St. Basil was one of the greatest doctors of the church. He was born in Caesarea of Cappadocia around 330 A.D. One of ten children his maternal grandmother died a martyr. He was reared by his father and maternal grandmother thus he was nurtured in Christian piety as a young boy, demonstrating that the home is still a proper nursery for living faith. He went to Constantinople to study rhetoric and philosophy, and then to Athens. In Athens he became the companion of St. Gregory of Nazianzen. He returned to Caesarea in 356 A.D. to teach but soon gave this up to serve God and the church. He later retired to the desert to seek God. In 358 A.D. he wrote two Rules with his friend St. Gregory of Nazianzen. These Rules had a decisive impact upon the monastic movement in the East. In 364 A.D. he was ordained a priest and in 370 A.D. he succeeded Eusebius as Bishop of Caesarea.
St. Basil’s greatest concern was the unity of the church and his struggle against semi-Arianism. He laid the great foundation that led to the Council of Constantinople, which helped to bring order and unity to the visible church. He was a great theologian, a great administrator and a great Christian. He was also a great contemplative and a man of real prayer. He died in 379 A.D. and is considered to be one of the eight major Fathers of the Church.
One of Basil’s works was on living in the presence of God. He writes of leaving the evils of the city to seek solitude with God only to discover that “I have not yet succeeded in forsaking myself.” He wrote, “I am like the inexperienced seafarers, distressed and ill because of their lack of skill in sailing.” He wrote that this was our common situation because “we carry around with us our innate passions, we are everywhere subject to the same disturbances.”
What is Basil’s counsel to us in seeking to “deny ourselves” and follow Christ? He writes, “We should try to keep the mind in tranquility.” He talks about how our eyes dart about and thus we are unable to fix our gaze firmly on one object. “So too the mind is incapable of perceiving the truth clearly, it is distracted by innumerable worldly cares.”
What is the solution to our problem? Disengagement with the world. But Basil understood, after his time in isolation, that this meant much more than a bodily absence from the presence of corruptions. We must not only renounce evil but we must “unlearn” worldly teachings and prepare our hearts for “divine instructions.”
Part Two: Tomorrow