Starting the New Year with Inspiration from St. Basil the Great

Fr Luke A Veronis

Once the Roman Emperor sent his prefect Modestus to Saint Basil the Great to threaten the saint because he was not in line with the emperor’s wishes. They threatened to take away his property, to banish him in exile, to torture him and even put him to death if he did not change his ways.

Saint Basil calmly yet boldly responded to the threats: “If you take away my possessions, you won’t make me a pauper because my greatest riches are my treasure in heaven. If you take away my few old worn-out clothing or my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised, go ahead. Exile means nothing to me since I am a foreigner on earth and wherever you send me God will be there. I am a citizen not of earth but of heaven. If you torture me, my body is so weak that the very first blow would kill me and yet death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.”

The official was stunned by his answer. “No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me,” he said.

“Perhaps,” Saint Basil remarked, “that is because you’ve never spoken to a bishop before. We are meek and humble yet when people rise up against God, we are afraid of nothing and we will defend Him alone. Fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that threaten to destroy the body serve only to fill us with joy, rather than fear. God is with us and nothing can separate us from Him.”

It is appropriate that we honor such a great saint on the first day of the New Year. Saint Basil offers us a model of what a follower of Jesus Christ should be, a bold, courageous defender of the faith who lived a life of love, service, and sacrifice.

First of all, we can note that Basil came from a truly Christ-centered family – his paternal grandparents endured seven years of persecution as Christians under Emperor Diocletian. His mother, Saint Emilia, was the daughter of a Saint Macrina the martyr. And imagine, Saint Basil was one of 10 siblings, five of which became canonical saints of the church (St Gregory of Nyssa, St Macrina, St Peter, St. Naucratios, and St Theosobia the deaconess, along with his mother St Emilia and father St. Basil the Elder! That is quite the Christian family.

What can we learn from Saint Basil, one of the greatest of our Church Fathers.

First, St Basil was a seeker and defender of Truth, a great theologian who articulated the Faith and defended the Truth about God against false teachings. He explained in detail who is God, how we understand the Holy Trinity, especially in his book On the Holy Spirit. He also showed us how to live a life in Christ.

·      “What does the Holy Spirit do? His works are ineffable in majesty, and innumerable in quantity. How can we even ponder what extends beyond the ages? What did He do before creation began? How great are the graces He showered on creation? What power will He wield in the age to come? He existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before all ages. Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover that the Holy Spirit is even further before.”

·      “The radiance of divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.”

·      “Likeness to God, however, cannot be had without knowledge, and knowledge comes from teaching.”

Second, St Basil was a Church man, a bishop, a man of faith who had an intimate relationship with God. He understood what it meant to walk with Christ.

·      The human being is an animal who has received the vocation to become like God.

·      What is the mark of divine love for your neighbor? Not to seek what is for your own benefit, but what is for the benefit of the one loved, both in body and in soul.

·      A good deed is never lost; the one who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and the one who plants kindness gathers love.

·      To know Jesus Christ, we need not only to read Sacred Scripture, but learn it as well as we can and to grow up in it. Realize that nothing is written in Holy Scripture unnecessarily. Not to read Sacred Scripture is a great evil.

Third, St Basil was an ascetic and monastic, who sacrificed and struggled for Christ, yet he journeyed with the brotherhood, guiding communities to grow closer to the Lord. His rules for how to live a communal monastic life became the standard for monasticism.

·      As the pilot of a vessel is tried in the storm; as the wrestler is tried in the ring, the soldier in the battle, and the hero in adversity: so is the Christian tried in temptation.

·      Withdrawal from the world does not mean physical removal from it. Rather, it is the withdrawal by the soul of any sympathy for the body. One becomes stateless and homeless, giving up possessions, friends, ownership and property, livelihood, business connection, social life and scholarship, for something greater. The heart is made ready to receive the imprint of sacred teaching.

Fourth, St Basil was a defender of the poor, marginalized, and those in need. When Cappadocia was stricken with a dire famine, he distributed the entirety of his inheritance to the poor. As a Bishop he established the first hospitals, hospices, orphanages, homes for the elderly and homes for the poor, He did whatever was necessary took to alleviate the suffering and distress of others. 

·      When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the unused coat in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.

·      If every person took only what was sufficient for his needs, leaving the rest to those in want, there would be no rich and no poor.

·      I know many who fast, pray, sigh, and demonstrate every manner of piety, so long as it costs them nothing, yet would not part with a penny to help those in distress.

·      If you guard your wealth, it will not be yours. But if you learn to share your wealth with others, you will not lose it.

·      When I go into the house of one of these tasteless newly rich individuals, and see it bedecked with every imaginable luxury, I know that this person possesses nothing more valuable than what is on display; such people decorate inanimate objects, but fail to beautify the soul.

·      When we amass wealth, make piles of money, increase our property, and seek after more and more riches, we have cast off justice and lose the common good. How can we live justly if we are not thinking of how to help others.

Finally, St Basil lived his life totally for God. He followed the words of Saint Paul, “If we live we live for the Lord and if we die we die for the Lord so whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.”

·      Preserve gratitude like a precious deposit within your soul, and from it you will receive a double portion of delight. Remember the apostolic word, "Give thanks in all circumstances.

·      “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that everywhere, wherever you may be, the least plant may bring to you the clear remembrance of the Creator. Let us remember the wise Isaiah. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.”

Saint Basil died at 49 years old. At his funeral, St. Gregory the Theologian wrote of his best friend: “He strove not just to seem excellent but to be excellent in the eyes of God.”

As we begin the New Year, let us not simply focus on some temporary resolutions related to our weight, our health, our finances, or whatever else. Let us reflect on the life of Saint Basil the Great and strive to imitate him as 1) a seeker and defender of the Truth of God, 2) as a person who developed an intimate relationship with His Creator, 3) as one who willingly struggled and sacrificed to open his heart to the Divine, 4) as a leader who acted as a generous defender of the poor and marginalized of society, and 5) ultimately as a person who lived his life totally for God.

May we not simply put on a front of excellence to God, but may we truly live lives that excel in the eyes of God, that excel in imitating the virtues and example of Saint Basil the Great.

 

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