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Saint Basil the Great

Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church.  

Basil, one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church, was born in 329, at Caesarea of Cappadocia. He came of a remarkable Christian family; for his paternal grandfather was persecuted to death for Christ, and his maternal grandmother, who reared him as a lad, was Saint Macrina the Elder. He was one of ten children born to his parents, who were Saints Basil the Elder, and Emmelia who was a Martyr's daughter. His sister was the eminent foundress of religious houses for women, Saint Macrina the Younger; and two of his brothers namely, Saints Gregory of Nyssa and Peter of Sebaste, as well as himself, became bishops known for their godliness and courage. He, and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and his intimate friend Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, are often referred to as the three Cappadocians because of their mighty deeds and writings against those enemies of true religion to whom they jointly gave battle in their day. And Basil is reckoned, along with Saints John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius. as one of the first four Doctors of the East, and is revered next after Athanasius as the defender of the Faith amongst the Orthodox Catholics of the fourth century. He was also the author of the monastic rule called by his name, and followed by the monks of the East, who venerate him as the very Patriarch of Monks.

He studied earthly learning at Athens, in company with Julian the Apostate and Gregory of Nazianzus. To the latter he was ever united in an austere yet tender friendship, which is one of the beauties of Christian history, and concerning which Gregory saith they were as one soul in two bodies. His saintly sister Macrina, fearing that he might be overcome by the brilliant success he so early attained as a teacher, influenced him to travel in search of holy monks, with whom he lived in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. From them he gained that sacred learning and discipline of life, whereby he won for himself the surname of The Great. After his return to his native land, he established a monastery in Pontus. There he also laboured in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, to bring back into the way of salvation that country which before had been wandering astray from the rules of Christian belief and discipline. For Saint Gregory Nazianzus fetched him forth from his retreat, and joined him to himself, in a great work of preaching against the Arians. Basil was shortly afterwards united as coadjutor to Eusebius, Bishop of Caesar, for the edification of that city, and afterwards became his successor in the See. In which once he had much to suffer for the Faith because as Exarch of that region he had oversight over many bishops and their clergy, which same loved him not, because of his zeal for the Catholic religion. One of his chief labours always was to maintain that the Son is of one substance with the Father; and when the Emperor Valens was moved to wrath against him, and willed to send him into exile, he so bent that monarch, by dint of wondrous virtues and mighty deeds, that Valens was forced to forego his intention.

The abstinence and self-control of Basil were truly remarkable. He was content to wear nothing but one single garment. In observance of fasting he was most earnest; and so instant in prayer, that he would oftentimes pass the whole night therein. He built monasteries, wherein he so adapted the institutions of monasticism, that he exquisitely united for the inmates the advantages of the contemplative and of the active life; and it was for these that he wrote his famous monastic rule. He was the author of many learned writings, and according to the witness of Gregory of Nazianzus, no one hath ever composed more faithful and edifying explanations of the books of the Holy Scripture. He died on January 1st, in 379, at the age of forty-nine, at which time so essentially spiritual was his life, that his body shewed nothing but skin and bones. But his feast is kept on June 14th, which is the reputed date of his consecration to the episcopate. The so-called Liturgy of Saint Basil, so widely used in the Eastern Church, is the revision of the current liturgy of Caesarea, which he made when he was as yet a priest there under Bishop Eusebius. Seventy-two years after his death the Council of Chalcedon entitled him: The Great Basil, Minister of Grace, who expounded the truth to the whole earth.


WE beseech thee, O Lord, graciously to hear the prayers which we offer unto thee on this festival of thy holy Confessor and Bishop, Saint Basil: that like as he was found worthy to do thee faithful service; so by the succour of his merits we may be delivered from the bonds of the sins which we have committed. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Anglican Breviary, Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation, Inc., New York, 1955, pages 1243-1245

Additional Information:

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