portion of delight. Remember the apostolic word, "Give thanks in all circumstances.”
“For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.”
“Everyone is a theologian, even those who have stains on their souls.”
“Though you speak to yourself in secret, your words are examined in heaven.”
“The radiance of divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.”