Thursday, December 31, 2009

St. Basil the Great as a Monastic, and an Excerpt from his Asketikon

Icon (from Simonopetra Monastery) of St. Basil the Great dressed as monastic (Icons courtesy of used with permission)

St. Basil the Great as a Monastic
"About the year 357, St Basil returned to Caesarea, where for a while he devoted himself to rhetoric. But soon, refusing offers from Caesarea's citizens who wanted to entrust him with the education of their offspring, St Basil entered upon the path of ascetic life.

After the death of her husband, Basil's mother, her eldest daughter Macrina, and several female servants withdrew to the family estate at Iris and there began to lead an ascetic life. Basil was baptized by Dianios, the Bishop of Caesarea, and was tonsured a Reader (On the Holy Spirit, 29). He first read the Holy Scriptures to the people, then explained them.

Later on, "wishing to acquire a guide to the knowledge of truth", the saint undertook a journey into Egypt, Syria and Palestine, to meet the great Christian ascetics dwelling there. On returning to Cappadocia, he decided to do as they did. He distributed his wealth to the needy, then settled on the opposite side of the river not far from his mother Emilia and sister Macrina, gathering around him monks living a cenobitic life.

By his letters, Basil drew his good friend Gregory the Theologian to the monastery. Sts Basil and Gregory labored in strict abstinence in their dwelling place, which had no roof or fireplace, and the food was very humble. They themselves cleared away the stones, planted and watered the trees, and carried heavy loads. Their hands were constantly calloused from the hard work. For clothing Basil had only a tunic and monastic mantle. He wore a hairshirt, but only at night, so that it would not be obvious.

In their solitude, Sts Basil and Gregory occupied themselves in an intense study of Holy Scripture. They were guided by the writings of the Fathers and commentators of the past, especially the good writings of Origen. From all these works they compiled an anthology called Philokalia. Also at this time, at the request of the monks, St Basil wrote down a collection of rules for virtuous life [and guidelines for monastics, his Asketikon]. By his preaching and by his example St Basil assisted in the spiritual perfection of Christians in Cappadocia and Pontus; and many indeed turned to him. Monasteries were organized for men and for women, in which places Basil sought to combine the cenobitic (koine bios, or common) lifestyle with that of the solitary hermit."
(taken from:
An Excerpt from the Asketikon of St. Basil the Great (from the Prologue)
"Since we who, by God's grace, have set before ourselves one and the same goal of the life of piety, have gathered in one place in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and since you yourselves are clearly so keen to learn something of what leads to salvation, my duty is to declare the judgment of God, mindful as I am night and day of the Apostle's words: “For the space of three years I did not cease admonishing each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).

The present time is indeed most suitable for us and the place provides tranquility and complete freedom from outside disturbances. So then. Let us pray for one another, that we, for our part, may give to your fellow servants their portion of food in due time and that you, for your part, may receive the word like the good earth and bring forth a mature and manifold fruit in righteousness, as it is written.

I appeal you you therefore, by the love of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins, let us take thought for our souls! Let us lament the vanity of our former life! Let us, for the sake of the things to come, take up combat for the glory of God and his Christ and of the worshipful and Holy Spirit. Let us not remain stuck fast in this indifference and carelessness, ever losing the present opportunity through indifference and putting off a beginning of our labours till tomorrow or some other time. Otherwise we shall be overtaken without any supply of good works by him who requires our souls and be banished from the joy of the bridal chamber. Then shall we weep vain and profitless tears, deploring the time of our life that we spent so wastefully, when there shall be no more scope for repentance.

Now is the acceptable time, says the Apostle, now is the day of salvation. This is the season for repentance, that for recompense, this for patient endurance, that for consolation. Now, God is the helper of those who turn from the evil way; then, he will be the dread and inexorable examiner of all human deeds, words, and motives. Now we enjoy his forbearance, then we shall know his justice, when we shall rise again, some to eternal punishment, others to eternal life and each shall receive according to his works.

Until what occasion are we going to put off our obedience to Christ, who has called us to his heavenly Kingdom? Whenever are we going to become sober? Whenever are we going to recall ourselves from our habitual life to the strict way of the Gospel? Whenever are we going to set before our eyes that dread and manifest day of the Lord? On that day, those who by their good works draw near to the Lord's right hand shall be welcomed into the Kingdom of heaven, whereas those who for their barrenness of good works have been placed on his left hand shall be engulfed in the Gehenna of fire and everlasting darkness. In that place, he says, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
(taken from: The Asketikon of St. Basil the Great, Anna M. Silvas,; Note that the bulk of the biblical citations are not included above.)
St. Basil the Great (Icons courtesy of used with permission)

Doxastikon of the Stichera in Tone 8. By Anatolios.
You became a lover of wisdom, Venerable Father, and, preferring a life lived in companionship with God to all existing things, you abandoned concern for death, as befitted your life; for having destroyed for yourself the passions of the flesh by labours of self-mastery and by care for the Law of God, having kept dignity of your soul unenslaved by an abundance of virtue, you subdued all fleshly thought by the spirit; and so, having hated the flesh and the world and ruler of the world, as you stand before Christ, ask for our souls his great mercy.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

No comments: