“Not many of you came from important families,” Paul told the Corinthians. Not many, perhaps, but some—like the one born three centuries after Christ in a wealthy Christian home in Caesarea of Cappadocia (Turkey). His parents named him Basil, meaning Kingly. They sent him to the finest schools in Constantinople and Athens, and Basil graduated with honors. He thought highly of himself and returned home dreaming of becoming great in public life. But his sister, who led him to faith in Christ, counseled humility. “It’s better to be faithful before God,” she insisted, “than famous before men.”

Basil craved a quiet life of study, prayer, and writing. He settled along the bank of the Iris River on the family estate, preaching to and helping the poor. But his stature was already so great that Emperor Julian the Apostate, though a fierce opponent of Christianity, tried to recruit him as advisor. Basil declined.

But he couldn’t refuse the appeal of his own bishop, Eusebius, who warned that the church faced both imperial attacks from without and dangerous heresy from within. Basil left his quiet retreat to spend the rest of his life in public ministry. He championed orthodoxy, preaching and writing brilliant messages on the nature of Jesus Christ and the composition of the Trinity.

In 370, Basil succeeded Eusebius and proved himself a gifted bishop who organized the ministries of the church. Using his own fortune, Basil founded a hospital, perhaps the first in Christian history, for the care of lepers. He was a kind man, often personally treating the diseased. Basil’s complex of churches, schools, hospitals, hostels, monasteries, and almshouses outside Caesarea became a town within itself called Basiliad. His rules for monks and monasteries are used to this day in the Greek church.

Worn out before his fiftieth year, Basil died on January 1, 379. News spread like wildfire the next day, and he was mourned deeply. He is remembered every January 2, which is designated in Western tradition as the Feast Day of St. Basil the Great.

Everyone should be humble toward everyone else. The Scriptures say, “God opposes proud people, but he helps everyone who is humble.” Be humble in the presence of God’s mighty power, and he will honor you when the time comes. (1 Peter 5:5,6)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 2.

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