Today is the Feast Day of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church
St Basil the Great (330 - 379)
Basil was born in 330 at Caesarea in Cappadocia, of a Christian family. A brilliant scholar and a virtuous man, he started by becoming a hermit but was made bishop of Caesarea in 370. He fought against the Arians and wrote many notable works, in particular the monastic rule that bears his name and which many monks in the East follow to this day. He was also generous to the poor. He died on 1 January 379.
St Gregory Nazianzen (330 - 389)
He was born in 330, near Nazianzus. He travelled widely in search of knowledge. He followed his friend Basil into the wilderness, but he too was ordained and later made a bishop. He was elected Bishop of Constantinople in 381 but because of the factional fighting within the Church he retired to Nazianzus, where he died on 25 January 389 or 390. He is known as “Gregory the Theologian” in honor of his learning and eloquence.
From a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen
Two bodies, but a single spirit
Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.
I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.
What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honor than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.
Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.
From the book On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil the Great, bishop
The Lord gives life to the body in the Spirit
Someone who no longer lives according to the flesh, but, being led by the Spirit of God, is called a Son of God and is conformed to the image of the Son of God, is described as spiritual. As is the power of seeing in the healthy eye, so is the operation of the Spirit in the purified soul.
The word exists in the soul sometimes as a thought in the heart and at other times as speech uttered by the tongue. So too the Holy Spirit sometimes adds his witness to that of our spirit and cries in our hearts Abba, Father, sometimes speaks on our behalf, as it is said, It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of our Father who speaks in you.
Again, the Spirit is conceived of, in relation to the distribution of gifts, as a whole in different parts. For we are all part of one another, having different gifts according to the grace that God has given us.
So the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you, but all come together to make up the whole Body of Christ in the unity of the Spirit. From the gifts that have been given them they each give the others whatever service is needed.
For God has arranged the parts of the body, each of them in the place he chose for it. And the various parts have the same care for one another, in the spiritual unity that comes from the inborn affections that they have been given. Therefore when one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; when one part is honored, all share its joy. To summarize, our relations in the Spirit are the same as the relation of the part to the whole, because we were all baptized in one body into one spirit.
Just as the Father is seen in the Son, so is the Son seen in the Spirit. To speak of spiritual worship is to speak of the action of our intelligence made visible. This can be learned from the words that were spoken to the woman of Samaria. She was deceived by the customs of her country into the belief that worship was local but our Lord corrected her by saying that worship ought to be offered in Spirit and in truth, clearly meaning that he himself was the Truth.
We speak of the worship offered in the Son, meaning worship offered in the image of God the Father. In the same way we can speak of worship offered in the Spirit, the one who shows in himself the divinity of the Lord.
So it is right, and in accordance with the true nature of things, that the illumination of the Spirit should allow us to glimpse the splendor of the glory of God. We move from the imprint of a seal to the One whose exact and perfect seal it is.
Today’s Mass Collect
O God, who were pleased to give light to your Church by the example and teaching of the Bishops Saints Basil and Gregory, grant, we pray, that in humility we may learn your truth and practice it faithfully in charity.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.