St. Basil (the Great)
FEast: Jan. 2nd
Patron of: hospitals, monks, liturgists, Russia,
Basil was born to a Turkish family of Christians who had survived and suffered through many Christian persecutions. His grandmother, St. Macrina, and both his parents, St. Emmelia and St. Basil the Elder, raised Basil and his siblings with great educations, and Basil was following his father's profession to become a lawyer and speaker - two things he was indeed very good at. While studying, he became good friends with future saint Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil's life changed drastically however when he met Dianus, an ascetic bishop whom he had known when he was young. With the influence of his sister Macrina the Younger (also a future saint) who had founded her own religious community, he decided to be baptized and then traveled to Palestine, Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East to study asceticism. He tried solitary life for a short time, but found that it wasn't for him and returned to his family to live in community with his sister and widowed mother along with several other women. He wrote about living in community while here. This monastic rule became the foundation for monastic living in the East, and he used these ideas to set up several monasteries of his own.
In 360, Basil attended the Council of Constantinople, where he eventually took a stance defending the Nicene Creed against the Arians (a belief that Jesus was not also co-eternal with God the Father) and middle-ground groups.
The new bishop of Caesarea Eusebius persuaded Basil to become ordained a priest despite his initial wishes, and then gave him a prominent place in leadership. This became a problem, however, when the people preferred Basil's leadership and tension formed between the two. This did not stop him from continuing to do good works for his people, however. He was officially made bishop in 370 upon Eusebius' death.
In this post, Basil created soup kitchens during famine, weeded out leaders unfit for their positions in the Church, and criticized unjust public officials. He looked to find reform rather than punishment for thieves and prostitutes, built shelters, hospitals, and hospices, and twice daily preached directly to anyone who came to see him. He made sure there was industrial training for those who wanted jobs, and that the rich in his his community knew how to spend their money in a "Christian way", often advocating that austerity was really the only way in which to dress and live after becoming Christian. He wrote, "The bread you store belongs to the hungry. The clothes you accumulate belong to the naked. The shoes that you have in your closet are for the barefoot. The money you bury deep into the ground to keep it safe, belongs to the poor. You were unfair to as many people as you could have helped and you did not." He defended the study of works written by non-Christians, stressed the complete equality of both genders, wrote that no person should be enslaved, and advocated that we should treat our neighbor's natural needs as our own. He even did much work to break up human trafficking rings that were beginning to grow rampant in his area.
Though the Arian Emperor Valens was originally impressed by Basil's calm in the face of his threats, and was moved by his preaching when he chose to personally witness it, when St. Athanasius, who was most famous for combatting Arianism, died, Basil struggled to fight it on his own. Many misunderstood him and the Pope would not back him. He longed to bring this disagreement under control because the people of the Church were suffering from disruption and a lack of unity. He thought himself unsuccessful in this endeavor by the time he died.
However, Basil's legacy shows him to have been a great speaker very concerned with the dignity, affairs, and well-being of his people. When he passed, people of all faiths traveled to mourn him. He has since been declared a Doctor of the Church, and four of his siblings, Macrina the Younger, Gregory of Nyssa, Naucratius, and Peter of Sebaste, are all also recognized as saints.
Your words on the complete equality of all people, though written over a thousand years ago, still need a place in our society today. We still experience sexism, racism, exploitation, and more. May we ask you to guide us in our work to make our world more equitable, safe, and life-giving for all. May we begin by striving to do so in our own circles.
Because of Basil's deep concern for the justice and well-being of his people, more than anything, I wanted his face to be one of kindness and concern. His glasses represent his well-studied background, and his clothing mirrors the style and patterns of the Eastern Church vestments he is often pictured wearing. He is known to have been small, slight, and wearing a dark beard - aspects I kept here. His book represents his writings.