View all Uncle Eddy | January 2, 2019
St Basil the Great and St Gregory Nazianzen
Bishops and Doctors of the Church (entered heaven in 379 and 390, respectively)
I hope you’re using your vacation well. That’s what it’s for, you know, to be used well: to recharge your batteries, to rest from your intellectual labors, to enjoy the company of your family and friends and give them the happiness of having you near… It’s not meant to be frittered away in petty and worthless pursuits of self-indulgence and displays of laziness. But that’s not why I’m writing.
I’m writing because I have received a reliable report that you have fallen in tow behind a dubious professor. Need I remind you, my impressionable young nephew, that you will become like those you emulate? If this fellow is as brilliant as they say, you may increase in brilliance by tagging along behind him, but if he is also as morally nefarious, don’t think your close association will be without nasty consequences. I would encourage you to reevaluate your role-models before heading back to school, keeping St Ignatius’ sound advice in mind: “Place before your eyes as models for imitation, not the weak and cowardly, but the fervent and courageous.” And for such models, today’s saints serve admirably.
Basil and Gregory were both from Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), both from devout Christian families (multiple saints are found among their parents and siblings), and both were members of the cultured aristocratic class. They first met when they were studying together in Athens – it was common practice for young aristocrats to make the rounds of all the great centers of learning in the Mediterranean before settling down to their own careers, so Basil and Gregory studied rhetoric, philosophy, and literature with the greatest minds of their age. While at Athens they became fast friends and built that friendship primarily on a common dedication to the cause of Christ. In fact, when Basil returned home, he was on the verge of beginning a promising political career, and then he balked. He simply couldn’t do it – he knew that God was calling him to something higher (the exhortations of his sister, St Macrina, helped him discover this call). Soon he retired to the beautiful wild land of Pontus and began to pursue a monastic way of life. He went on a tour of the monasteries in Egypt and Palestine and incorporated their traditions into his own monastic rule, which even today remains the norm for Eastern monasticism. He only enjoyed the quiet life for a few years, however; the Arianist crisis (Arianism was a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ) was shaking the Church and the Byzantine Empire to its foundations, and Basil was called on to defend the true faith in the great city of Caesarea, where he soon became bishop.
Meanwhile, Gregory was recruited by his father (bishop of Nazianzus) to help administer his diocese, which he did reluctantly (he would have preferred to remain in solitude, where he could study and pray). He too was swept into the furious theological and political strife stirred up by Arianism, and eventually was brought as bishop to the Imperial city of Constantinople, where he courageously defended the true faith in the face of daunting obstacles, even violent attacks. Basil and Gregory fought their battles from the pulpit with their brilliant and heartfelt homiletics, from their desks with their eloquent treatises and letters, and from their souls with a deep life of prayer that filled them with prudence and apostolic zeal, such that even the intricate Byzantine diplomacy required of them never obscured their spiritual objectives.
Being the heir of such intellectual, political, and spiritual excellence, why would you want to lower your standards by emulating small-fry (and poisonous small-fry at that)? Think about it, and may Saints Basil and Gregory intercede on your behalf, so you can start thinking straight again.
Your concerned uncle, Eddy