January 1-Feast of Saint Basil the Great

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!

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ON JANUARY 1ST OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH COMMEMORATES OUR FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS BASIL THE GREAT, ARCHBISHOP OF CAESAREA IN CAPPADOCIA.

[Compiled from the writings of Amphilochios, Bishop of Amaseia, and other trustworthy sources.]

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Saint Basil, preeminent among hierarchs, wisest of saintly teachers, and wondrous favorite of God, was born in Cappadocia toward the end of the Great Constantine's reign. His father was also named Basil, and his mother, Emmelia. He learned to read at the age of seven, and progressed so rapidly in his studies that five years later he was already engaged in philosophical inquiry. Eventually, he forsook his homeland and moved to Athens, the fount of Hellenic (Greek) wisdom, where he took lessons with the renowned teacher Evvulus, at the same time visiting the schools of Hemerius and Proeresius. Basil soon equaled then surpassed his teachers, who were amazed at his diligence and intelligence, and still more at his modesty and purity. In Athens, Basil became friends with Saint Gregory the Theologian, later Bishop of Nazianzus and for a time Patriarch of Constantinople; with Julian, future Emperor of Greece and Rome, and apostate from God; and with the sophist Libanius. Between Basil and Gregory, a warm and unbreakable bond of brotherly love was formed, for both were meek, chaste, and upright. So close did they become, that they seemed to share a single soul.

The wondrous Basil devoted much effort to attain an understanding of Divine mysteries, to the point of neglecting to eat while he resolved whatever question was troubling him. Having dedicated himself for fifteen years to mastering Greek learning, the Saint concluded his studies with investigations into astronomy, but no secular knowledge sufficed to quench his thirst for the waters of true wisdom. One night, while he was meditating on the Only Wise and True God, a Divine ray penetrated his heart, kindling in him a fiery longing to comprehend the Holy Scripture on the most profound level. Leaving Athens and his friend Gregory (who has become a teacher of rhetoric), Basil went to Egypt.

In Antioch Archbishop Meletius ordained Basil to the Diaconate. In Antioch Basil occupied himself with studying the Holy Scripture. Before long he departed for Cappadocia, his homeland. As he was nearing Caesarea, Leontius, Archbishop of that city, had a dream in which he was told of his approach and that Basil would eventually inherit his See. The next morning, Leontius summoned his Archdeacon and several esteemed clergymen, commanding them to go to the eastern gates of the city and bring the stranger that would find there. Leontius was amazed when Basil was presented to him because he was the same man he saw in the dream. He glorified God and asked him his name and whence he had come. Thereupon, he ordered the table set and summoned the clergy and the most eminent citizens. When everyone had assembled, he explained to them his dream. With one voice the clergy exclaimed, "God has indicated your successor to you because of your virtuous life! Do with him as you think best. The Lord has clearly chosen him, and he is worthy of all respect."

In Caesarea Basil became a monk and imitated the manner of life he had observed while visiting the ascetics in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. He was ordained Presbyter (Priest) by Hermogenes, who became Archbishop after Leontius died, and he was appointed instructor of all the monks living in the Diocese. When Hermogenes departed this world, the people wished to have the holy Basil as their Prelate, remembering how he had been forechosen and considering him worthy of the episcopacy, but the Saint, who disliked being held in high esteem, hid from them. Saint Basil retired into the wilderness of Pontus.

The affectionate letters he wrote Saint Gregory the Theologian convince his good friend to join him there. They lived an angelic life together, and soon numerous monks had assembled at their retreat. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Saints compiled a rule for coenobites. The blessed Emmelia, Saint Basil's mother, who resided in a village across the river Iris, provided their food. She was already a widow and was devoting her remaining years to pleasing God.

Before long, Archbishop Eusebius surrendered his spirit into God's hands while resting in Basil's arms. The Great Basil was elevated to the Archiepiscopal Throne and consecrated by numerous bishops, among whom was Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, father of Saint Gregory the Theologian. Though old and weak, Gregory commanded that he be taken to Caesarea, since he was determined to persuade Basil to be consecrated and prevent the Arians (heretics) from capturing the See. Saint Basil governed the Church of Christ well and ordained his brother Peter to the Priesthood.

Several years passed, and the blessed Basil asked God to send down the grace of the Holy Spirit to enlighten his understanding and give him wisdom so that he might offer the unbloody sacrifice using his own words. Until that time the Greek-speaking Christians had celebrated the Divine Liturgy only in Hebrew. Saint Basil prayed for seven days; then the Holy Spirit descended and he went into ecstasy. Coming to himself he celebrated the Liturgy daily for some time and prepared for the awesome task of writing the new version of the sacred service. Finally, with prayer on his lips and his heart full of faith, the Great Hierarch began work. That night he returned to church, and while he was setting out bread and wine on the Table of Preparation (Prothesi), the Lord appeared to him with the holy Apostles. Saint Basil fell prostrate, but Christ raised him up and said, "In accordance with your supplication, your mouth shall be filled with praise, and you will perform the service using your own words". The Lord shone with glory so bright that Basil, who was shaking with fear, could not endure to look upon Him.  When the vision ended, the Saint took a scroll and wrote in Greek the following words: "Let my mouth be filled with praise, that I may hymn Thy glory" (Psalm 70). Then he began the service, the Liturgy that came to be known by his name (The Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great), with such prayers as, "O Lord Our God, Who has fashioned us and brought us into this life", and the prayer at the Elevation: "Attend, O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, from Thy Holy habitation and from the Throne of the Glory of Thy Kingdom, and come Thou to sanctify us, Thou Who art seated on high with the Father, yet invisibly remainest with us here. By Thy Mighty hand vouchsafe to bestow the Holy Things which are for the holy upon us, and through us upon the people". Afterwards, Saint Basil recorded these prayers and the others on the scroll. The clergy of the higher rank saw a heavenly Light illuminating the Sanctuary and the Bishop as he offered the Holy Eucharist, and radiant men clothed in white garments surrounding the Great Hierarch. Awestruck, they fell to the floor, weeping and Glorifying God.

While in church and still instructing the newly baptized at length in the mysteries of Eternal Life and addressing a final discourse to his rational sheep. Then, having exchanged a last kiss with everyone and forgiven all, he thanked God for the ineffable blessings he had enjoyed throughout his lifetime and surrendered his soul into the hands of the Lord. The holy Basil was 45 years old when he departed this life. He shepherded the Church of God for eight years, six months, and sixteen days in all. (Source: The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints)

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos

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With sincere agape in His Holy Nativity,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George