St Basil the Great and St Gregory Nazianzen

Bishops and Doctors of the Church (entered heaven in 379 and 390, respectively)

Dear Nate,

I have a sneaking suspicion that you pretty much slid by last semester, emerging with your typically stellar grades, but without having dedicated yourself 100% to your studies.  It is a dangerous game to play, my bright nephew, a dangerous game indeed. If God gifted you with extraordinary intellectual potential (just as he gifts others with talent in different areas), it was for a reason.  He has a particular role for you to play in the defense and extension of his Kingdom, and he is counting on you to develop all your talents to the full so that you will be able to play that role well. Before you go back to school, therefore, you may want to reflect a little bit on how responsibly you have been stewarding your talents.  Perhaps the example of today’s saints can serve as extra motivation.

Basil and Gregory were both from Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), both from devout Christian families (multiple saints among 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, as he was on the verge of beginning a promising political career, 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 still remains the norm for Eastern monasticism today. 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.  

Basil and Gregory were two pillars that stood firm amid one of the greatest storms the Church has ever faced.  And they were able to do so only because they had been faithful to the opportunities God afforded them in their early years.  They needed every drop of education that they had received in order to discern and refute subtle theological error while keeping their brilliant and ruthless enemies at bay.  If they had slacked off during their school days in Athens, who knows how much more damage the Arians would have been able to inflict later on? And that’s my point. You don’t know what mission God has in store for you, but you can be sure that it won’t be easy; he’s hoping that you take advantage of these years of preparation to ready yourself for it – and he alone knows how many souls are at stake.  Count on my prayers.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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