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St. Basil The Great, Bishop of Caesarea

St. Basil The Great, Bishop of Caesarea

‘St. Basil the Great’ teacher of the Orthodox faith and protector of the poor was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia into a wealthy family.

He sold everything he owned and gave the money to the poor.

As Bishop, St. Basil established the ‘new city’ of Basilieas to care for the elderly, sick and poor.

As Bishop, St. Basil established the ‘new city’ of Basilieas to care for the elderly, sick and poor.

St. Basil the Great and Christian Philanthropy

By John G. Panagiotou

Many things are said and written about the great Cappadocian Father of the 4th century St. Basil the Great of Caesarea. In Basil the Great, we find the consummate theologian, liturgical scholar, ascetic and evangelist of the Faith. Too often, however, one more aspect of Basil is left overlooked and that is Basil as the first great Christian philanthropist. It is with this focus on Basil’s care, concern and heart for the poor, the underprivileged, the sick, the unemployed, the homeless and disenfranchised that marks the level of profound theological reflection and insight that Basil exudes in his writings.

St. Basil the Great’s Early Life

Let us first, however, examine the context of the world in which Basil was born and matured in the Christian Faith so that we may better understand his notion of philanthropy. Basil was born into a wealthy established noble Greek Christian family in the city of Pontus in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the year 330 A.D. By this time, nearly two decades had passed since the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan which legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire. It was not long after this that Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Basil’s maternal grandfather was martyred for his unwillingness to deny the Faith in the years prior to the legalization of Christianity. Macrina his widowed maternal grandmother and his pious parents raised Basil and his four siblings in the Christian Faith. In all there were nine members in his family who would become recognized saints, especially of note was his sister Macrina (who was named after their maternal grandmother). Basil would go on to study in the great prominent intellectual centers of the day such as Athens and Alexandria. During which time meeting and cultivating life-long friendships with luminaries such as St. Gregory of Nazianzus. He would finally complete his studies and open a law practice and tutorial service in rhetoric in the city of Caesarea. His life would radically change direction upon his meeting with the pious and charismatic bishop Evstathios of Sevasteia. After which, Basil would write that as a result of meeting with Evstathios, “I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.”