Saint Basil the Great: Bishop and Doctor
January 1 is the feast of St. Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He is the patron saint of monks and hospital administrators.
Basil was born in 329 in Caesarea in the region known as Cappadocia, which is located in eastern Asia Minor (the middle of modern Turkey). His father was a wealthy lawyer and landowner. Both of his parents were devout Christians who raised five saints.
Basil was educated by his father and the pagan teacher of rhetoric, Libanius. At age 21, he enrolled at the University of Athens, the greatest university of the day, where he studied for five years. When he returned to Caesarea, he became the chair of rhetoric at the University of Caesarea and was on the path to enjoying a successful career as a professor and lawyer.
However, soon after beginning his professional career, the upwardly-mobile Basil was criticized by his older sister, Macrina the Younger. She detested his ambition and accused him of being “puffed up beyond measure with the pride of oratory.” But, her words had little effect on Basil.
Then his brother, Naucratius, died. Naucratius was an exceptional man: attractive, robust, alert, intelligent, and filled with God’s spiritual grace. He died in a hunting accident, and Basil was devastated. Basil then approached Macrina and sat at her feet, learning to abandon His will to God’s and to acquire Christian virtues.
Following his conversion of heart, Basil decided to live a life of Gospel poverty. He then toured the various monasteries in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt to study their methods of religious life. When he returned to Cappadocia, he set up a monastery and stayed there with a handful of men. Basil founded what was considered the first monastery in Asia Minor. He also composed the Rules for the order. The Rules, consisting of fifty-five articles, became the model for Eastern Christian monasticism and greatly influenced St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. The Rules emphasized three basics that are found in monasticism to this day: obedience to the superior, manual labor, and charity for the poor.
Basil was ordained a priest, assisted the archbishop of Caesarea and eventually became archbishop himself. He would have preferred to return to the monastery, but when Eusebius died in 370, Basil was obligated to accept the position of Bishop in order to fight against the heresy of Arianism, a heresy which denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Basil labored continually and preached effectively against Arianism.
Basil was diligent in his pastoral care. He preached twice a day to enormous crowds, built a hospital that was called a wonder of the world, and fought the prostitution business. He excommunicated those involved in the widespread prostitution traffic in Cappadocia.
Basil suffered from physical illnesses all his life, which were aggravated by his austere lifestyle. He died on January 1, 379 at the age of fifty and received the title of “the Great”.
St. Basil the Great Quote
“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.”