Sunday, January 5, 2020

“Stars cross the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its Saviour in a cave” (S. Basil the Great)

Basil was born in Caesarea of Cappadocia in 329. The persecution of Christians had ceased, but his parents had lived through those difficult times. He studied at Athens from 351 to 356 in order to become a lawyer and orator. But his sister, Macrina, influenced him to embrace a monastic life, and he founded a community. He stayed with them for five years, ensuring that their life was one of mutual love and service. In 367 a famine hit Cappadocia, and Basil sold his family's land in order to buy food for the starving, actively preparing the food himself. In addressing this crisis, he refused to allow any distinction between Jews and Christians. He also built a hospital, housing for the poor, and a hospice for travellers.

Basil was ordained in 362, and became Bishop of Caesarea in 370. The Emperor visited Caesarea in 371 and demanded Basil's submission to the prevailing Arian heresies. The latter refused, of course, leading to an ongoing dispute between the two of them.

His writings deal with the created world as a revelation of the God's splendour. They vigorously defend the divinity of Christ; they also defend the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, who is to be worshipped with the Father and the Son. 

Basil is said to have died from exhaustion at the age of 49 on 1st January, 379. The following passage is from his Homily 2 on the Holy Birth of the Lord (as quoted on pages 39-40 of Celebrating Sundays: Reflections from the Early Church on the Sunday Gospels, compiled by Stephen Holmes, and published in 2012 by Canterbury Press):

"The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy” and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with the angels and sing: “To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us,” not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy?

This feast belongs to the whole universe. It gives heavenly gifts to the earth, it sends archangels to Zechariah and to Mary, it assembles a choir of angels to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

Stars cross the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its saviour in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” but “You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.” It is no longer, “In sorrow you shall bring forth children,” but, “Blessed is she who has borne Emmanuel and blessed the breast that nursed him.” “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; and dominion is laid upon his shoulder.”

Come, join the company of those who merrily welcome the Lord from heaven. Think of shepherds receiving wisdom, of priests prophesying, of women who are glad of heart, as Mary was when told by the angel to rejoice and as Elizabeth was when John leapt in her womb. Anna announced the good news; Simeon took the child in his arms. They worshiped the mighty God in a tiny baby, not despising what they beheld but praising his divine majesty. Like light through clear glass the power of the Godhead shone through that human body for those whose inner eye was pure. Among such may we also be numbered, so that beholding his radiance with unveiled face we too may be transformed from glory to glory by the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and power for endless ages. Amen.


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