Suppose a newly elected President asked you to serve in his cabinet, and threatened to fine you if you refused, would you turn him down? St. Basil, who died on this day, January 1, 379 (probable date), is said to have done just that. When Roman Emperor Julian asked Basil to join his court, he refused because Julian had turned his back on Christianity. Emperor Julian was so angry, he fined Basil l,000 pounds of gold--equivalent to nearly $6 million dollars. Basil laughed off the fine as ridiculous, and reminded Julian that the two had studied scriptures together as schoolboys.
Although today less than 1 percent of the people in Turkey are Christian, in the early days of the church, Turkey, then called Asia Minor, was a center for Christianity. Basil was born into an upper-class Christian family in Cappadocia. His mother and grandmother took special care to bring him up as a Christian. Basil's family produced other famous Christians. His brother is known as St. Gregory of Nyssa, a remarkable theologian and writer; his sister was St. Macrina, who founded a Christian community on the family property and who convinced Basil to leave the law for the church.
After Basil gave himself to the service of the church, he became a hermit and founded one of the earliest communities of monks in the Mideast. Leaving his reclusive life, he joined Gregory of Nazianzus in preaching. When famine overtook Cappadocia in 368, Basil sold inherited property to help the suffering and to feed the hungry. In 370, he became Bishop of Caesarea. Here he founded hospitals, hostels, and schools, largely financed from his own funds. Children were cared for, slaves protected, and the homeless given shelter.
Even before he became the bishop of Ceasarea, Basil was an activist on important issues of the day. He staunchly defended the deity of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity (that God is three persons in one being).
On this day, January 1, we remember St Basil for his sound Christian theology, compassion for the poor, sick, and homeless, and as a man who was willing to stand up for his faith--even against the mighty Roman emperor.
- Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
- Aland, Kurt. Saints and Sinners; men and ideas in the early church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970.
- "Basil, St. 'the Great.'" Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1999.
- McSorley, Joseph. "St. Basil the Great." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Morison, E. F. St. Basil and His Rule; a study in early monasticism. London: Oxford University Press, 1912.