This fearless champion of the Orthodox Faith, the pillar of fire that lights Christianity today, St. Basil the Great, was born in Caesarea in 329. His family was adorned by many saints, including his paternal grandmother, his father, his mother St. Emmella, his sister St, Macrina, and his brothers St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Peter of Sebaste.
At the age of 23 he formed a life-long holy friendship in Athens with St. Gregory Nazianzen who, together with St. Maerina, zealously encouraged and guided him to renounce the world and live the angelic life of a monk. The saint had already come to love holy poverty and feel contempt for human praise, following the example of Christ, and so he gave away his estate to the poor and traveled extensively, receiving instruction from holy monks and hermits. Later he founded many monasteries, among them one opposite the convent established by his mother and sister, and composed his ascetic works and rules for monastics, called the “Longer” and “Shorter Rules,”
From time to tine he was summoned to offer courageous defense of the Orthodox Faith against persecutors of the truth, but otherwise he quietly divided his time between prayer, the study of Holy Scripture, and manual labor. According to his friend, St. Gregory, he lived at all times cheerfully and in such great poverty–even after he was made bishop–that when he died in 379 there was not enough even for a small tombstone. Not only had his monument already been long erected in the hearts of Orthodox Christians, but the Church chose to honor him as one of the great “Three Hierarchs,” together with St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian (their feast is celebrated on January 30).
The following excerpt from his “Introduction to the Ascetical Life” is an intrepid call to arms, such as the Orthodox Church has sounded in every age.
“Come, then, soldier of Christ…! Set before yourself a life without house, homeland, or possessions. Be free and at liberty from all worldly cares, lest desire or anxiety fetter you ….Follow the Heavenly Bridegroom; withstand the onset of invisible foes; wage war against principalities and powers, driving them out first from your own soul ….
Earth did not accept you as a citizen, but heaven will welcome you. The world persecuted you, but the angels will bear you aloft to the presence of Christ. You will even be called friend by Him and will hear thelonged for word of commendation: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, brave soldier and imitator of the Lord, follower of the King, I shall reward you with My own gifts and I shall pay heed to your words even as you did to Mine.’
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Your voice resounded throughout the world that received your word by which, in godly manner, you taught dogma, clarified the nature of beings, and set in order the character of people. Venerable father, Royal Priesthood, intercede to Christ God to grant us great mercy.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
For the Church art thou in truth a firm foundation, granting an inviolate lordship unto all mortal men and sealing it with what thou hast taught, O righteous Basil, revealer of heavenly things.
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
“The bread that you store up belongs to the hungry; the coat that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold that you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.”
“A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy, reaps friendship; he who plants kindness, gathers love; pleasure bestowed on a grateful mind was never sterile, but generally gratitude begets reward.”
On Poverty: “The harshest form of covetousness is not even to give things perishable to those who need them. “But whom do I treat unjustly,” you say, “by keeping what is my own?” Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all-this is what the rich do. They first take possession of the common property, and then they keep it as their own because they were the first to take it. But if every man took only what sufficed for his own need, and left the rest to the needy, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.
Did you not fall naked from the womb? Will you not go back naked to the earth? Where is your present property from? If you think that it came to you by itself, you don’t believe in God, you don’t acknowledge the creator and you are not thankful to Him who gave it to you. But if you agree and confess that you have it from God, tell us the reason why He gave it to you.
Is God unjust, dividing unequally the goods of this life? Why are you rich, while the other is poor? Isn’t it, if for no other reason, so that you can gain a reward for your kindness and faithful stewardship, and for him to be honored with the great virtue of patience? But you, having gathered everything inside the empty bosom of avarice, do you think that you wrong no one, while you rob so many people?
Who is the greedy person? It’s him, who doesn’t content himself with what he has. And who the thief? He who steals what belongs to others. And you think that you are not greedy, and that you do not rob others? What had been granted to you so that you might care for others, you claim for yourself.
He who strips a man of his clothes is to be called a thief. Is not he who, when he is able, fails to clothe the naked, worthy of no other title? The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
His monumental work on the origin of the Holy Spirit was called Hexæmeron (plus other writtings) can be found at:
Vesperal Liturgy of St Basil: http://www.ustream.tv/flash/video/1400412