For those of us who live and work in the Silicon Valley area, we should be especially inspired by the life and ministry of Saint Basil. Why? Because, he would have fit right in with the visionary, creative, entrepreneurial problem solving for which people in the tech-industry are so famous. Besides being the Archbishop of Caesarea, he was also a monk and an abbot. However, he and his monks lived and worked in the city, among the people, to carry out the Gospel message of being witnesses and making disciples of Jesus Christ. Saint Basil is the archetype for ingenuity in leading his monks and the people of his city to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in tangible acts of love toward those who were struggling. He stands above all other saints as one of Christendom’s primary witnesses on how an entire community is taught the way to salvation through a creative and practical participation with the Holy Spirit in a loving embodiment Jesus Christ. Here’s a saint, steeped in the Orthodox Church’s Tradition, who isn’t calcified by that Tradition, but rather, combining it with the creative dynamism of the Holy Spirit becomes an archetype and ultimate patron saint for inventiveness and innovators!
He was born in the year 330 in Caesarea, which was Cappadocia’s governmental center. He was the offspring of a noble family, famous for their business expertise, their remarkable wealth…and most especially for their unquenchable zeal for the Christian Faith. Saint Basil spent the first years of his life on the wealthy estate belonging to his parents, being cultured and enlightened by his mother Emilia and grandmother Macrina (who also later became saints).
As a young boy, Saint Basil was homeschooled by his father, who was a brilliant orator and lawyer. But later, Basil was transferred to a school in Constantinople, where he was taught by the city’s most eminent orators and philosophers. Finally, he went on to complete his schooling in Athens…the center of the best classical education that money could buy.
After just a few years in Athens, Basil had mastered everything he studied. There, he soon gained fame as a philosopher, linguist, speechmaker, attorney, and naturalist…also holding expertise in astronomy, mathematics, business and medicine. His deep hunger to reveal the mysteries of God’s creation, energized him to become what people would now refer to as a kind of “renaissance man.”
After Saint Basil’s father died, his mother, Emilia, his oldest sister, Macrina, and several other women began to live as nuns on the family estate. Inspired by the fervor of their faith, he also devoted himself to the life of an ascetic. He was soon baptized and tonsured as a Reader, regularly reading the Holy Scriptures to the people—and explaining them. At 32 years old he was ordained a deacon, and then to the priesthood at 38…preaching daily. Two years later, when the Bishop of Caesarea died, Saint Basil was chosen to replace him as bishop.
Suddenly, Basil was thrust into immense struggles against a heretical group known as the Arians. They taught that God’s Son was just another created being. Saint Basil, however, consistently beat them in public debates and published documents that disproved their heretical beliefs. Thus, the people affectionately nicknamed Saint Basil, “The Bee,” because he stung the Church’s enemies…yet nourished his flock with the sweet honey of his teaching.
During his time as bishop, there came a terrible famine upon Cappadocia and its surrounding areas. Many pilgrims came seeking help from Caesarea. Our beloved Saint Basil had great compassion and sought out creative ways to offer them Christ’s love. Thus, outside the city walls of Caesarea, the entrepreneurial Saint Basil began building a charitable new town. He staffed it with monastics who were especially skilled in various trades and other vocations. Aside from their participation in the daily church services, these dedicated monks also took the lead in organizing the day-to-day activities of this new town’s residents and in caring for the poor and the sick. This new charitable center became known as “the Basilías” (“the Kingdom”) since it reflected the generous economy God’s Kingdom…and also because it sounded like the name of its creative founder, Basil—“Basilios.”
Saint Basil’s visionary new town contained innovative institutions to deal with the challenges of his day, such as a hospital; a leper clinic; residences for travelers and the poor; and small commercial facilities or manufacturing workshops for teaching and practicing trades…such as carpentry or blacksmithing. In this new Basilías…with the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life at its center…the poor were put to work and were even trained by skilled monks in various trades, so that they could become self-sustaining. Before Saint Basil came along, projects like these had never been done by the Church. These ministries were born-forth from the practical experience and holy imagination of Saint Basil and his flock, to offer love to people facing the major problems of his day. As the Basilías naturally grew, it attracted poor immigrants from many other distant places, who upon their arrival were also enrolled in its program of charity and work. In modern economic estimations, this sounds like it would be a financial disaster, but between the help of the Holy Spirit & Saint Basil’s use of his own and various other people’s practical skillsets, there were astonishing consequences. It was a living fulfillment of the Church’s continual prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Basil’s new Basilías project so flourished, that it eventually overtook Caesarea as the “New Caesarea.” Saint Basil’s approach (or rather, God’s approach, of offering love to suffering neighbors in tangible ways) fostered a self-sustaining, blossoming economy for the inhabitants of his metropolis. Yes, Saint Basil and his flock most certainly had an interior “spiritual” life…but it was balanced with an Orthodox understanding that such a life must physically bear forth the fruit of God’s loving Kingdom into the lives of others around us.
The Orthodox Church was never meant to be a mere museum where we come to admire fossilized saints. We were never meant to stiffly sing hymns about the saints as though they no longer offered any transformation for our lives. We’re meant to dynamically follow our saints’ holy example. When we sing about “the sound of Saint Basil’s voice going throughout the lands with teachings that divinely explain the nature of beings…and….that give a rule of life for man”…we need to remember that, we’re supposed to do what he did (because he was merely following Christ’s command). It determines whether we flourish like Saint Basil’s Basilías…or fall into decay. Why else are we here? Otherwise we’ve turned our backs on what it means to love God and love our neighbor…and we cease being Christian.
So, in the spirit of our beloved patron, and for the sake of our own souls, let’s begin to ponder together, “What brings the greatest suffering to those around us?” Then, like Saint Basil, being led by the Holy Spirit, let’s begin to innovatively determine how we, as our Lord’s Basilias (His Kingdom), can begin to offer tangible love to the particular struggles of our neighbors in San Jose.