Today the church remembers a chatty 4th Century saint who, despite his best efforts, was terrible at living alone: St. Basil the Great, Bishop and Patron Saint of Extroverts.
St. Basil was born into a wealthy Greek family around the year 330AD. He was raised by his grandmother and pious parents, was well educated, and was influenced in early adulthood by a charismatic Bishop of the church, Eustathius of Sebaste. This influence compelled him to be baptized and spurred a spiritual awaking.
Feeling a call to the ministry, he left his practice of law and education to go where the monastics roam. Traveling to Palestine, Egypt, and Syria, studying the ascetics and the monastic life, he mindfully distributed his wealth to the poor and tried his hand at living the life of a hermit.
He was terrible at it.
He missed talking to people, and found his brain to be a poor conversationalist.
So, he decided to gather around himself a group of like-minded people, thereby effectively creating the first intentional monastic community of the church. His writings and reflections of this time became formative for Eastern Monasticism, and he’s generally thought of as the founder of the first monastic settlement.
As his stature and practice grew, and as his writings were circulated, St. Basil became a respected theologian and practitioner of the faith. He attended the Council of Nicaea and was a strong voice for Orthodoxy.
In 362AD St. Basil was ordained a Deacon in the church, and then a presbyter as his influence grew. He joined with St. Gregory in full-throated repudiation of Arianism (an ancient heresy), and eventually became the administrator of the Diocese of Caesarea.
In 370AD he succeeded Eusebius as Bishop of Caesarea. Though he had some bad blood with a few neighboring priests and bishops (if you think we have theological squabbles today, read some of the stuff coming out of the 4th Century church!), St. Basil was also known to see the best in people, even his opponents. He was also exceedingly generous with his money (he barely kept any) and his time, known for being on the front lines of the local soup kitchen in times of famine.
St. Basil’s writings, especially those regarding care for the poor and the sick, continue to confront Christians today. He did not mince words.
My favorite Basil line has him writing in a pastoral missal, “The shoes left unworn and rotting in your closet are meant for those without shoes, as is the food in your pantry and the unused coat.” And he was known for living this out, not just preaching about it.
The date of his death is unknown, probably sometime in the late 4th Century of liver disease and poor health probably brought on by leading an extremely ascetic lifestyle, but his memory lives on.
St. Basil the Great (as he is now known) is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that proximity is primary. You must be around the people you serve to know them, and you must engage with others, even if you disagree with them.
-icon written by Kreg Yingst