Tag Archives: St Basil the Great

The Lord plants the vineyard

“Throughout the Scriptures the Lord continually likens human souls to vines. He says for instance: ‘My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside’, and again: ‘I planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it’. Clearly it is human souls that he calls his vineyard, and the hedge he has put around them is the security of his commandments and the protection of the angels, for ‘the angels of the Lord will encamp around those who fear him’. Moreover, by establishing in the church apostles in the first place, prophets in the second, and teachers in the third, 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.”

A reflection from St. Basil for the 27th Sunday through the year
Mt 21:33-43

Epiphany: A recognition

Epiphany c1350The 12th Day of Christmas is upon us with the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The Magi, the Star, the three  gifts, the angels, the shepherds and the animals all coalesce to manifest in-breaking of God in human history. All recognized and read the signs. Two different church fathers give perspective on the meaning of the Epiphany as the great manifestation of the Divine.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Epiphany in this way:

“The wise men from the East lead the way…They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17) (January 6, 2012).

Saint Basil the Great spoke of the Epiphany in this way: “The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with the angels and sing: ‘To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us’, not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy? This feast belongs to the whole universe… Stars across the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives it savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, ‘Dust you are and to dust you shall return’, but ‘You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.’”

Saint Basil the Great and the Holy Spirit

Sts Basil and GregoryThe Church prays today,

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.

Though it is the feast of two saints, I want to concentrate on Basil and his emphasis on the Holy Spirit. We began the new year with the praying of the Veni Creator Spiritus to set new year with a renewed relationship with Triune-God.

One of the great patristic source of our Christian pneumatology comes from Saint Basil the Great. Catholics are frequently, and with good reason, accused of forgetting the work of the Holy Spirit. Some will even call the Spirit the forgotten God. Systematic theologians of the West make the claim that theological reflection, especially in the 20th century, have neglected the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and I would also claim that these same theologians have neglected the activity of the Holy Spirit in the sacred Liturgy. Too often in theological reflection, catechesis, and preaching the Holy Spirit is forgotten sacramentally and the Mass. No Holy Spirit, no Trinity. The good news is that Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar helped to restore a working knowledge of the Holy Spirit with the publication of his 3 volume work, I Believe in the Holy Spirit.

One of the key parts of Basil’s work, On the Holy Spirit, is his use of the baptismal formulation –the lex orandi, lex credendi– found in Saint Matthew’s Gospel to show that the Holy Spirit is integrally connected with the Father and Son as God;  this formulation is now the tradition of the Church.

“What makes us Christians? “Our faith,” everyone would answer. How are we saved? Obviously through the regenerating grace of baptism. How else could we be? We are confirmed in our understanding that salvation comes through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . If we now reject what we accepted at baptism, we will be found further away from our salvation than when we first believed,” (On the Holy Spirit, 10).

His teaching is clear: we are saved by the regenerating waters of baptism: washed of sin, and anointed as priest, prophet and king, we become by adoption what Christ is by nature. The door of salvation is opened in this sacrament of illumination, regeneration, and adoption. The baptismal grace, therefore, is from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it is salvific because it makes the beatific vision possible. We make the salvation known today through baptizing of people “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).

Saint Basil the Great

St Basil the Great detail.jpg

Since it is impossible to be saved unless we perform our works in accordance with the commandment of God, and since we disregard none of the commandments without peril — for it is a terrible arrogance to set ourselves up as the critics of our Lawgiver, now approving some of his laws, now dismissing others — let us who are combatants for piety and who esteem the life of tranquility and freedom from affairs as our collaborator in the keeping of the Gospel decrees, set before ourselves a common mind and purpose: that not so much of a single one of the commandments escape us. For if the man of God must be perfect — as it is written and as our earlier discourse on these matters has shown — it is entirely necessary that he be pruned. (cf. John 15:1) by every one of the commandments unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13); for according to the divine law a beast with a blemish even though clean, was unacceptable as a sacrifice to God (cf. Lev. 21. 19-20).

Saint Basil the Great

Saint Basil (329/30-379) was the bishop in what is modern Turkey in a city called Casesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia. Basil was attentive the needs of the poor and he is famous for for us rule for monasteries that focussed on the common life, the sacred liturgy and manual labor. Saint Benedict used Basil’s rule as one of a few for his own rule for monasteries. Basil is called the “revealer of heavenly mysteries.” Together with Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus is known as the Cappadocian Fathers. Saint Basil was a firm supporter of the Nicene Creed and fought heresy.

Let’s pray for hospital administrators today through the intercession of Saint Basil.

“Be zealous for true religion” in a time of theological narcissism requires a different orientation

St Basil at the Liturgy.jpg

I came across a portion of Saint Basil the Great’s Letter 90 addressed to the bishops of the West. I like reading these types of letters because they give a great sense of the history of Christian salvation history. In 2000 years we’ve been exposed to some things more than once. Apparently, Basil is responding to reports of some members of the Church allowing certain influences of society, politics, and unorthodox teaching of the Faith to enter into, to penetrate, the life of the Holy Church. What came to mind was the phrase of Pope Francis a couple of months ago when he warned the Church about theological narcissism. It’s not all about me! There are times when a Christian can be too cozy with the culture in which he or she lives.

Saint Basil isn’t writing today, he inhabits the 4th century. His words, though, are timeless; his description of the currents are applicable today. It makes no sense to me to merely identify the problems of today without saying that the change can’t applied to all others and not be a provocation to my own conversion. Reform is not the responsibility of all others, but conversion of mind and heart is also my own spiritual work before the Divine Majesty.

The zeal for true religion that Basil wants to propose is two fold: the work of God acting in the world today, and our sharing what we have received from Jesus Christ. Zeal for the Kingdom is about God’s work, not my own; it is God’s creation, God’s Church, God’s people –not mine. Basil is rejecting a theological narcissism. Isn’t that what we face today? The faith we’ve been given by the Lord is transferred to the life of the Church, as another “Great” once said, Saint Leo. As the Lord Himself turns toward the Father in prayer, so must our orientation be set on the Trinity.

The doctrines of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at nought; the devices of innovators are in vogue in the Churches; now men are rather contrivers of cunning systems than theologians; the wisdom of this world wins the highest prizes and has rejected the glory of the cross. Shepherds are banished, and in their places are introduced grievous wolves hurrying the flock of Christ. Houses of prayer have none to assemble in them; desert places are full of lamenting crowds. The elders lament when they compare the present with the past. The younger are yet more to be shown compassion, for they do not know of what they have been deprived. All this is enough to stir the pity of men who have learned the love of Christ; but, compared with the actual state of things, words fall very far short. If then there be any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any bowels of mercy, be stirred to help us. Be zealous for true religion, and rescue us from this storm. Ever be spoken among us with boldness that famous dogma of the Fathers, which destroys the ill-famed heresy of Arius, and builds up the Churches in the sound doctrine wherein the Son is confessed to be of one substance with the Father, and the Holy Ghost is ranked and worshipped as of equal honor, to the end that through your prayer and co-operation the Lord may grant to us that same boldness for the truth and glorying in the confession of the divine and saving Trinity which He has given you.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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