Bishop Basil the Great of Caesarea/Kayseri (AD 330-379)
Basil the Great was the eldest son of Basil the Elder and Emmelia. He was born in 330, approximately five years after Nicea’s Ecumenical Church Council. Basil studied in Athens for about three years, from 352 to 355. It was in Athens that he developed a deep friendship with Gregory the Theologian, a fellow student.
Around 355, Basil returned to Caesarea where he devoted himself to rhetoric, the art of persuasive speak- ing. He was very successful, as a result of which he became very conceited and proud. This prompted his older sister, Macrina the Younger, to challenge him in his spiritual life and encourage him to live a monastic life.
Basil came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and left his secular pursuits to seek first the kingdom of God. In 357, after he sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor, Basil traveled throughout Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, meeting with the great Christian monastics that dwelt there. He was especially moved by the monastic communities where the monks shared life together in everything.
After returning from his journey, Basil left Caesarea to live a monastic life on his family’s property in Pontus near Neocaesarea (modern Niksar), where he lived for six years, from 358 to 364. He started a monastic community for men and many others joined him, including his brother Peter and Gregory the Theologian. Across the Iris River from his monastic community was the monastic community for women started by Macrina the Younger and their mother Emmelia. During this time, Basil wrote about the monastic communal life, and his writings were crucial in developing monastic communities throughout Cappadocia and Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Basil wrote down a collection of rules for communal monastic life.
In 364, Basil began to feel a deep sense of responsibility for the maturity and health of the church in Caesarea. Under the reign of emperors Constantius II and Valens, the false teaching of Arianism was spreading throughout the region. So Basil left his monastic community and returned to Caesarea, where he was ordained a church elder in 365. In June 370, Basil began serving as the archbishop of Caesarea. He battled the false teaching of Arianism and defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit in his book On the Holy Spirit.
Emperor Valens visited Caesarea and sent a soldier to confront Basil. He threatened him with the seizure of his property, exile, beatings, and even death. Basil said to him, “If you take away my possessions, you will not en- rich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me will be mine. Better to say: every place is God’s. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner. Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for whom I live and labor, and to whom I hasten.”
After serving nine years as Caesarea’s archbishop, Basil died from the hard labor of his pastoral work and sacrificial spiritual lifestyle on January 1, 379, at the young age of forty-nine.