St Basileus the Great

St Basil or Meghas Basileus was born in Cappadocia, which is in Asia Minor, in 329 AD. His whole family was a devout and God-loving family. His grandfather was martyred for not denying his faith in Jesus Christ; he was torn apart by hungry lions. His grandmother Macrina told Basil and his brothers and sisters this story of courage and faith in order to strengthen their own faith.

Basil's parents were called Basilius and Emmelia, they had six children, this was a most blessed family as both parents and all of the children became saints. St Macrina was the eldest, three of the boys became both bishops and saints. St Basil was Bishop of Caesarea, St Gregory was Bishop of Nyssa and St Petrus was Bishop of Sebasteia. Basil's family had a good position in society, they had plenty of property and were very well off.

Basil grew up and went to university, he studied Greek Literature, rhetoric (the art of speaking or writing well) and philosophy. He combined the ancient greek spirit with Orthodoxy. Greeks celebrate him also with Ioannes Chrisostomus and Gregorius Theologus as men of Education and Letters on 30 January.

Meghas Basileus was tall, thin, partly bald and had a long beard. He ate no more than was absolutely necessary for his survival; his food was of the poorest available - he never ate meat. He had only one worn undergarment and one overgarment. Basil believed that we should at all times be in control of ourselves and have a blessed life of prayer. He said that prayer was seasoning our daily work with hymns as we season food with salt; that sacred and holy songs can only inspire us and give us joy and not grief. Basil loved people and devoted his life to helping all those in need, he was also a fighter for the God's Truth. At the age of 28, Basil left the world and became a monk; at 35 a priest and at 41, the Bishop of Caesarea.

Philanthropist is a Greek word meaning friend of people (philos + anthropos). Meghas Basileus had great wealth but this did not interest him. He sold all his possessions and built orphanages, hospitals, homes for the aged, schools and monasteries. St Basil was the first one to organise the Philoptochos Ladies Society of our Church (philo + ptochos, Greek for friend of the poor). These ladies gave help and compassion to the poor sick and needy. Basil himself, was full of love and compassion for others - e.g. he would plead for mercy and forgiveness from the emperor, for those who had made mistakes. Another time, after an earthquake, he worked for days without sleep to dig through rubble with his own hands to save those trapped; he helped the injured and urged everyone to share their food with those who had none. Basil stood by the people and encouraged them throughout the catastrophe; he planted food in new areas and prevented the starvation of the people. It was after this and the death of their bishop that St Basil was made Bishop of Caesarea.

St Basil was responsible for forming monastic communities; groups of monks that live, work, worship, pray and dedicate their lives to God together. Up till that time, many monks lived as hermits (on their own). St Basil devised strict rules for monks to follow, in order to live with each other and serve God properly.

St Basil was not worried about offending anyone when it came to the truth. His views often clashed with that of the emperor's. On one occasion, the emperor sent his prefect Modestus, with orders to make Basil support the Arian heresy (false belief) about Jesus or resign from the Church. Basil refused. Modestus threatened him and told St Basil that he should fear him because he had the power to do anything he liked to him. He told St Basil that he could take his possessions, exile him, torture him and put him to death. St Basil said that these things did not trouble him. He said, "take my possessions, I have none except for the worn clothes I wear. Exile me, for wherever I go I am at home as all of the earth belongs to God. Torture me, I am already ill and weak and will not last long to be tortured. Kill me? I welcome death as it will bring me to God much sooner." Modestus was stunned by St Basil's answers and said that no bishop had ever spoken like this to him. St Basil replied that perhaps he had nevr met a bishop before.

saint's feast day is on the day he or she dies - St Basil died on the 1st of January 379AD. We commemorate and celebrate his memory on this day. We have Vasilopita for a particular reason. The emperor had tried to tax St Basil's diocese (area) so much, that he would not be able to pay. However, the many faithful followers, gave him money and jewels to help pay the taxes. The tax-collector was so amazed that he refused the money. St Basil had no way of knowing who to return the money and jewels to. So, he had many cakes baked and in them placed the coins and jewels; he then distributed these cakes to the poor. Traditionally, Vasilopites (Basil's cakes or sweet bread) is made in Orthodox households and they are also brought to the church. There, the Vasilopita is blessed and cut by the priest; pieces are cut to honour Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, St Basil, the priest, the poor and others.

So, what made Meghas Basileus so great? Very few people in history have been given the title of "Great". Alexander the Great was called so because he conquered the world. But St Basil was called "Great" because he conquered (won over) the hearts and souls of men for Jesus Christ. St Basil, pray that we too may be unattached to possessions, become humble, compassionate, loving toward others and burn with love for God and be courageous in defence of the One True Orthodox Christian Faith. Truly, St Basil was Great, a spiritual giant.