San Basilio il Grande
Padre e dottore della Chiesa (Cesarea di Cappadocia, odierna Kayseri in Turchia, 330 ca. - 379), patriarca del monachesimo orientale, santo. Nato da una ricca famiglia, Basilio studiò ad Atene e Costantinopoli, dove conobbe Gregorio Nazianzeno, al quale fu legato da profonda amicizia.
Dopo aver visitato celebri eremiti in Egitto e Siria, abbandonò la carriera pubblica e praticò l'eremitaggio in una sua proprietà sul fiume Iris (Neocesarea); qui attese alla composizione di una regola monastica, che in seguito venne adottata dall'ordine monastico (soprannominato dei "monaci basiliani") da lui fondato nel 360 ca. Alla Regola di Basilio, cardine del monachesimo orientale, obbediscono tuttora ordini sia cattolici che ortodossi.
Famoso per la sua sapienza e la santità della sua vita, fu convocato dal vescovo di Cesarea, Eusebio, per difendere la dottrina cristiana contro le dottrine eretiche degli ariani. Nel 370 divenne egli stesso vescovo di Cesarea, ufficio che mantenne fino alla morte. Festa il 2 gennaio. Basilio, suo fratello san Gregorio di Nissa e l'amico san Gregorio Nazianzeno sono noti come i "grandi padri cappadoci".
L'imponente attività pratica non gli impedì di attendere alla composizione di numerosi scritti. Fra quelli teologici primeggiano, insieme ad alcune lettere, il De Spiritu Sancto, in cui si difende la divinità dello Spirito Santo, assumendo però una posizione conciliativa nella disputa allora divampante sul dogma trinitario: le tre persone sono da lui definite come uguali nell'essenza e distinte nell'esistenza individuale, formulazione entrata definitivamente nel dogma cattolico dell'unica sostanza in tre persone.
All'esegesi biblica sono piuttosto dedicate le Omelie, tra cui spiccano le 9 che commentano i sei giorni della creazione o Hexaemeron. Basilio si attiene alla lettera del testo sacro, contro la tendenza assai diffusa della sua interpretazione allegorica.
Di grandissimo interesse è l'Epistolario, con 365 lettere, ricco di notizie sulla vita e il pensiero del santo e sulla storia della Chiesa. La sua natura, serena pure nei disagi, vi si rivela schiettamente; un ulteriore saggio del suo equilibrio si ha nel Discorso ai giovani sul modo di trarre profitto dalle opere della letteratura greca, un opuscolo importantissimo per i rapporti tra cristianesimo e cultura classica, che Basilio non disprezza né proibisce, ma raccomanda di utilizzare dove se ne possano trarre insegnamenti morali utili all'educazione.
Compose anche una liturgia (nota come "liturgia di san Basilio"), ancora oggi celebrata nel rito bizantino.
Regola dettata da San Basilio in due tempi successivi: la prima (Regulae fusius tractatae) comprende 55 articoli sui doveri generali del monaco; la seconda (Regulae brevius tractatae) è una specie di casistica sulla vita monastica. In esse San Basilio presenta la condizione del monaco come lo stato ideale per raggiungere la perfezione cristiana.
All'eremo Basilio preferisce il cenobio, dove la vita comune favorisce la correzione dei difetti e l'aiuto scambievole; il monaco disciplina il corpo nel lavoro manuale e rinfranca lo spirito nella preghiera e nello studio delle Sacre Scritture. In Oriente l'ordine basiliano ebbe subito grande sviluppo; in Occidente fu dapprima trapiantato in Sicilia nel sec. VIII.
San Basilio Magno
Basilio Magno, il Grande (in greco Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας; Cesarea in Cappadocia, 329 – Cesarea in Cappadocia, 1 gennaio 379), è stato un vescovo greco, venerato come santo dalla Chiesa, di cui oltre che vescovo fu confessore e Dottore della Chiesa e primo dei Padri cappadoci.
Figlio di un ricco rettore e avvocato, suo nonno morì martire nella persecuzione di Diocleziano e sua nonna, Macrina, fu discepola di san Gregorio Taumaturgo del Ponto. Sua nonna, la madre Emmelia, i fratelli Gregorio, vescovo di Nissa e Pietro, vescovo di Sebaste e la sorella primogenita, Macrina, sono pure venerati dalla Chiesa cattolica come santi. Fu molto amico di Gregorio Nazianzeno, venerato come santo e commemorato nello stesso giorno, il 2 gennaio.
Ancora fanciullo venne mandato dalla nonna Macrina a Neocesarea sul Ponto dalla quale apprese i buoni principi cristiani; al riguardo Basilio affermerà: « Io non dimenticherò mai in vita mia, i forti stimoli che davano al mio cuore, ancora tenero i discorsi e gli esempi di questa piissima donna. » Ebbe come primo maestro suo padre Basilio, ma in seguito continuò gli studi a Cesarea, Costantinopoli e Atene, la capitale culturale del mondo ellenico e pagano, dove conobbe Gregorio Nazianzeno. Fece ritorno in patria nel 356, dopo un breve periodo come insegnante di retorica, su esortazione della sorella si ritirò a vita ascetica dopo essersi battezzato. Fece visita a molti anacoreti dell'Egitto, della Siria, della Palestina e della Mesopotamia per comprendere meglio e assimilare quel modo di vita interamente dedicato a Dio.
Ritornato in patria si ritirò sulle rive del fiume Iris vicino ad Annosi nel Ponto, dove redasse la "Grande Regola" (Fusius Tractatae) e la "Piccola Regola" (Brevis Tractatae), come orientamento per la vita dei monaci che da lui presero il nome di monaci basiliani. Intorno al 360 il vescovo Eusebio di Cesarea chiamò Basilio e gli conferì l'ordine del presbiterato. Dieci anni dopo, nel 370, dopo la morte di Eusebio, venne eletto vescovo di Cesarea in Cappadocia, metropolita ed esarca dell'intera regione del Ponto. Combatté molto contro l'eresia ariana che, con l'appoggio dell'imperatore Valente, stava prendendo piede nella Chiesa. Lo stesso imperatore tentò a più riprese di piegare Basilio a questa eresia, ma non lo contrastò mai direttamente, limitandosi a dividere in due diocesi la Cappadocia per sottrargli potere. Basilio difese l'ortodossia cristiana anche contro i Macedoniani e l'imperatore Giuliano.
Basilio fece costruire una cittadella della carità con locande, ospizi, ospedale e lebbrosario, chiamata Basiliade: questa fu di Basilio la più grande opera, che gli valse il nome di Magno. Dopo l'uccisione dell'imperatore Valente da parte dei Goti nel 378, Teodosio I ristabilì la libertà religiosa e sulla sede di Costantinopoli, con l'appoggio di Basilio, fu insediato Gregorio Nazianzeno. Di lì a breve, provato dalle austerità, dalle malattie e sfinito dalle preoccupazioni, morì il 1º gennaio 379.
Scrisse molte opere di carattere dogmatico, ascetico, discorsi e omelie, oltre a un trattato per i giovani sull'uso e il comportamento da tenersi nello studio dei classici pagani, e moltissime lettere sui più svariati argomenti. Scrisse anche l'antologia origeniana "Filocalia" e un trattato sullo Spirito Santo in cui affermava la consustanzialità delle tre Persone della Trinità. Celebre la sua preghiera dedicata agli animali, in cui Basilio mostra il suo profondo amore verso tutte le creature di Dio: « O Signore, accresci in noi la fratellanza con i nostri piccoli fratelli; concedi che essi possano vivere non per noi, ma per sé stessi e per Te; facci capire che essi amano, come noi, la dolcezza della vita e ti servono nel loro posto meglio di quanto facciamo noi nel nostro. » I cattolici e gli anglicani celebrano la sua memoria liturgica il 2 gennaio, mentre la chiesa ortodossa il 1° gennaio. Prima del Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II la sua festa era celebrata il 14 giugno, giorno in cui venne ordinato vescovo.
Tra le opere di Basilio, decisive nel dibattito teologico del IV secolo sulla Trinità, bisogna almeno ricordare "Contro Eunomio", diretta contro la "Apologia" di Eunomio contenente proposizioni eretiche, e "Lo Spirito Santo", indicante la divinità della terza persona trinitaria. Conserviamo di lui anche lettere ed omelie, specie quelle trattanti i sei giorni della creazione (Omelie sull'Esamerone). Il suo "Asceticon", rappresenta una tappa cruciale nella storia del monachesimo e della spiritualità cristiane.
Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great (c. 330 – January 1, 379) (Greek: Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας; Latin: Basilius), was the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian and monastic. Theologically, Basil was a supporter of the Nicene faction of the church, in opposition to the Arians on one side and the Apollinarians on the other. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position. In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer and manual labor. Together with Saint Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity. He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity.
Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, and Basil's brother Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of Great Hierarch, while the Roman Catholic Church has named him a Doctor of the Church. He is also referred to as "the revealer of heavenly mysteries" (Ouranophantor).
Early life and education
The theology of Gregory Thaumaturgus, a student of Origen, influenced Basil through his grandmother Macrina the Elder. Basil was born into the wealthy family of Basil the Elder, a famous rhetor, and Emelia around 330 in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (now known as Kayseri, Turkey). It was a large household, consisting of ten children, the parents, and Basil's grandmother, Macrina the Elder. His parents were known for their piety, and his maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine I's conversion. Four of Basil's siblings are known by name, and considered to be saints by various Christian traditions. His older sister Macrina the Younger was a well-known nun. His older brother Peter served as bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and wrote a few well-known theological treatises. His brother Naucratius was an anchorite, and inspired much of Basil's theological work. Perhaps the most influential of Basil's siblings was his younger brother Gregory. Gregory was appointed by Basil to be the bishop of Nyssa, and he produced a number of writings defending Nicene theology and describing the life of early Christian monastics.
Shortly after Basil's birth, the family moved to the estate of his grandmother Macrina, in the region of Pontus. There, Basil was educated in the home by his father and grandmother. He was greatly influenced by the elder Macrina, who herself was a student of Gregory Thaumaturgus. Following the death of his father during his teenage years, Basil returned to Caesarea in Cappadocia around 350-51 to begin his formal education. There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend. Together, Basil and Gregory went on to study in Constantinople, where they would have listened to the lectures of Libanius. Finally, the two spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the emperor Julian the Apostate. It was at Athens that he began to first think about living a life focused on Christian principles.
Returning from Athens around 355, Basil briefly practiced law and taught rhetoric in Caesarea. A year later, Basil's life would change radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic. Basil soon abandoned his legal and teaching professions in order to devote his life to God. Describing his spiritual awakening in a letter, Basil said: “I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingnes of the wisdom of the princes of this world.”
After receiving the sacrament of baptism, Basil traveled in 357 to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism. While impressed by the piety of the ascetics, the ideal of solitary life held little appeal to him. Rather, he turned his attention toward communal religious life. After dividing his fortunes among the poor he went briefly into solitude near Neocaesaria on the Iris. Basil soon ventured out of this solitude, and by 358 he was gathering around him a group of like-mided disciples, including his brother Peter. Together they founded a monastic settlement on his family estate at Annesi in Pontus. Joining him there were his mother Emelia, then widowed, his sister Macrina and several other women, gave themselves to a pious life of prayer and charitable works. Eustathius of Sebaste had already labored in Pontus in behalf of the anchoretic life, and Basil revered him on that account, although they differed over dogmatic points, which gradually separated the two.
It was here that Basil wrote his works regarding monastic communal life, which are accounted as being pivotal in the development of the monastic tradition of the Eastern Church and have led to his being called the "father of Eastern communal monasticism". In 358 he wrote to his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus, asking Gregory to join him in Arnesi. Gregory eventually agreed to come; together, they collaborated on the production of the Philocalia, an anthology drawn from Origen. Gregory then decided to return to his family in Nazianzus.
Basil attended the Council of Constantinople in 360. It was here that he first sided with the Homoiousians, a semi-Arian faction who taught that the Son was of like substance with the Father, neither the same (one substance) nor different from him. Its members included Eustathius, Basil's mentor in asceticism. The Homoiousians opposed the Arianism of Eunomius but refused to join with the supporters of the Nicene Creed, who professed that the members of the Trinity were of one substance ("homoousios"). This stance put him at odds with his bishop, Dianius of Caesarea, who had subscribed only to the earlier Nicene form of agreement. Some years later Basil abandoned the Homoiousians, emerging instead as a supporter of the Nicene Creed.
In 362 Basil was ordained a deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch. He was summoned by Eusebius to his city, and was ordained presbyter of the Church there in 365. His ordination was probably the result of the entreaties of his ecclesiastical superiors, who wished to use his talents against the Arians, who were numerous in that part of the country and were favored by the Arian emperor, Valens, who then reigned in Constantinople. Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the Arian heresy, which threatened to divide the region of Cappadocia. The two friends then entered a period of close fraternal cooperation as they participated in a great rhetorical contest of the Caesarean church precipitated by the arrival of accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors. In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant. This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the church. Basil next took on functional administration of the Diocese of Caesarea. Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude. Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return. Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the diocese for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius.
In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated bishop on June 14, 370. His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of exarch of Pontus and metropolitan of five suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor. It was then that his great powers were called into action. Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese.
His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes. They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders. He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice. At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations. In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was regarded at the time as one of the wonders of the world.
His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth. The Emperor Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction. Basil's adamant response in the negative prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before. Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil. Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence. He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded. Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad. This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church.
Basil then had to face the growing spread of Arianism. This belief system, which denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church. Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians. The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the Holy Spirit. Although Basil advocated objectively the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and Athanasius defended him. He maintained a relationship with Eustathius despite dogmatic differences. On the other hand, Basil was grievously offended by the extreme adherents of Homoousianism, who seemed to him to be reviving the Sabellian heresy.
Basil corresponded with Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn heresy wherever found, both East and West. The Pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness. It is still a point of controversy over how much he believed the Roman See could do for the Churches in the East, as many Roman Catholic theologians claim the primacy of the Roman bishopric over the rest of the Churches, both in doctrine and in authoritative strength.
He did not live to see the end of the factional disturbances and the complete success of his continued exertions in behalf of the Church. He suffered from liver illness and his excessive asceticism seems to have hastened him to an early death. A lasting monument of his episcopal care for the poor was the great institute before the gates of Caesarea, which was used as poorhouse, hospital, and hospice.
The principal theological writings of Basil are his On the Holy Spirit, a lucid and edifying appeal to Scripture and early Christian tradition (to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit), and his Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius, written in 363 or 364, three books against Eunomius of Cyzicus, the chief exponent of Anomoian Arianism. The first three books of the Refutation are his work; the fourth and fifth books that are usually included do not belong to Basil, or to Apollinaris of Laodicea, but probably to Didymus "the Blind" of Alexandria.
He was a famous preacher, and many of his homilies, including a series of Lenten lectures on the Hexaëmeron (the Six Days of Creation), and an exposition of the psalter, have been preserved. Some, like that against usury and that on the famine in 368, are valuable for the history of morals; others illustrate the honor paid to martyrs and relics; the address to young men on the study of classical literature shows that Basil was lastingly influenced by his own education, which taught him to appreciate the propaedeutic importance of the classics.
In his exegesis Basil tended to interpret Scripture literally — following more the Antiochian school — rather than allegorically as Origen and the Alexandrian school had done. Concerning this, he wrote: "I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those, truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end."
His ascetic tendencies are exhibited in the Moralia and Asketika (sometimes mistranslated as Rules of St. Basil), ethical manuals for use in the world and the cloister, respectively. Of the two works known as the Greater Asketikon and the Lesser Asketikon, the shorter is the one most probably his work.
It is in the ethical manuals and moral sermons that the practical aspects of his theoretical theology are illustrated. So, for example, it is in his Sermon to the Lazicans that we find St. Basil explaining how it is our common nature that obliges us to treat our neighbor's natural needs (e.g., hunger, thirst) as our own, even though he is a separate individual. Later theologians explicitly explain this as an example of how the saints become an image of the one common nature of the persons of the Trinity.
His three hundred letters reveal a rich and observant nature, which, despite the troubles of ill-health and ecclesiastical unrest, remained optimistic, tender and even playful. His principal efforts as a reformer were directed towards the improvement of the liturgy, and the reformation of the monastic institutions of the East. Most of his extant works, and a few spuriously attributed to him, are available in the Patrologia Graeca, which includes Latin translations of varying quality. Several of St. Basil's works have appeared in the late twentieth century in the Sources Chrétiennes collection. No critical edition is yet available.
St Basil of Caesarea holds a very important place in the history of Christian liturgy, coming as he did at the end of the age of persecution. At this time, liturgical prayers were transitioning from being extemporaneous or memorized into written formulas, and liturgy began to be influenced by court ritual. Basil's liturgical influence is well attested in early sources. Though it is difficult at this time to know exactly which parts of the Divine Liturgies which bear his name are actually his work, a vast corpus of prayers attributed to him has survived in the various Eastern Christian churches. Tradition also credits Basil with the elevation of the iconostasis to its present height. Most of the liturgies bearing the name of Basil are not entirely his work in their present form, but they nevertheless preserve a recollection of Basil's activity in this field in formularizing liturgical prayers and promoting church-song. Patristocs scholars conclude that the Liturgy of Saint Basil "bears, unmistakably, the personal hand, pen, mind and heart of St. Basil the Great."
One liturgy that can be attributed to him is The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, a liturgy that is somewhat longer than the more commonly used Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The difference between the two is primarily in the silent prayers said by the priest, and in the use of the hymn to the Theotokos, All of Creation, instead of the Axion Estin of Saint John Chrysostom's Liturgy. Chrysostom's Liturgy has come to replace Saint Basil's on most days in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic liturgical traditions. However, they still use Saint Basil's Liturgy on certain feast days: the first five Sundays of Great Lent; the Eves of Nativity and Theophany; and on Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday; and the Feast of Saint Basil, January 1 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar, their January 1 falls on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar).
The Eastern Churches preserve numerous other prayers attributed to Saint Basil, including three Prayers of Exorcism, several Morning and Evening Prayers, the "Prayer of the Hours" which is read at each service of the Daily Office, and the long and moving "Kneeling Prayers" which are recited by the priest at Vespers on Pentecost in the Byzantine Rite.
Influence on monasticism
Through his examples and teachings Basil effected a noteworthy moderation in the austere practices which were previously characteristic of monastic life. He is also credited with coordinating the duties of work and prayer to ensure a proper balance between the two. Basil is remembered as one of the most influential figures in the development of Christian monasticism. Not only is Basil recognised as the father of Eastern monasticism; historians recognize that his legacy extends also to the Western church, largely due to his influence on Saint Benedict. Patristic scholars such as Meredith assert that Benedict himself recognized this when he wrote in the epilogue to his Rule that his monks, in addition to the Bible, should read "the confessions of the Fathers and their instistutes and their lives and the Rule of our Holy Father, Basil. Basil's teachings on monasticism, as encoded in works such as his Small Asketikon, was transmitted to the west via Rufinus during the last 4th century. As a result of his influence, numerous reglious orders in Eastern Christianity bear his name. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Basilian Fathers, also known as The Congregation of St. Basil, an international order of priests and students studying for the priesthood, is named after him.
Commemorations of Basil
St Basil was given the title Doctor of the Church for his contributions to the debate initiated by the Arian controversy regarding the nature of the Trinity, and especially the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Basil was responsible for defining the terms "ousia" (essence/substance) and "hypostasis" (person/reality), and for defining the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature. His single greatest contribution was his insistence on the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.
In Greek tradition, his name was given to Father Christmas and he is supposed to visit children and give presents every January 1 (when Basil's memory is celebrated)—unlike other traditions where Saint Nicholas arrives either on December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day) or on Christmas Eve (December 24). It is traditional on St Basil's Day to serve "Vasilopita," a rich bread baked with a coin inside, in commemoration of St. Basil's charity. It is customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil. In Greek tradition and according to historical records, St Basil, of Greek heritage, is the original "Santa Claus," who being born into a wealthy family, gave away all his possessions to the poor and those in need, the underprivileged and children. A similar story exists for another Greek bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra. Over the centuries the two have been merged but the Western "Santa Claus" is St. Nicholas and the Eastern "Santa Claus" is St. Basil.
Saint Basil died on January 1, the day on which the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day together with that of the Feast of the Circumcision. In the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, January 1 is the day marking the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and St Basil's feast is celebrated on the following day, January 2, together with Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Prior to the revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969, St Basil's feast was celebrated on June 14, the traditional date of his ordination as Bishop. Traditional Roman Catholics continue to celebrate the feast day of "St. Basil the Great, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church" as a Double feast or a feast of the III Class.
The Anglican Church celebrates St Basil's feast on January 2, whereas the Episcopal Church celebrates it on June 14. The Lutheran Church, of various synods, commemorates him on both dates, each time with Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa. In the Byzantine Rite, January 30 is the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs, in honor of Saint Basil, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrates the feast day of Saint Basil on the 6th of Tobi (6th of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church). At present, this corresponds to January 14, January 15 during leap year.
There are numerous relics of Saint Basil throughout the world. One of the most important is his head, which is preserved to this day at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece. The mythical sword Durandal is said to contain some of Basil's blood.
The term Hexaemeron (Greek Ἑξαήμερον) refers either to the genre of theological treatise that describes God's work on the six days of creation or to the six days of creation themselves. Most often these theological works take the form of commentaries on Genesis 1. As a genre, hexameral literature was popular in the early church and medieval periods. The word derives its name from the Greek roots hexa-, meaning "six", and (h)emer(a), meaning "day".
Using the Genesis account as a template, the days of creation are claimed as follows:
The firmament of Heaven
Separation of water and land, created plant life;
Sun, moon, and stars
Marine life and birds
Land animals, and man and woman.
The seventh day is reserved for rest (Sabbath), and so is not counted. Based on this framework, Christian and Jewish authors have written treatises that cover a wide variety of topics, including cosmology, science, theology, theological anthropology, and God's nature. Saint Basil wrote an early and influential series of homilies around 370 AD which figure as the earliest extant Hexaemeron. Basil originally performed the work as a series of sermons, and later collected them into a written work which was influential amongst early church leaders. Through Hexaemeron, we get many clues about the scientific knowledge of 4th century AD (Spheric Earth, Atmosphere, Stars and Suns, a primitive form of the theory of Evolution) and we can understand that science and religion was harmonically blended in the early church.
Among the Latin Fathers, Ambrose and Augustine wrote some of the earliest extant hexameral literature. Ambrose's Hexaemeron is heavily influenced by Basil's work of the same name. In contrast, Augustine of Hippo wrote an several works that serve as commentaries on the Genesis narrative, including The Confessions and The Literal Meaning of Genesis (written around 391). One of the more influential elements of Augustine's writings is his argument that God created the world all at once. At the same time, this instantaneous creation included a progression of events. Thus, creation happened over six days and in one single event. Following these figures, medieval writers such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Robert Grosseteste wrote hexaemeral literature.
Basile de Césarée appelé aussi Basile le Grand (329, Césarée - 379) est l'un des principaux Pères de l'Église grecque, reconnu également dès l'origine comme Docteur de l'Église. On le fête le 14 juin et le 2 janvier en Occident, et le 1er janvier, son dies natalis, en Orient. Il est également fêté lors de la « fête des trois docteurs œcuméniques » le 31 janvier, avec saint Jean Chrysostome et saint Grégoire de Nazianze.
Basile le Grand est originaire de Césarée de Cappadoce. Il est lui-même rhéteur et fils de rhéteur. Il est le frère aîné de Grégoire de Nysse qui, devenu chrétien et même prêtre avant lui, le baptise. Il naît dans une famille qui comptera de nombreux saints: son père lui même prénommé Basile, sa mère, sa sœur, et ses deux frères dont le plus illustre est Grégoire de Nysse.
À Athènes où il termine ses études, il se lie d'amitié avec l'un de ses compatriotes, le futur saint Grégoire de Nazianze et avec l'empereur Julien (alors catholique, et depuis apostat). Il professa la rhétorique à Césarée, et y exerça quelque temps la profession d'avocat. Après son baptême, saint Basile, attiré par la vocation monastique, fait de longs voyages pour s'informer des règles et modes de vie des moines en différents lieux. En 357, il renonça au monde, se retira dans une solitude du Pont et y fonda, au bord de l'Iris, un monastère qui fut le modèle de presque tous ceux qui s'établirent depuis en Orient. La communauté qu'il fonde, et surtout les conceptions très équilibrées qu'il se fait de la vie monastique exerceront à travers sa célèbre Règle une grande influence sur le monachisme tant oriental qu'occidental (notamment sur saint Benoît).
À partir de 365, il prend une part croissante à la lutte contre l'arianisme. En 370, Basile devient évêque de sa ville natale, Césarée de Cappadoce. Il s'occupa avec zèle d'instruire son peuple, chercha à rétablir la paix dans l'Église, et combattit plusieurs hérésies. Il lui faut s'imposer face au pouvoir de l'empereur Valens qui persécute les adversaires de la foi arienne. Il est avec Athanase d'Alexandrie (autre Père de l'Église grecque) l'un des champions de l'orthodoxie. Basile a une importance considérable dans l'Église d'Orient. Il rédigea une règle monastique, toujours en vigueur. C'est lui qui fixa la forme d'une liturgie encore en usage presque inchangée chez les orthodoxes et les catholiques de rite byzantin. Cette liturgie est célébrée les dimanches de carême et les jours de certaines fêtes à la place de la liturgie de saint Jean Chrysostome. Les coptes et les éthiopiens ont aussi une anaphore de saint Basile, dont la paternité est confirmée par les liturgistes.
En Grèce, Basile est connu pour ses œuvres de bienfaisance et comme un lointain précurseur de la Croix Rouge. Il tient également, comme saint Nicolas en Occident, le rôle du Père Noël. Il a en outre produit plusieurs autres œuvres littéraires dans un style qui s'apparente à celui de la seconde sophistique (par exemple Lucien) et avec un talent oratoire exceptionnel.
Son œuvre théologique très vaste est dominée par un traité capital sur le Saint-Esprit. Le plus estimé de ses ouvrages est l'Hexaméron ou les six jours de la création. Hormis sa Règle et la liturgie, l'œuvre la plus connue de Basile est le Discours aux jeunes gens. Cet ouvrage « humaniste » démontre comment un chrétien peut tirer profit de la littérature classique païenne. Il a laisse des Homélies, des traités de Morale et d'Ascétisme, des Commentaires sur diverses parties de l'Ecriture. On a aussi conservé de Basile plusieurs sermons, dont neuf Sermons sur la Genèse, avec une évocation de la beauté de la Création et de la grandeur de Dieu. Plusieurs lettres de Basile ont également été conservées. Comme les sermons, elles sont de haute tenue littéraire et apportent des informations importantes sur les mœurs et la sensibilité de son époque. On y admire avec l'onction du pieux évêque, une éloquence gracieuse et fleurie, unie à une dialectique rigoureuse et à des connaissances profondes: il possédait les lettres profanes aussi bien que la science sacrée. On remarque aussi son traité de la Lecture des auteurs profanes.