St. Basil the Great
Roman martyrology: Bishop of Caesarea, one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church, born probably 329; died 1 January, 379. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Oriental Church against the heresies of the fourth century. With his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, also celebrated today, and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, he makes up the trio known as "The Three Cappadocians". May the example and teaching of St. Basil and St. Gregory inspire us "to profess the truth in love” as they did.
Etymology: From the Greek name Βασιλειος (Basileios) which was derived from βασιλευς (basileus) meaning "King”.
Basil was born to the nobility in Asia Minor, Cesarea (Now known as Turkey), his was a pious family – mother, father, grandmother and four of his nine siblings were canonized.
Basil was formed in habits of piety and study. As a boy, he was sent to school at Caesarea, then "a metropolis of letters", and conceived a fervent admiration for the local bishop, Dianius. When he was still young his father died and the family had to move; so later on, he went to Constantinople, at that time "distinguished for its teachers of philosophy and rhetoric", and thence to Athens. Here he became the inseparable companion of Gregory of Nazianzus.
Basil was on his way to becoming a famous teacher when he decided to begin a religious life of gospel poverty guided under the influence of his sister Macrina, who had founded a religious community on the family estate at Annesi and suggested Basil that he’d become a monk. He listened to her advice, moved to the wilderness and there started his first monastery.
He was ordained a priest, assisted the archbishop of Caesarea and ultimately became archbishop himself, in spite of opposition from some of the bishops under him, probably because they foresaw coming reforms.
One of the most damaging heresies in the history of the Church, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ, was at its height. Emperor Valens persecuted orthodox believers, and put great pressure on Basil to remain silent and admit the heretics to communion. But Basil faced many of the same problems as modern Christians. Sainthood meant trying to preserve the spirit of Christ in such perplexing and painful problems as reform, organization, fighting for the poor, maintaining balance and peace in misunderstanding.
He was tireless in pastoral care. He preached twice a day to huge crowds, built a hospital that was called a wonder of the world and fought the prostitution business.
He was also best known as an orator and his writings rightly placed him among the great teachers of the Church. Seventy-two years after his death, the Council of Chalcedon described him as “The great Basil, minister of grace who has expounded the truth to the whole earth.”
Basil died in 379 at the age of forty-nine and on the day of St. Basil’s funeral his fellow friend, St. Gregory Nazianzen, Archbishop of Constantinople, declared: "Saint Basil was born among saints. Poor Basil lived poor among the poor. Basil son of martyrs, suffered as a martyr. Basil always preached with his lips and with his good example and will continue to preach with his admirable writings.”