Feast Day : January 2
Patronage: hospital administrators; Order of St. Basil
Basil the Great was born in Caesarea, Cappadocia (now in Turkey), around 329 to a Christian family. His grandparents had suffered under Christian persecutions and spent several years in exile living in the harsh and wild mountains of Pontus. St. Basil the Elder, Basil the Great’s father, was a teacher. He married a martyr, Emmelia; the couple had 10 children. Besides Basil, his sister Macrina and brothers Gregory of Nyssa and Peter of Sebaste became saints. Basil, Gregory,and Basil’s friend St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger became known as the “Three Cappadocians,” of whom Basil earned the highest esteem. Basil received religious instruction in the tradition of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus from his grandmother, St. Macrina the Elder. The family moved to Macrina’s estate on the River Iris after Basil the Elder died, when young Basil was still but a boy. After school in Caesarea, where Basil was instructed by Bishop Dianius, he was sent to Constantinople and Athens to study. He met Gregory of Nazianzus, and the two became close friends.When he had completed his studies, Basil returned to Caesarea and was baptized and ordained Reader by Dianius. He was furthered influenced toward a spiritual life by his sister, Macrina, who had founded a religious community on the family estate with their mother. Basil visited monasteries in Egypt, Palestine, Coele-Syria and Mesopotamia, gaining the inspiration for his own monastery, which he founded in 356 in Pontus, near Macrina’s community. He composed a rule and thus became known as the father of Eastern monasticism, much the same as St. Benedict is regarded as the father of Western monasticism. When Dianius died in 362, Eusebius was named his successor as bishop with the help of the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. Eusebius persuaded Basil to be ordained priest and gave him administrative duties. Basil was far more competent than Eusebius and their relationship deteriorated. Basil returned to Pontus, but was summoned back to Caesarea by Gregory of Nazianzus in 365 to combat the Arian heresy. Basil essentially ran the diocese without interference from Eusebius. He demonstrated superb administrative ability and was not afraid of powerful people. He also devoted much time and attention to the poor. With the help of the elder Gregory, Basil became the bishop of Caesarea in 370, a position that enabled him to wield great power. He laid down the law, required spiritual discipline, settled disputes and vigorously opposed heresy. He was a formidable statesman and opponent, and incurred the wrath of Emperor Valens (r. 364–378), who favored Arianism and persecuted Basil. In 373, a series of setbacks and sufferings began for Basil: In that year, his key friend and supporter, St. Athanasius, died, followed by Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder in 374. Basil also became estranged from his good friend, Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger. He had known enemies and lost ground to the Arians. A schism was erupting in the Church. His health was failing, and invading Goths threatened the empire. Pope Damasus (r. 366–384) suspected him of heresy, and St. Jerome accused him of pride. Basil died on January 1, 379. His death was mourned by Christians, Jews and pagans alike. The honorific “the Great” was appended to his name posthumously. His relics were not mentioned until the 12th century, when parts of his body and other relics allegedly were brought to Bruges by a Crusader. In the 16th century, the Naples Oratory was given a relic sent from Constantinople to the pope. Despite the setbacks in the latter part of his life, Basil left a lasting imprint on the Church. He was responsible for the victory of Nicene orthodoxy over Arianism in the East. Arianism was denounced at the Council of Constantinople in 381–382, thanks largely to his influence. Basil wrote important works on dogma, especially defending the Divinity of the Three Persons of the Trinity; commentaries on the Scriptures; treatises on morals and monastic rules; and sermons. Some of his works have been lost. Three hundred and sixty-six of his letters survive. He either composed a liturgy or reformed an existing one; several Eastern liturgies have been attributed to him.