St. Basil’s Priorities

The Gospel this week (Luke 13:25-33) was all about what it means to follow Christ and to have Him as Lord over your life, in first place before anything or anyone.  Doing this, as hard as it is, is also immensely freeing since it results in the things of life being put back into their proper order.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story of St. Basil.  Now here was a man with his priorities straight!  Basil is known as the father of Oriental monasticism and a forerunner of St. Benedict. Though his ascetic training Basil had very clear ideas about what was truly important in life. This clarity would be needed the day a representative from the Emperor came to visit…

The Emperor Valens was a resolute supporter of the Arians, those who said Jesus was created by and inferior to God the Father. The Emperor Valens had planted Arianism in other provinces of Asia Minor and came to Cappadocia with the same aim. He sent the Prefect Modestus to Bishop Basil in order to convince him to join the Arians.  Modestus threatened Basil with ruin, exile, torture and even death if he didn’t fall in line.  Basil’s response was priceless:

“You threaten me with the confiscation of property, but it means nothing for the man who possesses nothing, unless you desire to receive this modest clothing and a few books which make up all my estate.

“Exile? – but I do not know it, since I am not limited by space. If this ground on which I stand right now does not belong to me, then the whole earth belongs to God, Whose temporary guest I am.

“Torments? – but they do not have power…, except perhaps for the first blow, which you are free to make.

“Death? – but it will be deliverance for me, since it will quickly bring me to God, for Whom I live and to a greater extent have died, and to Whom I hasten to come…

“Tell the Emperor that neither violence nor persuasion will force me to accept a wrong teaching.”

In your face Modestus!  Basil’s adamant negative response prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in such a way before. Basil simply replied:

“Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop…”


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