Today the church remembers a Russian saint who made Ivan the Terrible terribly ashamed: Saint Basil the Blessed, Erstwhile Fool, Shoplifter, and Prophet.
Saint Basil was born in 1468 to Russian indentured servants, unable to move past their economic station. He apprenticed as a cobbler, an at 16 headed to Moscow to live his life. Once in Moscow he encountered many who were poor and destitute, and took it upon himself to ask for alms for them as a favor, as often they were too proud or too ashamed to ask themselves.
His service to the poor went a step further as he began to shoplift from local wealthy merchants, passing on the goods to those who were in need. To shame those who refused to help those on the margins, Saint Basil eventually swore off clothes and went naked or in rags around the city, wrapped in chains as a symbol of both the economic burdens of a serfdom system, as well as a symbol of the antipathy of those with means to the plight of the poor. He never took a permanent home, but lived as a wandering prophet.
This, as you can imagine, didn’t sit well with the Jones’s.
As he wandered, Saint Basil would give mini sermons warning of misfortunes coming to those who turned their backs on the poor and marginalized, gaining a wide audience. One such audience member was the tsar, Ivan the Terrible. The story goes that one Lenten day Saint Basil offered the tsar a piece of meat, which Ivan rejected in his Lenten austerity. Saint Basil then retorted, “Then why do you drink the blood of humans?!” an indictment of Ivan’s cruel and horrible treatment of innocent people.
Saint Basil the Blessed died on this day sometime in the mid 1550’s (no one is really sure of the year), having lived quite a long life for his era. He was sometimes called Basil the Fool for his eccentricities, but sometimes to get a point across you have to make a scene, ya know?
Saint Basil the Blessed is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that the call of Christ is to alert the Jones’s of the world the plight of those on the margins. It is not a call to appease the Jones’s so they’ll keep showing up in the pews and giving their offering.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits gleaned from public sources as well as Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
-icon written by Br. Robert Lentz and can be purchased at Trinitystores.com