Our Holy Father Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia

Commemorated January 1st


Basil the Great was born at Caesarea in Cappadocia in 330 AD into a distinguished family. Saint Basil’s early years were spent learning the principles of faith from his mother and grandmother. Proving an excellent student, Basil searched for the best teachers in Palestine, in Constantinople and finally Athens, the centre of scholarship. His reputation preceded him there through Gregory the Theologian, whom he had known in Cappadocia.

Their friendship developed into spiritual brotherhood in which they mutually discovered God and acquired virtue. United in charity, they shared quarters, a strict diet, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and an intellectual daring.

Having completed his studies, Basil parted from the culture of ancient Greece. Returning in 357, he found that his sister Macrina had transformed his family home into a monastery. Thereafter, Basil abandoned his promising career in academia. He was baptised and learnt asceticism in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria. He withdrew to a wild valley near his family, stripped himself of all possessions and tended to the work of God without distraction. Many people visited Basil and were greeted by tender affection, patience and simplicity. He began to compose his Rules, a foundational charter of monasticism, which laid out a coenobitic model under the direction of a single father.

Later elected metropolitan, Basil daily preached the ascetic way of life he had practised. When famine hit Caesarea, Basil implored the rich to distribute their goods with his own example and eloquence. When drought struck, he prostrated before God until the rain came.

The Emperor Valens, a follower of the heretical Arius, banished Basil, and found that his son became violently feverish, only recovering once the banishment was reversed. When the Arians threatened to seize Nicaea, Basil proposed that the contending parties pray in turn in front of the closed doors of the church. The prayers of the Arians were inept, but as soon as the Saint raised his hands in prayer, the doors flew open to shouts of joy from the faithful!

Basil chose the correct moment to step forward on issues of doctrine, with discernment and clarity. He was the first of the Fathers to declare in boldness that the Holy Spirit is fully God, of the same nature as the Father and the Son.

As Bishop, Basil commissioned a ‘city of charity’ just outside Caesarea, later known as the Basiliad (Βασιλειάδα). It consisted of hospices, hospitals and a school, all centred around a church.

By the age of 49, Basil’s body was worn out by austere asceticism and disease. His funeral was an extraordinary triumph: even the pagans and Jews mourned his death. Described in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon: ‘the great Basil, the minister of grace, who has explained the truth to the whole earth’, the great Father of the Church took his place beside the throne of the King of Heaven on the 1st January, 379 AD.


Source: Lychnos December 2016 / January 2017