Basil of Caesarea ("the Great")

Mention the "church fathers" to a Western Christian, and Basil the Great is not usually the first name to come to mind. Yet even for the Roman Catholic Church, Basil ranks with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom as one of the great propounders and defenders of the faith.

Born around 330, Basil grew up in a world where Christianity was recognized by the Roman government but divided between those who believed in the full divinity of Christ and the Arians who did not. For much of the fourth century, the Arians would enjoy the support of the emperors. The struggle between Christianity and the empire had not ended with Constantine.

After his studies in Athens ended in 356, the young Basil returned to his native city of Caesarea in Cappadocia (southeastern Asia Minor). Though he appeared to have a brilliant secular career before him, instead Basil chose to follow the path of his sister Macrina, renouncing his share in the family property and living an ascetic life with a few companions.

Thus, Basil was one of the first to establish a monastic community in Asia Minor, and the rules he drew up are still normative for Orthodox monks today.

In 370 he became the archbishop of Caesarea, which brought him into conflict with the Arian emperor Valens. In an attempt to intimidate the stubborn bishop, Valens sent the prefect of the imperial guard, Modestus, to threaten him with punishment. Basil answered that he was ready and eager to die for Christ, and that he had so few possessions that banishment, confiscation, or imprisonment would mean nothing to him.

When Modestus complained that no one had ever talked to him like that, Basil answered that perhaps he had never met a bishop ...

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