Today is the memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen.
By celebrating the feasts of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen on the same day, the Church praises a virtue which has always been held in high esteem, friendship. The friendship between Basil and Gregory was admirable. Born in Cappadocia around 330, they studied together in Athens and then returned to their homeland where they led a monastic life for several years.
Gregory lived with Saint Basil in the beautiful surroundings at the monastery at Pontus on the Iris River. Their temperaments were quite different. While Basil had the qualities of a leader and a gift for organization that made him a legislator for monks in the east, Gregory was a contemplative and a poet.
In his native city of Caesarea, Basil was a courageous pastor. Through his writings and many interventions, he defended the independence of the church in the face of earthly power and promoted the dignity of the poor, who were frequently ridiculed by the rich. Above all else, he defended the faith. St. Basil wrote many notable works including his monastic rule, which many Eastern monks still follow to this day. St. Basil died on January 1, 379 and received the title of “the Great”.
As for Gregory, after he became bishop of Sasimes in 371, he found himself promoted to the see of Constantinople, where his eloquent preaching brought floods of converts. People were greatly encouraged by his homilies, and viewed him as the father of the poor. At the same time, Gregory was viciously attacked by the Arians.
Gregory, a gentle, peace-loving, and private person, was more fitted for the life of a contemplative scholar than that of an active administrator in a hostile environment. In less than a year and a half, he returned to Nazianzen, which was still without a bishop, and administered the see until a successor was appointed. About 384 he retired to an austere, private life. He spent his time pursuing his love of study, writing and enjoying his garden with its fountains and shady groves. During these years, he wrote religious poems and his autobiography. Here in Nazianzus he died on January 25th 389 or 390 AD. He was called “the Theologian,” for his outstanding teachings about God.
“The bread which you use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
~ Saint Basil the Great
God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.
~ Saint Gregory Nazianzen