Aug 9, 2012

Nikos Deja Vu - Saint Basil of Caesarea - Vasileios The Great (The Greek Santa Claus)

Basil of Caesarea
(Πατήστε ΕΔΩ για Ελληνικά)
Βασίλειος ο Μέγας - Αγιος Βασίλειος
Vasileios The Great - Saint Basil
The Greek Santa

Saint Basil of Caesarea, also called Basil the Great (between 329 and 333 - January 1, 379) (Greek: Άγιος Βασίλειος ο Μέγας; Latin: Basilius), was the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and an influential 4th century Christian theologian. Theologically, Basil was a supporter of the Nicene faction of the church, in opposition to the Arians on one side and the Appollanarians on the other. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections - especially with the Arian Emperor Valens - made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.

In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underpriveleged. He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity.

Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, and Basil's brother Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of the Three Great Hierarchs, while the Roman Catholic Church has named him a Doctor of the Church. He is also referred to as "the revealer of heavenly mysteries" (Ouranophantor).

Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer and manual labor. Together with Saint Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity.

Life and education

Basil was born into the wealthy Greek family of Basil the Elder and Emelia around 330 in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (now known as Kayseri in Turkey). It was a large household, consisting of nine (or ten) children, the parents, and Basil's grandmother, Macrina the Elder. His parents were known for their piety, and his maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine's conversion. Four of Basil's siblings are known by name, and considered to be saints by various Christian traditions. His older sister Macrina the Younger was a well-known nun. His older brother Peter served as bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and wrote a few well-known tehological treatises. His brother Naucratius was an anchorite, and inspired much of Basil's theological work. Perhaps the most influential of Basil's siblings was his younger brother Gregory. Gregory was appointed by Basil to be the bishop of Nyssa, and he produced a number of writings defending Nicene theology and describing the life of early Christian monastics. Some church historians presumed Theosebia was also Basil's youngest sister, although this identification is not certain.

Shortly after Basil's birth, the family moved to the estate of his grandmother Macrina, in the region of Pontus. There, Basil was educated in the home by his father and grandmother. He was greatly influenced by the elder Macrina, who herself was a student of Gregory Thaumaturgus. Following the death of his father during his teenage years, Basil returned to Caesarea in Cappadocia around 350-51 to begin his formal education. There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend. Together, Basil and Gregory went on to study in Constantinople, where they would have listened to the lectures of Libanius. Finally, the two spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the unfortunate emperor Julian the Apostate.

It was at Athens that he seriously began to think of religion, and resolved to seek out the most famous hermit saints in Syria and Arabia in order to learn from them how to attain enthusiastic piety and how to keep his body under submission by asceticism, what he called the "philosophical life." Prior to his decision to become a monk, he opened an oratory and practiced law in Ceasarea. He also taught rhetoric, which at the time was a very respectable place in university curricula.


After this, we find him as spiritual director of a convent near Arnesi in Pontus, in which his mother Emelia, then widowed, his sister Macrina and several other women, gave themselves to a pious life of prayer and charitable works. Eustathius of Sebaste had already labored in Pontus in behalf of the anchoretic life, and Basil revered him on that account, although they differed over dogmatic points, which gradually separated these two men. Basil himself gathered several disciples around him, including his own brother Peter, and these men gathered together to found the first monastery in Asia Minor.

He remained there for only five years. It was here, however, that Basil wrote his works regarding monastic communal life, which are accounted as being pivotal in the development of the monastic tradition of the Eastern Church and have led to his being called the "father of Eastern communal monasticism".

In 358, he left that monastery with Gregory and they became hermits, dividing their time between prayer, writing, and contemplation. It was at this time that he wrote his Philocalia, a collection of texts drawn from Origen.

Siding from the beginning and at the Council of Constantinople in 360 with the Homoousians, Basil went especially with those who overcame the aversion to homoousios in common opposition to Arianism, thus drawing nearer to Athanasius of Alexandria. Like Athanasius, he was also opposed to the Macedonianism.

He also became a stranger to his bishop, Dianius of Caesarea, who had subscribed only to the earlier Nicene form of agreement, and became reconciled to him only when the latter was about to die.


In 362 he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch. He was summoned by Eusebius of Caesarea to his city, and was ordained presbyter of the Church there in 365. His ordination was probably the result of the entreaties of his ecclesiastical superiors, who wished to use his talents against the Arians, who were numerous in that part of the country and were favoured by the Arian emperor, Valens, who then reigned in Constantinople.

Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the Arian heresy, which threatened to divide the region of Cappadocia. The two friends then entered a period of close fraternal cooperation as they participated in a great rhetorical contest of the Caesarean church precipitated by the arrival of accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors. In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant. This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the church. Basil next took on functional administration of the Diocese of Caesarea.Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude. Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return. Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the diocese for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius.

In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him. His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of exarch of Pontus and metropolitan of five suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor. It was then that his great powers were called into action. Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese.

His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes. They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders. He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice. At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations. In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was regarded at the time as one of the wonders of the world.

His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth. The Emperor Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction. Basil's adamant response in the negative prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before. Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil. Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence. He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded. Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad. This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church.

Basil then had to face the growing spread of Arianism. This belief system, which denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church. Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians. The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the Holy Spirit. Although Basil advocated objectively the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and Athanasius defended him. He maintained a relationship with Eustathius despite dogmatic differences. On the other hand, Basil was grievously offended by the extreme adherents of Homoousianism, who seemed to him to be reviving the Sabellian heresy.

Basil corresponded with Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn heresy wherever found, both East and West. The Pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness. It is still a point of controversy over how much he believed the Roman See could do for the Churches in the East, as many Roman Catholic theologians claim the primacy of the Roman bishopric over the rest of the Churches, both in doctrine and in authoritative strength.

He did not live to see the end of the unhappy factional disturbances and the complete success of his continued exertions in behalf of the Church. He suffered from liver illness and his excessive asceticism seems to have hastened him to an early death. A lasting monument of his episcopal care for the poor was the great institute before the gates of Caesarea, which was used as poorhouse, hospital, and hospice.

The 5th century church historian Sozomen records a meeting between Basil and Ephraim the Syrian, though many modern scholars dismiss the account as legendary.


The principal theological writings of Basil are his On the Holy Spirit, a lucid and edifying appeal to Scripture and early Christian tradition (to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit), and his Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius, written in 363 or 364, three books against Eunomius of Cyzicus, the chief exponent of Anomoian Arianism. The first three books of the Refutation are his work; the fourth and fifth books that are usually included do not belong to Basil, or to Apollinaris of Laodicea, but probably to Didymus "the Blind" of Alexandria.

He was a famous preacher, and many of his homilies, including a series of Lenten lectures on the Hexaemeron (the Six Days of Creation), and an exposition of the psalter, have been preserved. Some, like that against usury and that on the famine in 368, are valuable for the history of morals; others illustrate the honor paid to martyrs and relics; the address to young men on the study of classical literature shows that Basil was lastingly influenced by his own education, which taught him to appreciate the propaedeutic importance of the classics.

In his exegesis Basil tended to interpret Scripture literally—following more the Antiochian school—rather than allegorically as Origen and the Alexandrian school had done. Concerning this, he wrote:

"I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those, truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end."

His ascetic tendencies are exhibited in the Moralia and Asketika (sometimes mistranslated as Rules of St. Basil), ethical manuals for use in the world and the cloister, respectively. Of the two works known as the Greater Asketikon and the Lesser Asketikon, the shorter is the one most probably his work.

It is in the ethical manuals and moral sermons that the practical aspects of his theoretical theology are illustrated. So, for example, it is in his Sermon to the Lazicans that we find St. Basil explaining how it is our common nature that obliges us to treat our neighbor's natural needs (e.g., hunger, thirst) as our own, even though he is a separate individual. Later theologians explicitly explain this as an example of how the saints become an image of the one common nature of the persons of the Trinity.

His three hundred letters reveal a rich and observant nature, which, despite the troubles of ill-health and ecclesiastical unrest, remained optimistic, tender and even playful. His principal efforts as a reformer were directed towards the improvement of the liturgy, and the reformation of the monastic institutions of the East.

Most of the liturgies bearing the name of Basil are not entirely his work in their present form, but they nevertheless preserve a recollection of Basil's activity in this field in formularizing liturgical prayers and promoting church-song. One liturgy that can be attributed to him is The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, a liturgy that is somewhat longer than the more commonly used Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The difference between the two is primarily in the silent prayers said by the priest, and in the use of the hymn to the Theotokos, All of Creation, instead of the Axion Estin of Saint John Chrysostom's Liturgy. Chrysostom's Liturgy has come to replace Saint Basil's on most days in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic liturgical traditions. However, they still use Saint Basil's Liturgy on certain feast days: the first five Sundays of Great Lent; the Eves of Nativity and Theophany; and on Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday; and the Feast of Saint Basil, January 1 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar, their January 1 falls on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar).

The Eastern Churches preserve numerous other prayers attributed to Saint Basil, including three Prayers of Exorcism, several Morning and Evening Prayers, the "Prayer of the Hours" which is read at each service of the Daily Office, and the long and moving "Kneeling Prayers" which are recited by the priest at Vespers on Pentecost in the Byzantine Rite.

Most of his extant works, and a few spuriously attributed to him, are available in the Patrologia Graecae, which includes Latin translations of varying quality. Several of St. Basil's works have appeared in the late twentieth century in the Sources Chretiennes collection. No critical edition is yet available.


Basil was given the title Doctor of the Church for his contributions to the debate initiated by the Arian controversy regarding the nature of the Trinity, and especially the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Basil was responsible for defining the terms ousia (nature) and hypostasis (being or person), and for defining the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature. His single greatest contribution was his insistence on the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.

Basil of Caesarea holds a very important place in the history of Christian liturgy, coming as he did at the end of the age of persecution. At this time, liturgical prayers were transitioning from being extemporaneous or memorized into written formulas, and liturgy began to be influenced by court ritual. Basil's liturgical influence is well attested in early sources. Though it is difficult at this time to know exactly which parts of the Divine Liturgies which bear his name are actually his work, a vast corpus of prayers attributed to him has survived in the various Eastern Christian churches. Tradition also credits Basil with the elevation of the iconostasis to its present height.

The Basilian Fathers, also known as The Congregation of St. Basil, an international order of Roman Catholic priests and students studying for the priesthood, is named after him.

It is a common misconception that Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow is named after Basil the Great; however, it is in fact named after Saint Basil the Fool for Christ (Yurodivy).

In Greek tradition, his name was given to Father Christmas and is supposed to visit children and give presents every January 1 (when Basil's memory is celebrated)—unlike other traditions where this person is Saint Nicholas and comes either on December 6 (St. Nicholas' Day) or on Christmas Eve. It is traditional on St. Basil's Day to serve Vasilopita, a rich bread baked with a coin inside, in commemoration of St. Basil's charity. It is customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil.

Feast day

Basil died on January 1, and this continues to be the day on which his feast day is celebrated, in conjunction with with the Feast of the Circumcision, throughout Eastern Christianity (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, January 1 falls on January 14 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). However, in the calendar of saints of the Roman Catholic Church Saint Basil is commemorated on January 2. Prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, his feast day was celebrated on June 14 in the West. The Church of England celebrates him on January 2, while the Episcopal Church continues to commemorate him on June 14. The Lutheran calendar commemorates Basil the Great on January 10 and June 14, in both cases he is remembered together with Gregory Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa.

An additional feast day is celebrated on January 30 (February 12) by the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches on which Saint Basil is celebrated together with Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, a feast which is known as the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrates the feast day of Saint Basil on the 6th of Tobi (6th of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church). This corresponds with either January 15 or January 16 of the Gregorian Calendar, depending upon the year.


Although numerous relics of Saint Basil are found throughout the world, one of the most important is his head, which is preserved to this day at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece.

An interesting Metamorphosis of Santa
in Demre (Antalya - Turkey)

The metamorphosis of the humble Santa Claus (the Greek Saint Nicholas in reality) into the commercially more interesting "Santa Claus", which took several centuries in Europe and America, has recently been re-enacted in the Saint's home town, the city of Demre. This modern Turkish town is built near the ruins of ancient Myra. As St. Nicholas is a very popular Orthodox saint, the city attracts many Russian tourists. A solemn bronze statue of the Saint by the Russian sculptor Gregory Pototsky, donated by the Russian government in 2000, was given a prominent place on the square in front of the medieval church of St. Nicholas. In 2005, mayor Suleyman Topcu had the statue replaced by a red-suited plastic Santa Claus statue, because he wanted the central statue to be more recognizable to visitors from all over the world. Protests from the Russian government against this action were successful only to the extent that the Russian statue was returned, without its original high pedestal, to a corner near the church.

Merry Christmas Everybody
And a Happy new Year!

Nikos Deja Vu

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