Basil


Every year at this time (when we start using the Liturgy of Saint Basil during Great Lent), I am reminded that the Anaphora of Saint Basil is one of the best statement of the Christian faith that I can think of. I saved this as a draft post two years ago and never got to posting it. But I was reminded of it again this morning and thought it worth posting, for I can think of few better expressions of what we believe.

Truly You are holy and most holy, and there are no bounds to the majesty of Your holiness. You are holy in all Your works, for with righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. For having made man by taking dust from the earth, and having honored him with Your own image, O God, You placed him in a garden of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when he disobeyed You, the true God who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, You, O God, in Your righteous judgment, expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ. For You did not forever reject Your creature whom You made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but because of Your tender compassion, You visited him in various ways: You sent forth prophets; You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation have pleased You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants the prophets, announcing to us the salvation which was to come; You gave us the law to help us; You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through Your Son Himself, through whom You created the ages. He, being the splendor of Your glory and the image of Your being, upholding all things by the word of His power, thought it not robbery to be equal with You, God and Father. But, being God before all ages, He appeared on earth and lived with humankind. Becoming incarnate from a holy Virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, conforming to the body of our lowliness, that He might change us in the likeness of the image of His glory. For, since through man sin came into the world and through sin death, it pleased Your only begotten Son, who is in Your bosom, God and Father, born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever virgin Mary; born under the law, to condemn sin in His flesh, so that those who died in Adam may be brought to life in Him, Your Christ. He lived in this world, and gave us precepts of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He guided us to the sure knowledge of You, the true God and Father. He acquired us for Himself, as His chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Having cleansed us by water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the cross, that He might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the bonds of death. He rose on the third day, having opened a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible that the Author of life would be dominated by corruption. So He became the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first born of the dead, that He might be Himself the first in all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of Your majesty on high and He will come to render to each according to His works.

Source.

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When St Basil was attempting to define the hypostatic qualities of the Holy Spirit, he could find no other words than hagiasmos or hagiosyne, meaning “sanctification” or “holiness.” It is difficult, therefore, to speak of the Spirit without taking into account his work of sanctification, but it is no less difficult to speak of the Church’s holiness without evoking the Holy Spirit, the source and power of sanctification. It sheds light on the whole final section of the Creed: the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body and eternal life. Sanctification is not only moral sanctification, it is the sharing of divine life, of eternal life, of the resurrection. It is the very mark of the Spirit on the flesh itself, on all of human nature, the gift of incorruptibility, of deification.

Father Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Church: A Course in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 133.

I haven’t started reading this book properly yet, but was looking through it today, came across this, and thought it worth sharing!

The Lord continually likens human souls to vines. He says for instance: ‘My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill” (Is 5,1) and again: “I planted a vineyard and put a hedge round it” (cf Mt 21,33). Clearly it is human souls that he calls his vineyard, and the hedge he has put round them is the security of his commandments and the protection of the angels; for “the angel of the lord will encamp around those who fear him” (Ps 34[33],8). Moreover, by establishing in the Church “apostles in the first place, prophets in the second, and teachers in the third” (1Cor 12,28), he has surrounded us as though by a firmly planted palisade. In addition, the Lord has raised our thoughts to heaven by the examples of saints of past ages. He has kept them from sinking to the earth where they would deserve to be trampled on, and he wills that the bonds of love, like the tendrils of a vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that always climbing upward like vines growing on trees, we may reach the loftiest heights.

He also requires that we allow ourselves to be weeded. To be spiritually weeded means to have renounced the worldly ambitions that burdened our hearts. Anyone who has renounced the love of material things and attachment to possessions, or who has come to regard as despicable and deserving of contempt the poor, wretched glory of this world, is like a weeded vine. Freed from the profitless burden of earthly aspirations, that person can breathe again.

Finally, following out the implications of the comparison, we must not run to wood, or, in other words, show off or seek the praise of outsiders. Instead, we must bear fruit by reserving the display of our good works for the true vinedresser (Jn 15,1).

Saint Basil the Great (c.330-379), Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Homily 5 on the Hexaemeron, 6 (SC 26, p.304)

H/t to an email from Jim Forest.

We men are easily prone to sins of thought. Therefore, He who has formed each heart individually, knowing that the impulse received from the intention constitutes the major element in sin, has ordained that purity in the ruling part of our soul be our primary concern. That faculty by which we are especially prone to commit sin surely merits great care and vigilance. As the more provident physicians offset physical weakness by precautionary measures taken in advance, so the Protector of us all and the true Physician of our souls takes possession first and with stronger garrisons of that part of the soul which He knows is most liable to sin. The actions performed by the body require time, favourable opportunity, physical exertion, assistance and other accessories. The movements of the mind, however, take place independently of time; they are performed without weariness; they are accomplished effortlessly; every occassion is appropriate for them.

Saint Basil the Great, “Give Heed to Thyself,” in Saint Basil. Ascetical Works. Translated by Sister M. Monica Wagner, C.S.C. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), 432

The Orthodox Christian Network now have their second interview with Father Andrew Louth on the filioque online. It’s part of a series of interviews based on his book Greek East And Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 (The Church in History) that I mentioned previously. It’s definitely worth listening to but rather a shame that the first half of the programme is taken up by something else.

They also have an interview with Paul Schroeder on St Basil the Great’s sermons on social justice. Schroeder is the translator of St Basil’s sermons on this topic, On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (Popular Patristics), and it is definitely work listening to. As in the case of Father Louth’s interview, the first half of the programme is taken up with something else but at least in this case it’s a fairly useful, if basic, introduction to St Maximus the Confessor.

Basil’s social doctrine was grounded in the conviction that all people are equal and share the same human nature. The poor, the rich and the emperor are all companions in slavery, that is, they are all dependent on God.[1] Moreover, human beings are social creatures and communal life and interaction with one another require a generosity that can alleviate the needs of the destitute. The scriptural command to “Give to anyone who asks” (Mt 5,42) calls us to a sharing and a mutual love that are characteristic of human nature.[2] The Acts of the Apostles (4,34-35) teaches us how this is to be put into practice. In the first ecclesial community of Jerusalem, the Christians sold their goods and gave the money to apostles to distribute to those who needed it.

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He who ministers to many wounded persons, wiping away the matter from their wounds and applying mendicants appropriate to the particular injury involved, does not find a motive for pride in his ministrations, but rather for humility, anxiety, and energetic action. Far more thoughtful and solicitous ought he be who, as the servant of all and as being himself liable to an account on their behalf, performs the office of curing the spiritual weakness of his brethren. In this manner he will fulfil the aim which the Lord had in mind when He said: ‘If any man desire to be first, he shall be the last of all and the minister of all.’

Saint Basil the Great, “The Long Rules,” 30, in Saint Basil. Ascetical Works. Translated by Sister M. Monica Wagner, C.S.C. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), 293-294.

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