Life of St. Basil the Great

The Christian community of the fourth century, struggling for survival against vast odds, found renewed hope and inspiration in the noble efforts of a family of six children, all of whom became saints of the Church. From this remarkable Christian family came St. Basil the Great, a spiritual giant. Many men in history have had the superlative "Great" added to their names primarily because they were monarchs such as Alexander the Great whose exploits spanned large land masses. St. Basil, however, earned this title for reaching the masses with the word of Christ. He was not a king, but he won the hearts of his fellowmen for service to the King of Kings. The title "Great" was no more richly deserved by any man in history, for he possessed the humility of Moses, the eal of Elijah, the faith of Peter, the eloquence of John the Theologian, and the dedication of Paul. St. Basil's brothers and sisters, priests, bishops, and nuns served under his leadership as true workers in the vineyard of Christ.

Born in Caesarea, Asia Minor, in A.D. 330, Basil was reared by parents of unusual devotion they imparted their love of God to their children with such success that each came to be canonized. These six branches of the family tree were bountifully blessed, and brought forth much spiritual fruit. St. Basil's spiritual heritage was bequeathed to the Christian community by his life of immeasurable religious _expression. He was educated in such cultural centers of the empire as Constantinople and Athens. Under the guidance of his friend Gregory (Nazianzos) the Theologian, Basil became one of Christianity's most eloquent spokesmen, earning world renown for both his oratory and his writings. Although he could have had any high governmental position he wished, St. Basil had no desire for high office. Instead he was granted his wish to return to his native city, where he was ordained bishop of Caesarea on 14 June 370.

A man of considerable talent, Basil applied himself to establishing and setting down the rules of monasticism. With this accomplished, he turned to the formalization of the Divine Liturgy which bears his name. The Liturgy of St. Basil became the standard of Orthodox worship. In fact, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is celebrated forty-two Sundays of the year, is a modified version of it. The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on more solemn church observances, including Christmas and the feast day of Saint Basil, January 1, as well as during Sundays of the Lenten period. St. Basil's Liturgy is thus used a total of ten times during the church year.

An innovator as well as a creator and planner, Basil was the first to fulfill the desperate need for charitable institutions; he directed the creation and development of orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the aged. His concept of mutual love and respect and his practical application of brotherly love later led to the formation of the Christian philanthropic societies.

Aside from St. Paul, and despite the fact equality in the sight of God does not necessarily mean equality in human recognition of dedication, St. Basil quite possibly ranks at the head of all of the saints of the Greek Orthodox Church. Recognized as one of the three greatest hierarchs in Orthodox history, and so recognized on another day of the year known as the feast day of the Three Hierarchs, he is unexcelled as a protagonist for the Greek Orthodox faith.

Just as the flower which bears his name, Basil stands for the beauty and love in Christianity that assure his lofty place in ecclesiastical history for all eternity. A definitive biography of this beloved Saint, outlining in detail his glorious service to Jesus Christ could consume volumes, but it is no disservice to this magnificent cleric for him to be included in a rough sketch alongside his lesser known peers. As with great men, in or out of the Church, he counts among his attributes genuine humility that only adds to his considerable stature.

Through the prayers of Saint Basil, may the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Amen!

George Poulos, Orthodox Saints
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline Mass. 1991

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