Treeof Life - painting by Jamie Treadwell
Spirit Restores Paradise to Us
Basil the Great
“The Spirit restores paradise to us and the way to heaven and adoption
as children of God; he instills confidence that we may call God truly Father
and grants us the grace of Christ to be children of the light and to enjoy
eternal glory. In a word, he bestows the fullness of blessings in this
world and the next; for we may contemplate now in the mirror of faith the
promised things we shall someday enjoy.
If this is the foretaste, what must the reality be? If these are the
first fruits, what must be the harvest?”
of Caesarea, also known as Basil the Great, was born in Cappadocia (now
present day Turkey) in 330 AD. He studied at Constantinople and then at
Athens (351-356) where two of his classmates were Gregory of Nazianzus
(who became a close friend) and the future Emperor Julian the Apostate.
Basil wanted to be an lawyer and orator, but his sister Macrina persuaded
him to seek the monastic life instead. After making a tour of the monasteries
of Egypt in 357, he founded a monastic settlement near his home where he
lived for five years. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which
focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labor. Basil expressed
a preference for the communal life of the monastery over the solitary life
of the hermit, arguing that the Christian life of mutual love and service
is communal by its nature. His Rules became the standard for monastic life
in the East.Together with Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal
monasticism in Eastern Christianity.
Basil returned to public life at the call of his bishop, Eusebius of
Caesarea, to join in the battle against Arianism. He was ordained priest
and then succeeded Eusebius as bishop in 370 AD. In addition to his work
as a theologian and defender of the faith, Basil was known for his care
of the poor and underprivileged. In 367-8, when Cappadocia suffered a severe
and widespread famine, Basil sold his family's extensive land holdings
in order to buy food for the starving, persuading many others to follow
his example, and putting on an apron to work in the soup kitchen himself.
In this crisis, he refused to allow any distinction to be made between
Jew and Christian, saying that the digestive systems of the two are indistinguishable.
He also built a hospital for the care of the sick, housing for the poor,
and a hospice for travelers.