St. Basil the Great

(~330 - 379)

St. Basil the GreatSt. Basil the Great was born at Caesarea of Cappadocia in 329 or 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, including St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina. His parents both came from devout families, suffering under the persecution of Maximinus Galerius. St. Emmelia was the daughter of a martyr. While he was still young, his father died and the family moved to the estate of his grandmother Macrina at Annesi in Pontus. He attended school in Caesarea, as well as Constantinople and Athens, where he became a close companion of St. Gregory Nazianzen in 352. From St. Gregory’s letters, we know that Basil was distinguished for his brilliant mind and serious character. He associated with only the most serious students and he was very industrious, excelling in grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, geometry, and medicine.

A little later, he opened a school of oratory in Caesarea and practiced law. His great success as a student and then as a distinguished professor gave him some degree of worldliness and a belief in his own self-sufficiency according to his brother, St. Gregory. He grew in the spiritual life through the influence of the Bishop of Caesarea, Dianius as well as his sister Macrina, who had founded a religious community on the family estate at Annesi.

Through the many saintly influences on him in his life at that time, he turned away from worldliness and care for things of this life. He traveled throughout Asia Minor visiting various monasteries and learning the ways of piety and austerity. He decided to become a monk and founded a monastery in Pontus which he directed for five years. He wrote a famous monastic rule which has proved the most lasting of those in the East, gaining him the title of the Father of Oriental monasticism.

When Dianius died in 362, it is believed that Basil had some role in the election of his successor, St. Eusebius. Eusebius encouraged Basil to become a priest and gave him great responsibility in the administration of the diocese. His skill in this role caused some conflict between Basil and Eusebius, so Basil withdrew to Pontus for some time, but returned and was reconciled with Eusebius through the efforts of St. Gregory Nazianzus. After this, there is no evidence of further discord between the two. While Eusebius continued as bishop of the diocese, Basil carried out the administration of the diocese and was seen as the leader of it during a critical time when Emperor Valens tried to impose Arianism on the clergy and people under his control.

After founding several other monasteries, he was made bishop of Caesarea in 370. 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. At this time, Caesarea was a very important diocese. It’s bishop was the Metropolitan of Cappadocia and Exarch of Pontus, which included more than half of Asia Minor. St. Athanasius was pleased with his election as bishop of this important diocese, but Valens and a large group of Arian clergy were not. By this time, Basil’s discipline and orthodoxy were clear to all and this aided him in his difficult task of working with hostile bishops and sovereign rulers. Through careful use of gentle, yet firm correction, he won over most of his opponents. In addition to the spiritual battles he fought, he was also a champion for the poor, coming to the aid of victims of drought and famine.

Even though basil was encumbered by heavy responsibilities in his own diocese, he devoted a good deal of effort to stamping out heresy in distant places though copious letters. Through his work, the Church could claim victory over Arianism in the Byzantine East, and the Council of Constantinople in 381-82 denounced it due to his efforts. He fought against simony, prostitution, and clerical sloth.

Basil died 1 January, 379. He was widely mourned by Jews, pagans, and people from far off lands as well as his own local Christians. He is remembered as one of the greatest Saints in Church history and was named a Doctor of the Church. Throughout his life he produced numerous letters and books, many of which survive today. His feast day is January 2.

Books by St. Basil the Great

On the Holy Spirit374On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great was written to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit using the Sacred Scriptures and early Christian tradition.