Basil was educated in Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens in the fourth century. He enjoyed stimulating university life. There he met Gregory Nazianzen, a quiet, scholarly man. The two became close friends.
Basil traveled through the East and studied monastic life. As a result, he formed his own monastic group. Gregory joined him. From their discussions, Basil composed a rule of life for monks. He allowed monks and nuns to operate hospitals and guesthouses and work outside the community. His principles still influence Eastern monasticism.
The two friends lived the monastic life for only about five years. Then Gregory had to return home to care for his father, who was a bishop. When Gregory got home, he was ordained a priest, although he did not think himself worthy. He watched over his father’s diocese.
In 374, Basil was made bishop of Caesarea. The Church called on him to refute the Arian heresy, which claimed that Jesus was not God. Emperor Valens promoted the heresy. Basil believed the Church must remain independent of the emperor and boldly defended the Church. He preached morning and evening to large crowds. When a famine struck, he gave his money to people who were poor. He organized a soup kitchen and served the people himself. Basil even built a town, which included a church, a hospital, and a guesthouse.
Basil continued to write for the Church and to clarify the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. When one town was falling away from the faith, Basil ordained Gregory bishop and sent him there. Gregory went unhappily because he disliked conflict. The two friends were later reconciled.
For 30 years, Constantinople had been under the leadership of supporters of the Arian movement. The bishops of the surrounding areas begged Gregory to come and restore the faith, and again he went, dreading the task. Gregory made his house a church and preached on the Trinity. The people called him “the theologian.”
Both Basil and Gregory were misunderstood, but in spite of this, they rebuilt the faith. Basil died at age 49. Gregory resigned from Constantinople because of opposition and spent his last years reading, writing his autobiography, and enjoying his gardens.
Show the students that the Church still defends the faith. The pope writes encyclicals. The bishops publish pastoral statements. Bring in some of these publications and display them.
Have the students write a personal act of faith on good paper and decorate the page.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Fresco in the St. Sophia Cathedral of St. Basil the Great by Meister der Sophien-Kathedrale von Ohrid, 11th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia.