02 January 2010

Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen

2 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates the memorial of two saints and friends: Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus, bishops and doctors.

Saint Basil

Basil the Great was born in A.D. 330 in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (present day Turkey), one of ten children. Saint Basil's father died when he was a teenager. After his father's death Basil began his formal education with his brother Gregory first in Constantinople and later in Athens. Returning from Athens in about 355, Basil practiced law and taught rhetoric until his Christian conversion, after which he abandoned his legal and teaching career to devote his life to God.

After being baptized, Basil traveled to Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism. While the solitary life did not appeal to Basil, he and others of like minds began to form religious communities. In 362 Basil was ordained as a deacon. In 365 Basil was ordained as a presbyter. Basil and Gregory Nazianzen spent the next several years combating the Arian heresey, until Basil was consecrated as Bishop of Caesarea on 14 June 370. As bishop, Basil was known to be hot blooded and imperious, but also generous and sympathetic. He is known to have ministered to thieves and prostitutes himself, and personally organizing a soup kitchen.

Saint Basil is known for his writings. On the Holy Spirit is one of his principle works written to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Saint Basil is also known for his preaching, including a series of Lenten homilies and exposition of the Psalter, which have been preserved to today.

Among his writings and preaching, Saint Basil also had an important influence on liturgy, coming as he did at the point in the Church when oral liturgical traditions were beginning to be written in formulaic manners. A vast number of early liturgical prayers are attributed to Saint Basil, even though it is difficult to know exactly which of them he is directly responsible for. One liturgy that has been positively identified as being authored by Saint Basil is the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is still used by some Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic traditions on certain feast days.

Saint Basil's influence on monasticism is also widely known. He worked to moderate the formerly austere practices of monasticism and wrote a monastic rule that is still followed by some Eastern monks today.

Saint Basil the Great was given the title of Doctor of the Church for his preaching against the Arian heresy and for his teaching on the divinity of the Holy Spirit

Saint Basil died on 1 January 379.

Saint Gregory Nazianzen

Saint Gregory, a close friend of Saint Basil, also had a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology and much of his work still influences theologians today. Saint Gregory was also born, like Saint Basil, in 330.

Saint Gregory Nazianzen was consecrated as Bishop of Sasima by Saint Basil in 372. However, Saint Gregory was reluctant to accept the see of Sasima, a see created by Saint Basil. In fact, Saint Gregory called Sasima a worthless stop in the road, devoid of life and vegetation. By late 372, Saint Gregory returned to Nazianzus to assist his dying father. After his father and mother died, Saint Gregory continued to act as the administrator at Nazianzus, but refused to be consecrated as bishop. At the end of 375, Saint Gregory withdrew to a monestary at Seleukia, living there for three years. Near the end of this period at the monastery, Saint Basil, Gregory's friend, died.

In A.D. 381 the Second Ecumenical Council was called in Constantinople, the council was attended by Saint Gregory, and he was selected to lead the council. However, due to divisions within the church Saint Gregory resigned his office and returned to Nazianzus where he died on 25 January 389 or 390.

Saint Gregory's most influential theological contributions arose from his defense of the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity. Both in his own time and for his posterity, Saint Gregory was known as one of the greatest orators of the Church.

Saint Gregory died on 25 January 390.


O All-Transcendent God
(and what other name could describe you?),
what words can hymn Your praises?
No word does You justice.
What mind can probe Your secret?
No mind can encompass You.
You are alone beyond the power of speech,
yet all that we speak stems from You.
You are alone beyond the power of thought,
yet all that we can conceive springs from You.
All things proclaim You,
those endowed with reason and those bereft of it.
All the expectation and pain of the world coalesces in You.
All things utter a prayer to You,
a silent hymn composed by You.
You sustain everything that exists,
and all things move together to Your orders.
You are the goal of all that exists.
You are one and You are all,
yet You are none of the things that exist,
neither a part nor the whole.
You can avail Yourself of any name;
how shall I call You,
the only unnameable?
All-transcendent God!


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